Home to undergo restoration work before reopening as museum, space for community events
You may not know it unless your family has roots in the Northeast Avalon community, but there's a lot of history in the town of Torbay.
While there's some documented evidence of European settlements in Torbay dating back to the 17th century, it wasn't until after the arrival of British Colonel William Amherst on Sept. 13, 1762 that people started taking up permanent residence in the area. Amherst was on his way to St. John's to recapture the city from the French in what became known as the Battle of Signal Hill.
Torbay may be among the fasted-growing municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the town council does not want to lose sight of its history, and that's why Mayor Craig Scott, among others, is excited about an opportunity that's just around the corner for the town.
In 2017, Torbay finalized a deal to purchase the former priest's home on Convent Lane for $370,000. It hopes to start interior renovations over the winter before moving on to exterior work next spring. A request for proposals is out now for a project manager, with a Nov. 15 deadline set for applications to be submitted.
"This was probably the last significant heritage building that we had in the town where there was potential for us to get it," said Scott, noting St. Michael’s Convent was torn down a number of years ago, as was the old church.
Of course, it's no good buying a potential heritage property without having an intended use for it. In recent years, the town hall underwent significant renovations. The local library and museum both used to be there, but with the growing municipality needing more office space, this arrangement was no longer feasible. The library has since moved out and the museum is presently closed, with its contents stored away.
From the start, the plan was to eventually move the museum into the priest's home. The house was built in 1910, and several of its original features were maintained over the years, including sturdy hardwood floors and staircases, and several fireplaces. The town also arranged to keep some of the furniture as part of the purchase.
The Torbay Museum was established in 1988. It has a wide selection of artifacts and archival items, including many from St. Michael’s Convent and items related to the fishery, farming, domestic life and military history. The town also acquired an extensive collection of mummers memorabilia.
"Our beach and our coastline is probably our main attraction, but when people come here we want to have other things for them to do, too," Scott said. "It's nice to show our town has been around for over 250 years and there's a lot of history and stories that we want to be able to tell. And we're going to be able to do it in this building when it's done."
The Torbay History House and Museum will serve a dual purpose. Deanne Lawrence, economic development and tourism officer for the town, said community groups may be able to set up offices in the basement and hold events — some have already done the latter in the garden.
The side of the house facing the main road used to have a wrap-around veranda, and Lawrence said the town hopes to restore this feature as part of the project.
The restoration work is budgeted at $1 million. The town is covering just over half that amount, at $549,997, with additional support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency ($262,017), the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation ($112,875) and a private donor ($75,111).