R.J. O’Brien’s General Store is a mid-twentieth century, one storey commercial building located on Harbour Road in Cape Broyle, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Municipal Heritage Building Structure or Land
R.J. O’Brien’s General Store was designated a municipal heritage site by the Town of Cape Broyle due to its aesthetic, historic and cultural value.
R.J. O’Brien’s General Store has aesthetic value due to its design. A uniquely shaped building, O’Brien’s store has rounded corners at the front facade. With a shed roof and large glass windows with wooden shutters this store hasn’t changed since its construction in the mid-twentieth century. The recessed doorway has curved concrete corners with vertical grooves and the main door includes a storm door of two narrow doors that open in the center, and a similar interior door. The original entablature has the name of the store, “R. J. O’Brien General Dealer,” a feature which is typical of a mid-twentieth century mercantile building. Other features which reflect the commercial nature of this building are the tiny windows on the other facades and the curved, narrow plank loading doors located at the eastern curved corner. The exterior of this building is faced with narrow wooden clapboard, and the corners are sheathed in wooden shingles.
According to Ronald J. O’Brien’s cousin, a male in his late 70s in 2005, around 1900 Ronald’s father John (Jack or Anglo) O’Brien built a two storey twine shed on the land now occupied by Ronald’s shop. Around 1945 this shop was torn down. In 1946 Ronald had the present one storey shop with round corners built. Jim Jones and Little Mickey O’Brien were the carpenters.
The interior of R.J. O’Brien’s General Store is equally valuable because it remains in its original mid-twentieth century condition. The floor is made of narrow softwood and the walls are sheathed in narrow plank, while the ceiling is constructed of tongue and groove wood. The walls are lined with original wooden shelves, some with drawers underneath. The office inside this store has a curved wall and wooden door, reflective of the exterior corners. The main threshold is worn on the left as only the left side of the double doors was used and the right side remained latched. This vernacular style store has changed very little since its original construction.
R.J. O’Brien’s General Store has historic value because of the story that goes with the reason for the curved exterior corners. This store is located just below the family home accessed by a narrow driveway which runs directly next to it. As remembered by Ronald (R.J.) O’Brien, he used to travel with his horse and cart or slide up the driveway to his home, narrowly passing the store. His horse was particularly fast and impetuous and used to get excited when it got near home. However, Ronald was unable to control the horse and it didn’t handle the turn well; every time they passed the store the horse clipped the corner. After many hard bumps and jolts Ronald became fed up with daily knocks and changed the sharp corners to curved corners to allow the horse easier navigation. The change worked and the horse never hit the building again. Ronald carried this unique design over to make the building symmetrical on the outside, and into his curved office doorway on the interior. In Newfoundland Modern: Architecture in the Smallwood Years, 1949-1972, architect Robert Mellin compares the store to similar mid-century commercial buildings in St. John’s. It is very possible that the design of the store was influenced by these as well.
R.J. O’Brien’s General Store has cultural value for generations of Cape Broyle residents who remember its use as a general store. It was a gathering place for young and old alike. The men of the community would gather in the store to discuss topics of the day and school children would stop by the store on their way home from school. For generations of Cape Broyle youngsters it was known simply as Mr. Ronald’s, because that’s how children on the Southern Shore used to address their elders. The store opened at 9am, closed for an hour at noon for dinner, and closed for the day at 5pm – except on Christmas Eve when it would stay open late for last minute shoppers.
Source: Town of Cape Broyle Regular Council Meeting Motion 30/18 May 31, 2018.
Character Defining Elements
All those original exterior elements that embody the vernacular style of outport mercantile establishment, including:
-number of storeys;
-narrow wooden clapboard;
-curved exterior corners clad with wooden shingles;
-exterior wooden trim work;
-size, style, trim and placement of recessed doorway with split wooden doors, wooden transom window and curved concrete corners;
-main wooden threshold worn on the left;
-size, style, trim and placement of large wooden shop windows with wooden shutters;
-size, style, trim and placement of small wooden windows on other facades;
-size, style, trim and placement of wooden loading door at eastern curved corner;
-entablature with signage of original proprietor;
-exterior colours to reflect those traditionally used on mercantile buildings, and;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.
All those original interior elements that embody the vernacular outport mercantile establishment, including:
-all wooden finishes such as softwood floor, plank walls and tongue and groove ceiling;
-all original shelving, drawers and cabinets, and;
-curved wall and wooden door leading to office.
Location and History
Town of Cape Broyle
1946 - 1946
Carpenters Jim Jones and Little Mickey O’Brien
Rectangular Long Facade