Newfoundland Folk Architecture

by Andrew Woodland

The unique and striking architecture of Newfoundland has served to draw many tourists to the province. The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has long recognized and been an advocate of architectural heritage as an important factor in the preservation of Newfoundland's cultural identity . The preservation of individual structures is crucial to the tourist industry, and the economic well being of communities.

Architectural heritage is not only of value to economic growth, it also contributes to social survival. If the value of what our ancestors built and the documentation of the skills used in constructing these buildings are recognized, then Newfoundland heritage in our Canadian society will be further enhanced.

Preserving our Past

Many people are drawn towards our beautiful old buildings and we, as Newfoundlanders, feel a strong pride that goes along with the wood and nails. The preservation of Newfoundland folk architecture in recent years has received deserving attention. In Bonavista, for example, the community college has developed a heritage carpentry course. Students learn how to reconstruct heritage houses, and as a result they are also enriched with the art of making traditional furniture. In Trinity, a number of local carpenters have revived the making of traditional windows and have created a market for these products throughout the province. Also, an inventory of Newfoundland folk homes is being compiled as part of a strategy to preserve Newfoundland's architectural heritage.

Location, Location, Location!

Due to the lifestyles of early Newfoundlanders, many of their houses were built upon hillsides and cliffs by the sea. This would allow for easy access to the water for fishing. This posed a problem for the fishermen since building on a steep incline was risky business. The houses were unstable and in heavy rains, very unpredictable. In 1973, a mud slide caused by heavy rains swept four houses built along a hillside into the harbour. Four children died that night. This is a dark side of Newfoundland folk architecture; our houses are subject to harsh environmental conditions.

















































First Generation House

Sometimes referred to as a settlers house, these homes were built most frequently from 1835-1910. These houses were very rugged looking one story dwellings and were made from rudimentary materials.

Figure 1

Second Generation House

Better known as a salt box, these homes were built most frequently from 1865-1920. The house pictured below was basically a settlers house but was built with higher quality materials. This house, however, had one and a half storeys.

Figure 2

Third Generation House

This house is also known as a salt box (modified). It was built most frequently between1880-1935. This house had two full storeys and was slightly larger than the salt box.

Figure 3

Fourth Generation House

This house, the largest of the folk houses, has two full storeys, a central half hall, and a flat roof. This house, known as a biscuit box was built most frequently between 1870-1960.

Figure 4

This classification system helps researchers document existing folk homes. This is illustrated in the table below entitled "Development of House Styles 1835-1960" which was taken from The Peopling of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Figure 5

(Figures 1, 2 & 5)
Reproduced by permission of David Mills. From John J. Mannion, ed., The Peopling of Newfoundland: essays in historical geography, Social and Economic Papers series; No. 8 (St. John's, Newfoundland: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1977) 84, 89, 86.

(Figures 3 & 4)
Reproduced by permission of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Newfoundland. From Dale Jarvis, ed., Heritage Inventory of the Bonavista Peninsula: preliminary Inventory report of selected pre-1920 structures in the Bonavista Peninsula area, vol. 1 (St. John's, Newfoundland: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1995) 303, 122.

Source: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project