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Newfoundland photographers are preserving historical buildings one shot at a time

Photographers see abandoned structures as windows into a certain time period. Photo courtesy Cory Babstock
Photographers see abandoned structures as windows into a certain time period. Photo courtesy Cory Babstock

Abandoned houses and properties are found everywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador.

They are houses with chipped paint, boats laid on the shore for the last time and old barns that have been beaten down by the elements.

Sometimes, families just left these places and never came back. Other properties fall into disrepair because owners aren’t quite sure what to do with them.

Regardless of how they were left, these objects are living history and lend themselves to the story of the people who lived there.

Photographer Cory Babstock has documented many of the abandoned structures and objects in his home of Clarenville and the surrounding area. He even produced a small book made up of images of houses left behind, called "Unsettled."

“It is important to me. … I’m all about preserving what I can for my kids so that they know we didn’t always live in these bungalows, clumped together in orderly fashion,” he said.

That idea of preserving history is part of the reason Babstock takes such pride in photographing the buildings and objects that are left behind.

The photos he takes are a historical record of the people and the places where they lived.

Last fall, what was left of the Mary Ruth, a sailing vessel built in 1918, had disappeared from its usual spot in Southport.

An old home in Open Hall-Red Cliffe that Babstock had photographed frequently has blown down in recent years.

Someday, others will be lost to time and there won’t be any record they were ever there.

“There is a whole other story, and somebody has to document them," said Babstock. “Sometimes families aren’t able to.”

Joe Woods started the Abandoned and Historic Newfoundland and Labrador Facebook group in 2016.

He did so to showcase the many such structures across the province to a wide audience. It allowed photographers and those interested in those buildings to interact while sharing their experiences and their work.

The group has about 20,000 members and there are several posts daily.

“I love finding new places to explore, and Newfoundland and Labrador is endless with them,” Woods said in a social media conversation.

In the group, there are pictures of ancient graveyards, abandoned barns, empty storefronts and the skeletons of wooden boats.

Often, the interactions inspire others to seek out the images they find in the group, while adding their own.

When a new picture is posted, the comment section will sometimes spiral into a cross-section of a person’s connection to the object in the photo, people marvelling at the photo and others who seek to add that object to their photo bucket list.

After a quick scroll through the comments, it becomes swiftly evident that these callbacks to an earlier time strike a nerve with people.

“One day photographs will be all we have to remember they even stood one time,” said Woods. “It's second chances to admire the beauty and architecture.”

The abandoned places Babstock walks don’t always feel like they’re supposed to.

Those homes hit your senses differently as you try to picture how families lived a life that was so different from your own, he says, and stepping through their doors pulls you somewhere else.

“Every one of these places has a different feel to them,” said Babstock. “Some places resonate with sadness.”

He recalled an abandoned home he entered — Babstock always gets permission first — where he found a bed that was left behind. It still had some dressing and a pillow laid on top of it.

The floor of another home had long collapsed when he found it. Babstock found a table in the home with dishes still set on it.

The dishes appeared to have been left behind in a hurry, he said.

“There is a different weight to (the place),” said Babstock.

Life has kept west coast photographer Jaimie Maloney from chasing life through a camera lens recently, but that hasn’t diminished her love for photographing and exploring old buildings.

When her schedule did allow her to explore the west coast, she found herself drawn to the older structures she found there.

“I find it draws me in because it wants to tell me a story,” said Maloney. “I go looking at them and feel the energy and think of various people living there and what they may have done.

“It's like the building is talking to you and wants you to share it and pass the information along. It’s almost like being a detective.”

Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network.

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