History in ruins

Harbour Grace’s Ridley Hall inches towards demolition

Published on July 12, 2011
The fate of Ridley Hall in Harbour Grace is uncertain. The stone building was built in 1834 and began life as the home of a fish merchant. —Photo by Terry Roberts/Transcontinental Media

The fate of a historic Harbour Grace building left in ruins since a fire in 2003 may soon be known, following a recent order by the town council asking the owners of Ridley Hall to either repair or destroy it within 30 days.

Meanwhile, the owners hope something can be done to save the heritage property, a large stone structure built in 1834.

In a letter dated June 28, the town asked Brian and Jean Flanagan of Red Deer, Alta., “to undertake repair or removal of this structure within 30 days to avoid further action by council.”

The letter also referenced the “dilapidated condition” of Ridley Hall.

Brian Flanagan responded with a letter of his own, which he also forwarded to the premier’s office, the provincial Tourism Department and other local and regional parties.

In the letter, he expressed shock the order was made prior to contacting the owners of Ridley Hall.

Speaking with The Telegram by phone from Red Deer, Brian Flanagan said he and his wife periodically receive enquiries from interested parties about the property. The Flanagans would require any potential purchaser of the land, located on Water Street near several other historic properties, to fully renovate Ridley Hall rather than replace it with a new building.

Even as a building in ruins, Brian Flanagan said he believes Ridley Hall’s present state is preferable to having it destroyed.

Mayor Don Coombs does not entirely agree, noting there are safety concerns surrounding its current condition.

“Nobody wants to see it gone, but nobody wants to see it like it is now either.”

In forwarding his letter to the province, Brian Flanagan said he hopes government takes an interest in the status of the building.

Coombs said the town was in discussions with both levels of government during the 1990s trying to secure funding to use Ridley Hall as a town hall, but the plan did not come to fruition.

The mayor said restoring the property is beyond the town’s financial means, as is the case for the Flanagans.

They purchased Ridley Hall in 2000 — the same year the couple were married. Their intentions to renovate one room each year were scuttled by a fire in November of 2003 believed to have been caused by vandals.

Past life

Ridley Hall got its start as the home of fish merchant Thomas Ridley.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Foundation (NLHF), Ridley Hall served as a focal point for social, economic, and political activity during Hall’s time as a local businessman.

It was used as a cable station in the 1930s and ‘40s before reverting to a residential space. It was last inhabited in the 1980s and registered as a heritage structure in 1994.

A companion stone building, the Ridley Offices, was built in 1838 and has been maintained to this day.

Even with a heritage designation, the ruins of Ridley Hall are not protected from demolition orders.

In an interview with The Compass newspaper in March, NLHF executive director George Chalker said the building never made use of restoration grants offered by the foundation. Had owners done so, insurance would give NLHF the legal right to prevent others from destroying the building.

Lacking a roof, Chalker added that Ridley Hall’s exposure to water creates structural problems.

“If water gets in, then you have to freeze-thaw it, and when it freezes, it expands and makes the cracks bigger, and then more water can get in the next time,” he told The Compass. “Eventually, so much water gets in that it pumps out the stone, and things start to crumble.”

The Flanagans will be in the province next month and hope to meet with council during their stay.

“I hope they’ll maintain an open mind,” he said, adding the community as a whole should be consulted on the building’s fate.

Coombs said he will be open to speaking with them.

“We’d just like to see what they’re going to do with it,” he said.