Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Feeling Poorly?

Fulford Place (1899-1901)
I struggle to take this place seriously.
But only for one 'teeny tiny' little fact.

The place is breathtaking. Sure. And it's on King Street East, a neighbourhood of superb old houses in one of my favourite house history towns, Brockville. When the house was built in 1899/01 the property extended down to the river, where the owner berthed a luxury yacht. The family entertained the rich and famous.

But it's those 'pink pills for pale people'! This limestone pile was the summer residence of self-made millionaire and later Canadian Senator, George Taylor Fulford, a farm boy who  made good.
Fulford worked for a chemist, purchased the rights to a tonic made by a local doctor, and made his fortunes in patent medicine's heyday by mass advertising to a gullible public. Not much is made of this less than glam start-up, but a great deal of his lifestyle of the rich and famous. May I be frank? I get a little bit stuck on Fulford's Pink Pills; their iron sulphate/starch/sugar recipe bilked the poor, ignorant and ill, through what would today be termed phony advertising claims.

That being said, the Fulford Place grounds are absolutely stunning. They were created by the prestigious Frederick Olmstead  Brothers who designed roadways, posh neighbourhoods and parks - think Central - in the US and Canada. They were restored to their garden-party elegance by Ontario Heritage Trust in the early 2000s. Here's a link to the story (and an image which I regret, I didn't have time to record.)

The grounds originally extended to the St. Lawrence down the hill. In recent years, the property was subdivided and Rockcliffe Road and West Fulford Place popped up in their place,
exclusive stone gateposted subdivision streets (my history friend Dot says the gatehouse still exists) where not even Streetview dares to tread.

The architect was Albert W. Fuller.
The OHT account online is well worth browsing; this is just a precis. It describes the rough-faced stone walls and fine dressed window surrounds, a variety of windows, six with stained glass, slate roof, balustrades and dormers. I see colonnades. Expansive verandahs with wood balusters, slender columns and sweeping staircases.  It takes a while to take it all in.

Even tactful OHT calls it "a showplace," Fulford's place to "display his social standing" and "ease his entry into the ranks of the Canadian political establishment and among the wealthy Americans who vacationed in the Thousand Islands."
Very Gatsby.

The Ontario Heritage Trust describes the style as Edwardian, which in its poshest form offers slightly OTT classical detailing. "Great scale and grand gesture" is a phrase I like, discovered in an article by Sally Gibson about Toronto's 1903 'Edwardian Baroque' King Edward Hotel. The Fulford's St. Lawrence River estate was just the perfect setting for a life of entertaining the wealthy, powerful and royal.

 We plebs can experience the life, however, swanning about the 20,000 square feet even today, as the stately home features "most of the original furniture, fixtures, dinnerware, linens and objets d'art" (Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque.) Fulford Place was opened as a museum in 1993 following George Fulford II's 1887 donation of the house to the National Heritage Trust, and the later gifting of the home's contents by his widow and heir.

An irony. Among Fulford's proud acquisitions was an automobile. I read somewhere that he is thought to be the first Canadian to die in a car accident. At 53.

plaque and statuary and Italianate formality

Here's a great article about the refloating of Fulford's steam yacht Cangarda. Incidentally, if you're interested in Brockville and island life (no, those islands) you'll want to check in with the publication Thousand Islands Life. The online magazine is put together by Kim Lunman of Thousand Islands Ink. Her photos of the 1000 islands are almost as good as a holiday!

Here's a style resource I found in my research. I'll leave it here so we don't lose track of it.

Here's a link to Heritage Gardens.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Paddle to the Sea

the walkway looms in blue and silver over the warm red brick 
Red River Plaza
I've written about Thunder Bay's downtown on occasion after past trips to Lake Superior. In March 2012 I commented on the stone carving in this peculiar little tourism kiosk, the Pagoda. In December 2013 I featured its Victorian form with the Postmodern Province of Ontario building looming over it.

So, it would have been rude not to pop by to pay our respects when we had a day-trip to the city in August. Across the street the 1905 Railway Gothic CNR station still stands (good news) but it's under-utilized currently. We have hopes for its full adaptive reuse, given the creativity which surrounds it, at Prince Arthur's Landing, the impressive waterfront redevelopment which has transformed the former working waterfront.

We were drawn to the lake. The laconic individual at the Pagoda pointed us in the direction of a rather awful graffitied and littered elevated walkway over Water Street. We persevered, dodging skateboarders on the ramps, and were amply rewarded for enduring the 'eww' moment.

The first building I spied was an arts centre, with a nice gift shop, and open spaces for exhibits, events and workshops. Turns out, the Arts Centre and Gift Gallery is housed in the old freight shed. You can see the original functional building at left, complemented by an appealing modern section with bright wood accents, glass, and overhanging eaves on pilotis.  More on its artistic mandate here.

Visible in the photo above is the low concrete wall (decorated with subtle low relief sculpture, a trickle waterfall representing the Red River - interpretation provided) supporting a garden space called the Elliptical Garden, with native grasses and interlocking stone designs.
the Elliptical Garden
 From this elevated vantage point you can look toward the former 1905 CNR station and absorb its history in interpretive plaques at just the right spots.

The CNR station is described in minute detail in this heritage registry document. A quick look will ascertain the key elements. The term Scottish Baronial leaps to mind; subgroup Railway Style. According to the document, this style was a uniquely Canadian idea for railway stations around 1900.

Brick with rusticated limestone trim. Long low gabled centre section with square towers at each end, sporting bartizans (okay, I looked it up - they're overhanging corner turrets.)

frame canopy.frame brackets, parapeted gable, bull's eye window
Would love to know who sculpted the friezes. (I'm currently reading And Beauty Answers by Elspeth Cameron, about nearly forgotten 1920s/30s Canadian classical sculptors Florence Wyle and Frances Loring - fascinating how the sculpture of the era, and those who created it, have been forgotten. So I'm sensitive to these things.)
wheat sheaf, CNR, date in relief sculpture
"economic engine of the Lakehead"

Even the CNR architect got a mention in the heritage document. He was Ralph Benjamin Pratt (1878-1950.)
bartizan with loophole windows, battlements

From your spot in the Elliptical Garden, you can turn from your contemplation of railway history to face the lake, and an appreciation of the verticality of the Water Garden, a stunning glass, wood and steel structure clearly designed to play nicely with the Baggage Building addition across the street. This community space houses a cafe, a change area (with welcome WiFi) with a splash pad/skating rink outside, very popular with the wee people on the very hot day we visited, so, no photo. The development continues through the former gritty docklands creating an absolute treasure of a public access, multi-purpose waterfront redevelopment. Getting close to the water was the mandate. Fulfilled.

I'll post about the city's committment to public art, and to the Spirit Garden honouring First Nations tradition in another post. But should you like to read ahead, here's a link to a presentation with some great photos.

Monday, November 28, 2016


 Spotted this title on a bookstore shelf in Thunder Bay's historic Bay and Algoma neighbourhood this past summer. Finnfacts. It caught my eye, as it was one of the titles that I could read. Many of the books and papers on offer at the Finnish bookstore were, well yes, in Finnish.

 Although many weren't, likely respecting the fact that Thunder Bay's influx of immigrants from Finland had taken place in 1909/10, providing plenty of time for English to have nade inroads.
The fact that this Finnish book and gift store has celebrated its 60th year  speaks to the strong culture, and the creation of institutions that endure among the Finns of Thunder Bay.

Another structure on this leafy shopping street had even more to tell me about the Finns in the Bay. The building below, with the startling polygonal pagoda roof topped with a domed lantern and clad with tin fish scale roofing, is the Finnish Labour Temple, built 1909-10.
If you read Finnish, check out the right side panel

In the words of the Historic Sites and Monuments board plaque outside, the structure "reflects the committment of Finns to collective action and their influential role in Canada's labour movement in the first half of the 20th century. As a haali, it made available a wide range of social services and mutual aid to newcomers, workers and their families. The labour temple also housed newspaper offices, a library, a cooperative restaurant named Hoito, and an auditorium used for theatrical productions, athletics, and various events together contributing to the preservation of Finnish cultural traditions in Canada." Impressive.

The brick veneer building facade is intriguing. This early photo found in an article online (thanks Thunder Bay) shows its structure. I like the choice of colours in today's painted iteration.

The centre section features a concrete porch with two columns, steps descending at each side. The historic photo shows the third, central flight of steps, which were removed in 1918, to gain access to the basement level for the cooperative workers' cafeteria, Hoito. This restaurant is still operating today. The main level houses the Finlandia club, with its balcony overlooking the street (the view of Bay Street strained through a vigorous street tree,)

before 1918
The central semi-detached tower is polygonal in form; it ends in that astonishing pyramidal roof with the glass cupola with its 'chatri' roof (I looked it up, too) and a proud Canadian flag. Flanking the centre building are two square towers with oriel windows and battlements at the top.

This is hilarious. I just took a break from wordsmithing  to peek at Facebook, and discovered the post 'How Finland ruled the world' on the Facebook page Very Finnish Problems. Third post down (make sure your speakers are turned down.) Apparently the world is pretty impressed with Finland.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Silver Lining

We spent time in one of our favourite Lake Superior communities while we camped at Sleeping Giant provincial park this summer. This tiny old village on a sheltered bay of the great lake has evolved into a rustic cottage community. It's an historic place with its face to the lake and its back warmed against the rock.

Silver Islet Cabins (~1900)
the same Avenue c1900 - courtesy Thunder Bay Library

On our previous visits, the old store was still open, providing a community centre. Further down the road, a little gift shop rested on a rocky ledge.

There's still a small harbour with working boats.

The village is Silver Islet.

A walk along The Avenue is always a lovely break from the busy-ness of camp life  a short cycle away.

And this would be enough. But the old shore road with its unique cottages at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula is a history portal.

An OHT plaque beside the former general store tells it much more succinctly that I ever manage to do:

"Off this shore lies Silver Islet, once a barren rock measuring about eighty feet in diameter, where silver was discovered in 1868 by Thomas MacFarlane. The claim was purchased in 1870 by a company headed by A.H.Sibley, and one of the partners, W.B.Frue was appointed mine captain. Frue waged a constant battle against the lake which undermined extensive crib work used to bolster the restricted working space. Despite this problem and the difficulty of housing miners and transporting supplies in the isolated region, this famous mine produced $3,250, 000 worth of silver ore before it was closed in 1884."

The outstanding visitor centre at Sleeping Giant tells the rest of the story.

Miners from Cornwall (England,) Ireland, Germany and several American states, including veterans of the copper mines of Michigan, along with their families began arriving in 1870; shelter for that first winter was in tents.  Eventually, in this complete wilderness accessible only by water, the village grew to contain a government office, two churches, a large store (still standing,) homes for officials and cottages for miners, a jail. schoolhouse, company office. Gravel roads, a dry dock for boat repairs, wharves and a lighthouse created the best safe harbour  for 500 miles of treacherous Lake Superior shoreline. I find it absolutely astounding what was created.

Log cabins were built for the married miners. It is these sturdy survivors which give the Silver Islet cottage community its unique character.

sleeping giant view from the village centre

And what was accomplished, at what cost in labour on land, was eclipsed by the struggle against the lake, fiercely protecting its cache of silver.

This video, posted on YouTube by creator Peter Elliott, tells the story. (Hope he doesn't mind that I share it here, to help keep the story of Silver Islet alive.)

taken from our kayak on a previous visit
the store - still operational in 2011

Engine House and Main Shaft on Silver Islet(1896)
Engine house and Main shaft on Silver Islet

If you've managed a look at the video, you will recall the image of the tiny scrap of island (a reef actually) where the silver was discovered, and where the substantial mine workings were built (and rebuilt) at what cost in appalling labour and lost lives. Here are a few public domain photos I found, courtesy of Thunder Bay Library's 'Gateway to Northwestern Ontario history.
Silver Islet Mine Stamp Mill (~1900),
stamp mill on mainland - 1900

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Taken by the Wind

I'll be the first to admit it. I have a problem with architectural history books. I can never pass a used book table without scanning the collected titles for one I don't have. At the regular third Tuesday public presentation of the Hastings County Historical Society recently, I found two. Marilyn Hughes extended me credit to enable me to pack home Taken By the Wind: Vanishing Architecture of the West by Ronald Woodall and T.H.Watkins (General Publishing,Don Mills, 1977.)

I like how Woodall sums up the appeal of old buildings slowly returning to the earth:

   "Abandoned country buildings are monuments to laughter and grief and childbirth and death and the best and the worst of times. More than that, they are beautiful not just because they are old and weathered and picturesque and quaint but also because they embody the spirit of a noble and resourceful lifestyle. There is intrinsic beauty in the functional simplicity and craftsmanship that outlasts the craftsman. There is beauty in timelessness."

During my roadtrip in Northumberland County on autumn's last gentle warm day, I fell under their spell.

 As I have on many other travels through farm country. These travels feed the soul somehow. Just a few hours in the company of fields and woodlots, farm buildings and gentle livestock, creeks and knolls and sky is all it takes.

near Elginburg

These junkets recapture those childhood Sunday drives with dad and mom, we kids admittedly not so enthralled, in the back seat.
Dad pronouncing on farm crops, fences and building, the laudatory and the disparaged. Our dad was a man of strongly held opinions.
Frontenac Co.

Snow Road area
 But we kids would succumb to our gentle mom's diversionary tactics: count the train cars, not long 'til we get to the ice-cream stop with the bear, look at this, look at that.  imagine the stories that old house could tell. That last admonition contributed to a life-long love of our built heritage. as I explained in my very first post back in April 2010.
near Lonsdale
I have been enjoying sifting through my photo files; hope I haven't bored you. Blame it on Woodall and Watkins.

Salmon Point, PEC
Or on Orland French, he of Wallbridge House Publishing, and the creator of three fine historical atlases. Orland asked me to contribute on things architectural in the 2013 publication about Prince Edward County, Wind, Water, Barley and Wine. He figured 200-plus years in the neighbourhood gave me some cred. And he guessed at the depth of my obsession.
Orland especially wanted to highlight early frame building techniques, and I did my best to explain what I found in my photos of split lathe, hand-hewn beams, wooden pegs and home-built mouldings yielded by a close exploration of this lovely old ruin, one of the rare times I ventured onto private property (though whose, goodness only knows.)

Sandon, British Columbia

Although Taken by the Wind is published in Canada, the photographer travelled throughout the Canadian and American west looking for loss. I immediately looked for familiar spots. And found one or two. When we lived in B.C. we explored ghost towns whenever we could. In 2013, when we last visited, we retraced a cold trail to a favourite spot, Sandon. Not just a house, but a whole town, building by historic building,  being taken by the winds of time.