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Work underway to breathe new life into one of Twillingate’s oldest buildings

Deborah Bourden, left, and Wilma Hartmann purchased the historic Victoria Hall in Twillingate around three years ago, and considerable work has been done so far to maintain the building’s structure. They have plans to utilize the building as an all-purpose venue but are open to other ideas on how the heritage site could be used.
Deborah Bourden, left, and Wilma Hartmann purchased the historic Victoria Hall in Twillingate around three years ago, and considerable work has been done so far to maintain the building’s structure. They have plans to utilize the building as an all-purpose venue but are open to other ideas on how the heritage site could be used. - Kyle Greenham

Restoration efforts are underway to preserve one of the oldest commercial buildings of Twillingate Island.

Deborah Bourden and Wilma Hartmann purchased the historic Victoria Hall, sometimes referred to as the Society of United Fishermen (SUF) Hall, around three years ago. They bought the property with hopes of repairing the then-dilapidated structure and protecting the iconic site of local heritage.

“Really it’s a labour of love for us,” Bourden said. “This building was an important part of this community for many generations and our heritage is important with what we do here as a tourism industry.

“Now with a bit of tender love and care, and a bit of money of course, these buildings can live another life.”

The Victoria Hall was originally used as a storehouse when Twillingate was a major business centre of Notre Dame Bay. By the 1860s, it was used by the merchant firm Messrs. Watterman and Co., and by 1875, the area’s Society of United Fishermen established the building as their headquarters.

Since they’ve begun the restoration, Hartmann and Bourden now believe the building’s construction may date back to the 1820s or ‘30s because of some of the materials used. If this is true, it would make the structure the oldest commercial building in Twillingate.

Bourden recalls her days growing up in Twillingate when the hall was the common spot for school dances and weddings. With their plans to have it converted back into a multi-use facility, the pair hope these kinds of memories can be reborn for another generation.

“We believe that if we’re not continuing to salvage these assets, we lose them and we lose a piece of heritage,” said Hartmann.

Some shingling and painting work had been done when the building was named a municipal heritage designation back in 2007, but little had been done on the property since. When

Bourden and Hartmann first took over ownership from Ontario artist Ann Clarke, who used it for several summers as a studio, they said major work was needed in both preserving the foundation and protecting the roof from collapse.

“It was really threatened with being lost,” Bourden said.

After assessments from a structural engineer last year, concrete blocks were added at the hall’s foundation and pieces of rotted board were replaced at its roof.

But there are challenges to renovating an historic building. The overall look and make of the building has to meet the specifications of the heritage designation guidelines, ensuring the Victoria Hall will maintain its historic appearance.

To preserve the building’s historic aesthetic hasn’t been easy.

“It looks as simple as replacing a door, but it’s really not,” Hartmann said. “It’s a very great task to bring in a door that maintains the integrity and the character of this building. Right now, we’re still researching what kind of rail will be put in to come up the steps outside.

“It will probably be a custom piece, and that’s when restoration is not cheap.”

Throughout this summer, the outside of the building has been repaired, replaced and repainted. Bourden says they plan to begin repairing and designing the inside of the building next spring, and they are still brainstorming ideas of how the hall can be best utilized by both the local community and as a tourism hotspot.

Any locals who have historic photographs, documents or other information relating to the hall are encouraged to reach out to Bourden and Hartmann as they continue to breathe new life into this local monument of history.

“Through culture and heritage, albeit tourism is where the money comes from, we’re now saving the community’s history and those stories,” said Bourden. “This industry is now a driving force in the survival of rural Newfoundland.”

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