Description of Historic Place
The Port Union Historic District is the original part of a small town on the south of the Bonavista Peninsula in Newfoundland. Dominated by imposing commercial buildings on the harbour, it rises up a rocky hillside with scattered clusters of wooden houses and outbuildings. An associated hydroelectric station lies almost a kilometre and a half to the west on the Catalina River. The designation applies both to the townsite and to the hydroelectric plant, including the area bounded by the harbour front, Reid Road, Coaker Dr. and including the enclave of Coaker houses above Coaker Dr., as well as the town's hydroelectric power station (including penstock/flume, take to flume, canal, dam and reservoir).
Port Union Historic District was designated a national historic site of Canada because:
- it is an outstanding example of a significant social phenomenon, that of the establishment of a union town noted for its commercial success in the face of aggressive competition from commercial merchants in Newfoundland;
- the community serves as both a symbol and an expression of the Fishermen's Protective Union and its success is severing, for a time, a centuries-old dependence on Newfoundland merchants;
- the town of Port Union is the expression of union president William Coaker's vision backed financially and politically by union members, most of whom were fishermen; and
- the union origins of Port Union, are embodied in the site, including the hydro facility, setting, vernacular architecture, and plan, which together convey a strong sense of place and history, still readily identifiable with a minimum of intrusive elements.
Port Union is the only town in Canada founded by a union. In 1916, the Fishermen's Protective Union, led by William Coaker, began constructing buildings along an empty stretch of shoreline. By 1926, the union had established premises for its retail, export, shipbuilding and publishing companies; the town also included a large meeting hall, a railway station, a church, and duplexes for workers. A hydro-electric plant, located over a kilometre away, supplied the community. The town's original layout and many intact buildings speak to its commercial and industrial success during is heyday (1918-1925) as a vibrant international port.
Sources : Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1998; Report to the status of designations committee, HSMBC, 2004.
Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- the informal plan, reflective of the site's geography, and its bipartite nature with a harbour side area and the hydro-electric plant area,
- the single-storey, concrete, gable-roofed hydro-electric plant sited beside the Catalina River, with nearby penstock/flume, intake, canal, dam and reservoir,
- townsite area organized with waterfront grouping of commercial buildings, and moving back from the harbour and up the hill, the former railway station and post office; a collection of houses, Coaker's former residence, "The Bungalow" with nearby gravesite and monument, and Holy Martyrs Anglican Church,
- the V-shaped layout of townsite streets,
- the full range of buildings and structures necessary to ensure the town's self-sufficiency,
- the presence of functioning wharves,
- the predominance of wood-frame construction,
- predominant colour palette of yellow, blue and white,
- wood-frame housing (mainly duplexes with a few singles) with wooden cladding, rectilinear two-storey massing under gable roofs, standardized classically inspired 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 set within a grassed lot framed by fencing, overlooking the harbour,
- the Gothic Revival-style Holy Martyrs Anglican Church with its twelve commemorative stained glass windows, on its Picturesque rocky perch,
- 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.