Nfld. & Labrador

Historical items from Colonial Building being returned

It's been 84 years since a mob rioted and looted the Colonial Building in St. John's, and now with restoration of the building nearing completion, the speaker of the House of Assembly is asking people to bring back items taken.

Speaker offers amnesty for items taken during Colonial Building riots 84 years ago

Tom Osborne arranged to have two murals donated to the Murray's Pond Hunting and Fishing Club returned to the Colonial Building (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

It's been 84 years since a large mob rioted and looted the Colonial Building in St. John's, and now with restoration of the building nearing completion, the speaker of the House of Assembly is asking people to bring back items taken.

"Anybody bringing anything back will have total amnesty and in fact, praise and thanks," said Tom Osborne.

The speaker has set out to recover as many items as possible that were taken or given away from the former home of Newfoundland's government.

During the riots in 1932 most of the items inside the building – including furniture – were carted off by people angry with the scandal around Sir Richard Squires, the prime minister. 

This week two large wooden murals were returned. They were originally in the Colonial Building but given away to Murray's Pond Fishing and Country Club when the legislature moved into Confederation Building in the early 1960s.

This wooden mural is estimated to be around 100 years old. It was originally in Colonial Building, given away in the 1960s, and returned this week. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

"At the time the view of historic buildings or historical furniture and so on wasn't as important as they are today, but certainly we'd like to have them back," said Osborne.

Osborne said the board of directors of Murray's Pond was happy to donate the two murals, which he estimates are about 100 years old. They're also searching through their storage for other items.

The items recovered will be on display for the public when the Colonial Building is reopened. 

Bell Island cafe customers sitting on history 

The desks and chairs that were used in the legislature after the riot, but before confederation in 1949, are also on the speaker's list for return

They were donated to the historical society on Bell Island when the legislature no longer needed them, and today they're used in the lighthouse cafe. Osborne said they're working to recover at least one of the desks and chairs

​"They have historical value obviously," he said.

"It's important to understand and see what members of the day had used."

Osborne's interest in finding old items from the building was piqued when he heard how the original wooden mace was found. An employee looking for an office desk saw it sitting on a shelf in government storage.

A photo in the legislature shows a boy carting off a gas heater during the 1932 riots at Colonial Building. Speaker Tom Osborne hopes to find that heater and have it returned as part of the heritage of the building.

'Just incredible to see'

Osborne said there's one item in particular he's really hoping can be recovered.

A photo outside his office shows a boy carrying off a gas heater during the riots.

"That would be just incredible to see that back at Colonial Building," he said.

"If anybody has something they know was taken during the riot, I think it's important that we have that back there," said Osborne, promising to give them credit — and amnesty — for the donation.

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.