Port Union

Coaker purchased the site at Catalina in 1916, and established Port Union to become the commercial headquarters of the Fishermen’s Protective Union, considering that most of the union members lived in the outports along the northeast coast. He envisioned this union-built town to operate autonomously with its own five companies, and provide a competitive, sustainable, and vibrant mercantile industry against the thriving merchant-exporting system prevalent in Newfoundland outports. The five companies include: The Union Export Company, the Union Trading Company, the Union Shipbuilding Company, the Union Publishing Company, and the Union Electric Light and Power Company.

To house these companies, the town included a saltfish processing plant and a department store, a factory with a machine shop and woodworking plant, a newspaper printing press, and a shipyard by the forge, to name a few. A row of duplexes, some along Main Road and others along Coaker Drive, were home to Union employees. The FPU hotel and the Congress Hall provided space for small to large community functions, as well as the annual Union conventions. The Anglican Church of the Holy Martyrs was built in 1923 to commemorate the Coaker recruits who were killed during World War I.

In addition to its proximity to a river that could harness hydro-electric power, it had a harbour that is ice-free from April to February, which allows an anchorage for more than 100 vessels and steamers of up to 4000 to 5000 tons. A persuasive man, Coaker was able to sucessfully negotiate with the Reid Newfoundland Company to build the Bonavista railway branch that would service the town of Port Union, allowing the land transportation to pass hundreds of thousands of tonnes of saltfish for shipment to regional and international markets, and bringing in exports and supplies for the union members.

As one of the first, if not the only, union-built town in Canada to retained most of its original planned layout, Port Union is certainly an interesting and important precedent for early town planning and design principles. Not only did Coaker distinctly separate the commercial and the residential areas within their respective zones, making the planning of the community as coherent now as it was during his inception, but he also made use of a particular architectural language for the entire community that highlighted the town’s political and economic growth and development.

While the Port Union Historic District remains almost unchanged, in comparison with the original plan of Port Union in 1916, as conceived by Coaker, what is interesting is the potential for the abandoned built cultural resources in Port Union for adaptive re-use, with very minimal intervention to their existing condition.

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