A staple of Newfoundland and Labrador’s history, the Colonial Building, sits vacant and near completion after restoration.
Arthur Craig Green
After being the centre of Newfoundland and Labrador’s political history, the future of St. John’s Colonial Building remains optimistic.
Constructed from limestone in the 1850’s, the former home of Newfoundland’s legislature has been a significant part of province’s storied past. It has played a vital role in the social development of the province, and is one of the most important structures still standing in the City of Legends.
“The government of Newfoundland and Labrador remains committed to the restoration and interpretation of the Colonial Building,” said Eric Humber, media relations manager for the Department of Tourism.
Government, said Humber, plans on showcasing the building’s history to the public once completed. Exterior work on the building was completed in 2016. The remainder of the interior repairs and restoration, said Humber, are on schedule.
“The completion of interior building repairs and restoration will be ongoing throughout 2018,” said Humber. “Consequently, because of the continuing restoration work, no one is currently occupying the building. As with any historical structure, restoration of refined building details and historic materials can be much more time-consuming than with a modern building.”
The restoration project has a total budget of $22.3 million. The vision for the building is to fully restore the structure to its original construction, inside and out.
The building will be developed into an interpretation centre, according to Jerry Dick of the Heritage Foundation NL, outlining the political history and development of the province.
“It will be a place that every school kid in the province can visit once completed, and learn about the province’s parliamentary political institutions,” said Dick. “The work is 75 per cent complete.”
During the restoration process it was discovered the building was built on a marsh in the 1850’s. Workers uncovered a series of French drains, which were stone-lined tunnels and stretched behind the building into Bannerman Park. Surprisingly, the drains were still in working order.
Conjecture was that the drains were, in fact, secret tunnels leading from the Colonial Building to unknown locations. That, however, proved to be untrue.
In 2014, a number of citizens were sent into a tizzy when various trees were removed from the property.
“The trees were too close to the building for restoration, and the roots could undermine the structure,” said Dick. “Also, it allows the building to be seen in plain view from the street.”
Dick says renovating the intricate plaster work requires specialized skills and takes time to complete. The province, he said, does not have the expertise and most of the workers had to be brought in from outside.
“Due to the complexities of the repairs, the opening date is still to be determined.” said Humber.