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Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) Building Registered Heritage Structure

Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) Building, St. John's, NL
Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) Building, St. John's, NL
Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) Building, St. John's, NL

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

Registered Heritage Structure

Description of Historic Place

Built of stone in Second Empire style, the Benevolent Irish Society Building is a three storey mansard roofed building with attached tower. Constructed between 1877 and 1880 the structure is located at 62 Queen’s Road in St. John’s, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Benevolent Irish Society Building has been designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador because of its historical, cultural and aesthetic values.

The Benevolent Irish Society Building has historical value due to the age of the structure and its association with the Benevolent Irish Society and prominent Newfoundland citizens. It is one of few remaining buildings in St. John's built before the great fire of 1892. While the interior had to be rebuilt, the exterior survived the fire which destroyed much of the city. In addition, it was home to the oldest charitable, social and non-secret fraternal organization in Newfoundland. Founded in 1806, the Benevolent Irish Society was unique in that it was nonsectarian and offered assistance to the needy regardless of their religion. The founders of the Society were among the first generation of permanent residents in Newfoundland. They included politicians, businessmen and clergy who played significant roles in the political, economic and spiritual growth of the developing colony.

The Benevolent Irish Society Building has cultural value because of the role it served in the community. In addition to its charitable activities, the Society was involved in the education of the young in St. John's. Members of the Benevolent Irish Society saw education as an answer to improving the situation of the poor in the city. In addition to operating the non-denominational Orphan Asylum School, they provided monetary assistance to help establish Roman Catholic schools in the city. Roman Catholic schools also operated out of the Benevolent Irish Society Building for many years. Also of significance was the 1906 conversion of the third floor assembly hall into the Nickel Theatre. It was one of the first North American theatres to show silent films and remained a popular cinema and gathering place for several decades.

The Benevolent Irish Society Building has aesthetic value as is it one of the few surviving Second Empire style masonry buildings in Newfoundland and Labrador. Second Empire influences are evident in the roof type, exterior decorative features, window style and placement and symmetrical lines on the facade. The building's most prominent feature is the central tower on the front facade. It stands four full storeys and is topped by a decorative cupola and cresting.

Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John's - Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) Building – FPT 1465”

Character Defining Elements

All elements that define the building's Second Empire design including:
-mansard roof;
-number of storeys;
-stone walls with cement parging;
-granite quoining;
-heavy moulded cornice on eave;
-eaves brackets;
-belt course to denote separate storeys;
-window size, style, trim and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of exterior doors;
-entablature, shaped trim, moulded pilaster and bracketing on main entrance;
-location of tower on front facade;
-cupola on central tower;
-cresting on cupola;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.

All elements that relate to its original use as the Benevolent Irish Society Building including:
-inset figure of St. Patrick on tower with the BIS motto “He that gives to the poor lends to the Lord” surrounding it; and,
-the inscription “INS BIS 1806" above front door.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 62 Queen's Road
Construction (circa) 1877 - 1880
Charles Kickham
John Colemen & William Kelly
Style Second Empire
Building Plan Rectangular Long Façade