Video | Newfoundland and Labrador

The Crow's Nest

If Dave Paddon had only one night in St. John’s, Newfoundland, there’d be no question about how to spend it—a visit to the Crow’s Nest! Here he tells us about the club, shares a recent documentary about it, and teaches us the history of this special local haunt.

Although I’m originally from central Labrador, I live in St. John’s and now call it home. Many guests ask for suggestions about what to do in town at the start or end of an Atlantic Canada expedition. There are many, many wonderful ways to spend your time—whether it’s taking in an exhibit at The Rooms, visiting Signal Hill, or strolling past the colourful houses of Jellybean Row. But if it were me, and I only had one night to spend in this fine old port, you’d surely find me at the Crow’s Nest.

The Crow’s Nest is wartime naval officers’ club, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is a very short walk from where the Ocean Endeavour ties up. You may even be able to see our ship through the periscope which stands in a corner of the club—a relic from U190 after it surrendered at the end of World War II. There is a huge amount of gun shield art and other wartime memorabilia, and it is a delight to spend some time and perhaps have a beer at this wonderful old institution.

As a long-time member of the club, I had the pleasure and honour of participating in the making of the film Fifty-Nine Steps to the Crow’s Nest. A filmmaker and club member named Jon Sturge had the original idea and when we presented it to the club’s board of directors, they were immediately enthusiastic. Funds were raised to cover expenses but most of the work was donated by a host of industry individuals who were also glad to be part of the effort.

The film features our oldest member, Arthur Barratt, and it is sad to have to acknowledge that he died just before the film was finished. Arthur was a veteran of the Royal Air Force and a gentleman in every regard. He climbed the fifty-nine steps regularly and was in his usual chair at the club up to a short time before his death.

With World War II raging in Europe, many naval vessels made St. John's a port of call. Captain E.R. Mainguy was the officer in charge of navy escort ships stationed in St. John's. With the assistance of Lady Dorothy Outerbridge, he was able to obtain space for a club where officers could visit when not on duty. Lady Outerbridge was able to find space on the fourth floor of a warehouse and obtained it for the rent of $1 per year, plus a peppercorn (which was never paid).

Between 1942 and 1945, the Seagoing Officer's Club, as it was known then, became famous around the North Atlantic as a place for naval men to go and relax from the horrors of war. It also became famous for the rickety fifty-nine steps leading up to the club. Getting up the stairs was no problem, but trying to come back down at the end of the evening proved to be a far more daunting task.

The club also served as a way for young men to leave a memento of themselves before heading out to sea. Soon after the club opened, handwritten messages were being left on the wall, floors, or wherever the men could find space. Eventually, Captain Mainguy, who was also in charge of the club, gave each vessel four square feet of wall space to decorate any way they wanted. Many of the crewmen decorated the wall space with the crests of their vessels—crests that remain in the club to this day. In many cases, these crests and other items serve as memorials and tributes to those sailors who did not survive.

Since the end of the war, the club has changed its name to the Crow's Nest. Management has laboured to keep the historic fourth floor bar area intact, and there’s now also a third floor that has a dining room.

About the Author

Dave Paddon

Dave Paddon

Storyteller

A retired airline pilot, Dave is a writer and performer of recitations and tall tales with an interest in Newfoundland & Labrador history.

Dave is knowledgeable about the geography and history of coastal Labrador from his years of bush flying in the area; he has a particular enthusiasm for the Torngat Mountains.