Notes and observations from a photographer and cultural interpreter living on Canada's east coast.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Port Union's decaying heritage, and hope for rebuilding
Port Union, Trinity Bay North, is North America's only union-built town. It began in a flurry of hope and promise in 1916, a project of the Fishermen's Protective Union spearheaded by Sir William Ford Coaker, union leader and visionary. The organization was established to break the merchants' stranglehold not only on salt fish prices but on all aspects of the fishery and trade. By the 1920s the community included the publishing offices of The Fishermen's Advocate, the union's weekly newspaper, and Congress Hall, site of the union's annual convention, a hotel, a school, a woodworking factory and a power generating plant.
A devastating fire in the 1940s renewed interest and efforts behind the community, as the damaged buildings were replaced.
Over the years, though, interest in the union waned and the bustling community began to slow down and fall into disrepair. By the 1990s, the cod moratorium brought an end to the activities of the FPU and the buildings were in a state of neglect.
A local group, the Sir William Ford Coaker Heritage Foundation, has been formed to resurrect this historic district of the town, though, and work is under way to restore a portion of the town. It's now possible to tour the site during the summer season.
The bulk of the restoration is taking place along the waterfront. Much of the row housing provided for working-class families is in a serious state of disrepair and may be beyond salvaging. The buildings show the years of care that predates this neglect, though, with their many layers of paint from successive "sprucing up". Learn more about the Fishermen's Protective Union and the Heritage Foundation here.