Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, January 27, 2017

Corner Sweet

The architecture classic The Old Stones of Kingston (Margaret Angus, U of T Press, 1966) contains a fascinating account of three commercial buildings built in the city in the optimistic 1840s, when Kingston was the capital (briefly) of the new United Province of Canada. The Province of Canada existed from 1841 until the Fathers managed to get everyone to join up in 1867.

The naming of the capital at Kingston led to a building boom of impressive civic and commercial buildings befitting a capital city, and a spate of fine stone double houses and terraces, providing rental accommodation for the burgeoning population.
George Browne's City Hall

The best example of this "we'll grow into it" architecture is Kingston's City Hall, designed by George Browne. More on that another time.

Browne designed three dressed for success commercial buildings in that 1841-43 flutter, distinguished by a common feature - a curved corner.  The building I'm enjoying today (and would have enjoyed more last Friday were it not for the damp wind) is the Commercial Mart (although that name doesn't get bandied about today.) The building started small, a house and store built in 1820; it was owned by merchant and developer Charles Hales from 1837-9, when he moved to his new place, Bellevue House.
Hale's Cottages
Hale's Bellevue House, garden view

The building continued to grow (I love finding these bits of house history; we have a tendency to think a structure "was always like this") with two more house plus store additions. Fortunately, the new sections continued the rhythm of arches and string course.The attic storey with pedimented dormers was a later addition.



randomly coursed rubble, ashlar facing
north end, good restaurant bar

The building housed the Weber and Wormworth piano factory in the 1860s; after WWII, Federal Government offices and warehouses.  The Commercial Building was home to S&R Department store from 1959 - 2009 - the faded Smith and Robinson Building signage is still visible above the entrance.

 A 2011/12 refurbishment has improved the venerable building's chances of survival.


 Frontenac Heritage Founation toured the newly refurbished building in 2013; here are some photos.

The gorgeous lobby of the building, home to accountants' and lawyers' offices and  Milestones Restaurant, displays historic photos and building history. Milestones' window seats are a great place to eat, drink and watch Kingston go by.

Of course, Don Cherry had hoped for a hockey museum there.






Here's the S&R building website.


S&R Building, January 2017
Incidentally, some of these photos were taken on a previous visit (when there were leaves.) This visit, I appreciated the view from the warmth of Peter's Place restaurant, a toasted western with chips and gravy respite from the steady diet of snails in sriracha butter,  roasted octopus or pickled eggs with kimchi or polpette of rabbit on offer in Kingston's many trendier spots.

To close, here's a Streetview view of George Browne's other round-cornered building, Wilson's Buildings, built in 1842. Some changes, but much remains. The same cannot be said of the third in the set, Mowat's round corner building of shops and residences, built 1841. It stood at the corner of Princess and Bagot and was demolished in 1974. Those banks again.

There once was a....

Ah, you remember. Limericks.
Bits of doggerel, appealing for their particular rhyming pattern and rhythm. Anyone could write them. Bit of fun.

Limerick township in the country north of Belleville, recounts stories with less levity that its name implies. In fact Limerick County was one of the areas settled by Irish immigrants, driven by famine, hunger and despicable landlords, and the appeal of land of their own. Here's a comment I found by wealthy Irish landowner Francis Spaight to give a bit of perspective on the social engineering at play: "I found so great an advantage of getting rid of the pauper population on my own property that I made every exertion to remove them...I consider the failure of the potato crop to be the greatest possible in one respect in enabling us to carry out the emigration system." (Wikipedia)

Fortunately, these folk had grit and turned this dreadful period of history into a time of growth for our own county - and province. Peterborough is one such fortunate host of the refugees.
Drinkwater-McGeachie cottage, Steenburg Lake

Limerick Township and Area History Bits is one of the best sources of information about this fascinating township. Catharine Vallieres has assembled a wonderful collection of personal recollections and anecdotes of early life in this township. Settling. Logging. Farming. Mining. The families of Murphy's Corners, Steenburg, The Ridge, Canniff's Mill, Rathbun, Ham's Corners and Greenbush.


photo courtesy D. Golem


Could have used this wonderful book when I travelled the Old Hastings Road last fall, from Millbridge to Ormsby and Ormsby to Maynooth.





It was fun to revisit Steenburg Lake, and the McGeachie Conservation area. I first visited there a few years ago in the company of area booster Reeve Dave Golem, working on an article for Country Roads magazine. In company with this delightful book, I shall make plans to return.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New Lamps for Old

Remember that line from the story of Aladdin? A nefarious sorcerer tricks Aladdin's wife into exchanging their battered old magic lamp for a shiny new one - with no magical powers.

I think I've painted myself into the proverbial corner, attempting to create a parallel with a situation I have recently sleuthed out on Princess Street in Kingston.

But you be the judge.


parapet wall on gable end, stone corbel
 Here's the story.

 During our last couple of visits to Kingston's wonderful old downtown, my guy and I have attempted to figure out a new/old building being constructed on Princess Street.

We've wondered about the build, pondering what was there, as you do when a tree is suddenly absent from the landscape, and you feel the loss, ashamed that you didn't properly appreciate it when it was standing.

Here's the 'before' picture on Streetview; the address is 101 to 109 Princess Street.  So now you're oriented. You can even see a photo of the demolition in progress in this newspaper account. But no reading on ahead.

What's taking shape is a three storey stone building, steel frame construction, its form not dissimilar to others on the heritage-rich street. But the stone is puzzling. Is it old stone, cleaned? It's so crisp and cold compared to the rich old limestone nearby. But many of those date from the 1830s and the years would add patina, wouldn't they? Denis checked out the stone carefully last visit, peering through gaps in the plywood hoarding protecting us passersby. Dark grey stone building, pick faced in appearance, regularly coursed. Quoins with 'tooling', but I can't tell...might it be concrete? Hip roof shaping up. Windows look odd. Flat arches over segmentally arched windows - only two lights? Looks like a modern glass facade taking shape on the ground floor.

Kingston readers will be laughing up their sleeves by now, as they know the whole story.

What finally drove me online, checking out newspaper articles about the property, the heritage debate, the new building, was seeing it from a new vantage point at the corner of Wellington Street, fresh from admiring parapet walls of several early buildings. On the roof I noted bright new lumber being formed into the unmistakable shape of parapet walls. Or pretend ones.



Here's a definition of a parapet, by the inestimable Peter John Stokes in the very useful glossary (because the memory isn't what it used to be) of The Settler's Dream: the extension of a wall above the roof line, usually at the gable end.

Fire was a clear and present danger (always wanted to use that quote) in early c19 towns. Shingled roofs, flammable sources of heat and light, wood construction, stables filled with hay...fires were inevitable.

At some point, most towns enacted regulations requiring fireproof walls between town buildings, extending far enough above the roof-line to reduce the chances of fires spreading across roof-tops.

Above, with the lilacs, is a lovely example...I'm wondering if the end window might have been a temporary indulgence, as the owners waited for someone to build next door...or a happy add-in when that became unlikely. The other photos in this post are parapet walls in various Kingston locations.
the delightful Pan Chancho building

Here, as they say, is the rest of the story. Turns out this location has been the focus of a heritage debate for some time. Here's the short story. At issue is a grouping of  early c19 stone buildings, covered in an ill-conceived 1960s/70s modernization, using stucco and countless nails which destroyed the stone, preventing it from being reused. And a bank that wanted the site.

Here's some coverage of the debate.
Here is Sophie's choice.
If you are a real heritage terrier, here are the Municipal Heritage Committee discussions.

I'm not alone in mourning the loss. Here's an interview with the president of the Kingston Heritage Foundation, an organization to which I belong, and whose work I salute.

So. Only one question remains. New and shiny? Or old and magic?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Simple Gifts

An Ancestral Roofs visitor recently paid me a lovely compliment,  politely asking for permission to print and frame a photo from a post. That photo was attempting to capture the serenity of the place we were visiting that frosty morning, and I am pleased that it conveyed something of value to Marianne.

rather 'modern' Gothic touch
 Those kinds of places, a bit of grace in a hectic world, pop up occasionally. Sometimes they are places I am seeking. More often, they appear around that proverbial bend in the road. These three structures gave me great gifts recently.








My friend Larry has often mentioned the 1896 Wooler Friends Meeting House. Of the Quaker persuasion himself, he has promised to bring me to meeting some time. As it turns out, I came upon the place by happy accident last fall, on a back-roads trip toward the village of Hastings.





After an autumn wander in the silence of the historic cemetery, watching the sun travel the sky, I believe I have already experienced something very special here.  Peace.


 Later on the same journey, I passed through the settlement of Cramahe Hill, near Morganston. I was in my autumn road trip happy place, enjoying the warm sun in the Northumberland county hills, loving the curves and climbs of a delightful concession road, when this little white frame church popped into view around a bend.

simple panelled doors, white clapboard
Such a dear plain little place, simple enough to be another Quaker meeting house, with its windowless gable facing the road, plain panelled door, clad in white painted wood. Down the side, three unadorned windows. A shady cemetery on the crest of the hill.

A simple white frame structure, unadorned even by contrasting paint colour on window trim or door. Understated. Leaving room for us witnesses to find the beauty.


you'd never tire of this vista

This lovely little spot - the 1884 Christian Church - must have a story, a congregation. The cemetery on the crest of the hill reminds us that it has had one, for a long time.








I must add a third lovely community church to this post. Last spring, I travelled with a group of Hastings County Historical Society types on a backroads tour ("Tales from the Hastings Woods") led by historian/writer Bill Hunt. As it was to turn out, it was Bill's last; he passed away not long ago, and we are bereft.





This little church, beloved of the local volunteers who maintain it, and open it for a service each summer - as well as for us that day - is Hazzards Corners United Church. Friend Katherine is one of that faithful group of supporters. Her homage on the outstanding blog Meanwhile, at the Manse  says it better than I ever could.

Volunteer Grant toured us around the simple church built by Methodists in 1857, in this tiny rural community north of Madoc (imagine how hard life would have been for them, and how huge was this committment to faith?) and invited us to visit the cemetery. He was proud to point out the outdoor convenience with its ecclesiastical window.

It was a memorable visit for everyone. For me, the heady scent of the black locust trees in full bloom towering over the simple country church bordered on a religious experience.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Holiday Inn


Battersea and I have history. Actually, our whole family does.One day back in the early 60s, we travelled the daunting distance to Battersea from our native North Marysburgh township, to buy a dog. A really fine dog. Dutchess she was named, short for her registered name of Winnifred Dutchess I Bee. But this isn't an old dog story. It's an old house story. Quelle surprise.
 Not long ago I returned to Battersea after nearly 60 years. Part of my current discover Frontenac mission. Of course I recalled nothing of the village. Doubt if I noticed anything about it way back then in my pre-teen dog fever. But this time, despite the icy winds and matching roads and paths, I did discover something that will bring me back.


I want to know more about this structure. I wondered at first if there were an early Georgian style wing, and a later matching wing flanking  the 'tower' topped by the rather incongruous Mansard roof. According to an online account by Clausewitz (2008) the Lodge was built for military veteran Henry Van Luven (1794-1891), by stone masons recently retired from the Rideau Canal project. (Lots of fine stone houses in the area would lay claim to the same origins, I would assume.)



Well it's not the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, the lodge featured in our favourite, recently revisited Christmas classic, White Christmas. But it has some stories to tell.

Here's a better look at the place, unfettered by icy walking-with-a-camera conditions.


In 1840 Henry Van Luven developed the street plan for the village - first Rockland, later Van Luven's Mills - and opened its post office (as Battersea) after 1867.
I found it most interesting (as I am doing some research about Sir John A this month) that when Henry became reeve of Storrington township in 1850, fellow public servant John A Macdonald is said to have visited The Manor regularly.

The story goes that in 1912, The Manor became a fishing lodge, which it has continued to be, under various owners since then. This article introduces the July 2016 new owners, and their plans for the Manor.

Probably not surprisingly, given he was a nation-builder kind of guy,  Van Luven also built Battersea's first stone mill, later operated by the Anglins, a name which pops up often in local history. Mill Street is definitely on my list for a future visit.
As is Battersea's history. The most obliging folks at Belleville Public Library are holding an interlibrary loan volume for me, of The County of a Thousand Lakes, the 1982 Frontenac history compilation.

Across the road, near the little marina where once stood one of Battersea's mills, was this fine old barn. Wouldn't I like to know it's history.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

a thought for a new year

Simplicity.

This little lock-master's house in the snow and cedars at Lower Brewer's lock is simplicity itself.

A little icon to return to in what promises to be, well, that sort of year.

I wish this for you in your life also.