Category Archives: St. John’s

McAlpine Directories

The McAlpine Directories were a series of registries that listed civic and business addresses of individuals residing in the Atlantic provinces (referred to as the maritime provinces in the inaugural directory). Widely available to residents of St. John’s, the directories were commonly used to locate particular business or household provisions, to send correspondence, and for many other purposes.

The first McAlpine Directory was issued in 1870-71, published by David McAlpine of Halifax; The Center for Newfoundland Studies at MUN has the document available to view in its entirety here. The sections specific to Newfoundland are here. For a note on the earlier Hutchinson’s Newfoundland Directory for 1864-65, see bottom of page.

The documents are searchable, so it’s easy to locate particular streets or surnames (‘search this object’ in menu at left). This allows access to a wealth of data; not just who lived in our home through the last 15 decades, but also can provide information on past socioeconomic profiles of particular streets and neighbourhoods.

Example of listing from 1870-71 McAlpine Directory for Newfoundland

Of course, this information wouldn’t be useful without knowledge of streets and neighbourhoods that existed at the time; Newfoundland GenWeb has a list of former street or property names, and their current counterparts. The list was generated through information outlined in Paul O’Neill’s book, The Oldest City The Story of St. John’s Newfoundland.

Our street name hasn’t changed since the city’s founding, but the residents of our house have changed hands many times. Here’s a list of the names, occupations, and address number of the residents of our street in 1870-71:

Edward Flynn, labourer, civic address #1
Thomas Flynn, labourer, 1
John Lundergan, labourer, 1
Water Company’s Store, 1
George Forward, Sailmaker, 8
John Forward, Sailmaker, 8
George Hutton, groceries and provisions, 9
Robert Hutton, clerk, 9
Thomas Waymouth, shoemaker, 10
Charles Ryan, planter, 15
Malcolm McDaggart, engineer, 16
James Walsh, 17
Thomas Walsh, fisherman, 17
Charles Ghent, Cooper, 20
Edward Power, labourer, 26
Margaret Delany, dressmaker, 27
Mary Ann Delany, wid, 27
Patrick Dillon, ship carpenter, 28
Charles Williams, salesman, 28
James Wallace, fisherman, 29
John Carter, cooper, 30
Rbert Graham, shoemaker, 34
James Dobbin, shoemaker, 34
Michael Purcell, mariner 40
George Anthony, Tallyman, 42
Lawrence Murphy, fisherman, 50
John Ryan, fisherman, 52
Michael Ryan, fisherman, 52
Pierce Ryan, fisherman, 52
Thomas Ryan, fisherman, 52
John Cummins, fisherman 54
Peter Dillon, tinsmith, 54
John St. John, carpenter, 56
Thomas St. John, joiner, 56
James Mullowny, cooper, 58
Beckford bros, fisher and mariner, 59
James Dunn, fisherman, 60
Thomas Hand, fisherman, 61
Elias Grishey, labourer, 63
John Malone, fisherman, 65
Michael Malone, labourer, 65
Daniel Shea, mariner, 66
Jeremiah Dunn, labourer, 66
william Dunn, labourer, 66
Nathaniel Bradbury, labourer, 68
William Heany, Fisherman, 68
Edward Scott, mariner, 69
John Smith, labourer, 71
Israel Squires, shoemaker, 73
George Lilly, carpenter, 75
Albert Wiltshire, blacksmith, 77
Ishmael Wiltshire, carpenter, 77
John Wiltshire, fisherman, 77
John Ready, labourer, 79
Charles Brine, gardener, 80
Thomas Kennedy fisherman, 81
John Cahill, schoolteacher, 85
Robert Dunn, fisherman, 88
James Kennedy, fisherman, 89
Andrew Evi, fisherman, 90
Michael Dickson, labourer, 91
John Skiffen, fisherman, 92
Patrick Walsh, printer, 94
John Walsh, shoemaker, 94
Michael Walsh, mariner, 94
Nicholas Walsh, Fisherman, 94
Patrick Walsh, printer, 94
Daniel Curtain, fisherman, 95
John Griffin, fisherman, 95
John Murphy, fisherman, 95
Patrick Roach, labourer, 97
Anastasia Durney, widow, 99
James Rahill, printer, 99
Michael Mulcahy, porter, 101
Nicholas White, servant man, 103

One-hundred and forty two years ago, Mr. John Cahill, schoolteacher, resided in our house:

This is further evidence that our house is likely an older construction than we initially thought! Our street was dominated by fisherman and labourers, but also several carpenters and shoemakers. Note the many families living together, often sharing the same line of work.

Check out this great advertisement included in the 1870-71 Directory:

The 1894-97 Directory for Newfoundland can be found here. This guide is especially useful because the Great Fire of 1892 displaced many residents and businesses; this volume reflects some of the changed locations. Our street was largely spared in the Great Fire, partially evidenced through the unchanging civic addresses from the 1870 volume to this volume. Also, there are notes about afflicted businesses moving to our street directly after the fire.

The 1894-97 Directory lists a new occupant of our house: John Grace, a labourer. Oooh!

The 1898 Directory for Newfoundland is available here. John Grace is now “time keeper”

It’s interesting to see some of the other new and changing professions of residents on my street, 110 years ago:
Thomas Wilson, engineer, #8
James Culleton, baker, 12
Henry Moore, bicycle repairer, 14
Deni Coffee, pensioner of H.M. Service, 30
John Coffee, plumber, 30
Thomas Collingwood, accountant, 48
William Collingwood, storekeeper, 48
William Fitzgerald, storekeeper, 49
Michael Cahill, labourer, 50
Peter Cahill, wheelwright, 50
George Button, car man, 54
Daniel Curtin, clerk, 56
Mary Devereaux, widow, 81
John Geary, cooper, 95
Robert Duff, clerk, 107

The 1904-05 Directory for Newfoundland can be found here. Some interesting occupations of residents of our street include:
Philip Hanely painter, 5
Alexander Forward, Engineer, 6
John Donnelly, sea capitain, 14
Charles Gear, H.M.C., 24
Francis Knight, H.M.C., 26
John Martin sail maker, 28
Miss Mary Martin, clerk, 28
George Hennebury cooper, 30
Maurice Hallern, carpenter, 46
David Kinsella, miner and prospector , 50
Catherine Coffee, grocer, 52
Miss Annie English Prop. Terra Nova Hand Laundry (w/ ad), 75
Mr. Cahill, wheelwright, 77
John French, teacher, 81
William March, joiner, 83
John Grace, storekeeper City Works, 85
Joh Hillyard teacher, 107

Pretty cool: in 1904, John Grace was still living in our house: he had upgraded from his 1885 occupation as city time keeper, to storekeeper for City Works.

I love this ad for Terra Nova Hand Laundry, on our street:

The 1908-09 Directory for Newfoundland can be found here. It seems that Mr. John Grace is still the occupant of our house, but he’s now a Sanitary Department watchman!

Lastly, the 1915 city Directory for St. John’s is available here. John Grace is not listed in the directory, and two new residents appear to be living in our house:

Mr. Power:

…and Mr. Green:

Another great ad for a store on our street

If the McAlpine Directories help you to flesh out the story of your house, leave a comment!

*The earlier Hutchinson’s Newfoundland Directory for 1864-65 is available here. This directory is much more business oriented than the later McAlpine Directories, and far fewer individuals are counted in its survey. Nevertheless, it is a good resource for historic research.



Filed under Newfoundland+Labrador, St. John's, We Love Local

Foggy Easter Weekend

Classic Newfoundland fog impeded our iceberg hunt this morning, searching for these:

Via Iceberg Finder.

We managed to spot a small berg from Middle Cove Beach, and had an eerie walk through the foggy coastal pasture in Flat Rock.

The Battery.

Fishing boats in port under seagull attack.


Filed under Newfoundland+Labrador, Photos, St. John's

Calm before the storm

The sun is setting over St. John’s, and the next time we see daylight the city will be blanketed in snow. Here’s a few snaps taken from the third floor:

Headlights at Signal Hill

Cabot Tower, houses in the Upper Battery, woodsmoke wafting

Signal Hill trails, and houses in the Lower Battery

The Narrows, jellybean row houses, and the flag

Red, Right, Return!

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Filed under Newfoundland+Labrador, Photos, St. John's

The Basement

What better time of year to show off the creepiest part of our home!

I grew up in a new house, with a finished basement, containing a family room, play room, storage room and half bath/laundry. Despite being the first family to live there, I allowed my superb imagination to convince me of horrific monsters and terrifying ghosts that lived in the carpeted basement. I managed to survive childhood without any interference from metaphysical malevolence, and I’ve lived in some creepy old places, without incident, before finally moving to this house, and seeing a truly scary basement. While I can’t rationalize otherworldly beliefs, I can still spook the shit out of myself on a regular basis.

The door is very, very old. While we can't say for sure, it wouldn't surprise us it's original to the house. Modern modifications include a ventilation grate and an insane amount of hooks.

Our basement is creepy. It’s the original earthen floor surface, with the last owner laying down carpet samples and plastic sheeting. Gaaaah. I don’t want to guess at what lies beneath the wood panel walls he put up. The space is about 12 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 5’5 in the tallest spots (I’m 5’4, conveniently). We use the area for storage of our least valuable items, sealed in Rubbermaid containers. It’s also a great spot to stick off-season outdoor planters and yard items. Ready to see?

The cool turned wood knob on the basement door.

The way down...

At the bottom of the stairs, dirt! How many people can find 19th century artifacts by descending their stairs?! I've found lots of pipe stems, ceramic and glass, and bricks.

Boring to 96% of people, but the 120+ year old joins of the joists and beams are a work of art.

The best bottle we've found. Someone was keeping their stash down here, unsurprisingly.

No clue.

Not sure what this is either; any guesses?

Original brick work, on the wall between our house and our neighbour. Also, the sump pump which saved us during a minor 'water incident'.

Written on the shelf: "The Toronto All Star Big Band (Kids 10-20)"

A wood mantel, identical to the one in the green room on our middle floor. Very excited to freshen this up, and find it a home.

Oooh, but what is this; a heavy Rubbermaid labeled ‘kitchen’, stuck in a back corner??

Depending on your tastes, this is a truly frightening, or magically wondrous final discovery:

Full House, seasons 1 thru 4, Degrassi Junior High, When Harry Met Sally.....etc. Hidden on purpose?

Happy Halloween!


Filed under Basement, St. John's

Time Machine!

James Deetz is considered a father of historical archaeology in North America, and his widely-read In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life emphasized the importance of common objects in interpreting the past. Grand structures and fabulous trinkets may seem most interesting at face value, and they certainly provide important information about our history. However, the objects used in everyday contexts allow insight to the uncelebrated lives of the vast majority of former populations. There are relatively few contemporaneous written accounts that illuminate the lives of the marginalized, like the poor, women, and ethnic groups. This is where objects can help us understand how common people really lived, day-to-day.

Deetz said that diving into an old garbage pile ('midden' in archaeo-speak) was the closest he'd ever get to a time machine. Photo: Plymouth Historical Assoc.

We’re unsure of the precise year our house was built; when we moved in, I did some research at the Registry of Deeds and could only determine that the house existed in the 1890s. Before that record, the trail went cold (although that doesn’t mean much!) We’ve been finding clues through archival material from Memorial University’s Digital Archive Initiative, like the map delineating the area affected by the fire of 1846. Narratives of the Great Fire of 1892 don’t make it clear if our street was affected, but a newspaper notes thta a shopkeeper left shopless relocated his store to our street immediately following the disaster. We can therefore conclude that our street was spared in both fires. There’s so much left to learn, but it’s always exciting to flesh out a little bit more of the story!

Below are photos of some of our favourite artifacts we’ve found throughout the house and backyard (surface finds only!) Each piece adds to the way we understand our house, neighbourhood, and city.

Stamped wallpaper revealed in middle floor bathroom.

Some "English Made" wallpaper, in thatched pattern. Note the linen applied directly to the tongue-and-groove walls, from former wall coverings.

More linen applied to walls.

Each time it rains, ceramic sherds (archaeo-speak again) appear on the surface of our yard. These are a small sample, but a future post will delve into the many ware types and patterns found.

I love this piece, featuring a lady in what was probably a pastoral scene (see the sheep?)

The blue pooling in creases helps to identify these base sherds as pearlware.

We've found countless glass sherds of every type in the backyard, but very few few full bottles. This one is definitely the Koolest (dad joke!)

We're not sure of the story behind this old horseshoe, but it's been nailed to the ancient basement door. It's a common folk belief that hanging a horseshoe with the ends upward is good luck, while the reverse causes the luck to run out of the ends. I doubt we'll change it's orientation!

"Every grain, pure cane": Royal Acadia Sugar Company (Halifax) crate board, circa 1915. This was used to repair a small section of wall on the middle floor.

Victorian sash windows required weights hidden within window frames to operate. We've found a number of the weights in the backyard.

A pair of men's long underwear was tied around the cast iron plumbing pipe. A Newfoundland saying to describe something being broken is "the arse is out of 'er!" , and the arse is definitely out of these pants.

Three of four metal grommets survived, but the buttons had been removed. I've washed 400 year old Basque underwear in the conservation lab, and somehow touching this grosses me out more. Maybe because they're only ~100 years old?

The tag on the rear of the pants; can you make out the label? 'Sanitar...'?

When the laminate flooring is pulled up throughout the rest of the house, it’s likely we’ll have to replace a couple boards; who knows what we could find beneath, since coins often slipped through cracks between boards. We’ve also uncovered a 4’x4’x6′ space somewhere in our house, but we have to keep a few secrets!

We’ll share more of our collection of found oddities in a Halloween post about our creepy basement.

We’d love to hear about the weird and wonderful objects you’ve uncovered around your house and property! Here’s a great article about uncovering treasures that help to tell the story of a house.

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Filed under Newfoundland+Labrador, Photos, St. John's