When the transatlantic cable came ashore at Heart's Content, Newfoundland in 1866, it brought with it droves of workers to run the all-important hub of global communications. These new arrivals, mainly from Britain, needed somewhere to live, so up went elegant mansions and a large apartment building amid the outport's cluster of modest saltbox homes and fishing stages. Constructed to suit the needs and wants of the upper echelon of British society, at one time theirs were the only living quarters in the community equipped with running water.
Most of those stately 19th-century structures are now gone, either destroyed or renovated beyond recognition since the closure of the Cable Station in the 1960s. But the Cable House, recognized provincially and nationally for its heritage value, is still standing - and recently opened its doors as a bed & breakfast and vacation rental.
Built around 1880 to house the upper management of the Cable Station, along with their families, the Cable House consists of two identical Victorian homes, connected by an adjoining door. The grand accommodations have been lovingly restored to their former splendour by husband and wife Ed and Lynda Woodley of Conception Bay South. They acquired the Cable House from Lynda’s father, the late John Moss, who snapped up the historic property with the dream of one day restoring it.
“When he saw those Cable Houses about 25 years ago he realized if somebody doesn’t do something, they’re going to be gone,” says Ed. He and Lynda eventually took over the restoration process and brought her father’s dream to fruition. Of course, restoring a 130-year-old home wasn’t without its obstacles.
“It was brutal,” says Ed. “The clapboard was rotted, what was under the clapboard was rotted, the main joist was rotted…then when we got inside, the ceilings were ready to fall.”
While shoring up the physical structure and adding modern amenities for guests’ comfort, the Woodleys worked diligently to maintain the historical integrity of the Cable House, complete with its grand 12-foot ceilings. While the original furniture was long gone by the time the Woodleys acquired the property, Ed says they’ve furnished the space with pieces that reflect the period. And although the stained glass in the houses' doorways had been smashed, Ed salvaged enough of the shards to restore one of the doors to its original state. As for the other, Ed himself took a stained-glass art class to create a suitable replacement from scratch.
As a result of such attention to detail, Ed says today the house is much the same as when the employees of the Cable Station lived there many years ago.
Peek into the Past
The work the couple has poured into the historic property has sparked some sentimental visits from the older generation, says Ed, including one elderly gentleman who once called the place home.
“He lived there when he was a young boy up until he was 14 or 15 when his father died; his father was one of the head guys at the Cable Station. When his father died they had to leave the house - because if you didn’t work for the cable company, you didn’t stay in the house,” says Ed. “He was telling us stories of Heart’s Content when he was a boy and the fun they used to have in this house, and he was quite emotional over it.”
And for some long-time residents of the area, Lynda and Ed have offered a first glimpse inside a place once forbidden to them.
“Some of the older ladies came in and one of them was crying. When we talked to her she said when she was a little girl in school, she was best friends with the little girl who lived in this house and she was never allowed across the threshold,” says Ed. “This was the first time she was ever in that house.”
Having recently opened their historic houses as accommodations and with Heart’s Content celebrating come home year and the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cable this month, the Woodleys are sure to meet even more folks with tales from the days when the Cable House was home to high society.
As for Ed and Lynda, they’re transitioning from the rigours of restoration to the rewards of B&B ownership.
“All winter we’ve been practising our cooking skills for eggs benedict, trying to get the perfect hollandaise sauce, Belgian waffles - and, of course, we’re going to be serving toutons and fish cakes and fish and brewis, things like that,” says Ed.
And while Lynda’s father is now gone, Ed says he got to see the realization of his dream for the Cable House before he passed.
“He was quite proud of it,” says Ed. “He was really pleased to see that it was done.” - By Ashley Miller