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Is there a future for this building from the past?


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It will be interesting to see what government will eventually do to the properties of the former papermill it now owns.

One would hope it will act more quickly with Grand Falls House than with the rest of its properties.

That includes the former AbitibiBowater paper mill, the land surrounding it, and the mill manager’s house; and the delightful example of Tudor-style architectural grandeur which is known as Grand Falls House.

Representatives from the departments of Transportation and Works and Tourism, Culture and Recreation, along with the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, have been talking about the house’s future.

It has  sat empty since the mill shut down and dismissed the last staff members responsible for preparing meals in the great kitchens, and keeping the house’s many rooms clean.

Why be concerned about a “big old house?” For starters, it’s part of the area’s heritage. It’s what it signifies. The former Town of Grand Falls was founded by two aspiring British newspaper barons. The house is a legacy of the beginning of industrialization in the province, and a valuable economic boost. People came from all around, including from tiny fishing communities where fisherpeople were in thrall to merchants. They didn’t get pay, but relied on the “truck system” where goods were exchanged based on the amount of fish you caught. The Grand Falls mill marked the first time that many of these people got a job and a paycheque.

Second, the house is one of the first residential buildings still standing in the town, one that hasn’t been demolished or extensively renovated to the point where the original structure is unrecognizable.

Third, it’s a heritage house in other ways.

Lord Northcliffe had it built as a second home for when he and his wife were not in England; it was also a residence when the Northcliffes could entertain dignitaries, business and royalty. The home is also an architectural delight, built as a mock Tudor-style mansion. If you visit England, you can find old homes that look like Grand Falls House, such as William Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon. In the early days of Newfoundland as a British colony, some merchants would have had homes akin to Grand Falls House, though probably smaller. But those houses vanished ages ago.

Fourth, the house is a legacy of a different age. One can only imagine what happened in Grand Falls House, and not just on the business side. Royalty were guests there. One wonders what the parties were like, especially in the early days of the Edwardian age in the early 20th century. There may have been well-to-do folks there, with the men in formal suits and the women in their long skirts. One can also imagine scandal. Some of the lords visiting Grand Falls House may have flirted – or more - with the servants in that old house. Magnates even talked about the First and Second World Wars, and their political opinions (one of the Harmsworths was known to support Hitler).

It’s all up in the air right now for this house.

It’s hoped that the province’s call for Expressions of Interest include suggestions or plans for the building which will respect its heritage. Perhaps government could hang on to it, operate it as a bed and breakfast and make it as a tourist attraction, complete with interpreters dressed in early 20th costume. The local Heritage Society could be in charge of this aspect.

Many would agree, however, that something must be done to preserve the house – before it ends up like the abandoned paper mill.

Sue Hickey

shickey@advertisernl.ca

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