Commercial Chambers Building
(197 Water Street, St. John's)
Another of the buildings in downtown St. John's built in the years after the Great Fire of 1892, the Commercial Chambers Building has been the home of numerous retail outlets during its century of operation.
© 2004 Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
After the Great Fire of 1892 destroyed much of St. John's, the city began a mass reconstruction effort. William J. Ellis, one of the leaders in this effort, built the Commercial Chambers Building. Born in St. John's in 1857, Ellis entered his father's construction business as a stone mason. By 1890 he started his own business as a contractor and builder.
His timing could not have been better. The Great Fire of 1892 meant his skills were in demand. He was in charge of demolishing dangerous buildings, repairing those that had been damaged in the fire and building new ones. He was also responsible for the installation of the trunk sewer system in St. John's. Later in life, Ellis entered the political arena, serving both as a member in the House of Assembly, the Legislative Council and as mayor of St. John's. He passed away in 1926.
In the years since Ellis built the Commercial Chambers Building, it has housed several prominent local businesses including R. H. Trapnell Ltd., which sold jewellery, and Ewings, which specialised in furs. Above the commercial enterprises were business offices that have also seen their share of well-known tenants. They included Ellis himself, the American Consulate, T. B. Clift Ltd. and Sam Foote, who was a lawyer.
The Commercial Chambers Building remains, over 100 years later, one of the most recognisable buildings in downtown St. John's. It is a three-storeyed Victorian office building with stained-glass windows. The front of the building is brick with granite columns and grey granite dressing stone. The building has also won a St. John's Heritage Foundation Award and was the first commercial property to do so.
The Commercial Chambers Building was recognised as a Registered Heritage Structure in March 1996. It was awarded the Southcott Award for restoration by the Newfoundland Historic Trust in 1997.