Local Facebook group brings back memories of a bygone St. John’s

“St. John’s residents are reliving their past through a nostalgic collection of old photographs”

Chad Feehan

A car accident in downtown st. john's in the 1970's.
A Dodge Polara lies in wait for removal after crashing through a guard rail on Lime Street in St. John’s, sometime in the 1970s. This photo was one of Greg Pretty’s contributions to a local nostalgia Facebook group. Some members of the group were quick to identify the location and the make of the car after seeing the image. Contributed photo.

People province-wide and beyond are gathering on a Facebook group to share in some collective nostalgia around old stories and photographs.

Created in 2015, the group called Old St. John’s features thousands of user-submitted photographs of people and buildings within the city.

The group’s founder, Terry Hannon, says his lifelong interest in the history of the city, especially downtown, was an inspiration for the group’s creation.

“My mom always brought me down there and said this was this building and that was that building,” Hannon said. “I’ve always had an interest in the old buildings and things like that. The old architecture, how old the buildings are now.”

Most of the membership consists of folks of a certain age reliving old memories through grainy photographs, absorbing the group’s daily dose of nostalgia. But Hannon says he gets a lot of young college students joining the group as well.

The group has proven to be an educational tool with a strong community aspect, bringing people together out of a shared desire to learn about the city’s history.

“Everyone is there helping out each other, giving a bit of a lesson,” Hannon said. “I may know something you may not know; you may know something I may not know.”
The group has doubled to 20,000 members over the course of the pandemic. Duties for Hannon and his team of admins and moderators include accepting member requests, which can reach up to 100 a day, and screening posts for content.

“I get a lot of posts that I decline. This is more about St. John’s. They try to post something that’s more of Newfoundland, and I’m just more about the old St. John’s part.”

At least one other group has been created to include content from areas outside of St. John’s, drawing inspiration from Hannon’s group.

Greg Pretty, a steady contributor to the group, frequently gets hundreds of comments and likes on his pictures.

For Pretty, the community element of bringing people together is one of the most interesting aspects of the group

“Because of the pictures, I’ve reconnected with a number of individuals that I’ve actually forgotten about,” said Pretty.

The pandemic gave Pretty time to rummage through old photographs, but he mentions how most of the people who were children in the group’s pictures are retired now with even more time to contribute to the collection.

The group serves as public archive where people are finding pictures of their family they didn’t know existed. Some people who recognize Pretty from years ago ask if he has pictures of their loved ones, saying they don’t have any surviving pictures themselves.

Many of Pretty’s posts include a caption above the photo calling for people to identify people, buildings and streets, often with much success.

“I get more wrong answers than right answers. . . but it’s still fun. . . It does generate a fair amount of good-natured fun,” said Pretty.

Pretty reminisced about the Carter’s Hill neighborhood and how it has changed over the years.

“We had seven confectionery stores and most of them were within one-minute walk from the next one. And we had three Chinese restaurants in addition to the chicken-and-chips places.”

How the businesses operated is also very different from how corner stores work today.

“All of those convenience stores operated on credit. People would just walk in and take what they wanted, and it would go on their account. One person said to me, ‘We didn’t get to the supermarket very often, but that corner store kept us alive’,” said Pretty.

Being able to talk to old friends about old hangouts and memories is a joy for Pretty, who describes it as “a very pleasant experience.”

“We all grew up and moved away; some of us moved around the world. For those moments we’re on that site, we’re back in the same hood.”

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