Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, October 8, 2018

Bridge Work

 I concluded a recent post about Delta Ontario with a photo of the village's early stone bridge, done in by the forces of improvement in 1961.

At the end of the post, I mentioned the historic and beautiful stone arch bridge in Lyndhurst Ontario. I also referred to a local force for good, Orland French, who had hinted in an email that he was implicated in the salvation of this lovely structure.
Until I can call out the journalist, and the story, I will share with you what I can glean about the spot. These photos were taken years ago (hint: I scanned the photos we took on that visit.) We have been in town since, but always on our way somewhere, towing a wee travel trailer, and have stopped only for a takeaway coffee. Time to return.






But a few words (until I can coax more from Orland) about the bridge in Lyndhurst. First, its location. Lyndhurst is in the township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville. That is not what I learned at S.S.#3 North Marysburgh, when Miss Eaton had us chiming off all the counties and county towns of Ontario. I must had my back turned with the Provincial Conservatives brought about municipal amalgamation after their 1995 election in pursuit of "efficiencies."





All that being unsaid, Lyndhurst's bridge is a vestigial branch of a fascinating industrial history. This village (unclear just which waterway it straddles, is it Lyndhurst Creek or the Gananoque River, into which it flows?) I offer a 1787 Surveyor's Map, though I'm unsure how much it will help us.

Like so many bucolic little communities, Lyndhurst has an industrial past; it's been known by that lovely name since only 1846. Try the name Furnace Falls on for size. In 1801 Wallis Sunderlin's Lansdowne Iron Works (now a NHS) brought life to the place. The smelter burned (ahem) in 1811; other mills were established in 1827.

The masonry arch bridge (1856/7, oldest in Ontario) for which Lyndhurst is now famous was designed by John Roddick, built by Miles Fulford and Simon Ransom. Judging by the number of plaques Denis is reviewing, most of Lyndhurst's industrial history is 'virtual.'

In the absence of other Lyndhurst views, I offer a couple of shots of the Gananoque River at, well, Gananoque. A few buildings hint at that fine city's industrial past. A future post will range further.

And who knows, maybe Orland will relate that bridge story...

Artist in Residence

R. Tail McKenzie. Not a household word, but a Canadian (Almonte, yet) born sculptor of international reputation. Sounds like a Renaissance man to me. Mackenzie was an "educator, orthopedic surgeon, author...well known for rehabilitative methods he developed as a medical officer during WWI."*  Medical advances were one of the few positive outcomes of that conflict; McKenzie was a pioneer in reconstructive surgery and physical therapy, and a brilliant lecturer in anatomy at McGill. Somewhere I read that he was forced to sculpt his own teaching models due to lack of  anatomy resources at the university.

 And a sculptor emerged?
R.Tait McKenzie's story conjures a Wilfred Owen world of British public school boys on frozen playing fields, hardening themselves for future leadership roles on WWI battlefields, challenging themselves and others to greatness. A Canadian version.

Lest this playing fields of Eton analogy feel like too much of a stretch, McKenzie's boyhood friend was another heralded local boy, James Naismith, inventor of basketball.

 I visited McKenzie's Lanark County studio-home this past summer. No, he wasn't there to greet me, but I spent time in his presence on the magnificent second floor of the restored mill. Here is a well-curated and evocative display of over 70 of his works - originals and plaster models of commissioned works which are on display throughout the world.

bas reliefs recalling Wyle and Loring
  Now frankly, this heroic classical style with serene nudes and straining athletes, the stuff of  war memorials, is not my favourite. But it was of its time, and I do pay attention. This was the artistic fraternity into which Florence Wyle and Francis Loring, particular heroines of mine, struggled to gain acceptance - and make a decent living.

But I digress (not for the first time. )


What McKenzie did that endears him to me was to search for, and find, a dilapidated mill near his home town, and restore it for his home and studio. He lived well here.

Fugit Umbra, Caritas Manet, Carpe Diem, Maneo Nemini 
His account of the project, I Discover the Mill, is displayed in the mill. In 1931, back home for a speaking engagement, he was challenged to create a summer home on the abandoned Baird's Mill property. He struggled through thick underbrush toward the river and found an intact stone structure, ruined floors littered with ruined mill machinery. Roof full of holes. But with white pine beams 50 feet long and almost 2 feet deep which could inspire the most jaded. People of means and imagination aren't easily deterred. R.Tait McKenzie describes the place as "isolated, concealed but self-contained like the retreats of highland robbers. "

McKenzie purchased the 50 acre site, rebuilt the mill and even the ruined dam, washed away by spring ice long before. The millpond provided a swimming pool, the site of legendary summer entertainments orchestrated by his musician/poet wife Ethel O'Neil. They named the place Mill of Kintail. Kintail  is Scottish Gaelic for a spot in the Scottish Highlands.

 The Arts and Crafts feel of the fireplace nook, and wonderful touches throughout the main floor of the mill home, are worth the price of admission. Oh wait, there is none. The Naismith basketball museum, I left for another day.
The sandstone mill was built in 1830 by Scottish pioneer John Baird, along the Indian River, tributary of the Mississippi River (the one that flows into the Saint Lawrence.) There is a bridge over the trickle, which leads one directly into the forest (where a bear warning was posted the day of my visit.) The view at top taken from the opposite bank was just about as far as I travelled into the wilds of Lanark County.

The Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority also did a fine thing, when  they created the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area. The miller's fine stone house, in ruins when Mackenzie first saw the property in 1931, near the road is now a meeting area, the mill a museum to  two native sons, Mackenzie and Naismith, and the 150+ acres bordering the river and wandering the woods is a natural recreation space - Mackenzie would have been pleased.

* The Canadian Encyclopedia

Monday, October 1, 2018

Must Do Delta

During a camping week at Charleston Lake PP this (long) past summer, we spent a day visiting a lovely town we'd glimpsed enroute to somewhere else, a few years ago. A real eye-catcher sited on a huge treed lot on a curve leading into downtown, well, caught my eye. And the 'early' forms of several buildings insisted I return. So we did.

The house which lured me back to the village of Delta was this fine Georgian, built by Irish merchant William Bell in 1860. Symmetry, plus.
 Stone lintels and quoins (although the stucco treatment below the full-width verandah draws attention away from the latter.) Gorgeous doorcase with half side-lights and rectangular transom - interesting glazing pattern.

I'm guessing the gallery with its Regency style trellis, the cornice brackets and the delicate enclosed glassed-in porch on the second floor (staunchly centre bay, however) are all later embellishments. To me, the lattice design of the balustrade is a discord...maybe I've just seen too much of that kind of stuff at DIY stores over the years.Would love to have had a closer look at the carriage house to the left.


I think William Bell and I might have gotten along. We have some of the same taste in homes, at least. For the second house in this post  is Bell's first house in the village. It's a dwelling he shared with his store. The guide places the date at late 1850s.

This is the Greek Revival facade that caught my eye on a drive-through a year or two ago. It was inspiring to stand in front of its (admittedly crumbling) locally made brick facade.The shop front with deep entry porch, early wooden doors and half side-lights was once upstaged by "an elaborate wooden cornice [stretching] across the front facade above the large display windows." Likely different glazing, now. I hope help comes soon for this important piece of Delta's history. It stands on the bank of the millpond joining Upper and Lower Beverley Lakes (I hope I got that right - everything changed when Delta's  mill was built and waterway diverted.)   I quote the guide: "Treasures from the outer world once came by steamboat to Mr. Bell's emporium via the Rideau Canal, Morton and Beverley Lake." Here's a Streetview link so you can join the walkabout.


Town Hall 1880
built of locally made bricks



















In front of the former town hall, we had a chat with Mary Beth, a one-woman town beautification committee, wielding a strimmer. She is part of the volunteer-powered heritage group behind this historic town. Mary Beth introduced us to The Delta Mill Society (1963 to present) that force for good which saved the exceptional stone mill in the village, many years ago. More on that in another post.

In 1994, the Mill Society also took over responsibility for the Town Hall, which houses a museum and offices of the society. Seems Delta, once operating on water power, is now powered largely by amazing volunteers.

Bad and good news here. Sadly, we had to leave the village temporarily for lunch, as Delta, like so many wonderful old spots, is 'sans un commerce." (credit for this observation on the engine which might rejuvenate villages goes to my lovely friend Katherine Sedgwick, of  Meanwhile at the Manse, a blog featuring life and lots of it, in tiny Queensborough, north of Madoc. )

The good news. In nearby Elgin, we found a treasure. Savoury and Sweet,  home-made Hungarian inspired cuisine, truffles and other indulgences, a delightful host, an original 1893 general store - and an art show upstairs. Lots to love. Trip Advisor grants 5 stars - we agree. So, add that into your Delta visit plans.

Back now to downtown Delta, which despite the signage, was in no position to offer us pizza from its 1887 storefront location in the Delta Business Block. This early 'mall' was dubbed the Jubilee Block, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the good Queen's reign.



 Some great features remain: the inset shop entrances with their double doors, some of the original storefronts, some intriguingly glazed windows above the entrances, some decorative brick window surrounds above the segmentally arched windows. And do I see decorative pressed tin cornice with garlands, a band of fleur de lis, and two bands of a curvilinear design? And a tiny classical urn at the corner?










This essay in brick was the bank. The Romanesque Revival inspired arches assure bank patrons of the safety of their money, by drawing on medieval stronghold imagery. Here in our fortress your money is safe from theft, fire, the vagaries of financial markets - and rampaging barbarian hordes.










To finish off in Delta, assorted views of the downtown intersection.

Then and Now chapter.
The old photos were photographed on the wall of a meeting area in the Town Hall.
Thanks for the time-travel, people.






Jubilee Block, rear of mill, from Town Hall steps


Just recently Orland French was talking about the salvation of the lovely stone bridge at Lyndhurst (another day, another good story.) Sadly, Delta's stone bridge was replaced in 1961.

This photo is from an interpretive panel near the Delta Mill. Do go see the original.


(Definitely not) the last homely house

I have to watch my English-born husband's language. For he, like most Brit-speakers, has been known to describe a cozy homelike spot as 'homely.' Now we know what he means. But we have to hope the home-owner does, likewise.

'Homey' is safer. And their homey quality is what is so endearing about houses like this. Not surprisingly 'The Last Homely House' was the name Tolkein chose for Rivendell, an Elvish sanctuary, the last place of safety before travellers voyaged into the terrors of the Misty Mountains, and Mordor.

These homely houses attract me on our regular self-guided tours, even when they aren't a 'stop' on the route because of  associations with notable citizens, or important architectural details, or stories of dramatic rescues from demolition. These spots just draw me in because of their setting, their scale, the shadows cast by their sheltering trees. They feel safe. They're places I could imagine living in. Like these. Watch for others.

Now is this in the domain of 'the exception that proves the rule?' Must be the trees and shadows, and the polite green and white neighbour with the darling porch that drew me. For here is another less lovely angle of the yellow shiplap clad house with its brown trim, three gables, two Gothic windows, and mighty verandah. And some information from the Delta walking tour brochure. It's the 1862 Joel Copland house.The family operated a pharmacy in the Jubilee Block (more on that later.) In later years, this was the home of a celebrated and much-loved country doctor, Dr. Joseph Kelly.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Spirit of Napier

'survivor' Sheila Williams story
Emerson Street, Napier



















There's talk around the dinner table that this winter may see us back in Australia and New Zealand. Be still my heart. It's got me thinking, however, of places I would love to revisit. Here's one I'd love to see again, on a bright sunny day.

New Zealand captured our hearts it's true, but its bucolic countryside possesses a dangerous beauty with which to flirt - its bad seismic reputation.

In Kakanui, near Dunedin, South Island, our hostess included the local tsunami protocol in her standard welcome patter at our Airbnb accommodations. At Aukland's Museum we survived a terrifying volcanic eruption simulation.  In Christchurch we wandered still broken streets and absorbed the can-do attitude of residents on the anniversary to the day of their disastrous February 22, 2011 earthquake.

Veronica Sunbay 1934 (replica 1980s)
And then there's Napier. Well, everyone knows about Napier. Napier has created a reputation for itself with its Art Deco architecture, featuring a very popular annual Art Deco Festival sponsored by the highly successful Art Deco Trust. A luscious sea-side location with palms and Norfolk pines and streets lined with low profile, sherbet-coloured buildings. Lots to love.

And I was happiest along Marine Parade (gardens and Hawke Bay beyond) and Emerson Street, a palm-lined pedestrian street with loads of, well, you know...Let me show you some of my favourites, with a bit of info gleaned from my tour guide.

The Masonic Hotel 1932
The Daily Telegraph building 1932
If you want to come along on the walk, Streetview's capture of Marine Parade  as good a place as any to begin. The statue Spirit of Napier is a bit further south. It is she who "represents Napier rising from the ashes of the 1931 earthquake" and the prosperity which accompanied its rebirth. (Rotary Club of Ahuriri)







Napier's beauty comes about (lest we forget) due to a terrible tragedy, the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, a 7.9 seismic event which levelled most of the centre of Napier and nearby Hastings, killing 261 people in the area and injuring thousands. A powerful video from 1965 is worth a watch. Fires raged for days, destroying what was left. You might expect the survivors to have succumbed to the horror of the event. But optimistic rebuilding took place over the next two years, and most builders opted for the the prevalent style of the day, the Jazz age idiom we call Art Deco.





Masonic Hotel

The profusion of Deco delights, plus many earthquake survivors built in the years just before the earthquake in the 1920s (interestingly, most c19 masonry buildings collapsed readily in the catastrophe) which display the influences of Art Nouveau, Chicago and Prairie School, Spanish Mission, Beaux Arts, Stripped Classical, International Style, and Maori design elements, and its wealth of Deco structures, make Napier an old-house nut's happy place.

This album, then, is about the Art Deco buildings of Napier. The Art Deco City by Robert McGregor explains the reasons the city was rebuilt in this style. Art Deco was fashionable (its clean modern lines expressed the ethos of the time, its changes in social behaviour, women's rights and technology,) it was safe (reinforced concrete minus the decorative adornments that had killed so many in the collapse of the city's c19 structures) and it was cheap (the Depression is not a great time for rebuilding one's city.)
Victoria Sunbay (originally built 1934)

I'll use McGregor's words to summarize the design elements at play: "geometric, usually angular patterns and shapes such as zigzags and zuggurats, symbols of power and speed such a lightnig flashes, and symbols of freedom and the dawn of a new age - leaping deer and greyhounds, prancing women, fountains and...the rising sun."





 An interest in Egyptian, Mayan and Aztec designs, and a unique local use of Maori motifs provided design inspiration. The love affair with speed and transportation imagery is frequently found in Deco style.








I've gone on about Deco long enough. I'll hand it off to the experts. Here are posts about Vancouver's Marine Building and others. And then there's Tim Morawetz, who's written two brilliant books about Art Deco architecture, in Toronto, and across Canada.





The Hawke's Bay Chambers 1932

Near the top of this post, I showed the Masonic Hotel. It was designed by architects Prouse and Wilson in 1932, and was considered  to be the town's "most modern looking building" (McGregor) when it was built. The loggia (think, rain shelter) built out over the street was unique in NZ.




Smith & Chambers Building 1932



The first photo captures the parapet decoration, reminiscent of the hood ornament on a showy limo. This kind of embellishment was kept at a minimum during the rebuilding. Tragically, many were killed or injured during the quake, as Victorian roof elements tumbled into the street.






This one is permitted as it is integral to the structure of the hotel. The canopy over the front door incorporates glass panels with the iconic Deco lettering.

The second view of the Masonic Hotel captures more of the deco elements - the horizontal profile, the speed stripes, the smooth white finish, the flat roof, no eaves. This article shows additional images.



Kidson's Building 1932


But enough about architecture. Let's talk about me. I had longed to see Napier for years, but my enthusiasm for the visit was not without some caveats. Serious rain. Unrelenting upmarket shopping. And the resultant shop fronts. Now I know merchants have to display their brand, wave the team colours. But do shop fronts have to co-exist so uneasily with the upper floors of the structures they inhabit?




The (former) Hotel Central 1932


Were one to remain under the verandahs (a great temptation in the day's steady drizzle) one would come away with the overriding impression that Napier is just another shopping destination - and were one not so resolutely disinterested in shopping tourism, likely a perky little shopping bag or two with something clever inside.



The day of our visit, we really had to look for Deco Napier. Even the Deco Centre was more about shopping and tour booking than a short course on architectural history. The video they showed, and the walking tour guide I picked up, were just what we needed, however.



Colenso House (part thereof) 1932
I passed a few bedraggled guided walking tour groups in dripping rain gear, looking a bit whelmed (under or over wasn't apparent). Me, I sent my man off to Kathmandu, grabbed my little point and shoot, and dodged in and out from under awnings, snapping every candy coloured, speed striped treasure in sight. Most of the time I recorded only the second storey above the parked cars and shop fronts, or the top cornices. And I was happy.


For the rest of these photos, I make no claims, other than their pastel appeal, apparent even on the glummest of days in Napier. Some may reappear in another post, as I investigate the influence of Spanish Mission, Stripped Classical styles and the nod to Frank Lloyd Wright which appear throughout this fascinating town.




It was great to meet in person, ceramics by Clarice Cliff,  in the Deco Museum, our refuge from the worst of the rainstorm (which later developed into a flood, which we avoided by travelling inland to Taupo through just reopened roads.) Clarice Cliff embodies Art Deco, and reminds us that Deco (unlike many architectural styles) was a design movement that spread through all facets of life.

If I've overlooked something, or created a desire to see more, I'd suggest a couple of sites: the Buildings by Name site and the Art Deco Inventory 'Til next time...