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A stroll through the past that could lead back to the present in downtown St. John's

Kenneth Legrow via Twitter (@worgels)
Kenneth Legrow via Twitter (@worgels)

The photograph attached to this article is of Water Street in St. John’s during a summer afternoon in 1969.

It was taken by Kenneth Legrow at a time when a portion of the city’s main downtown thoroughfare had been converted to pedestrian traffic only. 

The photo, recently posted by Legrow’s daughter Karen on her Twitter account (@worgels), has added to the conversation about the possibility of Water Street once again becoming a pedestrian-only street — or “Walker Street” as Martek CEO Charlie Oliver suggested during a St. John’s Board of Trade online session this week. 

City council is considering a summertime conversion that could be in place for July 1, but only after consultation with business groups, regulatory bodies and agencies, and other interests. Many downtown enterprises, especially those slammed hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting public-health restrictions, are lobbying for the move and the Board of Trade is polling its membership about the issue.

Kenneth Legrow’s picture, however, also conjures a sense of nostalgia, especially for those who may have strolled down the middle of Water Street that summer. And even if you didn’t, perhaps you are zooming in to check out faces or business signs more closely. Or maybe trying to imagine present-day Atlantic Place where Ayre and Sons flagship department store was located 51 years ago. It could be that you are someone in the photo or think you might recognize yourself …or someone else.

Maybe you had an “Oh, that’s right,” reaction at being reminded the wind-whipped banner on the far right at the top of the Ayre building — the Union Jack — was Newfoundland’s flag until 1980.

You might be hankering for a sky that is the impossible-to-duplicate blue that sat above the street at 2:10 p.m. on that day and noticing the closest thing to the hue of that stratosphere might have been the colour of the shirts of the two Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers standing in the centre of the picture, with their white-topped service caps and Sam Browne belts. 

You might be considering which newspaper is being read (there were two local dailies in 1969) or like me, wondering mostly what the man adopting Rodin’s Thinker pose on the bench in the left foreground could be mulling over.

Whatever your thoughts on Legrow’s well-preserved pic, we’d like you to forward them to us. They could be observations, recollections or remembrances of that single season of sauntering down what would have normally been a vehicle-jammed street.

Because it turned out to be a one-time experiment. Recommendations the pedestrian plan be again adopted in the summer of 1970 weren’t heeded.

But who knows? It could happen again after a half-century wait.

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