Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Little House

47 Earl Street (1841)
My favourite house styles were once the high Victorian excesses - the more the merrier -  Queen Anne peekaboo verandahs, brooding Romanesque arcades, high-flying Gothic tracery.

Now, I am drawn to the simple serenity of early homes. I spotted a couple of them during a Kingston walkabout some time ago.






By way of cleansing the palate, after thinking about High Victorians for the last while, I offer this collection of simple, serene, unpretentious early homes.

232 King Street (pre 1820)
The frame home above was built as a boarding house. It's now covered with stucco, and beautifully kept, with its plain neat garden fence. I love the top left window - hardly enough space for it. Wonder what the story was? This house  makes me think of Lawren Harris' early Toronto house paintings - which I adore.


Here's another frame house covered in stucco, a rarity in this brick and stone neighbourhood. The Register of Historic Places is very excited about this "unique and important element in the streetscape", as it has a  rare brick and stone Victorian coach house behind it. The home's tight-to-the-sidewalk placement and its narrowness compared to its width, earmark it as early. Documents suggest the house might be as early as 1812. The dry-dock Davis family lived in this double house.

I love the simple 'eared' wooden window surrounds, the deepset double doorway with the scrollwork trimmed doors, described as Victorian (that's a wide date range, folks). The Register reports many of the windows are original. I love the green bit with trees in front, and the way it stands separate from later buildings on either side. Respect for the old ones.



This small red brick Georgian double house is best seen in company with its neighbours, which you can do via this super Googlemaps  panorama. The designation plaque tells us it was built in 1868. Haven't found any other info. The 1843 limestone two storey structure to the right has a lovely inviting carriage-way to the back. Flowers everywhere. A vast improvement over the days when the courtyard was home to the family's horses.

This little store completes the King Street grouping. It was built originally as a house (1833) but changed over to a store by 1850. 
A house doesn't have to be huge to be grand.
Lawren Harris knew that.




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Beveridge, anyone? Tay, perhaps?

lockmaster's house
Forgive me. Can't help it, I am still wandering canal-side. Today's sharp cold wind makes the prospect of a virtual amble in this bucolic bit of Ontario all the more appealing. In July I spent an afternoon at Beveridge Locks near Perth, a stop off the road back to camp.

We're not on the Rideau anymore, Dorothy, but along a boondoggle called the Tay Canal. I'll try to distill the story from the wealth of Perth and District heritage sources. It's the story of Perth entrepreneurs who created a water link between their town (and their industries) on the Tay River and the Rideau Canal and the wider world of outside markets in the 1800s.

A first canal (I'll omit description of the gargantuan physical labours of the builders, and the  financial and political machinations of the Tay Navigation Company) connected Perth with Port Elmsley, the gateway to the Rideau.) A later 10km iteration joined Perth and Beveridge Bay by the 1880s. Not without controversy. Now it's the serene recreational boat passage I show you here, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rideau canal system.




















Ample information about Beveridge Lockstation (this one is the lower of the two, it turns out) and all the other wonderful spots I've been collecting, is ready to hand on the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site site. If you think you might like to venture canalside, this appears to be a handy guide. But nowhere can I find any history of the buildings of Beveridges. Love the tiny gambrel roof shed, and would like to know its story.



A fascinating part of the story is the role of 'The Haggarts.' An OHT plaque on a quiet waterside street in Perth conjures the industrial power of the town, and the family, in the nineteenth century.

John Haggart, Scottish stonemason, came to Perth in 1832,  purchased and expanded the settlement's first (1817) mill and mill dam, and built this exquisite Regency stucco over stone house on the property in 1837.

Here's what HistoricPlaces.ca has to say about the home, still in the perfect Regency setting of trees, sloping lawns and a wild ravine, a view of the lagoon behind a rustic stone fence.

In 1854  18-year old lawyer son John Graham Haggart inherited house, property, mills. John Jr. was a controversial character, politician (over his career he served as mayor, MP, Post-Master General, Minister of Railways and Canals, leader of the Ontario Conservatives and top contender for party leadership,) and mill-owner.

Did we mention... a man who got things done? One of the things John got done was that canal leading to his mill complex, and the turning lagoon at Tay Basin.

There was comment. The canal proved awkward, acquiring the name 'Haggart's Ditch.' Finally, the government of the day intervened. Sir John A. commented that the project draining the county also "drains the public treasury pretty well."

And as it served Haggart and his enterprises, it serves us well too. A green and lovely spot in which to contemplate Perth's industrial past. And the empire builders who brought it into being.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Heart-warming House-warming

Once again, I come away from Bath Ontario with such admiration for Ron Tasker and Bonnie Crook, rescuers and restorers of the historic Ham House (here's their website telling the story, though how they find the time...) But without photos. So once again, I will use Ron Tasker's photo of his house (with prior permission) to remind you of this worthy project, and of the couple's fundraising efforts to meet municipal licensing fees to re-purpose this wonderful house as a public space.

Ron telling just some of the stories they've unearthed (FHF tour)

a very early look at a very early fireplace
Darkness by 4PM, mizzling rain, light streaming from the 8x8 sash windows, people doing likewise toward the house from all directions, entering to  Bonnie Tasker's warm welcome inside the massive front door. The smell of hot apple cider, trays of shortbread, the buzz of conversation were a foretaste of the pub/restaurant which is the vision of the couple.

Ron and Bonnie hosted yesterday's Open House to celebrate the completion of the kitchen restoration - historic paint on mantel, trims, heat hole mouldings. Reproduction window sash, (could they be the work of D.J.White?) a richly coloured Persian carpet hastily rolled out onto the painted floor - and the fireplace. Oh my. Could park a small car in the hearth of the former cooking fireplace.

Date now corrected to c.1816
We met (in person) Gus Panageotopoulos, a friend of Ron and Bonnie. Gus went to the wall some years ago to save the house from demolition (oh, Bath. Don't you know you could be another Niagara on the Lake, with your concentration of War of 1812 era buildings? - albeit mostly concealed under modern 'improvements' at the moment. But we note the profile of many of your hidden treasures.) Gus  lives in the old Peter Davy house in the village, and has just recently had the exquisite facade restored.

The evening felt like a night at 'the local.' Den and I chatted with Jane and Stuart (Jane, my travelling companion in Yarker and on other history rambles.) Jude (she of the stone school-house in Wilton) hailed us as we were leaving, and we caught up with  news of the schoolhouse and her busy life.

A gift, all these people. For them, I have Ancestral Roofs to thank. Look what they have accomplished, while I've been sitting at my computer.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lockside Love

This past summer (seems forever ago) I spent the better part of a week at wonderful Murphy's Point Provincial Park, solo, much of it devoted to summer writing deadlines. But I did take a day trip to Smiths Falls, a city I recall from long ago visits with DC and our lovely dog Star.

The three of us wandered Victoria Park, created from marshland in 1897 as a "public pleasure ground," viewing lawns and cooling shallows from a dog's simple perspective.


This visit I spent several  hours beside the Rideau River, contemplating the town's industrial past, and finding my own respite from the heat.                                                                                                                                         
The somewhat diminished grand house across Lombard Street would have enjoyed its superior setting next to the park. In recent years the street leading out of town has shouldered its way very close to the cast iron fences, pushing the  house into restaurants and other bad decisions. I noticed it's again for sale.

I found a 'strolling' guide which recounted that the home with its delightful verandah, turreted corner, dormers, tall hip roof with iron cresting and twin flue chimney was built in 1895 for Ogle Carss, an early mayor of Smiths Falls.


Looking further back in my own story, I  recall the mid-sixties, when dad would drive me back to school at Carleton, and would invariably get lost (and irritated) in the town, while I was so anxious to see more of its grand houses and stone mills that I didn't mind at all ("try down here, Dad!") I remember this busy intersection being particularly fraught. Smiths Falls is a great town to get lost in, and last summer I did.

When the sun grew too hot, mindful as I was of not getting sweaty fingerprints on an exquisite borrowed camera, I repaired to the lock stations of the Rideau Canal, and fell once again in love. With the history, the engineering, the topography (for they are by nature, a motte, bailey and ditch sort of landscape,) the trees and gardens, the coolness and the serenity. Fun to ignore bronzed posers on the shiny boats, as they pretended not to notice folks watching the locking operations - and them.


Defensible Lockmaster's House (1838)
Earlier that morning,  I stopped at Old Slys lockstation upstream. I came upon it by accident, following leafy terraced lawns leading downhill from the 1862 Joshua Bates museum home . I spent a good while around the damp cool monumental sandstone blocks of the lock walls, wondering as I always do about the men and horses who struggled to bring it into being. The plans were supervised by Royal Engineers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John By.

I was drawn to the domestic scale of the hip roofed building across the lawn - waiting patiently for the traffic waiting patiently for the draw-bridge to open, so I could take a photo without traffic. Turns out this doughty square rough masonry structure is one of the 'defensible lockmaster's houses' which lined the new Rideau Canal- they all seem so benign now, weathered warm, part of the park-like surroundings at the locks. This Historic Places link may serve to jog your memory - a reminder that in the nineteenth century the Rideau Canal was part of Britain's military defense strategy for her valuable colonial real estate (remember that cross-border skirmish in 1812?)

The Rideau Canal system was built between 1826 and 1832, extending over 126 miles, with 47 locks navigating around rough water and heights of land, carrying traffic from settlers to steamboats, and always in peace.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gaiety and Gables

Blame it on the automobile. I do not like recording lovely old houses, and trying to capture all they mean to me, while someone's Beemer or rattle-trap pickup emanates its own energy directly out front. So last week's sunny day visit to Unionville for lunch and walkabout was proving a challenge. That tiny historic town turned shopping destination is not the sort of place in which one risks standing in the centre of Main Street, for that best angle. Nope.

droop bargeboard

So I started looking up, above the stacked metal, and was reminded of the gaiety of gables. There is a book (to which I long ago succumbed) with that title. The Gaiety of Gables, by Anthony Adamson, with b&w photos by John Willard. I did a pretty good job of introducing the book and its thesis back in 2011, so I won't go on about it here. I'll just pop up a few images of the delightful gables of Unionville. 




 A thought or two about the place. Unionville was settled in 1794 by a weary group of German settlers who had really been kicked around a bit. Rural Roots, written by Mary Byers, Jan Kennedy, Margaret McBurney and the Junior League of Toronto (what an extraordinary name!) and published by UofT Press in 1976 (!) relates the story. I'll show some of these first homes in another post. But first a rant, of sorts. A whine. One of the things that makes the photos in Gaiety of Gables so poignant is their state of decay - paint eroded, bits missing, empty windows. And those images were recorded over 40 years ago. Imagine.




















But Unionville's bargeboard and finials and drops are shiny and crisp and lovely. There is a lot of town pride, and an active Business Improvement Area association. Online I find various enthusiasms: "like stepping back in time and walking onto a movie set," "the ultimate in picturesque charm." Another site lists ice-cream, patios and restos, fishing, juicing, and dressing for success  among its top ten things. Not to forget Glama Girl Tween Spa. Nothing about resonance, then? No history trails to follow? No listening to those stories the old houses are telling us?




















The other Unionville buzz  is planning for large-scale (admittedly, well thought out) retail and residential development in eight areas to the south and west of the historic Main Street. Lots of change afoot. Admittedly, Main Street's existence has been fluid through its history. In the 1840s, a resident donated land to move Main Street one block west from its original path along the river, to avoid the annual flooding. The BIA folk would right that in a moment, were it not already taken care of.

All a bit Kleinburgian. The evolution of charming, and a bit down at the heels, rural villages into shopping and entertainment destinations for the burgeoning GTA. Then the decision to move there, because of the charm. And the charm swallowed up by fake heritage developments. Is it just me?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Colonel Bung

On our April trip to Victoria, temporary residents of the lovely old James Bay area, we took full advantage of walking tour guides produced by the Victoria Heritage Foundation. Armed with umbrellas against the occasional drizzle, Heritage Walking Tour #1 clutched in damp hands, we headed out to find Emily Carr associations. Not difficult. Our street was once called Carr Street, and the yellow Italianate family home was a few doors away. Not much further to The House of All Sorts.

 As we tried to put our finger on that 'je ne sais quoi' which provides West Coast character, we began to read the fine print in the guide. Now I won't be disingenuous and pretend we were fooled into thinking that Colonel Bung had some sort of connection with the early fort and things military. But it was fun to be a bit mystified as we tracked down examples of familiar and unusual monikers in the fog, like QA cottages, Edw Classical Revival, Edw 4Sq, A&C cottages, Br A&C, EV A&C and English Revival Cottage.

And our favourite, Col Bung. Colonial Bungalow, to those not yet properly introduced. To get you acquainted, here's Victoria's old house guide. (I suppose to Ontarians, our Colonial Bung would have been the UEL's first log house?)

The Colonial Bungalow (1905 - 1925) is an economical, vernacular, single-storey, hipped roof cottage. The Victoria folk suggest its ancestors are the buildings of the British colonial administrators in India, the name bungalow being adopted from the low verandahed 'bangala' of the Bengal region. Our Ontario Regency cottage tradition (1820-1860) claims the same origins. A glance at the dates when this colonial inspiration bore fruit 'out west' highlights how very new Canada's western cities are.

Another tour brochure for nearby Fairfield provides loads of info in an appropriately compact space. Colonial Bungalow: typically one and a half storey, bellcast hip roof , at least one dormer (for light and air in the snug confines of that upper half storey,) wide projecting eaves with flat brackets (modillions if you wish), full-width inset verandah, Classical columns or posts with simplified capitals. Some examples have real second storey living space, with dormer to light it, and perhaps a sleeping porch to escape to. Col Bung. Attenshun! But don't stand up too quickly.

More Tales from Gabriola

port-cochere - all the best people had them
How did I miss this house all those years ago? It lives (still does, fortunately) at 1531 Davie Street. Here you go. I lived not far away at Robson and Cardero Street.  And our paths did not cross.

Admittedly, we moved in different circles.

This is Gabriola, the last of the palatial private homes of captains of industry, in Vancouver's West End. It was on offer in 2015 for $10 million, and is reportedly being reconverted to residential use, after its conversion to apartments in 1925, and later restaurant use. At one time it was facing demolition (quelle surprise.)

By all reports it was the most lavish private home ever constructed in B.C. Gabriola sits at 1531 Davie Street in the West End, once called 'Blueblood Alley' because of the presence of the calling card set.

The property originally boasted stables and extensive gardens occupying the full  block between Cardero (my humble brick walk-up was at the Robson end of the block) and Nicola Streets.
Here is a useful link to the fascinating history column in the online magazine Scout Vancouver. The 'You Should Know About' feature is where I got the information about City Hall architects Townley and Matheson.

Here is what they think you should know about Gabriola, in this article from the site. It contains some great early photos.


Gabriola  was built in 1900 for Benjamin Tingley Rogers, founder of the B.C.Sugar Refining company. The mansion was designed by renowned West Coast architect Samuel Maclure. The porte-cochere was constructed and exterior walls clad (yup, frame construction) in Gabriola Island sandstone, giving the house a greenish grey cast - and its name. Tall masonry chimneys still grace the slate covered complex hip roof.

This Heritage Vancouver Flickr site shows a few photos of the stunning interior detailing. Here's a link to a Vancouver Sun history account. The brass door-knobs with Rogers' initials BTR, the massive heavily ornamented Arizona sandstone (terra cotta in other sources) fireplace,  panelling of moulded and carved exotic woods, mosaic tiles, elaborate plasterwork - everything sets this house apart.


The famed Bloomfield brothers created the magnificent three-panel eight foot high stained glass windows in the staircase. Each room had different treatment. The dining room with 8' high rare wood wainscoting (photo in the Sun article) and Jacobean patterned curved ceiling gives a taste. The couple raised 7 children at Gabriola, but Rogers died at 53, his widow left a few years later and the mansion was cut up into apartments.

Another 'find' on this research trip is the work of Eve Lazarus. I came upon her story on Gabriola House, and her reflection on the loss of so much architecture and history as the West End grew - so fast. The area was virtually unknown a few years earlier; when Gabriola House was built there in 1900 the city was but 15 years old

Eve's blog is called Every Place has a Story. She mentions that she publishes the blog to promote her books (her title At Home with History: The Secrets of Greater Vancouver's Heritage Homes has just made it onto my list) but it will become a regular stop for me.



And to finish. The other Davie Street. Rather more my speed.
And a link to this past June, my first tale from Gabriola.