Room-by-room defence of The Rooms

Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

I’m writing in response to a recent letter to the editor (Aug. 2) submitted by Mike Phelan, an ex-pat Newfoundland and Labradorian, now based in Vancouver, B.C. He wrote in to lambast The Rooms following a recent return trip to his home province after four decades. Criticizing just about every aspect of the facility, Phelan addressed its architectural design, layout of artifacts and information boards, the café and the gift shop contents. Granted, I know The Rooms had its detractors once complete in 2005 because some felt it was an uncomplimentary goliath in the skyline. I tend to disagree, and happen to think it is a uniquely characterizing aspect of the cityscape. Phelan suggested a heritage building should have be retrofitted to accommodate the variety of purposes fulfilled by The Rooms, however the structure is a modern facility and doing so would have been a costly challenge — especially where climate control for artwork is concerned. Preserving heritage and looking after these types of structures is important and necessary — our past helps shape our future. These types of projects are wonderful when the intended new uses are congruent with the space being rehabilitated. The design of The Rooms is steeped in provincial history — the harbour-facing side of the building is on stilts and the three gable roof apexes combine with that to pay homage to traditional fishing rooms — hence the name of the facility. In fact, one of my favourite oft-missed nooks of The Rooms is on a staircase landing where the original hand-done sketch of the facility sits behind glass, explaining this. The interior design is gorgeous and modern, easily competing with other large-scale cultural spaces throughout the country, and uses materials naturally found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, including the beautiful granite and labradorite floors. The newly installed digital media screens were also a target of Phelan, who critiqued that the information would be better offered in an “era-appropriate way.” I’m not sure what that means, but can only assume he would prefer the old-fashioned placards in front of objects, which offer no interactivity to attract a young mind. I was a part of the test group that offered feedback on the new digital approach, and felt it created a sense of wonder and motivated further exploration and learning. Regarding the café and gift shop, the prior is one of my favourite places to lunch in the city and I regularly take guests of the province there to experience the panoramic view over a lovely meal. I regularly attend gallery openings at the facility and can’t recall once the odour of food being detectable in the exhibition space. As for the publications in the gift shop Phelan suggests are full of half-truths, well, this is a weak jab considering the unlikelihood that he’s had time to read them all. I highly doubt they would be stocked were they based on fiction or without cultural relevance. Finally, if a stuffed lobster was all it took to turn him “off the delicacy forever,” then I can’t imagine he enjoyed it much in the first place. Joshua Jamieson St. John’s

Organizations: The Rooms

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Vancouver, B.C.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • John
    August 11, 2013 - 13:02

    ..and some people are boorish, pompous, asses. As well, building The Rooms had nothing to do with fulfilling the need for concert halls, rescuing a stadium that outlived its usefulness, or 'rehabilitating' downtown St. John's. As to comparing Fort Townsend to the Halifax Citadel, 'bones' was about it at Fort Townsend. Halifax can have The Citadel; we don't need room after room of military uniforms, buttons and medals. And by the way, I know you townies like to give Danny Williams the credit for everything, but it was Brian Tobin who announced funding for The Rooms. He also got rid of denominational education...two great monuments for Tobin.

  • Paula
    August 08, 2013 - 08:52

    Joshua is right! The Rooms is a world-class museum, and I've been to many museums around the world. Love it! You would have to spend the whole day there to take it all in. The interactive exhibits are exhaustively detailed and leave nothing out. If you are baffled by technology (as simple as it is here), then you can look at the cards hanging under the screen. Why should The Rooms look like some nondescript rowhouse downtown? At least people can find it.

    • david
      August 09, 2013 - 06:19

      "World class"....that's just awesome.

  • Cashin Delaney
    August 05, 2013 - 23:49

    Memorial stadium is a grocery store. This building will probably become a new Dominion/Shopper's Drug Mart someday. Where Joey was content to write his books, and have the legacy in our homes, Danny required a monument to be seen, maybe not from space, but at least on Republic of Doyle.

  • Maggy Carter
    August 05, 2013 - 23:28

    Yes the Rooms is an unremarkable oversized box with no heritage significance beyond its name. It was built on the bones of Fort Townsend, one of the most important 18th century fortifications anywhere in North America. Compare the fate of Fort Townsend with the impressive edifice of Fort George atop of Citadel Hill in Halifax. Posters David and Ed are right to burst the bubble of cultural complacency that has settled over this place. Ironically we have a very vibrant, world-class culture when it comes to intangibles such as music and art, but we are babes in the woods when it comes to the physical expressions of that culture. The reasons are pretty simple. The former is driven by individuals with little or no support from government while the latter requires investment and imagination from our political leaders. Our diminutive, aging, uninspiring arts and culture centre is an embarrassing measure of our commitment to the performing arts; which is why of course most performances wind up in that sound-dead hockey bunker next to the municipal concrete bunker - just a hop-and-a-skip from that alcohol/urine soaked cultural wonder known as George Street. As Ms. Gibson pointed out a few days ago, we could have had a marvellous concert hall on the site of the old stadium but for the fear that it would limit ticket sales at mile one. We have governments that would rather invest in ugly fences and even uglier restaurant monstrosities along the harbour-front than to think in the big, bold strokes that inspired such landmarks as the Sydney opera house.

  • Saucy Face
    August 05, 2013 - 19:58

    I believe Mark Critch once described The Rooms as the box the Basilica came in.

  • david
    August 05, 2013 - 13:27

    When Ireland builds a giant museum to Irish agriculture in the form of a giant blighted potato, and locates it in downtown Dublin (where the very fewest of these wretched things were ever grown), I may have to give the "yay" side of this credit. We'll see.

  • Jason Holley
    August 05, 2013 - 12:50

    Well said Joshua. I've had my issues with the place, but I'm proud that we took these three institutions out of their cramped rundown corners and built a temple to our culture for all to see.

  • Peter
    August 05, 2013 - 12:28

    The Rooms is a world-class institution where Newfoundland culture and history is celebrated and reflected upon, as it should be.

    • david
      August 05, 2013 - 12:49

      Ah, "world-class"...the mindless platitude, the cheerleader slogan of a place that knows not an iota of any actual such things at all. Bravo for the comedic value of your post..

  • EDfromRED
    August 05, 2013 - 12:22

    The more prosperous St. John's and surrounding areas gets, the less "Style and Substance" and culture it has. If I was brought into St. John's blindfolded, and it was removed at one of the same looking box store abominations scattered around, I would have no idea where I was. Give St. John's another hundred years it'll be renamed Wal-Mart town with the city uniform being a blue vest.

  • david
    August 05, 2013 - 11:55

    The Rooms is the wet dream of soulless politicians who arrogantly tossed centuries of history and struggle under the bus for the sake of an "instant re-branding" Newfoundland. It is an abomination of guile, myopia and willful ignorance.