Like many other buildings in downtown St. John’s, the LSPU Hall currently stands on a site that has a history stretching back hundreds of years. In the case of this building, the use of the site traced back to 1789 when it was the location of the first Congregationalist Church in Newfoundland.
The structure built by the Congregationalists lasted until 1817 when it was destroyed in one of several Great Fires that ravaged St. John’s in the 19th century. Rebuilt again, it was then used by several denominations for visiting preachers, meetings, and social events. In 1853 the Sons of Temperance purchased the building and rebuilt it after it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892. The building was sold again in 1912, this time to the Longshoremen’s Protective Union (LSPU). Victoria Street, where the LSPU Hall is located, was originally known as Meeting House Lane.
The Longshoremen bought the Hall at least partially because of its location. At that time the secretary of the union could look out the window to see the flags on Signal Hill that indicated if any ships were coming into St. John’s Harbour. In 1922 the building was again extensively damaged by fire and was once again rebuilt.
In the decades that followed the union’s purchase of the Hall, it was used for many purposes. Quite frequently the building was rented out to members of the local community for bingo, speeches, and other social functions. There were other buildings in the area that had similar functions, but the LSPU Hall is one of the few buildings that remain standing. The LSPU Hall is the only survivor from the heyday of downtown union halls, which for many years served as neighbourhood community centres. They were the preferred location for political rallies, being seen as a less biased venue that church halls.
The next major chance came in 1975. The hall was then being leased by the Resource Foundation for the Arts who decided to purchase it from the union in 1976. The group eventually changed its name to the Resource Centre for the Arts (RCA). The RCA is a non-profit organisation committed to the advancement of the performing arts and artists in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the years since, the building has hosted hundreds of plays, concerts, exhibitions, festivals, and workshops. It is one of the most important centres for the arts in the province.
The LSPU Hall is located at 3 Victoria Street, near Duckworth Street, in the old core of downtown St. John’s. While the interior of the building has been extensively renovated over the years, the exterior remains basically the same. A large timber-frame building with a wooden exterior, one of the more unusual features is the massive stone-rubble retaining wall that contains sections of the original retaining wall built for the foundation of the Congregationalist Church in 1789. The building also has a gable roof with ornamental exposed rafter ends supporting the building’s eaves.
RCA’s restoration of the building earned the organisation a Southcott Award in 1984. The LSPU Hall was recognised as a Registered Heritage Structure in October 1988, and was closed for nearly 2 years for extensive renovations in 2008.
The Official Grand Re-Opening of the LSPU Hall happened on October 5, 2010 with Gordon Pinsent’s play Easy Down Easy, directed by Mary Walsh.