O’Reilly House Museum – Change is in the Air

O’Reilly House Museum – Change is in the Air

A photograph of O’Reilly House Museum

It’s All About Change

Since 1989, the Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS) has been refurbishing and reinventing the O’Reilly House Museum, one of its primary holdings. This past year has been no exception. A more recent holding was added last year, as well.

In recent years, the PAHS decided to radically change the interior of their museum. Headed by members Vera Greene and Christopher Newhook, the PAHS decided to exchange rooms for their displays on the top floor. So, the “Resettlement Room” exhibit changed places with the “Master Bedroom” exhibit.

Also on the top floor, they transformed what was once the “Maid’s Room” into the “Basque Room” which holds some notable displays such as the authentic Basque headstones. These were at one time in the cemetery surrounding St. Luke’s Anglican Church. Other artefacts are reminiscent of the period in the sixteenth and seventeenth century when the Basque fished the waters of Placentia Bay. One, in particular, is a copy of the Last Will of Basque sailor Domingo de Luca from 1563. In it, he asked to buried in Placentia. The Will also happens to be the earliest civic document found in Canada. The PAHS made additional changes by exchanging the “French/English Room” with the “Notable Citizens Room,” alongside altering much of the design and layout of the museum.

A Leap of Faith

Beside these modifications, the PAHS made another significant leap by taking over the ownership of St. Luke’s Anglican Church, a building that is adjacent to the museum. After deliberations with the Anglican Council, St. Luke’s was sold to the PAHS for the sum of a dollar. It had suffered due to the inability of the existing parishioners to care for it and so, it had been closed and de-consecrated.

A photograph of St. Luke’s church.

With its rich and interesting history, St. Luke’s, a Registered Heritage structure, will be comfortably at home under the protection of the PAHS. Although the church and the building have changed, St. Luke’s sits on a site of considerable age. A building on St Luke’s site is believed to have been used by the Basque when they first landed in Placentia, in the sixteenth century and possibly earlier. Several other churches have been built on the site in past including what was probably the first Catholic church in Newfoundland.

With the addition of St. Luke’s, the PAHS has not been idle. They’ve been offering tours of the church during the summer. In addition to these changes, there are hopes to broaden the role of St. Luke’s. The idea will be to retain the current look and feel of the church for continued tours in the summer. However, in addition to tours, the PAHS is hoping to also rent out the church, in order to raise funds for its upkeep. For instance, the Placentia Area Development Association recently ran workshops for seniors on topics such as hooked mats, as well as art instructions by local artist Christopher Newhook. For several years, St. Luke’s has been to location for “Winter Solstice,” an event intended to celebrate local talent. The goal is to continue this activity in the future.

If these changes are any indication, the PAHS will continue to be a main driver of change in the landscape of the Placentia area for years to come.

Source: Tom O’Keefe

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