Gower Street Landmarks Updated

P1060261PcWI lived across from it for nearly 30 years and never heard what it was called in architectural circles. Now I know it was Musgrave Terrace. “It” is a set of four houses on the south side of Gower Street numbered 25 to 31 which were built immediately after the disastrous 1892 fire that razed much of St. John’s. As were thousands of other row housing units in the older parts of the city.

A Gift of Heritage: Historic Architecture of St. John’s, published by Newfoundland Historic Trust, presented a fine sketch and description of Musgrave Terrace, noting: “The simple porticos and rounded windows suggest an interest in classical building styles and are unusual in post-1892 St. John’s.”

A city directory for 1932, available from Memorial University’s digital archives, identified only two of the families residing in the Musgrave Terrace houses – Charles McK. Harvey at #29 and Ernest Watson at #31, while #27 was shown as vacant, and there was no listing for #25. My earliest memories, aided by those of best friend and neighbour Tom Howley, are of the Black family living in that home. Their son Bill joined the British Army at the outbreak of the war and made it a lifetime career, rising to the rank of General. His mother and sister Gloria moved to England about the time when he went overseas. After the Blacks moved out, the Cowan family moved in and started a boarding house for construction workers. City Councillor John P. Kelly and family were long time residents of #27, while the Harveys were succeeded in #29 by the Henneburys. Ernest Watson, occupant of #31, was a founding partner of the accounting firm of Read, Son, Watson and Leith. The Watsons were followed by the Giannou family, who for many years operated thee popular Sweets Shop on Water Street. 

A notable housing foursome on Gower Street’s north side is known as Bonne Esperance, named by its founders, the Whiteley family, after a Labrador island. Featured in Historic Homes of Newfoundland, these homes, numbers 16 to 22 Gower Street, are of identical design in Victorian style with bay windows on the first and second storeys and peaked dormer window on the third floor. Occupants of the Bonne Esperance homes in the 1930s-40s period were the O’Dea, Curtis, McGrath and Lewis families.

P1060410PcWOther Gower Street family names listed on the north side included Branscombe, Parsons, Wills, Cullen, Simms, Adams, Howley, Munn, Porter, Tooton, Wadden and Warren. Those on the south side, between Ordnance and Cochrane Streets, included Lundrigan, Rumsey, Soper, Diamond, Marshall, Ehlers, Caldwell, Peters, Bearns, Dunphy and Emberley.

Renovation and so-called gentrification may have brightened up our old neighbourhood, but it looks much like it always did – a peaceful, comfortable, and friendly place to raise families and enjoy life in the 21st century as well as it did in the 1900s.

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2 thoughts on “Gower Street Landmarks Updated

  1. Bill Grant

    Do you have any detail on Read Son Watson & Leith such as when IT was founded,where it was located across the water,when did it come to St.John’s and why.

    When Mr.Watson opened the Office In Bank Of Montreal Bldg.at Water St. and McBrides Hill was he accompanied by any staff from across the water?

    Any information would be helpful.

    Thank you.

    1. Nix Post author

      Sorry, I have nothing to offer about this firm except that it was one of the most prominent accounting companies in St. John’s. You may try contacting the Chartered Professional Accountants Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, 500, 95 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John’s.


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