Nfld. & Labrador

Kenny Sharpe's In: The mystery of Carbonear's Stone Jug's reopening

Bruce Branan wants to turn on for good the dozens of chandeliers inside Carbonear's Stone Jug, but provincial government safety rules will likely be keeping them off for a while longer yet.

Bruce Branan wants to permanently turn on dozens of chandeliers inside Carbonear's Stone Jug, but provincial government safety rules will likely keep them off for a while.

The 160-year-old Georgian-style stone office-residence-trading post-department store-bar-restaurant-local landmark stands renovated, yet empty on Water Street — a major thoroughfare in Carbonear.

"I am planning to board up the windows on June 1, and just leave the building if not open[ed]," Branan said.

Emailing from Hong Kong, he told me that in the eyes of Newfoundland and Labrador's Service NL Department, the renovated Stone Jug is not up to code.
A shot across the empty second floor of the Stone Jug. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

"The newest information from Service NL is [the] building is considered combustible (due to its wooden internal structure — floors)," writes Branan, referring to, what Service NL describes as, a problem with the spacing of the Stone Jug's wooden floor boards.

Interview with Ron Howell, Carbonear Heritage Society

"All heritage structures used wood not gyprock or concrete board. This could keep the building from opening, ever," he said.

Branan said Service NL also has a problem with the layout of the washrooms on the third floor, which would cost $500,000 dollars to renovate once again, in order to bring them up to current code.

If it ever opens, Branan wants the new Stone Jug to be a restaurant, a club, a reception hall, and a space for music, theatre and art.

He would like to provide the Stone Jug's third floor stage to local drama groups, to let the second floor serve as the location for future wedding receptions, and for the first floor to become an affordable family restaurant.

The Stone Jug's many stories

A couch sits covered on the first floor waiting to be sat on. (CBC/Kenny Sharpe)
There are many stories to tell about this building, built by the Rorke family in the 1800s, so the merchant family could trade with other merchants and fishermen in the area.

Like the collection of some 50 exotic and unique chandeliers from around the world. There's a rumour many of them come from parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. Each hangs throughout the Stone Jug's three floors.

First floor of Stone Jug in Carbonear

7 years ago
Duration 1:06
Kenny Sharpe tours the first floor of the Stine Jug

Then there's the story of the wood found within the building, where it came from and how it was converted into things like staircases and chairs, that were then shipped to Carbonear to become part of the Stone Jug's interior.

How about the story of Branan himself and his team: It consists of one part Asian colleagues, one part locals on-the-ground in Carbonear and the other part, of himself, Bruce Branan.

Why Carbonear?

Branan tells me he invested in the Carbonear area for a number of reasons. Like how he fell in love with the area. How he wants to do something for its people — and how he a knew a group of Chinese business owners that just happened to be looking for investment opportunities.

This is not about me.- Stone Jug owner, Bruce Branan

As for my tour, locals Ron Howell and Tom Kirkland are the ones who gave me two different interpretations of the building.

Howell is with the Carbonear Heritage Society.

"[Bruce] was hoping to have this place opened the first of June, but I don't think that's going to happen," said Howell.

Second floor of Stone Jug in Carbonear

7 years ago
Duration 2:10
Kenny Sharp tours the second floor of the Stone Jug in carbonear

Kirkland is one of the local residents Branan has employed through the renovation process. And while he waits for the Stone Jug to open, Kirkland now occupies his days polishing the floors and re-hanging jewels from the chandeliers as they break.

"[Bruce] is the type of fellow who, he's not around much, but when he does come to town, he shows up here with his work clothes on looking for something to do," said Kirkland.

Service NL responds

Service NL Minister, Dan Crummel, said while he wouldn't get into specifics, his department was simply waiting on Branan to submit safety-certified paperwork.

"Based on the size of the [Stone Jug] and the occupancy, legislation requires the submission of stamped building plans, and the developer in question was advised of these requirements," Crummell said in an email.

"The department is not currently in possession of any such information relating to this project, nor was a formal submission ever made. Public safety is our paramount concern, and a building cannot be registered until safety considerations have been met," said Crummell. 

Who is Bruce Branan?

Then there's the story about the mystery of Bruce Branan himself, where he comes from and why he really has invested so much into renovating the Stone Jug in Carbonear.

"That is not important. This is not about me," Branan writes.

What it is about, said Branan, is getting to a point where the Stone Jug can open, and when he is able to turn on its chandeliers for the public for good.

A 2011 article by The Telegram described Branan as an American businessman, who restored historical buildings all over the world. He purchased the Stone Jug three years earlier as a potential new business venture.

And while the doors of the Stone Jug remain closed because government thinks it is still not safe to open, Branan said other business opportunities could be getting shut out in the process.

Third floor of Stone Jug in Carbonear

7 years ago
Duration 1:40
Kenny Sharpe tours the third floor of the Stone Jug in Carbonear

"If those who invest in heritage structures using their own funds are punished and not allowed to open, we will not see investment in heritage," he said. "These structures will continue to be demolished because it will not be economically viable to open them."

There is currently no official date set as to when the Stone Jug will or can open.

Kenny Sharpe's In: A new series

This has been the second instalment of In, a series that aims to take you inside places we don't often see. If you have a place, event or topic that you think Kenny Sharpe should explore, send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kenny Sharpe

Reporter

Kenny Sharpe is currently reporting in Europe as part of the 2022 Arthur F. Burns Fellowship for Foreign Correspondents. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, he reports on daily news with a focus on the environment, mental health and politics.

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