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James Ryan Shop
(Elliston)

The James Ryan Shop in Elliston is an important and well-preserved example of the mercantile architecture once common through Newfoundland in the 19th century. A building of a sort now found only in scattered locations throughout the province, the James Ryan Shop holds an important place in the mercantile history of the Bonavista Peninsula.

© 1998 Heritage Foundation
of Newfoundland and Labrador

(17Kb)

Designed by James Ryan, the shop operated as a mercantile premises continuously from circa 1900 until 1978. It was possibly built by Robert Ryder, who did much of the firm's large scale carpentry work during this period. A three-story 19th century mercantile structure with a sharp peak gable roof, the James Ryan Shop is typical of commercial buildings on the northeast coast of Newfoundland and the trademark style of the James Ryan firm.

The ground floor, the main retail space, is divided into two main areas: the more detailed shop (with office) on the western side where the smaller, packaged items were sold, and a secondary shop or store on the eastern side where larger bulk goods may have been sold. The two upper storeys were used for storage of goods and fish, and were accessible through the loading doors using a pulley system, typical of mercantile buildings. There is an unusual lift, similar to a dumbwaiter, on the eastern side designed for moving goods up to the second floor.

James Ryan had one of the most prosperous mercantile concerns in outport Newfoundland in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The firm began at Bayley's Cove, Bonavista in 1857 and by 1869 had established its headquarters in the central part of Bonavista known as the "Harbour." The firm grew and prospered, establishing premises from Bay de Verde in Conception Bay to Batteau in Labrador. By 1895 its total production of codfish amounted to 100,000 quintals, approximately ten percent of Newfoundland's total codfish exports for that year.

From its inception, the firm relied heavily on Elliston (Bird Island Cove) for its success. With its large population, approaching 1,000 by 1900, it was an important and relatively prosperous fishing community, and local dealers always supplied a sizable proportion of the firm's fish. Initially the firm operated two seasonal barter shops there in rented premises - Bird Island Cove South and North - but by 1900 decided to build its own substantial premises at Bird Island Cove South. Soon after, the new premises became a year round branch of the firm, reflecting its importance to the trade. The firm exited the fish business in the early 1950s but continued as a wholesale/retail general merchandise operation until 1978. The firm's only surviving premises - Bonavista and Elliston - closed in that year.

The James Ryan Shop in Elliston was designated as a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in October of 1998.


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