Skip to Content

The King George V Institute: An American Building in St. John’s and Ground Zero for Emergency Services in the City, 1912-18 (Lecture online only)

Dr. Heidi Coombs

KGV Institute (003)

On 15 July 1912, Dr Wilfred Grenfell officially opened the King George V Seamen’s Institute in St John’s. Its primary purpose was to provide “wholesome” temporary accommodations for fishermen, sealers, and naval reservists visiting St. John’s and the “daughters of fishermen and seamen” who came to the city for work. Grenfell hoped to improve the moral and social lives of these men and women by providing literary materials, educational lectures, and other non-alcoholic events. This was an era of social reform and temperance, where middle-class reformers invested time and energy into “improving” the lives of working people.

In this lecture, Dr. Heidi Coombs presents the early history of the King George V Seamen’s Institute. The Institute played a significant role in several emergency situations during the 1910s. It became a temporary hospital and morgue for victims of the Sealing Disaster in 1914, a residence for soldiers training in the city during the First World War, and an emergency hospital for victims of the Spanish Flu in 1918. Construction of the Institute would not have been possible without significant financial investment and support from the Grenfell Association of America in New York. Designed by renowned American architects Delano and Aldrich, the Institute is a little piece of New York City in downtown St. John’s.

                Watch the lecture at:

This lecture was originally presented as part of Happy City St. John’s Jane’s Walk series, on May 20th, 2020. Special thanks to Happy City for permitting us to share this video. You can find out more about the Jane’s Walk St. John’s series at: