Top News

EDITORIAL: St. John's history lesson — if these walls could talk

Archival researcher and oral historian Rachel Green outside 275 Duckworth St. in St. John’s. The building, constructed circa 1910, has had an interesting life. — Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Archival researcher and oral historian Rachel Green outside 275 Duckworth St. in St. John’s. The building, constructed circa 1910, has had an interesting life. — Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The history of a place is not just a list of dates and a series of events deemed worthy to be recorded for posterity.

No, history encapsulates a whole lot of unquantifiable things — seemingly trivial incidents, day-to-day life and work, and all the tragedies and triumphs, large and small, of human interactions within a place and time.

A project begun in downtown St. John’s recognizes that and is bringing to light glimpses from the life of one Duckworth Street building.

The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador — which occupies the lower floors of the building in question, 275 Duckworth — has paired up with Heritage NL to unearth the past of the 1910 structure and is holding a reunion this summer for people who worked there, or their descendants.

If every community in the province set out to tell the story of one or two key buildings in their community, it would surely be of interest to tourists, not to mention enrich future generations’ knowledge of where they came from.

The Telegram’s forebear — The Evening Telegram — was on site from the 1950s to the 1980s. A page one story by reporter Barb Sweet on Tuesday contained vivid reminiscences from people who made a living there in those years, people who worked to spread the news about key events of the day and in doing so made their own contributions to culture and heritage.

Rachel Green, an archival researcher and oral historian with the project, noted that the stories of the building reflect St. John’s history in microcosm, from the industrial era to modern times.

Indeed, just within the newspaper industry, that evolution has brought us a time when print composers used lead type and reporters hammered away on battered typewriters in a smoke-filled room, to today’s age of high-speed internet and Wi-Fi.

It’s a project that could have influence outside the confines of one downtown building.

If those walls could talk, as Sweet’s article mused, imagine the tales that other historic buildings could tell.

Think of the fascinating stories that could emerge from structures in older parts of St. John’s that could be researched and recorded and then presented in printed, audio, visual and digital form for livyers and visitors.

It’s an ambitious idea, but one worth considering. The rewards in terms of preserving our history would be immeasurable.

And if it can be done for one St. John’s building, think of the broader application. If every community in the province set out to tell the story of one or two key buildings in their community, it would surely be of interest to tourists, not to mention enrich future generations’ knowledge of where they came from.

At 275 Duckworth St., picture scores of women and men toiling overs their sewing for the Newfoundland Clothing Company, while below them other workers made the boxes needed for shipping.

Fast forward 50 years and imagine the curl of smoke from Ray Guy’s cigarette and hear the clatter of pounding keys as he and other journalists churned out the news of the day.

One grey building. Stones and mortar. And a whole lot of stories just waiting to be told.

Recent Stories