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Commercial Chambers Building

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, A1C, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1997/03/23

Commercial Chambers Building front facade, 197-199 Water Street, St. John's; HFNL 2005
Commercial Chambers Building
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Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/01/18

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Commercial Chambers Building is a Romanesque Revival, brick masonry building located at 197 Water Street, downtown St. John’s. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Commercial Chambers Building was designated a registered heritage structure because it has aesthetic, historic, and cultural values.

The Commercial Chambers Building has aesthetic value because it is a wonderful example of a Romanesque Revival commercial building. This masonry building features many unique details for a downtown St. John’s structure. The five bay façade has arched windows with the central bay projecting in a tower-like formation. Detailed brickwork is delineated by several stringcourses and pilasters. A diaper-pattern feature separates the second floor from the third floor windows, while the first floor boasts a store-front façade. The central bay is further enhanced by large pilasters, a semicircular arch over the door and granite squat dwarf-columns. A stained glass round-arch transom above the main entrance features a schooner, representing the importance of mariners in Newfoundland. The granite dressing stone providing the base for the columns gives a finished look to the entranceway. High above, at the eaves edge, are dentils, heavily moulded parapet and a repetition of semicircular arches. The inscription “Erected 1896” is prominently featured at the top center of the front façade.

Interior details are equally as impressive. Most interior features on the second and third floors are original. Still used as office space, the 19th century details include a central stairwell with original balusters and newel posts. The office doors are original, with wooden panels, and they still feature the brass mail slots and door knobs. Above the office doors are transoms featuring the office number in an old type-font, and many offices have large picture windows facing the interior stairwell. High above the wide stairwell is a skylight, reminiscent of a Romanesque Revival barrel vault.

The Commercial Chambers Building has historic value because of its associations with the builder, William J. Ellis. Constructed in 1896 the Commercial Chambers Building is a fine and well-maintained example of post-fire architecture. William Ellis established his business in 1890 and was one of the most important reconstruction contractors in St. John’s after the devastating Great Fire of July 8, 1892. By the early 1900s Ellis was one of the city’s largest employers. In addition to the Commercial Chambers Building, his most significant projects were the main tunnel of the St. John’s sewage system, the St. John’s Total Abstinence and Benefit Society Hall, and the “Merchant’s Block” on Water Street. Ellis served as a Member of the House of Assembly for Ferryland from 1904-1909, as Mayor of St. John’s from 1910-1914 and as Minister without Portfolio from 1918-1919.

The Commercial Chambers Building has cultural value because it is a symbol of the post-fire reconstruction era. It represents the culture of the time and the resilience of the people of St. John’s in overcoming devastating loss.

Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, unnumbered property designation file, St. John's - Commercial Chambers Building

Character-Defining Elements

All those features of a Romanesque Revival commercial building, including:
-granite columns;
-five bay façade;
-all arches;
-diaper pattern in brickwork;
-first floor store front façade;
-stained glass round arch transom;
-dentils; and,
-inscription on exterior of building.

All original interior features, including:
-central stairwell with original balusters and newel posts;
-office doors with wooden panels, brass mail slots and door knobs;
-transoms featuring the office number;
-large picture windows facing the interior stairwell;
-interior skylight.



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Statute

Historic Resources Act

Recognition Type

Registered Heritage Structure

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design

Function - Category and Type



Commerce / Commercial Services
Office or Office Building

Architect / Designer



William J. Ellis

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1 Springdale Street, St. John's, NL

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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