Excerpts from A Field Guide to the Vernacular Architecture of St-Pierre et Miquelon

(St-Pierre: L'Arche, 2003 for the Vernacular Architecture Forum)

The following texts have been taken from the field guide of the Vernacular Architecture Forum's 2003 meeting and were written by Rodrigue Girardin and Gerald L. Pocius in 2003.


Maison Orsiny (before 1912)
11 rue Anne Claire du Pont de Renon

The Raoul Orsiny house appears in several photographs taken by Dr. Louis Thomas (starting in 1912), and thus obviously was built before then. In one photo, an earlier tambour, attic window, and fênetres françaises are visible. The earlier tambour was built with quite large windows. The house originally belonged to Ange Orsiny, and it was then sold to his son, Raoul; his heirs currently own it.

According to Raoul Orsiny’s daughter, Michelle Tesnière-Orsiny, the earlier plan of the house had the current entry into the hall; to the left was a salon, much like today. A stair was located along the gable wall of the hall, leading to the two upstairs bedrooms. Another door near the back of the hallway opened to the left into the cuisine. The cuisine was smaller than today; the wall of the present-day hall corridor ran to the back of the house, and divided a small arrière-cuisine from the cuisine. As today, there was a chambre off the cuisine. The present-day bathroom was originally another chambre; this earlier chambre was accessed only through a door in the salon. According to Marie-Ange Michel, the older house plans in Miquelon often had an entrance corridor with two doors off of it. One door (to the left or right)would enter a formal salon or appartement, a door at the end of the corridor would enter the cuisine; the Orsiny house follows this longstanding pattern.

The house was originally built closer to the ground, but was later raised and put on a higher cement foundation. The former arrière-cuisine was later renovated with whiskey crates heathing. The house was heated by a coal stove until ca. 1970; an oil stove replaced this, and three years ago, a central-heating furnace was installed. The upstairs bedrooms were apparently used only in the summers. The small present-day arrière-cuisine behind the kitchen was added in the 1960s by Ange Lemaine. Before that, there was a small connective passage along the exterior of the house to the stable. The stable itself is quite large, with levels for livestock and hay storage; a door on north end upper level was used to load hay into the loft. Except for the cement floor, the stable has not been renovated.


Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry (ca. 1850)
5-7 rue Georges Girardin

Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry may well be the oldest surviving house in Miquelon, dating from around 1850; it has been here since at least 1857, when it was mentioned in a petition. Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry closely parallels Maison Yon in St-Pierre in terms of its scale and interior organization. The main block of the roughly 26 by 50 foot house was raised in a single building episode and subsequently subdivided and remodeled in the twentieth century. The house now comprises two dwellings sharing a frame party wall. The west end of Maison Orsiny is entered via its tambour, which opens, in turn, into the present day salon. The salon was converted into its present use from a shop room, which earlier served as a chambre. The room behind the salon formally served as the parent’s chambre. The cuisine abuts the salon and contains a modern stair installed in the 1950s and the masonry stove flue. A second chambre stands behind the cuisine, but it appears as if this room may have served as an arrière-cuisine prior to its current use. Finally, an entry and stair hall completes the plan of the west ground floor. The east end was measured, but no internal room descriptions were available at the time of guide preparation.

The interior finishes of the west portion of Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry reflect the customary framing practices of the Archipelago. The ceiling joists were originally left exposed to the underside of the loft flooring and simply planed smooth. Partitions between rooms consist of thin boards vertically set into headers and joists. The mobility of the partitions remains evident in the cuisine where paint lines indicate three wall placements antedating the present arrangement. The stair in the entry (now closed and serving as an arrière-cuisine) was furnished with a factory-turned newel and balusters. A surviving nineteenth century door at the back of the stair hall was fabricated from vertical boards battened with stiles and rails, imitating the appearance of paneled woodwork. The door is also notable for its use of imported strap hinges and decorative latch.

A ca. 1897 photograph of Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry, depicting what is at present the rear elevation of the house, suggests that the building underwent a series of dramatic remodelings through the twentieth century. In the photograph, the clapboard-clad building overlooks the stone grave and includes a gable wing that apparently served as a workshop and storehouse. The backlit silhouette of a magasin further documents the place Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry occupied in the working landscape of Miquelon. The 1897 photograph of the dwelling records several vanished features including the presence of two shed dormers just above the eave line of the roof, the use of French casement windows, and the presence of a door near the end of the house abutting the now lost lower one-story gable wing. The photograph also indicates which features have been added to the house through the twentieth century: the tambours located at either gable end, the one-story shed room on the present back elevation, the raised wall to create a more liveable upper story room at the east end of the house, and the cluster of small storage and work sheds extending from the east gable. The photographer’s choice of this elevation raises the possibility that the present rear elevation of the house was originally its front. Moreover, the placement of the door and windows in the six-bay fenestration raise the possibility that the current plan of the house may be quite different from its original configuration. The roof on the east portion of the house was raised in 1950, with extensive renovations in the 1960s.


Ferme Detcheverry (1933-36)

The Detcheverry farm is one of the few remaining intact farms on the island of Miquelon. Fragments of other farms do exist, but most farmsteads are deteriorating (e.g., the Ollivier farm in Langlade) or have disappeared. The Detcheverry family farm first belonged to Antoine Bibart, who received the land in 1861; Laurent Olano bought it in 1870. Gilles Detcheverry acquired the property in 1933; Clément Detcheverry (Gilles’ son) remembers the old complex as a house with a large barn connected to it (perhaps similar to the Ollivier farm). Buildings had likely fallen down when Detcheverry’s father bought the property.

Built in phases, the Miquelon farmstead consists of three architectural elements, two houses linked by a barn. The main block of the two-story house measures roughly 27 by 30 feet, the single story house 28 feet square, and the barn 24 by 67 feet. Smaller spaces in the form of pantries and connecting passages add to the overall area of the complex. The barn was reduced to a single story in height following a hurricane in October 2000. Each of the three primary units of the farm represents an established architectural form. Key to understanding how they work together, however, is the nature and use of the linking hyphens that contained corridors, pantries, and rough domestic work spaces.

The two-story dwelling at the east of the range is the earlier of the two houses (1933). Built as a story-and-a-half gambrel roof structure, the house had the front slope of its roof raised later in the twentieth century (to create more bedroom space for children). Other changes likely associated with this renovation were the installation of new windows in the primary elevation and the removal of an original entry and tambour from the corner overlooking the barnyard. On the interior, the house retains its traditional room uses. The narrow entry contains a stair to the upper story and opens to the right in the formal salle à manger and to the left into the cuisine. A range of three rooms extends across the back of the house. The chambre des parents occupies the space behind the salle à manger. Adjacent is the chambre des enfants, and abutting that room is the arrière-cuisine that opens into a back pantry linking the house to the barn. Of note in this house are a number of construction techniques common to SPM well into the mid-twentieth century. Partitions are of board construction set in rabbetted overhead timbers notched around the simply finished joists carrying the board ceiling overhead. Doorways are framed with mortise-and-tenon joints with the vertical surrounds let into the partition framing timbers. The pantry connecting house and barn includes built-in counter and shelving as well as a pass through from the pantry to the corridor. The presence of windows and work surfaces in the hyphen suggests that the pantry was used for both work and storage. A one-story addition to the gable served as a telephone battery room. The pantry opened into the gable of the formerly twostory barn, a portion of which survives adjacent to the smaller dwelling. Wood for the barn was brought from Miquelon by sled in the winter and dory in the summer; the road to the farm had not yet been built. The barn frame uses a mixture of hewn and sawn timbers. The joists are set in numbered drop mortises still visible in the front wall plate. On the interior, the barn was divided along its length by board nailing plates intended to secure studs for framing pens, bins, and coops. As a general purpose barn, the building provided shelter in the lower story for a wide range of animals. Of note in the remaining two-story portion are the double doors in the gable that open onto an earthen ramp that allowed the farmer to haul wagons in and out of the building. The barn was originally finished with wooden shingles made from whiskey crates.

The barn opened at its opposite gable into a narrow passage that joined it to the smaller and later (1936) of the two dwellings. Although the front of the house has been remodeled, the gable retains its wood shingle siding and fenêtres françaises. Clément remembers that this house was built on wooden posts. The interior arrangement of the house follows established formal conventions. A tambour shelters primary access into a cuisine; of note here is a kitchen cupboard made in Miquelon. To the east of the cuisine toward the barn, the arrière-cuisine opens, mediating the passage and types of work between house and barn. A pair of chambres originally ran behind the front rooms, but renovations circa 1997 subdivided the chambre behind the arrière-cuisine. Like the older house at the opposite end of the barn, this dwelling makes use of established carpentry techniques in its exposed ceiling joists and lightly framed partitions. The connection between this dwelling unit and the barn deserves particular attention. A single story in height, it was divided into three spaces. The narrow (less than 4 feet) corridor connected the arrière-cuisine to the barn. A small room that served as laundry, dairy (butter making), and pantry stood behind the corridor. At the back of the hyphen a 9 by 11 feet room served as a poultry house that opened into a chicken yard behind the barn. Gaston (Clément’s brother) built the nearby garage around 1936, and an addition was added in 1967 when Clément bought a Jeep.

When Clément was working the farm, a wide range of root vegetables was raised, including potatoes and carrots, much sold to the Spanish trawler fleet, as well as St-Pierre shops. These were stored in a cellar first built of wood, and replaced in 1959 with concrete; the cellar sits off near the ocean. The Detcheverrys kept livestock, as well. In its heyday, the farm had 25 milk cows, ten cows for butter, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, and a number of work horses. Live beef was sent to St-Pierre for butchers there; chickens and ducks were mainly for home consumption. The vegetable gardens were behind the houses along the water. Hay was cut on the isthmus, and on nearby meadows. Initially both houses were heated by wood g a t h e r e d on the nearby shores; later, coal was used.


Forge Lebailly (1878)
rue du Commerce

The Lebailly forge offers a rare glimpse of the activity of a maritime forge. Atherton and Hughes Company sold the land to Jean-Baptiste Lafitte on the 5th of May, 1878; shortly after, he built this forge. Records indicate he occasionally employed Newfoundlanders to help. For example, on November 13, 1885, he hired Michel Riggs (an Englishman), who spoke no French, to turn the wheel (probably running the bellows) for the forge for 400FF per year. In 1887, Hugh O’Neal (from Burin), who spoke only English, was hired to turn the air wheel for 900FF for six months. Pierre Lebailly worked there from 1906 and became principal proprietor on the 31st of October 1916. Since the 1920s, much of the work of the town and a good part of the maritime business fell to the Lebailly forge. The business employed six workers; Pierre Lebailly’s two sons (Henri and Pierre-Marie) assisted him until they were old enough to become blacksmiths in their own right. Henri worked at the forge until 1948; his brother Pierre-Marie succeeded his father as proprietor in 1952.

The Lebailly forge was constructed on a foundation of split local stone. The building is a wooden frame with a perimeter sill into which posts were butted and nailed. The posts are butted and toe nailed to a plate into which the ceiling joists are dovetailed and upon which the common rafters are fastened. The posts were trenched to allow brick to be laid up and locked between them. Timbers for the posts, plate, tie beams, and rafters are conifer planks from New England or the Maritimes. Original timbers had a beaded edge cut at the saw mill for use as floor or ceiling joists. However, the trenches to receive the bricks were cut as the forge was being constructed. This post and infill method is a variant of the ancient construction technique that has been described as colombage. Although colombage in many variants is known in French North America, this building was built using techniques that were specific and traditional in St-Pierre. As a late example of colombage, the structure was assembled using traditional technology. Although the walls were framed with posts channeled for brick, the joinery was of a late variety, largely butted and skew-nailed. In addition, braces were omitted, but depended on brickwork along with interior horizontal tongue-and-groove sheathing (commonly found on interior and exteriors of most surviving frame buildings) to stabilize the structure and keep the building from racking.

As built ca. 1878, the forge was originally three metres longer than at present. The structure of the forge was shortened when the attached dwelling house was constructed or expanded. The original extent of the forge is confirmed by a continuous stone foundation that extends under the attached dwelling. Maps dating from the 1880s show the forge in its larger form, suggesting the house was built or expanded no earlier than the 1890s. The dwelling has not been investigated.

The forge either had a shed addition to the west as originally built or it was added soon after the initial construction. Brackets nailed on the outside face of the posts were cut to receive the rafters of the original shed extension. However, the walls are framed using the assemblage clouage and not the colombage technique of the principal massing. In the twentieth century the shed rafters were replaced with ones set higher on the roof pitch of the main block. This was done in order to install a power shaft to mechanize the forge bellows and to install a metal lathe to fabricate steel parts. Windows in the west wall of the shed room were evenly spaced to give light to the machines run from the power shaft. These windows were removed in the 20th century when the foundation was cased in concrete and the wall shingled.

Around 1960 the entire east wall consisting of sill, posts, and brick infill was removed and a concrete block wall was substituted. A reinforced concrete ledger over the principal entrance was added at this time and a concrete pier was built in the inside of the west wall so that a steel I beam could be used as a lifting member for large fabricated products. A large steel crane may have already been present in the forge area to move projects around the work area. The introduction of the new capacity for heavy lifting comes at a time when the building was used less for forge work and more as a welding shop and general metal working facility. The continuing evolution of the structure was arrested when Lebailly and Sons acquired the building across the street (ca. 1935) and began using the Atelier for metal fabrication. Larger milling machines and electric welders were installed there and the forge ceased to be the principal fabrication site.


Pascale Dérible (between 1867 and 1883 of wood; brick added)

14 rue Amiral Muselier

Land on this site was first granted to the Detcheverry family in 1827. Whatever house existed was destroyed in the 1867 fire. Gratien Detcheverry’s widow is listed as erecting the house after that date, a fact mentioned by the house sale document of 1883; she probably died not long before. The survey sale plan of 1883 depicts a house with dimensions of 11.20m x 6.20m, but describes the house as being of wood. Also on the plan is a magasin (to the left of the current house, perhaps the frame building still there), yard and outbuilding (in the back?). Perhaps not long after this sale, the house was clad in brick; evidence in the basement indicates that there are two inches between the cladding and the earlier house frame. If we compare this spacing, and the flush placement of brick on the Bartlett house, which technique was used for a house being built, and which added onto an existing structure? In 1997, Pascale Dérible acquired the house.

Two-stories in elevation with a roughly a balanced five-bay street facade, the stuccoed brick house contains a formal classical plan: a centre hall divides the ground floor into a pair of service rooms and a pair of more formal spaces. Today, a cuisine and arrière-cuisine open from the right side of the stair hall. However, the front room may well have originally been a salle à manger, with a cuisine behind it (as in Marie Girardin’s house). Across the stair hall and overlooking the street was a formal salon complete with a fireplace and imported mantel. A stove-heated room stood behind the salon, with a doorway providing today the only access to the yard behind the house.

The second story best chambre located above the salon remains one of the most intact rooms in St-Pierre. In addition to its mantel, the best chambre also possessed a built-in armoire with two large flush panel doors. The ceiling is finished with neatly squared joists in the general style of the community. The Dérible house is an example of a fully developed classically inspired house in St-Pierre. The dwelling would have been a significant achievement when it was built and would have remained a significant visual element in the city’s landscape into the early twentieth century. At least two houses of this type appear in the monumental 1898 panoramic painting of St. Pierre.


Maison Vigneau (ca. 1860)
10 rue Amiral Muselier

Maison 10 rue Amiral Muselier provides a detailed insight into the timber building technologies developed in St-Pierre through the latter half of the nineteenth century. Built ca. 1860, the plan of the two-story, hipped-roof house represents a variation on a centre-passage arrangement with an unheated entry and stair hall flanked by rooms on either side. The stair hall does not appear to have run the full depth of the roughly 25 by 30 foot house. Instead the two rooms at the back of the house abutted one another with the larger of the two extending behind the stair. Alterations to the house in the late twentieth century, however, obscured much of the detail documenting the earliest layout.

The construction details of Maison 10 rue Amiral Muselier were revealed in the course of deliberations over the future of the building and its planned demolition. As built, Maison rue 10 Amiral Muselier follows the pattern of St-Pierre timber framing seen in other structures both in the Archipelago. The framing of the house consists of imported sawn timber within the range described in the 1862 account of the timber trade discussed in the Guide Introduction:

For land construction: 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade
Spruce or pine boards: 16, 18 or 20 feet in length, 1 inch thick
Spruce or pine beams: 18 to 24 feet long, 2 inches thick
Spruce or pine beams: 18 to 24 feet long, 3 inches thick
Spruce of pine scantlings, from 9 feet and up, squared to 4 3.4 x 4 3.4, 5 1.4 x 5 1.4, 5 1.2 x 5 1.2, and 6 1.2 x 6 1.2 inches

Ceiling joists in the upper story measure, for example, roughly four by six inches while the studs average three by 4 1/4 to 7 1.2 inches. Of particular note, though, is the manner in which the frame is assembled. While historic photographs from Miquelon show early twentieth-century structures in the process of construction, there is little evidence other than surviving buildings that documents the details of timber framing practice.

Once the dimensions and general plan of Maison rue 10 Amiral Muselier were determined, the carpenters assembled their materials at the site. The carpenters then followed one of two strategies. Most likely they successively laid the studs for each of the four walls out on the ground and nailed the sills, wall plates, girts, and roof plates to the inner faces of the studs. The placement of the studs followed the planned placement of doors and windows. Thus, the party wall studs were placed on roughly regular four foot centres, while the front wall studs were irregularly spaced to accommodate the insertion of door and windows. The walls were then raised into position and temporarily braced. The party wall with Maison rue 12 Amiral Muselier most likely went up first, but due to the nature of the building’s frame, it is difficult to state an exact raising sequence with certainty. Once the exterior walls were in place the carpenters then proceeded to set the floor joists in place, cutting dovetail drop mortices into the upper surfaces of the sills, wall plates, and front and back roof plates. At an undetermined point in this process, the interior and exterior walls were sheathed with planks that both stiffened the pallet-like frame walls and provided rough surfaces for the exterior siding and interior applications of wallpaper. Finally, the roof frame was erected using the attic floor as a deck for marking, sawing, and assembling the common rafter blades. Similar to Maison 12 rue Amiral Muselier next door, the roof frame consists of seven common rafter pairs raised on roughly three-foot centers, half-lapped and spiked at the peak, and nailed to board raising plates. Board collars added stability to the roof as did the layer of heavy sheathing intended as a nailing surface for the wood shingles. The rafters for the hipped gables were handled in different manner from the neighboring house. In Maison 10 rue Amiral Muselier the corner rafters rise the full height of the roof and are nailed to the outer face of the rafter pairs that define the ends of the main body of the roof. The intermediate rafters that complete the gables of the hip are placed against the outer faces of the corner rafters and are nailed in place. Despite the height of the roof (five-and-a-half feet to the board collars; eleven feet to the peak), the attic appears to have been used solely for storage.

The second framing strategy possibly employed in Maison 10 rue Amiral Muselier is documented in photographs involving the Roger Orsiny house in Miquelon. In this instance, the process follows a more piecemeal process. First the sills are set in place, then the studs are raised one by one and temporarily braced in position. With the studs in position, the builders inserted the wall plates, set the joists, and laid the floors. Because some of the studs did run the full height of the building (a detail also seen in Maison rue 10 Amiral Muselier), the carpenters then pieced and trimmed the upright timbers to their desired height, applied the roof plates, inserted the attic joists, and floored the attic preparatory to raising the roof.

Once the exterior walls and roof were in place, whatever the framing process, the carpenters turned their attention to the installation of interior partitions. As in other houses recorded throughout the Archipelago, the partitions in Maison rue 10 Amiral Muselier consisted of thin board walls. The boards for the walls that paralleled the ridge were set, in turn, in moveable headers notched around the joists in a manner readily seen in other buildings like Saline Morel on Ile-aux-Marins. Partitions that ran from front to back were set in grooves cut into the undersides of the joists. In both instances, the partition boards were lightly nailed to the flooring. Finally, the interior finishes of Maison 10 rue Amiral Muselier are also worthy of note. All the ceiling joists were planed smooth and finished with decorative edges. The undersides of exposed floor boards were similarly planed. The interior surfaces of the exterior walls and both sides of the partitions were papered variously with newspapers and decorative wallpapers.


Maison Yon (1855-57)
30 rue Boursaint

Louis Durand obtained property at this location from the government in February 1855; his house had to be finished by 1857. Maison Yon has all the characteristics of a dwelling of that date. A subsequent sale deed mentioned that Louis Durand was a carpenter/joiner (menuisier); likely he was the one who built the house. The dwelling was later sold to Marie-Joseph Yon (spouse of Emile Eugène Vigneau, and daughter of Victor Yon and Lebrun). In 1967, the house was sold to Jean Victor Yon.

Maison Yon remains one of the earliest and most intriguing dwellings in St-Pierre. As the house of a successful merchant family, it bears many similarities to Maison Orsiny/Etcheberry in Miquelon. Nearly 53 feet in length, Maison Yon contains a complex array of rooms under a continuous mansard roof. The room closest to the street (southeast corner) historically served as a commercial room; ca. 1885, for example, it was used to sell fishermens’ supplies. Behind the shop stood the cuisine with its large masonry stove flue. A formal entry entered via a vestibule contains the main stair. Two rooms identified as a salon and a salle à manger occupied the middle of the house. At the west end the current workshop was earlier a second dining room with a cuisine behind it. A narrow corridor divides the front rooms. The arrière-cuisine and salle à manger in the middle of the house, however, share a partition containing an original door linking the two spaces. The stair in the northwest cuisine is a ladder-like arrangement comparable to the original stair in Jules Girardin’s summer house at La Pointe.
The manner in which the rooms of this mid nineteenth-century maison were originally used is open to conjecture. Certainly, the presence of two cuisines suggests multiple households living under a common roof. The difference in the relative quality of rooms and the position of the main entry, however, suggest a single household. Moreover, the present entry may date to a renovation undertaken in the 1870s. The architectural evidence for an earlier route into the house remains visible in the interior of the present lean-to garage.

Notable interior features in Maison Yon include exposed and chamfered ceiling joists. In the store room partitioned from the rear salle à manger the ceiling joists retain their early decorative paint where an olive ground is grained in red and blue. This remnant of interior decorative painting represents a more elaborate scheme for the entry that included grained walls in panels with painted flowers in the corners. A chair rail painted in three stripes divided the upper panels from a painted wainscot. The baseboards and door surrounds in the entry were painted in a dark color and decorated with light dots. The mansard roof follows the same principles employed in framing gambrel roofs (mansards were being built in St-Pierre as early as 1824). Common rafters rise to a kerb plate on top of which are the uppermost rafters. In Maison Yon the rafters are lapped at the peak and joined with cut nails. The rafters are circular sawn while the board collars are sash sawn, a mix of technologies found throughout the eastern United States and Canada from the mid-nineteenth century onward.


Maison Girardin (ca. 1870)
24 rue Abbé Pierre Gervain

The property where the Girardin house is located was first owned by Pierre Hacala before 1867. Hacala ran a public bath there; the street across from the Girardin house today is called Rue des Bains. The house itself was likely built around 1870 by Jean Ellisondo (who bought the land in 1869). When Louis Ernest Legentil acquired the property in 1912, it was noted that this was originally two properties (perhaps one section for the house, a later piece for the stable); Legentil was Marie Girardin’s grandfather. Marie claims that the house was originally divided into two parts and housed two families.
The Marie Girardin house is one of the most outstanding houses in St-Pierre today. The plan of the house is the classical house of urban St-Pierre. A central hallway with stairs is flanked on either side by a double-pile of rooms. To the right, the front room was originally a salle à manger, while behind it was the cuisine. To the left of the hall, a front room served as the salon, while behind it a small room was used perhaps for storage or as an arrière-cuisine. Off this small back room, a door leads to a passage to the connecting stable.

The rooms on this ground level contain many original features, including fireplace mantels, door and window moldings, and baseboard trim. There is original wainscoting in the kitchen and dining room, three feet high; the stairs, as well, are original, and skewed because of the house shifting. The upper bedrooms are filled with many original features, including paneled doors. The bathroom is of note for its two built-in armoires (one on the left 1932; one on right original). An earlier cabinet with a pull-chain toilet is still in place.

The roof framing consists of 3” x 6” mill-sawn rafters, half lapped and nailed at ridge. Each rafter pair is connected with 1 1.2_h x 5” ties that are circular sawn. A fire started on the roof in 1956, the wooden roof shingles igniting. After the fire, the charred roof sheathing was simply flipped over, and reused. Marie claims that her uncle once had a pigeonnier in the attic.

The Girardin property had a connected stable where the family kept cows. The upper level was used for hay storage, with a gable door with lifting beam originally facing the couline where hay could be brought in. Marie Girardin’s father worked in a bank, and saw little possibility of raises in salary. He decided, then, to sell milk as an additional source of income. He started by keeping a goat, and eventually had six cows. Those not producing milk were kept in pastures on the hills overlooking the town. The extension on the south end of the house was added not long after the original structure was built. This room was a laiterie used for selling surplus milk and butter; the room contains a fine built-in cupboard along the south gable end wall.


Magasin à sel (ca. 1900?)
Boul. Port-en-Bessin

The Magasin à sel is the last remaining vestige of a vast architectural landscape that once supported the Grande Pêche. By the end of the nineteenth century, the area where the Magasin is located was filled with large warehouses, storage sheds, eating and living quarters for graviers, and vast expanses of stone graves for drying. All of that landscape has now disappeared, replaced first by the old airport, and today by a modern housing development under construction. The Magasin à sel thus is one of the most important buildings in SPM today, a building that hopefully will be rescued because of VAF attention.
Magasin à sel is a large, frame structure built as a facility in which to store salt for the curing of fish. It is one-and-a-half stories in height, with a single room on each floor. A pair of off-centered doors on the west gable end—away from the water—was the primary access to the building, with a secondary set of doors on the north wall. Inside, bins were built into the first-floor space to contain salt, and a ladder stair gave access to the upper floor from the far, waterside gable. A trap door in the floor of this upper story allowed for heavy goods to be hoisted from inside to the upper level, while doors on the upper level of the two gables gave similar access from the exterior. The use of the upper floor is uncertain except that storage is implied by these doorways and the survival of wooden beams that once projected through the siding used to carry a block and tackle. Above the collar level at the east end is pigeonnier. Relying on conventional St-Pierre building technology, a large frame structure with a fairly simple plan was created that was used successfully with only modest changes for salt storage for many years until there simply was no longer a need for such a building.

The Magasin is constructed using transitional building techniques sharing features with the post-and-beam tradition in northern Europe and the modern framing techniques of mass-produced wood products. All the vertical framing members in the exterior walls are the same size, that is, there is no distinction between posts at the corners and studs that are intermediate within the walls. Likely due to the size of the building, the ground sills were quite large by this island’s standards, and unlike smaller frame buildings, sills are not set back with the studs running past them; instead, they are mortised and tenoned to the sills in a very traditional manner. The joists of the first floor are dovetailed to the sills, a technique used extensively in large and small wooden buildings in St-Pierre. The flooring of the first floor is very robust three-inch planks with random widths ranging between three and eight inches.
Horizontal framing is used to stiffen the building and to help create the scaffolding for bins on the first floor. Transverse beams of this part of the system may be curved pieces; at the least, the pieces vary in dimension along their lengths, possibly only as an expedient to maximize the size a timber that could be had out of a tree—in other words, the taper might simply reflect the taper of the tree itself. These members are carried on a ledger lapped into the outside face of the studs, opposite the conventional way floor framing is treated. At the intermediate posts along the center of the first floor these tie beams are bolted to an adjoining post and then supported by a secondary post that is likewise bolted in place and supports the tie beams in compression. These tie beams carry longitudinal “summer” beams and secondary struts to support framing that stiffens the floor joists of the upper story.

The upper floor joists lap over a ledger board also lapped into the outside face of the wall studs and are nailed to the side of the studs. Both of these lower wall plates are lapped so that their outer faces are flush with the outside surface of the exterior sheathing, demonstrating just how closely linked sheathing is to the framing system. Attic flooring is conventional butted 5/4 inch (nominal) boards approximately 61.4 inches wide. The top of the studs on the long walls are shaped to follow the run of the rafters. The wall plate (3” x 10 1/8”) is let into the inside face of the stud tops and is notched to allow rafters to sail over and be toe nailed to the plate and stud. A thin 1” x 8” board is nailed to the top of this plate and caps the top of the wall, this being another traditional element in St-Pierre framing systems. The rafter feet sail over the wall with a one-inch soffit nailed to bottom of rafter ends.
No diagonal bracing is used in the structure despite the substantial wind load to which the building is routinely subjected. Instead, interior and exterior one-inch, random-width tongue-and-grooved sheathing provided rigidity. The sheathing also doubles as interior finish surfaces (helps contain salt) and on the outside, as a place to nail shingle siding. The integration of the sheathing into the integrity of the frame is not a happen chance. The ledger boards and wall plate are all let into the studs at a depth that makes the outer face of the structure flush with the sheathing boards. The use of sheathing is the common way in St-Pierre to provide rigidity to the frame, add some level of insulation, and as a substrate for exterior cladding and as interior finish.

Because there is no native lumber to St-Pierre the source of timbers and the preparation may be important. The framing and upper-story flooring appear to be predominately circular sawn, while the sheathing is mill (sash) sawn. The building structure rests on blocks that are tree trunks (pilotis) (called “shores” in the Newfoundland tradition). These latter pieces may be later insertions to prop up a sagging floor. The wood species used throughout appears to be principally spruce, likely—coming from New England or the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

Significant changes were made to the warehouse after it was built, particularly the addition of a longitudinal frame wall upstairs as reinforcement for the collars. As the building’s use changed from an industrial storage facility, modest changes to the fenestration occurred. The most significant change was the addition of concrete foundations to stabilize the base of the building. This change--while an appropriate treatment in St-Pierre--has serious consequences for the wooden studs interacting with it. Paint analysis indicates the exterior of the building was originally finished in a peach colour, with no detailing of corners.



Maison Girardin (1877 or 1886)
The property where the Girardin house is located seems to have been part of a larger parcel of land that was owned by the Niquet/Lebuffe family in the land claim of 1764. A Jérémie Cecconi (a Corsica name) bought this large property at auction in December 1876; he may have been a land speculator who intended to capitalize on the booming fishery. In January 1877, Cecconi divided the property in smaller sections including graves, houses and gardens. One portion was bought by Paul Ferdinand Morel, Jean-François Provost and Pauline Leguilochet, widow of Constant Painchault. In 1886, these three partners divided the property again into two parts. If not built after January 1877, then the Girardin house was probably built shortly after April 1886.

Maison Girardin was constructed as a double house, divided roughly in half, covered with wooden shingles on the walls and roof. Entry to each section was through doors at the end of the facade. Using the location of the original studs in the attic plan, one can see that the east side of the facade has virtually the same voids, while the original door on the west side has been filled in, and the current windows on this side shifted towards the centre. Paint evidence in the east half suggests upon entry there was a small interior porch; from this porch one could go directly to the attic on a steep set of stairs along the gable wall, or enter into the cuisine. Each large cuisine, then, had a chambre off the back of it. The rear chambres in both halves of the house had built-in armoires; the armoire in the east rear chambre is still in place, while paint evidence in the west rear chambre indicates the same location. When the house was thus configured, it is an example of the small amount of space required by fishing families. Each cuisine was likely served with its own small stove with flue running through the floor into the central chimney in the attic. The attic itself was originally divided; evidence of the partition can be seen in the back portion. This space was largely unfinished, although built-in armoires may indicate domestic use. The space may have been used for sleeping for other members of the family, or rented to fishers from Métropole for the summer. original finish of the east cuisine (the current salon) was recently visible, and revealed an elaborate faux bois pattern throughout (except for a green section under the earlier gable stairs. This faux bois finish from that room is still on the original wall visible under the central stairs accessible from the storage alcove in the present cuisine. The back chambres likely were whitewashed to chair rail level.

Sometime after 1902, the house was converted into a single-family dwelling. Both gable stairs were removed and replaced by the central stairway; this central stair, then, falls largely in the original east cuisine. The exterior entrance doors were converted to windows, and the central doorway added. One curious feature during this renovation occurred with the new storage cupboard under the central stairs. Owners likely envisioned this as a usable space. To light it, they incorporated a translucent ship’s glass in the attic floor to let light in through the ceiling of the cupboard. Such glasses were used to shed light below deck on dimly lit ships. From the attic floor, it is difficult to actually discern that this square at the top of the steps is such a glass. But looking up through the cupboard under the stairs, the light is seen (though ultimately not very effective). When the renovation of the plan occurred, the house could now contain a more formal salon (where the east cuisine was located); this salon received a small simple non-functional mantle as part of this transformation. The old back chambre seems to have been used after this for storage. With this renovation, the house displayed the plan and fashion of urban St-Pierre town, an optimistic gesture soon tempered by a declining fishery.

In the attic, the typical late nineteenth century St-Pierre roof-frame can be seen. The rafters are sash sawn, half-lapped at the ridge and nailed. The roof originally had several window hatches (tabatière). Oral tradition claims that the attic was once used (with difficultly) by a retired sailor who boarded there; he weighed 130 kg. Photos in the house include Victor Patrice (the earlier owner--the man in the white uniform), and Joseph Provost (in the black uniform), either a boarder in the house, or a local merchant. The house has a number of other notable features. There is much hardware in the house of interest; this is especially so around the interior door of central stairway, and in several boxes in the attic. In the attic, there is a large box sea chest, likely used by fishers coming from Métropole. There is also a box bed, recent in construction, but in form quite traditional.


Maison Jézéquel (before 1889)

The origins of Maison Jézéquel are debatable. Local tradition claims that the frame was brought from France ca. 1850 by the proprietor of the building, the General Transatlantic Company (Compagnie Générale Transatlantique). The claim for French origins for the frame is based partly on the fact that the rafters are numbered for assembly; the assumption is that any reputed imported frame must have come from Métropole.

Preserved now as a cafeteria and museum interpreting Ile-aux-Marins maritime history, the present building comprises two-thirds of the original structure. As built, Maison Jézéquel extended nearly 60 feet in length and 37 feet in depth (a third of the building, Maison Lehuenen, was demolished ca. 1988). Framed with hewn 6 inch posts on 3 foot centres and 6 by 5 inch tie beams, Maison Jézéquel is one of a handful of braced frame structures recorded on SPM. While the timbers used for the walls and ceilings of Maison Jézéquel appear to be purpose-cut for this building, the rafters are clearly reused material. The method of joining the ties to the posts with blind mortices and ledged joints is a standard practice recorded in eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings in eastern Canada and the United States. A centrally placed girder supported on posts provided additional support at the mid point of the ground floor ceiling joists.

Maison Jézéquel is notable as a building that combined the work and storage needs of the fishery with residential functions. The roughly finished ground level with a wooden floor was used to store salt cod. A pair of double doors in the waterside elevation opened onto the stone beach. Fishing boats were hauled ashore at this point with the aid of a cabestan located in the building; in November, the boats were then moved inside for winter storage. Toilets were located in the basement; these were half barrels with a bucket that could be emptied. A well was dug in the basement; originally, the well for the house was located in the nearby grave.

Mrs. Marguerite Briand (née Jézéquel), now age 90, recalls her family history: Yves-Marie Jézéquel was born in Kérity, Brittany on December 5, 1855; he married Marguerite Kernaonet (from Yvias), born in 1859. Yves and Marie left Métropole in 1889 to go to Ile-aux-Chiens. Their young son, Joseph (Marguerite’s father), was three years old at the time. Yves Jézéquel bought the house then from an uncle named Tillard.

By the 1920s, three families lived in Maison Jézéquel. The demolished section was lived in by the Lehuenen family. The current house had been divided into two in 1909, and housed the families of Joseph Jézéquel and Joseph’s brother, Pierre. Pierre’s part of the house consisted simply of a cuisine and one chambre, while Joseph’s had a cuisine and two chambres–one for the parents entered directly from the cuisine, the other (for children) adjacent to it with entry from the main bedroom. The external stair location led into Joseph’s portion of the house; Pierre’s half would be accessed through the current stairs at the ground level that enters the present-day cafeteria. The attic was divided in half; it was used partly for storage, and partly for graviers coming from Métropole who slept there. In this attic space, the graviers had bunkbeds and a table. Joseph bought Pierre’s half of the house ca. 1918, converting it into a single-family dwelling. He removed the outside stairs, and used the stairs leading up from the ground work level as the main entrance to the house. One entered here into a cuisine (the space today partitioned off as a cooking area). Directly in front of this on the water-side of the house was a salle à manger. Off of the cuisine there were three chambres. Two were accessed from the cuisine (the parent’s bedroom at the south gable end, the boy’s bedroom on the water side adjacent to the salle à manger). A third chambre (for the girls) was located in the southwest corner, accessed through the parent’s chambre.

According to Mrs. Briand, the house was being used only in summers for fishing as far back as 1920 (not long after Joseph bought his half). Joseph continued to work as a fisherman in the summers, and repairing dories (with his father-in-law) in St-Pierre in the winters. In 1988, M. Guyot, head of the Service de la Jeunesse et des Sports (Department of Youth and Sports) acquired the building and had it restored for use as museum and cafeteria.


Saline Morel (late 19th century?)

Saline Morel began as a two story frame dwelling built into an embankment overlooking the harbour of St-Pierre. Sometime in the mid twentieth century the old house was converted for use as a saline, a functional rededication that involved the demolition of another house and sliding the converted new saline off of its foundations and moving it closer to the grave. The new use of the old house also resulted in the removal of at least one internal partition and the relocation of the stair to the second floor into its present position.

As a dwelling, Saline Morel approximated the plans of at least two other houses on Ile-aux-Marins, the remodeled Coutances, and Josseaume. Each of these houses included a large cuisine that occupied at least half of the ground floor area and included a salon and stair hall. The evidence for this arrangement remains visible in Saline Morel. The present entry into the saline opens into the old cuisine. The two rooms behind the cuisine included a salle à manger and a couloir with stair. The partially dismantled partition between these two rooms illustrates the customary practice for framing partitions. First, the joists extend the full breadth of the building. Then a rabbetted timber, notched to fit under and around the joists, was inserted. Vertical partition planks were fitted into the rabbet and then nailed in place at the floor. The entire assembly possessed the advantages of easy installation and the possibility of relocating walls by removing the planks, sliding the rabbetted timber into a new position, and reinstalling the partition planks.

The upper story of Saline Morel retains much of its original finish including built-in armoires. One armoire was fitted under the slope of the roof and constructed with double doors. The second armoire installed was against the partition abutting the chimney flue in the centre of the building. Although somewhat faded, the grained woodwork of the armoire visually links the Saline Morel to the Maison Yon and Maison Paturel-Laborde in St-Pierre. The wallpaper and board ceilings in the upper story of Saline Morel suggest that the building was well finished throughout, an observation supported by the detailing of the winder stair and neatly finished three and four-panel doors. The glazed door into the front chambre overlooking the grave exhibits the qualities of a shop door that may be reused in its present location.

Finally, the attic of Saline Morel exhibits a common rafter roof with collars binding each pair of rafter blades. Also notable in the attic are the framing provisions for the brick flue that extended from the cuisine on the ground floor through the ridge of the roof.


Lavoir de la Companie

One of the features of SPM life is the use of outdoor facilities specifically constructed in which to wash clothes. Several were located in the town of St-Pierre; two were located on Ile-aux-Marins, one below the Town Hall, the other here. This lavoir was owned by Companie Générale Transatlantique, hence its name. Families of the Pointe used this particular lavoir, while families near the school used the other. Lavoirs were built into streams or natural springs, and were large pens in which the water could circulate, and then exit in a drain. Women would sometimes pay a small fee for the use of the lavoirs.

According to Jeannine Girardin, during the summer months, women laid the washed clothes out on the grass before rinsing. In winter, the ice in the lavoir had to be broken before use. Generally people waited until spring to wash their sheets, so they could be laid on the rocks to dry. This building-type is an interesting example of public work space that had to be shared amongst the community.

Some lavoirs (as the one near the Town Hall) were in the open without a building, while some had protection. Lavoir de la Companie consists of a building that is almost completely reconstructed. The actual concrete tank is also largely reconstructed, although on the lines of the original. In one corner of the building is a facility to produce hot water; two large cauldrons sat in a concrete fireplace box. This heating facility contains some original elements from the mid- twentieth century.