Urban Form: Townsizing in Newfoundland

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In 1891 the Bonavista Peninsula and St. John’s were close in population (roughly 20,000 and 25,738 respectively). 

These communities were roughly 1/5 the size of Toronto then, but now, the town of Bonavista has a measly 0.06% population compared our country’s largest city.

Historically, small towns were involved with commodities, agriculture, and manufacturing, but since World War II much of that activity has shifted to cities, leaving smaller centres struggling to stay alive. Communities like Bonavista are taking a lead by drawing on their home’s cultural resources and people to form the basis for a new economic life. In the last 3 years, 52 new businesses have opened.

Focused on lifestyle rather than the slog for money, there is a growing movement of people that are going against the grain and moving back to towns. Some municipalities like Shelburne Ontario, Blackfalds Alberta, and Contrecoeur Quebec are growing strongly. And on our island, young people, creative folks, and entrepreneurs are flocking to Bonavista, they’re “townsizing.”

The 2016/2017 data from the regional chamber of commerce shows the population has stabilized and the area’s average age is falling.

People aren’t moving to just any town, they are choosing selectively, and what’s happening on Bonavista shows the built environment and activities going on inside those buildings have a strong role to play in attracting newcomers.

The town has changed a lot since the height of the fishing industry, and is continuing to transform at an accelerated pace.  Any kind of growth begs the question of how a municipality can grow and adapt with grace while maintaining a connection to the place’s history.

This year the Wandering Pavilion project is encouraging critical thinking around growth and the sustainable revitalization of rural centres. At the same time as the Bonavista Biennale, the pavilion will be set up on the Ryan Premises site.  Many groups have come together including the Culture of Outports, 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects, and Assembly to bring four students to Bonavista to take on locally relevant design challenges.

With diverse backgrounds, students from Ryerson University will each bring their own approach and skill set ranging from Architecture to Urban Planning.  Driven by the community, the students will respond to the following challenges through drawings and models:

  1. What form should infill structures take in Bonavista?
  2. Investigate how wooden construction can adapt to modern day living and our extreme weather conditions.
  3. Rethink the design of roads and wayfinding to address issues of traffic, parking, sight seeing and finding destinations.

Their work will be exhibited in an open studio and a final exhibit on the weekend of August 26/27.  If you want to be involved in the discussion follow the Wandering Pavilion on social media or drop me a line emily@fougeremenchenton.ca

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Emily Campbell

Emily Campbell is the founder of the Wandering Pavilion, sits on the Public Awareness Committee of the Newfoundland and Labrador Architects Association, and works at Fougere Menchenton Architecture.

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