My Grandmother owned L.R Cooper’s house, she also tore it down. I remember my Grandfather showing me post cards from England that were found inside the place. At the time the significance was completely lost on me.
If there was anybody that personified the colonial paternalism of the Anglo-newfoundland Development Company and the Harmsworths in Grand Falls it was L.R Cooper. A cursory search on the internet returns very little in the way of results; something that likely would have astounded people in the area in his day.
Lewis Rowsell Cooper was born in Marbrough, England in 1882. When he was about 25 in 1907 he took a job offer from a fledgling paper company that was part of a massive newspaper empire. Initially the job was to keep people in a growing, but remote settlement entertained and happy. Cooper arrived in Grand Falls sometime in 1907, a time when there was no mill, no dam, and barely any streets. His tenue there would see it grow from a work camp to the one of the largest communities in Newfoundland, and THE largest community located in the interior.
During those very early years, Cooper was in charge of sporting events, and the various plays that were put off for the population. No doubt he was also kept busy with visits by various dignitaries including Northcliffe and Rothermere. But you can’t talk about L.R cooper without talking about Mrs. L.R Cooper.
Gwendolyn Bright was from Carrickmacross in Ireland. Born around 1879 she came to Newfoundland as a private tutor for a wealthy family, most likely the Outerbridges’. During her time in St. John’s she likely developed connections with some of the colony’s elite. She and L.R Cooper were married in October of 1910 and she came to live in Grand Falls. Like her husband, Mrs. Cooper took an active role in the social and entertainment activities of the town. Eventually she would teach both piano and painting. Her artistic abilities were widely known and she taught many local residents.
By the winter of 1916 a large number of the able bodied men at Grand Falls had enlisted to fight in the Great War. Despite having a wife and child at home, and perhaps because of pressure from the Company or sense of duty as an Englishman, Cooper made the decision to enlist in the Newfoundland Regiment. His service record provides interesting insight. It clearly paints of picture of a well connected man. Initially, the powers that be thought that Cooper had previous military service (like his contemporary Vincent Jones who did have prior service) in the British Territorial Army, which would have given him almost an automatic promotion to officer upon enlistment. This was found not to be the case, and Cooper enlisted as a Private in the Spring of 1916. Within a year he was a 2nd Lieutenant. After enlistment it would take Cooper two years to reach the front lines in France, serving there from January 1918 until after the end of hostilities. After returning to Newfoundland Cooper was retained by the regiment as paymaster during demobilization.
Years later Jack Cater said that Cooper was one of the driving forces behind the branch of the Great War Veterans’ Association in Grand Falls, and he joked that Cooper was likely signing up members on the train ride home. The Grand Falls branch of the the Great War Veterans Association was officially formed in 1922.
Reflecting back on Cooper’s time as Town Manager there are conflicting opinions. Some took issue with him being English, and his paternal attitudes and perceived micromanaging. I’ve heard people say that your couldn’t paint your house unless you had his permission. I’m sure the same has been said about his counterparts in other places, this was their job as the face of the company in a company town. One thing must have been the case, Cooper must have known how to have a parade!
In addition to running the town professionally, Cooper was commanding officer of the Church Lad’s Brigade, and the Chairman of the Grand Falls Amalgamated School Board.
During the Second World War Cooper once was once again called to service. This time it wasn’t overseas. There was a time early in the War, after the fall of France that things were not good for Great Britain. There was a strong possibility that “Operation Sealion” would see the Nazi hordes storm across the English Channel. In the UK Home Guard units were formed out of older, younger and men turned down for regular military service. Since Newfoundland was threatened, and would be more so if Britain fell, Home Guard Units were formed there. These units were mostly in the larger centers, and initially consisted largely of World War One veterans. Cooper, being the organizer of things in Grand Falls found himself as an officer in the Grand Falls Home Guard. Cooper served in this unit for the first few years of the War, recruiting, organizing, setting up firing ranges and exercises. Once most of the organizing was done, and the threat of Nazi invasion fading, Cooper, now over sixty resigned his commission. Not that he was done with the war effort, he did quite a bit with patriotic associations and the British red Cross. For his work with the Home Guard Cooper was appointed an officer Of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to Civil Defense in Newfoundland.
During the war Mr. and Mrs. Cooper hosted the daughters of another English family, the Tetleys. I have heard that they were of the same family that produced Tetley Tea. I can’t corroborate this, but I do know they were sent over to escape the German bombing, and they attended Grand Falls Academy. There were three sisters, I know two were named Rose and Frances, and they and their mother left the UK in September of 1940 on the AND Company ship Rothermere.
In 1947 L.R Cooper, OBE retired from his position with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. He was replaced by his long time assistant W.T “Tommy” Howell, who would see the role transition and Grand Falls moved from company town to municipality. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, Cooper saw another opportunity. He figured his popularity in Grand Falls would get him elected to the House of assembly. He received the progressive conservative nomination for the District of Grand Falls and he was walloped. In the general election of May 1949, Cooper lost to E.S “Neddie” Spencer candidate for Smallwood’s Liberals, by over 5000 votes. Garnering just 1586 votes, it turned out that Cooper wasn’t that popular, especially outside of Grand Falls; mind you he had hitched his horse to the wrong horse, taking on the irresistible force of Smallwood, who had just brought Newfoundland into Confederation.
Unlike many of his contemporaries from “the Old Country” L.R and Mrs. Cooper stayed in Grand Falls after his retirement; where he died in October of 1951. He is buried in the Anglican Cemetery on what was once the edge of a town he did so much to build.
Not long after her husband’s death Mrs. Cooper went to live with their daughter, Monica, in Montreal, where she died in 1956.
Above, Girl Guides Committee in the 1920s. I believe Mrs. Cooper and her sister are in this picture. Coincidentally, I also believe Delilah Burke is in this picture too. Coincidentally, Delilah Burke’s niece would be the last owner of L.R Cooper’s House.
It should be fitting to include something about Mrs. Cooper’s sister, Miss Bright. She was well known in Grand Falls to a much older generation. She was what they would have called Mrs. Cooper’s “Spinster” sister. Kathleen Nora Bright came to Grand Falls in 1922. Very well educated for the time, she was a graduate of Social Work from the University of Bristol. While in Grand Falls, she and her sister organized the Girl Guides and were actively involved with the Anglican Church. I would think that there is much that is missing in this short description as it was reported upon her death that: ” Grand Falls is the poorer today for the passing of Miss Bright, who was loved and admired by all who knew her.”
Bryan, I love reading your blogs!
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Well researched, Bryan. One small critique: The photo you describe as the “Town Office Staff” is more likely the entire office staff of the A.N.D. Company of which L.R. would have been a member. The photo is taken in front of the company office building on Carmelite Road.
You might be right. I think the guy with the beard might be “Manager Scott.” I’m half wondering if the picture was taken when Cooper left to go overseas. Clothing looks very WWI era. Offices would have been moved by 1925 too (actually I think they might have moved somewhere else before). Still, that doesn’t narrow it down much.
One of the three women in the company office staff photo is probably Jessie Gardner. She was an accountant with the company and compiled the 1918 directory of homes in GF.
I was thinking one of them might be Blanche Ireland too, she married Jack Turner who was high up in the Woods Department in the early days. She worked in the office very early on.