Mother-in-Law Doors: Newfoundland’s Unique Architectural Feature

Have a look at the pictures here. They all have one thing in common, a door that leads to nowhere. Well in fact it can lead to a very nasty fall. These doors are quite common in Newfoundland and are often referred to as “mother-in-law” doors. Years ago Mike and I were told by a local that when your mother-in-law came to visit you would show her into the front parlour and after her visit show her out the front door. Notice that this door can often have a very long drop to the ground.

From what I have been able to determine the doors are actually required for fire safety. A house must have two entrances and exits to meet fire code and get a building permit.  Being law-abiding citizens the people of Newfoundland stuck strictly to the regulation and added a second door.  Nothing in the regulations says anything about stairs up to the door! Newfoundlanders, being as friendly and hospitable as they are, invite everyone in together to the kitchen usually via a back door. If you never use a front door why pay for stairs?

I thought that you might appreciate some of the very many examples that we have seen.  I must admit that while they are still very common in the fishing villages there were fewer examples of mother-in-law doors the last time I was in St. John’s than there were in previous years. Mike and I will be sure to keep a lookout when we get to St. John’s on this trip.

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