Description of Historic Place
Port Union Registered Heritage District includes the original townsite of the community of Port Union and its upriver hydroelectric generating plant, and is at present day contained within the Municipality of Trinity Bay North. The townsite portion of the district is a compact area in the hilly terrain alongside Catalina Harbour. It contains wharves and larger commercial buildings nearest the waterfront, with housing, a church and a cemetery further inland. The district’s boundaries are the harbour, Reid Road and Coaker Drive; it includes the enclave of Fishermen’s Protective Union rental houses above Coaker Drive. The district also includes the hydroelectric power station approximately one-and-a-half kilometers west on Catalina River, and the station’s associated penstock, flume take, canal, dam and reservoir.
Port Union Registered Heritage District has tremendous historic value as the physical manifestation of the vision of William (later Sir William) F. Coaker and the Fishermen’s Protective Union (FPU). Coaker established the FPU in 1908, aiming for social and economic reforms to provide fishermen with a more significant share of the wealth that their industry produced. Loosening the grip of merchants on the cod fishery was a key piece of this goal. The FPU was Newfoundland fishermen’s first organized protest movement, and a political force for decades. Its charismatic leader looms amongst the largest of Newfoundland’s historical figures.
Coaker founded Port Union in 1916 to serve as headquarters for the Fishermen’s Protective Union (FPU) and its commercial arm, the Fishermen’s Union Trading Company (FUTC). By the early 1920s the union-established town had a population of around 600 people and included residences, a large salt fish plant with its own cooperage, a retail store supporting a network of outport stores, a newspaper, a shipyard, a hotel, a church and a large meeting hall. It was one of the first communities in rural Newfoundland to have electric power, with its own hydroelectricity generating plant over a kilometre upriver from the core of the townsite, supplying Port Union and the region. For its time and at its height, Port Union was a remarkably self-sufficient, busy centre. It remains as the only union-built town in the history of Canada.
Port Union Registered Heritage District is a compact area evoking Port Union’s historic heyday, dense with landmarks in the form of notable buildings and landscape features, and distinctive streetscapes. Its key buildings include the Fish Plant and Retail Store complex, the Union Electric Light and Power Co. Limited Office/Store, the Factory/Fishermen’s Advocate Building, the Hotel, Port Union Railway Station, Church of the Holy Martyrs, The Bungalow (Coaker’s residence) and more modest single-family bungalows. The duplex residences of the FPU Rental Properties form two distinctive streetscapes. The Union Shipyard and the hydroelectric generating station building and its associated penstock, canal and dam are important landscape elements. Meanwhile, a large bronze bust of Sir William F. Coaker himself overlooks the district from the hilltop Coaker Gravesite, adjacent to the former location of the Congress Hall where the FPU held annual general meetings.
Source: Port Union Registered Heritage District file, Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, Designated at Meeting #55, April 26-27, 2007.
All those built elements of the Port Union townsite and hydroelectric station, in their historic locations:
- the generally informal townsite layout on the hilly terrain;
- waterfront grouping of commercial buildings, and moving back from the harbour and up the hill, the former railway station and post office;
- the full range of buildings and structures relating to the townsite’s self-sufficiency;
- the V-shaped layout of townsite streets;
- distinctive streetscapes formed by FPU housing;
- the predominance of wood-frame construction;
- predominant building exterior colour palette of brown, yellow, blue and white;
- wood-frame housing (mainly duplexes with a few singles) with wooden cladding, rectilinear two-storey massing under gable roofs, classically-inspired vernacular design, differentiated to reflect occupant income levels and serviced with water and electricity;
- surviving, locally made wooden doors and window sashes;
- the wood-frame, vernacular Queen Anne Revival style former Coaker residence known as The Bungalow, set within a grassed lot framed by fencing, and overlooking the harbour;
- the Gothic Revival style Holy Martyrs Anglican Church with its twelve commemorative stained glass windows, on its rocky site;
- the Coaker gravesite with its marble tomb topped by a bronze bust set within a fenced lawn on a hilltop site near the community cemetery;
- and the single-storey, concrete, gable-roofed hydro-electric plant beside the Catalina River, with nearby penstock/flume, intake, canal, dam and reservoir.