Newfoundland Folk Architecture

The unique and striking architecture of Newfoundland has served to draw many tourists to the province. The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has long recognized and been an advocate of architectural heritage as an important factor in the preservation of Newfoundland's cultural identity. The preservation of individual structures is crucial to the tourist industry, and the economic well being of communities.

Architectural heritage is not only of value to economic growth, it also contributes to social survival. If the value of what our ancestors built and the documentation of the skills used in constructing these buildings are recognized, then Newfoundland heritage in our Canadian society will be further enhanced.

Preserving our Past

Many people are drawn towards our beautiful old buildings and we, as Newfoundlanders, feel a strong pride that goes along with the wood and nails. The preservation of Newfoundland folk architecture in recent years has received deserving attention. In Bonavista, for example, the community college has developed a heritage carpentry course. Students learn how to reconstruct heritage houses, and as a result they are also enriched with the art of making traditional furniture. In Trinity, a number of local carpenters have revived the making of traditional windows and have created a market for these products throughout the province. Also, an inventory of Newfoundland folk homes is being compiled as part of a strategy to preserve Newfoundland's architectural heritage.

Location

Due to the lifestyles of early Newfoundlanders, many of their houses were built upon hillsides and cliffs by the sea. This would allow for easy access to the water for fishing. This posed a problem for the fishermen since building on a steep incline was risky business. The houses were unstable and in heavy rains, very unpredictable. In 1973, a mud slide caused by heavy rains swept four houses built along a hillside into the harbour. Four children died that night. This is a dark side of Newfoundland folk architecture; our houses are subject to harsh environmental conditions.

Salt Boxes

Construction Materials

A distinguishing feature of the majority of houses in Newfoundland is their wooden construction. The reason for this goes back to the seventeenth century. When settlers first landed on our shores they could not ignore the abundance of lumber around them. The style at the time in Europe was to build with lumber so these New World settlers also built their houses of wood.

Availability of wood was not the only reason why they chose lumber as the best material. Building a stone or brick house required a great deal of time and money, neither of which was available to most settlers. To build a stone or brick house required special skills and many months of dry warm weather which Newfoundland does not always enjoy. As well, bricks had to be shipped from England in order to have them as a building material. Stone was not an acceptable building material either, because the settlers would have to locate and operate an accessible quarry.

Classification

Newfoundland heritage homes are classified into four categories:

First Generation House

Sometimes referred to as a settlers house, these homes were built most frequently from 1835-1910. These houses were very rugged looking one storey dwellings and were made from rudimentary materials.

First Generation House
First Generation House
Reproduced by permission of David Mills. From John J. Mannion, ed., The Peopling of Newfoundland: essays in historical geography, Social and Economic Papers series; No. 8 (St. John's, NL: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, © 1977) 84, 89, 86.

Second Generation House

Better known as a salt box, these homes were built most frequently from 1865-1920. The house pictured below was basically a settlers house, but was built with higher quality materials. This house, however, had one and a half storeys.

Second Generation House
Second Generation House
Reproduced by permission of David Mills. From John J. Mannion, ed., The Peopling of Newfoundland: essays in historical geography, Social and Economic Papers series; No. 8 (St. John's, NL: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, © 1977) 84, 89, 86.

Third Generation House

This house is also known as a salt box (modified). It was built most frequently between 1880-1935. This house had two full storeys and was slightly larger than the salt box.

Third Generation House
Third Generation House
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 303, 122.

Fourth Generation House

This house, the largest of the folk houses, has two full storeys, a central half hall, and a flat roof. This house, known as a biscuit box, was built most frequently between 1870-1960.

Fourth Generation House
Fourth Generation House
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 303, 122.

This classification system helps researchers document existing folk homes. This is illustrated in the table below entitled "Development of House Styles 1835-1960" which was taken from The Peopling of Newfoundland.

Development of House Styles 1835-1960
Development of House Styles 1835-1960
Reproduced by permission of David Mills. From John J. Mannion, ed., The Peopling of Newfoundland: essays in historical geography, Social and Economic Papers series; No. 8 (St. John's, NL: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, © 1977) 84, 89, 86.

Bonavista Folk Architecture

Bonavista, Newfoundland's largest fishing community, was first settled in the late 1600s. While fishing was the principle occupation of the people of Bonavista for four centuries, fishermen also built houses, flakes, boats, and furniture. The fine buildings and unique architectural features of this town provide a great example of the skills and creativity of these craftsmen.

Bonavista is unique in that it has a large range of styles and features, many of which are unique to the town. Finely detailed houses and notable institutional and commercial buildings all form a part of the town's landscape.

The folk architecture of Bonavista is rich in interesting details which is in contrast to most Newfoundland towns, where construction methods were simpler. Quality craftsmanship and attention to detail is evident in the construction of most buildings in Bonavista.

Features of Folk Houses in Bonavista

*Steep Gable:

The most common residential house type features a steeply peaked roof.

House Featuring a Steep Gable Roof
House Featuring a Steep Gable Roof
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 112, 215, 383, 105, 229.

*Double Front Peak:

Particually unique to Bonavista, this type of house with its twin steeply peaked dormers is attributed to builder Ronald Strathie who constructed many fine houses and buildings in Bonavista.

House with Double Peaked Dormers
House with Double Peaked Dormers
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 112, 215, 383, 105, 229.

*Low to Mid Slope Gable:

These homes, featuring a lower sloped roof style, are in many cases steep gabled houses that have been cut down for ease of roof maintenance.

House Featuring a Low Slope Gable Roof
House Featuring a Low Slope Gable Roof
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 112, 215, 383, 105, 229.

*Victorian Mansard:

This folk house style is usually highly detailed with mansard roof and bay or dormer windows.

House with Mansard Roof
House with Mansard Roof
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 112, 215, 383, 105, 229.

*Hipped Gable:

Also rich in design, these houses were constructed with dormer windows and a steep gable roof as well as a small hip roof at each end.

House Featuring a Hipped Gable Roof
House Featuring a Hipped Gable Roof
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, NL: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, © 1995) 112, 215, 383, 105, 229.

*Salt Box:

A traditional folk house type all over Newfoundland, the Salt Box style, named for its shape, which resembled the boxes used for shipping salt to Newfoundland, was one of the earliest forms of house construction. The Salt Box traditionally had a shorter steep roof line in front and a longer steep slope in back. The house, therefore, looked bigger from the front than it actually was.

Second Generation Salt Box House
Second Generation Salt Box House
Reproduced by permission of David Mills. From John J. Mannion, ed., The Peopling of Newfoundland: essays in historical geography, Social and Economic Papers series; No. 8 (St. John's, NL: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, © 1977) 89.