One of the few remaining examples of old mercantile premises in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Rorke Store has been a landmark in the historic Town of Carbonear for more than a century, serving generations of people from the Town and region as a major commercial entity.
Founder John Rorke (1807-1896) was born in Athlone, Count Caven, Ireland. He emigrated to Newfoundland at the age of 17, to work as a clerk for his uncle who owned the Ridley firm in Harbour Grace at that time. Destiny it seems had great plans for young John Rorke. Within six years he had started his own business and married Miss Mary Tocque, daughter of another prominent Carbonear merchant. In 1838 he purchased the old English firm of Slade, Elson & Company on Water Street in Carbonear, hanging out his shingle as John Rorke and Sons, a name that would personify the Town's longest-lived merchant business for 140 years.
The Rorke family quickly became successful merchants with a fleet of ships that pursued the fishery, sealing, and overseas trading. A family shipyard was established alongside the Rorke Store, and the famous shipbuilder Michael Kearney built the sleek Thomas Riddley, which was launched from the Shipyard in 1875, the first of many ships of the firm to sail past Carbonear Island flying the navy blue and white flag and laden with many kinds of cargo, bound to and from many exotic sounding ports such as Pernambuco and Allicante.
Not merely a successful merchant, John Rorke was also a noteworthy political figure. He proudly represented the District of Carbonear in the House of Assembly for 20 years and became a member of the Executive Council. Queen Victoria conferred upon him on the occasion of his retirement, the title "Honourable," a title he proudly bore for his lifetime.
With the expansion of the family business in the early 1870s, the Rorke Stores were built side by side. The west store was known as "The Molasses Store" because this is where locals brought their "lassy" jugs and kegs for refilling. Everyday necessities were also found here: cement, lime, iron items, glass, and other items required by patrons. The east store housed animal and poultry feed, paint, flour, beef, and pork products. The top floors of both buildings were originally home to sailmakers, whose craft was of paramount importance to a firm with such a fleet of ships.
In one of the disastrous fires to take place in the Town of Carbonear in 1917, known as Penney's fire, the east store burned down. The demands of business required the store be rebuilt immediately and it was, but it seems without the precision and attention to detail of its predecessor. In a winter windstorm in 1999 it would collapse, be dissasembled, with each piece numbered, tagged, and stored. The remaining store is now known as the Rorke Store Museum which remains a legacy to another era. The end of that era for the Rorke family came in 1978 after 140 years of service and the Rorke family then donated the structures to the Town of Carbonear.
The original West store stands testament today to the industry and expertise of the builders of 1874, its "balloon" construction with its "ships knees" having withstood the storms of more than a century. The main floor houses an Exhibit called Balancing the Scales, which chronicles the connection to the Labrador fishery which was very much an integral part of the Rorke legacy. The second story is a snug little theatre called The Loft, which lends a special ambiance to various types of entertaining, including live theatrical performance and musical sessions. To rent the venue please contact the Chair of the Carbonear Heritage Society (contact information available this site).
Hours Open: Summer: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. - Off Season: by request
Time Period Represented: 1870s - 1978
Seasons Open: Summer - others by request
Visitor Fees: $5 per person; $15 per family - see above
The Rorke Store Museum is Wheel Chair accessible on the Main Floor which houses the Balancing the Scales Exhibit. Accessibility is at the Parking Lot side of the building.
Not amenable to pets.