Recently, I attended a meeting regarding the future of the old fire hall/town hall in Lewisporte. The meeting, called by the town council, took place inside the old building that has stood at the bottom of Exploit’s Street for most of our lives. The purpose of the gathering was to gauge locals on whether to try and save the post-World War II structure or tear it down.
From the conversations I overheard, most of those in attendance were in support of trying to salvage the building and find a viable way to utilize it. Some of the ideas put forth included a Newfoundland and Labrador Art Gallery, a Performance/Theatre building and a Tea Room. With Lewisporte’s downtown revitalization program at hand, the preservation of this hall seems not only logical, but necessary, in my eyes.
Not everyone at the meeting, however, agreed with my so-called logic. A good friend asked me irritably, “Why do they want to save it? It’s only 50 or 60 years old anyway, it’s not a heritage building.” It’s precisely that ‘out with the old, in with the new’ attitude and lack of foresight that has left Lewisporte without a single business or structure that qualifies as a heritage building.
Having said that, it is important to note that just because a building doesn’t meet the requirements to be declared a Heritage Site doesn’t make it worthless. A structure’s value is in the eyes of its residents and I for one don’t need the Heritage Society or anyone else to qualify what’s important and what’s not. If it feels valuable, it is. It should also be said as well that if the building is indeed preserved, in 20 or 30 years, it will become a heritage site.
Why is it that some towns cherish and preserve its old structures while others see fit to tear down aging buildings and cut down 100 year old trees at the drop of a dime?
Is it a coincidence that historic Twillingate draws thousands upon thousands of tourists every summer? Most people, especially outsiders, love to come to a place and get a sense of its history. Twillingate offers this up in spades. As a community, we’ve really missed the boat on that one. To get an idea of this town’s folly in preserving its past all one needs to do is view pictures of Old Lewisporte gathered by Barry Porter at By the Bay Museum. It’s heart breaking to see all we’ve lost.
As much as this place has to offer, I believe it would be foolish to put every egg that we have in one basket and neglect the need to save the few buildings we have left from a by-gone era. To this end I think it’s our duty to hang onto and nurture structures like H. Days, George’s Seafood Restaurant, the Old Perry house next to the Penny Pincher and the old fire hall among others.
In my 42 years, I’ve seen buildings come and go. Many old privately owned residences were dismantled without fanfare or opposition and fire destroyed structures like the original Woolfrey’s Supermarket, the east end school and Manuel’s old drug store. I was personally saddened as a kid by the loss of these places because they played a memorable part in my life. The aforementioned are gone due to circumstances beyond our control.
But then there are what I consider losses due to unforgivable decision-making. Like when the historic Carson Hotel and Pelly properties were flattened to make a 15-car parking lot for Marine Atlantic. And the mind-boggling decision of a past council to tear down Sammy Fudge’s store, one of the oldest and most recognizable dwellings in Lewisporte, in order to build our current Town Hall on the site! Does anyone else taste the bitter irony in this ludicrous decision-making?
As we left the meeting the other night at the old fire hall, we stood beside it contemplating its fate when Major Peckford decided to set off its vintage alarm. As it wailed, I looked around at the faces and they were all smiling. Smiling because they were remembering. Remembering a simple time. A time without cell phones, computers and violent video games. A time when seeing a bright red fire truck clanging out onto Main Street made a child’s day. Why shouldn’t we want to old onto that, to preserve it?
Regardless of the ultimate decision in the Fire hall’s fate, I think Mayor Peckford and his current council’s decision to consult with the residents on its resurrection or demise shows a great deal of class and respect for its citizens, and much thanks is warranted.
I can’t help but wonder how differently our town would look today had past councils been as courteous.