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St. John's Ecclesiastical District National Historic Site of Canada

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2008/04/11

General view of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 2006.; Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, R. Goodspeed, 2006.
General view
General view of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist and the Triumphal Arch, 2006.; Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, R. Goodspeed, 2006.
General view
General view of St. Bonaventure’s College, 2006.; Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, R. Goodspeed, 2006.
General view

Other Name(s)

St. John's Ecclesiastical District National Historic Site of Canada
St. John's Ecclesiastical District
Arrondissement religieux de St. John's

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1826/01/01 to 2000/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2020/06/02

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

St. John’s Ecclesiastical District National Historic Site of Canada is a large, linear shaped parcel of land located in St. John’s Newfoundland, overlooking the north side of Saint John’s Harbour. The district, located in the centre of town, is largely composed of 19th- and 20th-century buildings and landscape features associated with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United (formerly Methodist) and Presbyterian denominations. All but one of the buildings are of masonry construction. The district includes three separate nodes in the downtown area. The first, most northern node contains eight buildings and a cemetery. The second node, to the east, includes a number of largely interconnected buildings, the centrepiece of which is the Basilica of St. John the Baptist National Historic Site of Canada. The third, most southern node contains seven buildings associated with three Protestant denominations, including St. John the Baptist Anglican Cathedral National Historic Site of Canada. Official recognition refers to the three nodes in the downtown area of St. John’s.

Heritage Value

St. John’s Ecclesiastical District was designated a National Historic Site of Canada because:
- this cultural landscape represents the breadth of involvement of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist/United and Presbyterian denominations in the establishment and evolution of the spiritual, philanthropic, charitable and educational institutions of St. John's and Newfoundland during the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as in the political life of the colony;
- it speaks to the evolution of the province's unique denominational system of education, established in stages from 1832 to 1879 and lasting until 1998, and especially to the competition among the denominations that brought this system about;
- it is important architecturally for its ecclesiastical buildings and spaces in unusual proximity to each other and located on an outstanding and unique site on the steep hill overlooking St. John's Harbour, where many of them serve as visual landmarks both from the harbour and within the downtown. The Roman Catholic precinct in particular conveys a sense of time and place through its architecture and spaces.

St. John’s Ecclesiastical District is valued for its historical associations with religion and education in Newfoundland and Labrador. The four denominations represented in the district made considerable contributions to the spiritual, educational, charitable, and political fabric of society. The Roman Catholic Church led by Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming and later by Bishop John T. Mullock, created institutions such as the Orphan Asylum School, the Presentation Convent and St. Bonaventure’s College to provide education for the Catholic community. With the help of the Benevolent Irish Society (BIS), several orders of nuns, and the order of the Irish Christian Brothers, a Catholic system of education was established. Other denominations also contributed to education with similar initiatives. For example, Bishop Edward Field, the second Anglican bishop of Newfoundland, founded the Bishop Feild Collegiate in 1844. The Presbyterians and Methodists founded similar educational facilities, such as the Wesleyan-Methodist College in 1858 and the General Protestant Academy in 1876.

Newfoundland’s unique denominational system began with the first Education Act, passed in 1836, in support of a non-denominational system of education. However, in 1843, Protestant-Catholic friction on the school boards produced the second Education Act, which established separate boards for Protestants and Catholics and allotted grants to other denominational schools. Among the proponents of the system was Bishop Feild, who helped create a system of separate academies (for Catholics, Anglicans, and “General Protestants”) in 1850. In 1875, the denominational system came into effect, which legislated division of educational grants according to denominational strength, and made education the responsibility of state-subsidised individual churches. The system was entrenched in the Terms of Union and continued until 1998 when it was replaced by a secular system of education.

St. John’s Ecclesiastical District is also valued for its architectural importance. Located on a steep hill overlooking St. John's Harbour, it serves as a visual landmark from the harbour and downtown. It includes many ecclesiastical buildings and spaces in unusual proximity to each other, such as St. John the Baptist Anglican Cathedral, founded by Bishop Feild in 1846. Overall, visual impact is achieved through the use of varying materials, architectural styles, and open spaces.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 2007.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
-its location in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland;
-its sitting on a steep hill overlooking the city’s harbour;
-the single use character, including ecclesiastical buildings, cemeteries and monuments;
-the informal organic layout of the district featuring three separate nodes with varying architectural styles, materials and boundaries;
-the various landscape features including trees, shrubs and open spaces.

Elements relating to the first node:
-the lack of cohesion which attests to the organic evolution of the site;
-the variety of masonry construction materials including wood, cut stone, grey stone and brick;
-the Second Empire-style three-and-a-half storey former St. Michael’s Orphanage, with a symmetrical design, central tower and decorative window mouldings;
-the eclectic design of Mount St. Francis Monastery with its bay windows, steeply-pitched dormered roof, quoins and windows with V-shaped arches;
-the modern, 20th-century masonry school buildings (Holy Heart, Brother Rice, and MacPherson) with horizontal massings, flat roofs, associated parking lots and playing fields;
-the rectangular functional design of O’Hehir Arena;
-Belvedere cemetery, including the original burial ground and the linear layout of its paths and monuments.

Elements relating to the second node:
-the sense of time and place conveyed by the layout, building types, masonry construction and architectural design;
-the Lombard Romanesque Revival-style Basilica of St. John the Baptist, with its symmetrical façade, two large towers, semi-circular arched openings and contrasting stonework;
-Basilica square, located in front of the cathedral, including the triumphal arch crowned with a sculpture of St. John the Baptist;
-the Classical Revival-style, two-storey Presentation Convent, and the Presentation School of similar scale with a hip roof and a gabled projecting frontispiece;
-additions to the Presentation buildings such as a chapel, Health Centre, Spiritual Centre, garden and cemetery;
- the Italianate and Renaissance Revival-style Bishop’s Library with its diminishing window height, roof with plain entablature, pedimented window and Tuscan Order porch;
-Bishop’s Palace designed in the classical tradition;
-St. Bonaventure’s College in its symmetrical British Classical style with plain doorframes and curve-headed windows; including later additions such as Mullock Hall, Holland Hall and the chapel;
-the Second Empire-style St. Patrick’s Hall, with a mansard roof and central frontispiece with a tower;
-the buildings of the Sisters of Mercy including the four-storey convent and the Renaissance Revival chapel.

Elements relating to the third node:
-the lack of cohesion which attests to the independent development of each denomination’s properties;
-St. John the Baptist Anglican Cathedral with grey cut stone, a Gothic Revival nave, extended transepts and chancel;
-the Italianate Romanesque Revival-style, Gower Street United Church with bold massing and a symmetrical façade with two towers;
-the High Victorian Gothic Revival-style St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, with its single spire and polychromatic exterior;
-the former Parish Rectory and House designed in the Queen Anne Revival style, characterized by asymmetry, bay windows and irregular rooflines;
-the two-storey, red brick Anglican Parish Hall.

Recognition

Jurisdiction

Federal

Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Historic Sites and Monuments Act

Recognition Type

National Historic Site of Canada

Recognition Date

2008/04/11

Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1846/01/01 to 1846/01/01
1875/01/01 to 1875/01/01
1892/01/01 to 1892/01/01
1949/01/01 to 1949/01/01
1998/01/01 to 1998/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Learning and the Arts
Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Philosophy and Spirituality
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design
Building Social and Community Life
Education and Social Well-Being

Function - Category and Type

Current

Historic

Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Religious Facility or Place of Worship

Architect / Designer

Sir George Gilbert Scott

Builder

Patrick Keough

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Indigenous Affairs and Cultural Heritage Directorate Documentation Centre 3rd Floor, room 366 30 Victoria Street Gatineau, Québec J8X 0B3

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier

11843

Status

Published

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