June 24, 1997, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a plaque commemorating the East Coast Fishery at the official opening ceremonies for the Ryan Premises National Historic Site in Bonavista, Newfoundland. The legacy of an empire built by James Ryan now serves as monument to the single most important industry in the history and culture of Newfoundland - the fishery. And the legacy continues with the construction of his city home in the Capital, St. John's. James Ryan was probably the wealthiest man in Newfoundland. No expense was spared during the construction of "THE HOUSE"! Italian tile, finely carved mantles, crystal and bevel glass from Waterford were all imported from the Old World! Among these treasures, was the finely crafted staircase carved from English White Oak custom crafted by the same craftspeople who fitted the world famous Titanic!
Today, this glorious staircase still centers the dramatic foyer of the Ryan Mansion! Arriving from Ireland to escape the potato famine, Michael Ryan settled in Bonavista and opened a store but it was his son James who had the bigger vision and quickly saw the benefits of the fishery and international trade. James would build his empire and eventually own a fleet nearing 200 schooners that were involved in lucrative fish trade with Europe. After almost 50 years in business with his base in Bonavista, in 1905 Ryan relocated his main residence to St. John's.
There he arranged for the construction of one of the largest and most imposing residences in the city. Known simply as "The House" , this property took approximately two years, 1909 -1911, to build. Considered to be the most extravagant and modern for its time, the Ryan Mansion featured the first telephone switchboard system, a fresh air exchange system, a main floor kitchen, and a Carriage house built to house the first motor vehicle in St. John's.
Oral tradition has it that this motor vehicle contraption arrived 3 months before there was fuel in the city to power it so James and family would sit in the vehicle while neighbours looked on. Built in the Queen Anne style, The Ryan Mansion speaks of the extravagance of its original owners through its ornate exterior detailing and intricate interior wood detailing. The Grand Staircase carved from English White Oak was imported directly from Europe as was the quarter sawn English White Oak wainscot, and spectacular mantles carved from Oak and Mahogany.