A recent report has the Town of Harbour Grace looking in a new direction for its heritage district.
Completed by Heritage NL, in partnership with the town as well as the Harbour Grace board of culture, innovation and business, the report hopes to reimagine the district to include boardwalks, interpretive displays and other amenities.
Called the Harbour Grace Heritage Development Plan and Ridley Hall Adaptive Reuse Study, it will take in the part of town that runs from Point of Beach and Cochrane Street down Water Street to the former Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church.
“This is something we’ve been working on for awhile,” said Harbour Grace economic development officer Matthew McCarthy.
Talks between the town and Heritage NL had been ongoing since 2018 about developing the heritage district, but those really ramped up last summer as the Harbour Grace board of culture, innovation and business got involved with the process.
It coincided with Heritage NL having three architecture students working for it last summer.
“We thought here is a great skillset that we can start to visualize and come up with a concept development plan both for developing the heritage district and also looking, specifically, at the Ridley Hall ruin,” said Heritage NL executive director Jerry Dick.
Harbour Grace’s heritage district was among the first of its kind in the province to receive the provincial heritage designation. That happened in 1992.
The report would see three separate focuses. The first would be a harbour walk that would extend the length of the heritage district along Water Street.
There would also be a focus on historic laneways, or paths, that run between many of the buildings along the route.
The final focus will be the shipyard walk, which would showcase the town’s historical link to the shipbuilding industry.
Since both the old courthouse and the former Catholic church are in the district, there would be an effort to incorporate the Yellowbelly Brewery's efforts to revitalize those structures.
“Right now, heritage is at the forefront again,” said McCarthy.
On top of revitalizing parts of the town’s heritage district, the report includes a plan that would turn Ridley Hall into something usable.
The dilapidated stone building sits in the heart of the district and was built in 1834 by merchant Thomas Ridley. It was severely damaged by a fire in 2003 and has progressively gotten worse as the years have rolled on.
Questions about what to do with the property have long been bandied about by town council and history buffs in Harbour Grace.
“It is kind of a focal point in the district,” Dick said of Ridley Hall.
He knows the district well, having once restored and operated a bed and breakfast near the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace.
With a complete restoration of the building falling on the expensive side, this plan would see a new community space rise from the remnants of the building.
A redevelopment of the site would include turning the ruins of the building into an outdoor community venue, an ornamental garden and a recreation facility for sports such as croquet or lawn bowling.
The frame of the Ridley Hall would remain, adding to the further appeal of the project and keeping it in tune with the original use of the property.
“There would be nothing really like it in the province,” said Dicks.
The project will aim to highlight some of the unique features of homes in the district and hopes to be a focal point for tourism in the region for locals and people from out of town.
With the report in hand, the next step will be to apply for funding to help get the project started.
“There’s a sense locally that Harbour Grace has lagged behind other historic towns, that we haven’t centred our rich heritage from an economic development perspective,” said McCarthy. “Hopefully this report and ongoing restoration projects in the district will signal things are changing for the better.”
Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice