Felled trees were rooted in history

Randy Simms
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It was sad to learn that mature trees in front of the Colonial Building, some of them nearly as old as the building itself, were cut down to make way for a fence.

As you can appreciate, losing these trees — long a part of the site — seems to fly in the face of the restoration project the provincial government has undertaken.

The Colonial Building is getting a $22-million facelift and will likely become a major tourist attraction. Breathing new life into the old

darling is the right thing to do. No one can really criticize the intent of the renovation.

But cutting down the trees?

The Colonial Building was constructed in the late 1840s. The fledgling democracy that was Newfoundland at the time needed a seat of government, to not only conduct the business of the colony, but to signify that the little island was growing up. Representative Government had been granted by our British overlords in 1832 and the time had come to spread our wings. The Colonial Building was to represent that coming of age.

The newly appointed governor, Sir John LeMarchant, officially opened the building on Jan. 28, 1850. He said the building was “dedicated to the future advancement and well-being of the country.” Yes, LeMarchant Road in St. John’s is named after him.

The building took two years to complete and should have opened in 1848. As with most government projects, construction fell behind schedule and it took four years to get the job done.

The Colonial Building has a colourful past and the role it’s played in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador is well recorded, which is why the restoration project is so important. Even if the $22-million  price tag rises, it’s worth preserving this vital structure.

But cutting down the trees?

A fraudster painted the gold leaf ceilings in the building. Alexander Pindikowski, a Polish artist, was convicted of forging cheques and sentenced to 15 months in jail. The colonial government put him to work on the ceilings in the building and then reduced his sentence by a month for doing the job. By the time Pindikowski finished his work, the building was 30 years old.

Anyone who follows our history is aware of the 1932 riot. Prime minister Richard Squires had to sneak out of the building when civil unrest turned into violent protest. The unruly mob did more than $10,000 in damage to the building — a considerable sum back then.

Like Pindikowski’s ceilings, I bet some of the damage from that riot can still be seen. A restoration project should not eliminate it. So much of our history as a people is tied up in this building. Restoring it and restoring the grounds is absolutely the right thing to do.

But cutting down the trees?

Eighty-three years after LeMar­chant opened the building, its purpose for being was essentially lost. In 1933, the government voted to give the people of the colony a “rest” from democracy. The British, once again, took over our affairs. We actually gave up our right to self-government. That decision was voted on inside the Colonial Building.

I think a lot of the trees they just cut down were growing by then.

In 1946, the National Convention convened in the Colonial Building to debate the colony’s future. Would we return to self-government? Stay with the British? Do something completely different, like join another country?

The trees cut down last week were as much a part of  the momentous events which occurred there as the building itself. I’m all for the restoration, but we shouldn’t try to make things look exactly like they did in 1850. The building and grounds are not new and should not look new.

Restoration should be about more then paint and plaster. It should be about our past and our place in the world; our sense of self.

The trees had an important role to play in that.

Cutting them down was wrong.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at


Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Organizations: National Convention

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, LeMarchant Road

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Recent comments

  • fred
    May 25, 2014 - 09:34

    if they cut down the trees to return it to the way it was 1840 they should remove the plumbing and wiring for lights because that not there in 1840 either...........so much for that excuse