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Retreat Cottage

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, A1A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1993/05/15

Front facade of Retreat Cottage, 14 Kenna's Hill, St. John's; Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador 2005.
Retreat Cottage, 14 Kenna's Hill, St. John's
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Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/02/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Secluded from a heavily trafficked road on a large, well-treed lot on a hill overlooking Quidi Vidi Lake, Retreat Cottage at 14 Kenna’s Hill is a two and a half storey gable roof structure. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

Retreat Cottage was designated a Registered Heritage Structure because it has historic and aesthetic values.

Retreat Cottage is historically valuable because of its age and the associations with very many important Newfoundlanders who lived in the house. Retreat Cottage was built in 1834, or earlier, likely as a country retreat for Edward Mortimer Archibald. Archibald was clerk of the assembly and later became attorney general. The builder was probably Alexander Norris, a Scots carpenter/architect who had earlier worked on the construction of Newfoundland’s Government House, completed in 1831.

Archibald rented the house to Christopher Ayre, the governor’s secretary and later marshal of the Vice-Admiralty Court, who lived there until his wife’s death in 1837. In 1847 Archibald sold it to the Honourable William Thomas, who was a merchant and member of the Legislative Council. Thomas leased the property to a number of people, including Edward Dalton Shea, who was proprietor of The Newfoundlander and, afterwards, President of the Legislative Council.

The first owner-occupant was the Honourable John Hayward, a judge who acquired the property in 1868. He was also a former member of the House of Assembly for Harbour Grace. It was Hayward who began the garden which was further developed by Annabella Stein who, with her husband Robert Carl Von Stein, bought the property in 1895.

By 1918 Retreat Cottage was owned by Sir Charles Hutton, a musician, teacher and businessman born in St. John’s. Hutton was an accomplished musician who staged many concerts province-wide, and the musical supplies company he established in 1883 is, in essence, still operating today. Retreat Cottage remained in the Hutton family until 1970 when the home was purchased by Shane and Maire O’Dea.

Shane O’Dea is an English Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and has been the recipient of several teaching awards, including the Canadian Professor of the Year awarded in 1988 and the 3M Teaching Fellowship in 2002. Professor O’Dea has done extensive research on historic buildings and vernacular construction in Newfoundland. His research on Retreat Cottage has enabled the history of the home to be thoughtfully and accurately recorded. O’Dea is currently living in Retreat Cottage.

Retreat Cottage has aesthetic value because it is an interesting document of Victorian building practices. The house is a 2 ½ storey structure with an unusually heavy timber frame, brick nogging on the ground floor and a central hall plan. Originally constructed as a one room deep structure, it became a salt-box with the rear addition in about 1837. The house has undergone several alterations so that the style is now an eclectic vernacular. The house was first altered in 1847 by the extension of the dining room and drawing room into the side porches. More radical alterations were made in the 1870’s when the rear roof was raised and a mansard and several rooms were added to the back of the house. Both the interior and exterior of the house have survived remarkably intact since that time. Other notable features of the house are the Regency-style trellises on the west, the large, projecting chimneys and the sunporch at the front. There is a working kitchen cast-iron range circa 1840-50 set into the kitchen fireplace. The house has narrow wooden clapboard, eaves brackets and wide cornerboards. Some of the 2/2 windows have interior wooden shutters and some have pilaster mouldings. Retreat Cottage is a testament to a time when care and thought was put into house construction and it shows the progression of the life of the house and the lives of its various owners. Retreat Cottage received the Southcott award in 1988 for heritage restoration.

Character-Defining Elements

All those elements that speak to the building's age and unique and ecclectic design, including:
-narrow wooden clapboard;
-heavy timber frame with brick nogging;
-steeply pitched salt-box roof with mansard at rear;
-Regency-style trellises;
-open veranda;
-2/2 windows;
-window locations and dimensions;
-window mouldings;
-eaves brackets;
-wide cornerboards;
-original interior details: kitchen range, drawing room shutters, fireplaces; and,
-orientation, location and dimensions.



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



Single Dwelling

Architect / Designer



Alexander Norris

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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