As architects, we are committed to conserving our cultural heritage. In addition to our experience in adapting and reusing older buildings, we provide strategies for adapting communities, evaluating their cultural assets, and rehabilitating their built and natural forms.

Outport communities are unique to Newfoundland and Labrador, and are some of Canada’s oldest European settlements. They began as temporary, migratory fishing villages that would be demounted at the end of each season as the fishermen and merchants returned to Europe. Outports would typically consist of simple wooden houses and assorted fishing infrastructure, and were accessed only by the sea. Eventually certain fishermen and servants chose to remain through the winter, a merchant colony was established, and larger permanent structures were constructed in the same vernacular style.

Founded over 200 years ago, Burlington is a small harbour community in the Baie Verte peninsula of Newfoundland. As with other outport communities, it was established from the sea, and exists because of the once abundant fisheries found in this part of the North Atlantic. Outport communities relied on the extraction of natural resources for their stainability – including fishing, mining, shipbuilding, and logging – and they evolved a sophisticated relationship with a harsh and unforgiving coastal landscape.

Outport communities such as Burlington have been forced to confront a number of fundamental social, cultural, and economic shifts within the last 50 plus years, including the cod moratorium, the transportation shift from sea to land, the population shift from rural areas to urban and growth centres, and an ageing population. These forces continue to exert profound pressures on outport communities, and pose a threat to the intangible cultural heritage that defines them.

As part of the Culture of Outports project, a team of ERA staff taught an intensive design/build course in the small outport of Burlington, Newfoundland. The course was run through the Dalhousie University School of Architecture, and began with a lengthy road-trip from St. John’s, where students had the opportunity to study and immerse themselves in the local and material culture. Then, working with the full support of the Burlington community and assisted by a range of craftspeople, William MacIvor and Philip Evans of ERA led the six architecture students in the design and construction of a small-scale intervention bred from site-specific conditions, drawing upon vernacular building techniques and traditional craft practices, and making use of local materials.

This project proposes that an understanding of the unique history and character of these communities is essential in order to successfully plan and manage their future evolution, post fisheries. In many cases, creative thinkers are rebuilding these communities in the next wave of cultural activity.

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