Houses and Buildings FAQ

Houses and Buildings FAQ

Does the Archives have a complete history of my house prepared?
How do I find the date of construction of my house?
How do I find out the original owner of my house?
How do I find out who lived in my house over the years?
Do you have a set of plans for my house?
Do you have an early photograph of my house or street?
My property was in the former Town of Goulds, Town of Wedgewood Park or was built under the St. John's Metropolitan Area Board [Metroboard].  Do you have any records of my house prior to being amalgamated with St. John's? 

Most commonly used sources for researching a house at the City of St. John's Archives:
Assessment or Tax Rolls
Building Permits
City Directories
Voter's Lists
Fire Insurance Plans/Atlases

1.  Does the Archives have a complete history of my house prepared?
If your house is a designated heritage property, there may be some information already on file, but generally the answer is no.  An ownership history is usually prepared when an owner or interested party contacts the Archives. Due to the volume of requests the Archives receives, we are unable to do this research on behalf of owners. We suggest you drop by and staff will guide you through the process. 

Please note: Only owners, showing proof of ownership, can access departmental files to their property. This includes building files, architectural plans, permits, etc.
 
2.  How do I find the date of construction of my house?
This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. The first step is to check the Fire Insurance Plans to get an approximate date of construction and also see if the civic or house number has changed over time.  Any change in civic number is important to note for the next step, when you view the City’s Assessment Rolls. These are used to determine when the property was first taxed; which is a good indication of date of construction. Most people are satisfied stopping here, but a final step can be to view the City Permit Books as these will give the date when a permit for construction or occupancy was issued. 
 
3.  How do I find out the original owner of my house?
Once the date of construction is obtained, we can determine who the original owner is through the Assessment Rolls, as long as the property was constructed within the municipal boundaries. The Great Fire of 1892 destroyed many of the early records of the municipal government so determining exact dates of construction and early ownership for some older properties can be difficult.
 
4.  How do I find out who lived in my house over the years?
There are several sources that can determine this. The main sources are the City’s Assessment Rolls, published directories and voter’s lists. The published directories also give additional information such as the occupation of residents. Census returns available at other archival institutions also provide additional information.
 
5.  Do you have a set of plans for my house?
From 1986 forward we should have a set of original architectural plans either on microfiche or in hard copy, depending on the year. If your house was constructed under the jurisdiction of the Town of Goulds, the Town of Wedgewood Park or the St. John’s Metropolitan Area Board, there may be a set of drawings in with the development application. Please note that we require proof of ownership before releasing any house plans.
 
6.  Do you have an early photograph of my house or street?
We can check our photograph database to determine if any exist. We have an extensive collection for houses that were in the downtown central re-development area in the 1950s and 1960s. 
 
7.  My property was in the former Town of Goulds, Town of Wedgewood Park or was built under the St. John's Metropolitan Area Board [Metroboard].  Do you have any records of my house prior to being amalgamated with St. John's?
The City of St. John's Archives has the records from the Town of Goulds and the Town of Wedgewood Park. These records contain development, building files, permits, taxation and assessment information.  When Metroboard dissolved in 1992, only the development or building applications for properties under the jurisdiction of the City were transferred to the Archives. All other records were transferred to The Rooms Provincial Archives.
 
Most commonly used sources for researching a house at the City of St. John's Archives: 
1.  Assessment or Tax Rolls
These books are a record of taxes that were paid on a property. Up to 1982, the Rolls list the owner and occupier of the property as well as if the land is Freehold or Leasehold. Due to a change in the method of taxation, after 1982 the occupier of the property is no longer recorded. There is other incidental information on the property such as number of floors, number of rooms and whether or not the property has water and sewer services. These records are organized according to civic address and not by owner’s name.
 
The earliest year available is 1891-1892. The records from 1888 to July 1892 were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892.
 
For the period 1891 to 1921 the Assessment Rolls were produced every three years with special assessments in-between. For the period 1923 to 1949 they were produced every two years. Starting in 1949 they were produced yearly with the last paper copy made in 1995. After this, an electronic version of the roll has been maintained.
 
For the period 1891 to 1981 the City utilized a rental value system of taxation. With this form of taxation, the tax value of the house was based on what the property would rent for in the marketplace. 
 
From 1982 to 1996 the City utilized a capital value system of taxation whereby tax values were based on property worth. Thus, the occupier of the property was no longer required, just the owner and freehold or leasehold status.
 
From 1997 onwards the City utilized a market value system of taxation. Under this system, taxes are based on what the property would sell for on the open market.
 
2.  Building Permits
Records of permits issued for new construction, renovation or demolition are available for the period 1911 forward. The City of St. John's Archives does have records of electrical and plumbing permits from the 1970s forward.
 
3.  City Directories
These are published sources of names, street listings and other information dating back to 1864. There were intermittent editions published by various sources from 1864 to 1936, with no editions published during the 1940s and 1950s. Starting in 1960, yearly editions were published up to 2000 when they ceased making the books due to privacy legislation.
 
4.  Voter’s Lists
The City of St. John's Archives has municipal Voter’s Lists for 1937, 1941, 1969 and 1981 forward. Due to privacy laws, only the Voter’s List for 1937 and 1941 are open to the public.
 
5.  Fire Insurance Plans/Atlases
These atlases provide a very detailed look at properties in St. John's. They provide details on construction materials, number of stories, roofing materials and type, building footprints, accessory buildings, residential or commercial status, business type, civic addresses, water and sewer information, location of fountains and hydrants, plus a multitude of other information. Since these plans were produced every 10 to 20 years, they provide an excellent source to see how St. John's has changed over time. They are available for the years 1880 to 1889, 1893 to 1907, 1914, 1925, 1946, and 1957 to 1963.