Colours of the past: Heritage Foundation relaunches historic paint palette

·2 min read
People repaint an older building in St. Julien's. The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has launched a new line of paints to recreate the historic colours of the province. (Heritage N.L. - image credit)
People repaint an older building in St. Julien's. The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has launched a new line of paints to recreate the historic colours of the province. (Heritage N.L. - image credit)

The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador is relaunching a paint palette inspired by the past, a collection of historic paint colours that covered people's homes and stages in towns and outports across the province.

The non-profit Crown corporation used to have a similar line available at Templeton's but since that company shut down its retail operations in 2017, Heritage N.L. went back to its collection and records to start a new line, this time in a partnership with the Paint Shop, an Atlantic Canadian retailer with locations throughout the province.

"In the original collection, it was a lot of the kind of Templeton's brands that were really popular in Newfoundland, that have been used over the years," said Andrea O'Brien, Heritage N.L.'s municipal outreach officer.

"When we worked with the Paint Shop, we actually went in and kind of did a deeper dive into the history of colour in Newfoundland," she told CBC News in a recent interview.

Heritage N.L.
Heritage N.L.

Heritage N.L. staff dug into what stores sold in the past, pored over old advertisements going as far back as the 1800s for paint colours and looked through diaries in which people described the colours they were painting their homes.

The research became easier when colour photography arrived, and staff could directly see what people were putting on their houses, O'Brien said.

City of St. John's Archives
City of St. John's Archives

Some buildings, such as railroad buildings, were painted very specific colours, but Newfoundland and Labrador wasn't always as colourful as they are today, O'Brien said.

"Traditionally, people didn't paint their stages at all. They just kind of let the wood weather over time," O'Brien said. "And some stages on the long side spans didn't even have any water on them. They just had the beams exposed."

Heritage N.L.
Heritage N.L.

Utilitarian buildings would also usually have a simple lime wash or red or yellow ochre powder mixed with natural oils that were available. The colours of the ochre powder would also change depending on what oil it was mixed with.

"So some of these paints are actually duplicating colours that weren't necessarily paints in the first go-around," O'Brien said.

In cities like St. John's, homes were often painted darker colours because soot in the air was a common reality of life, O'Brien said. In outport communities the bursts of colours began appearing on houses earlier than in larger cities because there was less coal burned and the colour would last longer, she said.

"After World War II, you saw a lot of really pastel colours come out and outports jumped on that right away," she said.

The new palette has more than 100 colours, she said, made by U.S. paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore and available at the Paint Shop locations.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador