An interesting and well-preserved example of a 19th century double house, this building was designed by James Ryan and constructed in 1879-1880 by Richard Ash. The structure is possibly the best surviving example of a 19th century Newfoundland outport merchant's staff house. The structure and the people who lived in it were closely connected to the nearby Ryan Premises, now a National Historic Site, and to the history of the Bonavista area.
The James Ryan Tenement House is a large two and one half storey, steep gabled, double house with elaborate barge board and finials. Each house has a chimney, two fireplaces, a kitchen and parlour on the main floor and three bedrooms, with 2-3
Front and side facade after restoration, 2014.
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other undeveloped rooms in the half storey. The structure also has a large linhay running the full length of the rear facade, providing large, separate porches for each house.
James Ryan had one of the most prosperous mercantile concerns in outport Newfoundland in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The firm began at Bayley's Cove, Bonavista in 1857 and by 1869 had established its headquarters in the central part of Bonavista known as the "Harbour". The firm grew and prospered, establishing premises from Bay de Verde in Conception Bay to Batteau in Labrador. By 1895 its total production of codfish amounted to 100,000 quintals, approximately 10 percent of Newfoundland's total codfish exports for that year.
The Harbour premises remained the headquarters of the firm throughout its history but all of the major buildings at the site were constructed by 1890. Tenement House was built to accommodate senior management staff and their families, especially Robert Brown, a native of Kelso, Scotland, who was the firm's bookkeeper from his arrival at Bonavista in 1874 until his death in 1905. It appears to have been commonplace for large outport firms to construct houses for management staff who were not family members. Philip Templeman, Ryan's fiercest competitor from 1884, also had a large house for his managers. This was a three storey Second Empire style structure on the corner of Coster and Church Streets, immediately behind Bridge house. The Templeman Tenement House was demolished in the 1960's.
The Ryan premises are representative of the type built by Newfoundland-born outport merchants who followed in the wake of English West Country firms that had dominated the Newfoundland fishery until the early 19th century. The other surviving Ryan Premises buildings are a proprietor's house (1869), a retail shop (1869), a retail store (1874), a fish store (1888) and a salt store (c.1940). Earlier, the premises also included a much larger salt store (1874), a cooperage, a powder magazine, a telegraph office, as well as wharves, flakes, a lumber yard and a shipbuilding yard.
Source: Newfoundland Heritage Website, 2004