Water Street Historic District National Historic Site of Canada
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
© Agence Parcs Canada/Parks Canada Agency, J. Harris, 1986.
Water Street (corner of George Street), St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1847 to 1916
1846 to 1900
Event, Person, Organization:
P. et L. Tessier
Water Street Historic District
Research Report Number:
1986-048, 1987-001, 2005-SDC/CDE-003
Existing plaque: Water Street (corner of George Street), St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Water Street has been the main commercial thoroughfare of St. John's since the 16th century. The mid-19th century buildings and street patterns of this part of the town are rare surviving testimonies to the increasing influence of St. John's merchants in the Newfoundland fisheries and Atlantic commerce during the past century. Enterprising merchants of English, Irish and Scottish ancestry built substantial warehouses and offices such as the Murray Premises and the O'Dwyer Block along the harbour side of Water Street adjacent to the waterfront, while retail merchants catering to the thousands of traders and fishermen who visited St. John's each fishing season lived and worked in combined residential and commercial structures on both sides of the street. As a group, the buildings of the Water Street Historic District are tangible reminders of the commercial and social activities which made St. John's a great port city in l9th-century Atlantic trade.
Description of Historic Place
This district comprises some twenty neighbouring former mid-19th-century mercantile buildings on either side of Water Street between Beck’s Cove and Mahon’s Lane, near the St. John’s harbour. The designation refers to the buildings at 288-300 and 291-307 Water Street as well as the Murray Premises National Historic Site of Canada and the land that surrounds them.
Water Street Historic District was designated a national historic site of Canada because it is a contiguous group of commercial structures that are, for the most part, representative of the mercantile establishments built in St. Johns in the mid 19th century, by those associated with the Newfoundland fisheries and the Atlantic trade.
Erected (with two exceptions) soon after the Great Fire of 1846, the buildings represent the commercial architecture in St. John’s before the 20th century. Their site and setting is also part of their heritage value, illustrating their historical access to the harbour.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1987.
Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
the relationship of the buildings to each other and to the open spaces between and around them; siting of most buildings flush to the sidewalk and abutting each other; streetside buildings with large retail windows on ground floors; the brick and stone construction with timber framing; surviving brick nogging; vernacular designs with regular fenestration and minimal, classically inspired detailing; the consistent two to three-and-a-half storey heights; front-sloping gable or flat roofs; the unadorned rear elevations; the surviving west wing of the O’Dwyer Block in its three-storey, rectangular massing, ashlar facing, Neoclassical inspiration for the geometric, linear design and detailing such as the pediment and pilasters; the compatible scale of the Bank of Nova Scotia Building; the heritage value of Murray Premises National Historic Site of Canada.