30-32 RYANS HILL ROAD
Robert Ford Tavern
- Russelltown Inn -
The Ford Tavern or the Sweetland House, as it is locally known, is adjacent to Bonavista Harbour along John Cabot Drive. Before restoration, few original architectural details remained on the exterior. From original paintings /artworks and photos dated to the 1890's and 1940's – 50's respectively we know that the home had unique embellishments. Bargeboard, windows with diamond shaped grating, gable end finials, and wide window trims with deep rain caps were all present on this home. Its ceilings are low and exterior dormers, unique in design, originally featured decorative brackets.
The interior of the home was more intact then the exterior with significant original features present which include mantels, staircase, trims and most unique, a fully intact tavern with wicket, bar / counter, and shelves.
The Ford Tavern is the last remaining building of its style within the region; public house / boarding house with built in shop. This house was owned by the Robert Ford family in the mid 1800's. It was originally built as a “Public House” with rooms for rent upstairs. Oral history from the Canaille neighbourhood of Bonavista suggests it functioned as a brothel in some respects. To assume that would have been the case would not be a stretch for this area of town, first seasonally settled in the 1500's by Portuguese fishermen who would leave prostitutes on shore for the summer season. Portuguese and Latin translations link the term canaille to poor and underprivileged, where dogs live or referencing specifically to a pack of dogs. Traditionally this neighbourhood was not a desirable one in the sprawling community of Bonavista.
By the late 1870's the home was known locally as a boarding house with a small tavern operating out of one end of the building. The Ford family operated this establishment. At some point in the early 1910's, it was purchased by the Sweetland family. Frank Sweetland Sr. and his family used the property as a private residence and small family run shop. Frank Sweetland Sr. and his wife had three children; Frank Jr., Robert and Barbra.
The Sweetland property symbolizes Bonavista's position as one of Newfoundland's largest and most prosperous inshore fishing towns and mercantile centres from the second half of the nineteenth century. It also represents the significance of other heritage structures in Bonavista. One such structure is the Ryan Premises National Historic Site which is located approximately 800 feet from the Sweetland House. In its heyday, the Ryan Premises stood at the centre of the fishing industry. For more than 100 years, this merchant-run salt fish complex served as a key economic force behind Bonavista's inshore fishery.