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Re-envisioning the O’Reilly House Museum in Placentia

Walls were cleaned up and, in some cases, new wallpaper was hung.
Walls were cleaned up and, in some cases, new wallpaper was hung. - Contributed

PLACENTIA, N.L. — It was on Aug. 10, 1937 when several residents of the Placentia area first met to establish the Ancient Capital Historical Society.

The O’Reilly House Museum in Placentia first opened in 1989.
The O’Reilly House Museum in Placentia first opened in 1989.

At the time, they could not have dreamed that 81 years later, their successors, now known as the Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS), would not only continue their work to promote the study, knowledge and preservation of the history of the Placentia Area. During 2018, the PAHS would also be putting the finishing touches on their efforts to completely re-envision the O’Reilly House Museum, which they own and operate.

The museum opened in 1989 and since then, it has become a hallmark in the Placentia area. But as with everything, time runs its course and places eventually become worn and tattered. So, there was no question that it was high time for some sort of renewal.

Although work had always been done to improve the museum, this year offered the PAHS with a unique opportunity to undertake some much-needed changes, ones that would mean a complete re-design of the interior. Other changes would enhance the exterior.

Prior to taking this step, the museum underwent an exhaustive wall-to-wall cleaning and in some spots, the PAHS hung new wallpaper and installed some new flooring. But this was just the beginning.

The O’Reilly House museum is located in the former home of William O’Reilly, the magistrate of Placentia from 1897 to 1923. The ground floor of the museum is largely dedicated to showcasing the life that must have been lead by Magistrate O’Reilly and his family. All the rooms, from the kitchen and pantry to the dining room and parlour were given new life as part of the re-envisioning of the museum.

The Placentia area enjoys a colourful and splendid history, one that spans more than 450 years. The myriad and diverse stories that contribute to this history are displayed on the second floor. One of the biggest changes witnessed the Resettlement Exhibit, which poignantly chronicles the effect of resettlement on the lives of Placentia Bay residents, be re-designed and moved to a new room. This exhibit changed places with the former Master Bedroom, which also received new lustre during this process.

Volunteers with the O’Reilly House Museum recently did some work to give the space a new lease on life.
Volunteers with the O’Reilly House Museum recently did some work to give the space a new lease on life.

Other changes included the construction of new display cases for many of the exhibits, including the Basque exhibit which offers a glimpse of the lives led by the Basque fishermen who worked in Placentia, beginning in the 16th century. These cases were built by master carpenter Bernard Penney of Jerseyside, Placentia. Previously, many of the artifacts were situated on plain tables. This was a definite step-up.

There is no question that with these improvements, the O’Reilly House Museum has taken on a decidedly more professional appearance and this, all at the hands of the many dedicated and committed volunteer members who operate the museum. The members of the Ancient Capital Historical Society would certainly have been proud.

And if anyone is interested in seeing the O’Reilly House Museum and its transformation, why not visit on Canada Historic Places Day on July 7 — admission is free!

Submitted by Lee Everts

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