The Crow’s Nest Officers’ Club is located in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. In World War II, St John’s was the western station of the North Atlantic Run/(later known as) Newfy to ‘Derry Run, a springboard for the merchant convoys and their corvette protectors en route to Europe. St John’s was a city bustling with military activity, and the Crow’s Nest was established—on January 27, 1942—as a hideaway for seagoing naval officers.
During World War II, there were various messes scattered around the city; however, they were difficult to reach, and, during the black outs each night, were difficult to return from. None of them were designated for naval and merchant officers and Captain Rollo Mainguy, Captain “D” of St. John’s decided to establish a Seagoing Officers Club.
A public-spirited Newfoundland citizen, Colonel Leonard Outerbridge DSO, with the help of his wife, Dorothy, identified and secured space in the old Butler Building near the waterfront. The club would be located on the vacant top floor of the old warehouse; the annual fee was one dollar per year.
There are various different stories on how the club was named. Popular opinion had it that the club was called the Crow’s Nest because of its altitude and its magnificent view of St. John’s harbour. However, Captain Mainguy recalled that a Canadian Army Officer actually originated the title. Puffing and winded when he arrived at the top of its 59 steps, the Lt-Col mopped his forehead and gasped, “Crikey, this is a snug little Crow’s Nest.” His companions were delighted with the observation and the name stuck.
During the war, the “Seagoing Officers’ Club” became famous for its relaxing qualities, as well as its rickety 59 steps. As a memento before entering the theatre of war, many men visiting the club would scratch the name of their ship on the walls. Captain Mainguy’s first reaction to these notchings was quite severe. On further reflection, however, he remarked, “Damn it they are going to do it anyways.” With a quick calculation of the size of the club, he decided he would allot 4 square feet to every ship. These four feet could be used as each ship pleased and the ships’ plaques and insignias started to arrive. These colourful works of art, reflecting the unique humour of the men serving in the various allied services, adorn the walls today.
Peace returned to St. John’s with the conclusion of World War II and victory in Europe. All eyes turned towards the Pacific, and one by one all the Naval establishments departed St. John’s. On June 13, 1945, the Seagoing Officers’ Club closed its doors.
However, 1945-46 were also years of great repatriation. Thousands of Newfoundlanders returned home from overseas. Early in May 1946, a meeting of some 80 officers, representing the Army, Navy, and Air Force of both World Wars, decided to form a Newfoundland Officers Club. A committee drew up a constitution and, at a general meeting it was approved, in principle, and an executive elected to find “clubrooms and furnish them forthwith.” Colonel Outerbridge again solved the problem of quarters by offering, on behalf of Harvey and Co. Ltd., the vacated Crow’s Nest at the same annual rent offered its former tenants.
On July 8 1946, exactly one month after the general meeting, “The Newfoundland Officers’ Club—Crow’s Nest” opened for business. The newly knighted Sir Leonard Outerbridge served as its first president. The name has since been changed to the “Crow’s Nest Officers’ Club.”
Seventy years since its establishment, the club is owned by its members, and is known worldwide. It has become a museum of sorts, containing hundreds of military artifacts. Its membership comprises naval officers, serving and retired, and their families, as well as others who enjoy and wish to preserve the memories of the Crow’s Nest during World War II and its significance for St John’s.
The Crow’s Nest is considered a significant structure by the Canadian Navy. It was recognized as a registered Heritage Structure in April 1990 by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. Click here to view its entry on the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador website.
In 1987 the Club established the Crow’s Nest Military Artifacts Association Inc., for the purposes of preserving and maintaining custody of its historic and military assets and memorabilia.