Ebsary Estate aka “The Blocks” – The First Public Housing in St. John’s

Aerial view of Mundy Pond, 1948Previous     Next

Ebsary Estate can be seen clearly on this aerial photograph from 1948. The photograph is from the Mundy Pond web site: Mundy Pond – Pictures. This site is not open to the public, a membership is needed.

The first public housing in St. John’s was built to provide housing for war widows. It was called Ebsary Estate, named for the original owner of the property. CMHC employees later called it the  “Widows’ Mansions,” but the common local name was the “Blocks.”

The housing estate was a joint development of the St. John’s Municipal Council and the Newfoundland Government. The city bought the land and provided the water and sewer services. The buildings were ready for occupation by December 1947. Seventeen buildings, providing 68 apartments, were constructed out of cinder blocks, thus giving rise to the local name, at a total cost of $300,000 (compare this with the cost of the Churchill Park development being built at the same time). Each apartment contained a kitchen, living room, bathroom and three bedrooms.

The apartments were rent free as the government had been paying rent for war widows. Many of the houses in which they lived were condemned as unfit for habitation. Built to replace slum housing, the estate itself became a slum. The development brought together in a small geographical area a group of very poor families headed by widows. The social stigmatization experienced by these families followed quickly.

The housing was supposed to be transitional. It was believed that these families would acquire their own homes when their financial situations improved. At the very least it was expected that when the children grew up and became wage earners, the families would move out to make way for younger families. This could not happen, as the lack of affordable housing continued to be a problem in St. John’s. The 68 new dwellings were a drop in the bucket of the need.

By 1962, the buildings of the Ebsary Estate had deteriorated so much that the consultants brought in to suggest improvements could only recommend that they be removed. Demolition began the following year and the last building was torn down in 1970.

Aerial view of Ebsary Estate, surrounded by the Westmount housing

The photograph is from the Mundy Pond web site: Mundy Pond – Pictures. This site is not open to the public, a membership is needed.

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