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Colonial Building

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

Formally Recognized: 1974/05/21

The Colonial Building, St. John's, NL, as it looked c1890 prior to the renovations of the twentieth century.; Government of Newfoundland and Labrador 2005
The Colonial Building, St. John's, NL, c1890
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Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1846/01/01 to 1850/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/06/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Built between 1847 and 1850 by James Purcell, the Colonial Building was the seat of the province’s and colony’s government for over 100 years. Located within a “government district” along Military Road the building is an imposing neoclassical structure which has been serving, in various capacities, as a public government building since 1847. Situated within its original setting on the south-western edge of Bannerman Park the building, the forecourt and its grounds together form a pivotal node in the linkages between the park and adjacent open spaces around the neighboring Government House.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Colonial Building rests in its historical associations, environmental and social context and its architectural significance. Its value from a historical perspective stems from its central role in the political life of the province. As such it stood as the center and principal focus of political activity from 1850 to 1959 as the seat of the Colonial Government, the meeting place of the National Assembly, and the House of Assembly for the Province of Newfoundland. As the former seat of the Government of Newfoundland during its period as a self-governing nation its very presence is a symbol of singular importance to the people of the province. From an architectural perspective it is perhaps the finest example of the early neoclassical style in the province. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was part of the “government district” which encompassed Government House and the Colonial Building and the Commissariat House. The building is both a local landmark for the citizens of the City of St. John’s and a recognizable landmark for the province as a whole due, in part, to its distinct facade which features a forecourt leading up to the stone steps and large columns as well as its associations with the province’s political history. This connection and value has been reinforced throughout its history due to its accessibility as a public building, accommodating government services and providing a venue for protest, celebrations, social events and entertainment.

Source: Designated under "An Act Respecting the Colonial Building", May 21, 1974. Research: John Weiler, Colonial Building Provincial Historic Site Management Plan, October 2003, Historic Resources Division, Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation

Character-Defining Elements

All those exterior features reflective of the building's design in the Classical Revival Style, including:
- forecourt and surrounding grounds- portico with six Ionic columns, surmounted by a pediment containing the Royal Arms;
- cut stone exterior envelope;
- a flight of exterior stone steps; and
- hip roof with lantern in center and 2 chimneys.

All those interior features which relate to the building's design and original function as a seat of government, including:
- interior layout with grand staircase, Council Chamber and Assembly Room, public galleries, mezzanine overlooking main entrance, offices on three floors;
- decorative plaster;
- painting on walls and ceilings of Assembly Room and Council Chamber;
- grand staircase with iron balusters;
- skylight;
- gas-lite chandeliers in both Chambers; and,
- painted walls and ceilings.

All those features which speak to the environmental value of the building, including:
-location in relationship to surrounding buildings and public spaces



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

Province of Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Statute

Historic Resources Act

Recognition Type

Provincial Historic Site

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Governing Canada
Government and Institutions

Function - Category and Type



Legislative Building

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Culture and Heritage Division, Historic SItes Unit, Confederation Building, St. John's, NL

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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