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Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) Building - City of St. John's Heritage Site

Before restoration
After restoration
Detail, main door.

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

City of St. John's Heritage Building, Structure, Land or Area

Description of Historic Place

The Benevolent Irish Society Building (BIS) is a masonry, three-storey, Mansard-roofed building with an attached convex-Mansard-roofed tower. Constructed between 1877 and 1880 the structure is located at 48 Queen’s Road in St. John’s, NL. The municipal designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Benevolent Irish Society Building was designated by the City of St. John’s because of its historic, cultural and aesthetic values.

The BIS Building has historical value because of its age. It is one of few remaining buildings in St. John's that withstood the Great Fire of 1892. While the interior had to be rebuilt, the exterior survived the immense fire which destroyed much of the city on July 1892. The BIS Building is also historically significant because of its associations with the Benevolent Irish Society and prominent Newfoundland citizens. Founded in 1806, the Benevolent Irish Society was one of the most active and influential fraternal organizations in Newfoundland at that time. The BIS was open to adult male residents of Newfoundland who were of Irish birth or ancestry, regardless of their religion. It was the first non-secret fraternal society permanently established in Newfoundland and 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 BIS 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, as the vast majority of its Irish members were Roman Catholics. 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 four-sided, convex Mansard roof with cresting.

Source: City of St. John's, Council Meeting held 1987/07/08

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;
-convex Mansard roof on central tower;
-cresting on tower roof;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.

Notes of Interest

Belt course to denote storeys; tower has Gothic inspired window design

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 048 Queen's Road
Construction (circa) 1877 - 1880
Charles Kickham
John Colemen and William Kelly
Style Second Empire
Building Plan Rectangular Long Façade
Website Link