Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Miller's Tale

"...Ameliasburg village became the big city for me
I discovered the old ruined grist mill
built by Owen Roblin in 1842
four stories high with a wrecked mill wheel
cumbered by stones and time
containing the legend of the Roblin family
and Taylor from Belleville who took it over later
Inside the gaunt skull-like stone remnant
dangerous black holes in the floor
as if someone had plunged down screaming years ago
worn-out machinery and great millstones
carved with lovers' initials
some of the boards nearly thirty inches wide..."
(from In Search of Owen Roblin by Al Purdy, 1974)

 Last week we made a pilgrimage of sorts, to visit Roblin's Mill at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Owen Roblin's mill. Al Purdy's mill. What's that you say?

Anyone who might have visited my other blog 'In Search of Al Purdy' (now dormant), or who knows of my involvement in the APAFA at a local level for awhile, will guess how important it was for me to finally see that mill. Here's a post I did back in 2013 which shows some historic photos of the mill.

This is the mill which inspired Al Purdy to write his long poem In Search of Owen Roblin; it resurfaced lots more times in his poetry and  prose.

For me this place somehow contains the history of the Roblin family, of Al, his work, Prince Edward County and its history - mine by extension -  and the architectural conservation ethic which raised it from a dangerous relic in a disinterested village to the centrepiece of a living history museum.
handsome cornice and eaves returns

In 1964 the original timbers, flooring and machinery were moved and set up at BCPV. The original masonry didn't make the trip to the city, and the replacement of soft old weathered limestone with something else creates a discord for me. Too crisp.

Somewhere I read (or did I hear him say it?) that PJS never quite forgave B. Napier Simpson Jr. for moving the mill from Ameliasburgh village.

In The Settler's Dream, Cruickshank and Stokes explain the necessity. "The tall chimney , of pink hand-made brick, towering high above the mills [belonged to the steam plant hastily built when the water supply from the lake slowed] came crashing down across the road early one foggy morning in the 1950s.
Edward was the last Roblin to operate the mill; he died in 1900. Several millers took it on subsequently, but by 1920, it had closed down. Plans to convert it into a canning factory were thwarted by the Depression and the obsolete building stood vacant for many years with most of its machinery still in place. In the early 1960s a serious crack in the masonry had developed and demolition appeared inevitable. The adjacent carding mill, with trim similar to the main mill, had already disappeared." (SD page 356/7)

In its new job, Roblin's Mill tells the story of c19 village life and milling very well. But for me, it's Purdy's poem that brings the place and the time alive. I like this passage in ISOR recounting the deadlock which finally slowed and stopped the giant wheel:

"And the story about the gristmill
rented in 1914 to a man named Taylor
by the last of the Roblin family
who demanded a share of the profits
that poured golden thru the flume
because the new miller knew his business
       and the lighting alters
       here and now changes
to then and you can see
       how a bald man stood
sturdily indignant
       and spat on the floor
and stamped away so hard the flour
dust floated out from his clothes
like a white ghostly nimbus
around the red scorn-"

a flume like this led water from Roblin Lake to the overshot wheel

Owen Roblin (1806-1903) Grove Cemetery Ameliasburg

If you have never read Al Purdy's long poem In Search of Owen Roblin, you must. Aloud.

I once read it out loud to myself on Purdy day, seated with my back against Owen Roblin's grave marker warming in the April sun.

Found something good that has never left me.

Lyre, lyre...

 Now this is interesting.
On Friday we wandered around an old stone area in Kingston, where I snapped this nice double house, loving the gardens and the ivy juxtaposed against the creamy Kingston limestone

A closer look revealed a keystone embellished with a relief carving of a lyre and the date 1880.  The house was across the street from a quite stupendous RC church. I made a mental note to do some digging, wondering if the home was affiliated with the church, and housed the organist or choirmaster at some point.

Then last night at an organ recital at Bridge Street United Church, that lyre again! I noted for the first time, the lyre in the magnificent stained glass west window above the tall pipes of the organ. The lyre, I have learned, has come to symbolize music in the praise of God. It's mentioned often in the Bible; Psalm 33 is a nice example.

just missed it...will get back soon to try again

Certainly praise was due last night. The inspiring sanctuary of Bridge Street United Church,  a centre for classical and sacred music concerts, hosted international virtuoso organist Janette Fishell in a very eclectic program. And Janette rocked the newly restored 1956 Casavant pipe organ.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Just browsing... Princess Street

The economy cannot count on me. I'm past the age of acquisitiveness. I cannot afford my taste in personal adornment. My art budget is zero. I prefer my own cooking (most times) to restaurant fare. Books. Ah well, I do regularly make an exception for independent booksellers. 

But mostly, when I go to town, I wander, looking above the line of artistic shop fronts and BOGO enticements, getting in the way of real shoppers on a mission.

  I shop for built heritage. And thanks to my trusty Canon, I bring home plenty.

I browse for interesting details that I recognize from my study, or for puzzling bits that send me back to my bookshelf. And for that sense of travelling back in time to when life was lived in this 1850 stone store, or that 1890 house...that feeling I call resonance.
  They don't call it 'built heritage' for nothing. The buildings that we retain from our past contain the stories of the people who lived there, and their times.

 And I firmly believe that consciously or no, the reason people find shopping along Princess Street, or Walton Street in Port Hope, or in smaller spots like Bloomfield or Kleinburg so appealing, is that the treasure-filled shops are all the more inviting for being housed in beautifully preserved historic buildings.

Funny how cities and towns still don't get that.
 I'll pop back later to write a bit more about the wonderful buildings I've posted here.

I'm still busy unpacking all the treasures I brought home.

Just wanted to share some Kingston with you.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bright On!

Bright On! Not mine but I like it.

Heard it on the car radio while I was (briefly) a citizen of this lovely town last week, encamped outside the walls, at Presqu'ile PP.

beautiful site of  the former town hall, post 1973 tornado

On my several errands to the town's lovely welcoming library, I captured a couple of very appealing buildings. On my drives through its green residential streets, finding a new route 'home' after each town trip, I vowed to return for a wander, resisting just once the lure of the shore.

Brighton has great appeal.
Brighton Funeral Home - great house

Great history.
A tornado. An appalling passenger train fire. The downtown fire. Newcastle, the townsite that never developed, as a result of a terrible shipwreck in 1804. A great restored historic home, Proctor House.

Great historians.
I wrote about Dan Buchanan 'the history guy' at the end of this recent post which introduced you to Ralph and Eugenia Bangay, the creator/curators of Memory Junction railway Museum. Dan just published a super history whodunnit, about (the only) nasty branch of his family tree.

And of course, there's my friend Florence Chatten, another local historian and a lovely soul, who has had a large role to play in many local histories. Including her own Brighton Township, where she shares neighbours' memories of the area.

Great history event. This coming February (to banish all reluctance about falling into winter) will bring us the third annual Brighton History Open House, with events on February 18, 20 and 21. This year will focus on the area's railway history.

Great independent bookseller. Lighthouse Books. Of course Mia Woodburn and Ann Dobby had all my favourite local histories; managed to pick up one I didn't have, That's Just the Way We Were. And yes, Florence was a willing and able contributor.
Proctor House

Mia told me about Lighthouse's regular book events; the photos include a signing by my favouite Canadian author - Jane Urquhart, almost a local. Another reason to love Brighton.

Now. Back to the shore.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The benefits of Zinc

This crisply detailed obelisk in the graveyard of the former Presbyterian (1844) church in Grafton caught my eye. Although it's trying to fit in with its weathered white marble neighbours, there's something a bit too fresh about it after all these years.

I wasn't surprised when I tapped the monument, to hear a tinny ring. For this memorial is made of zinc or 'white bronze' cast metal. Jennifer McKendry (Into the Silent Land) explains that despite the manufacturers' claims that it outlived marble, the material never really caught on in Upper Canada/Canada West. There might be one or two found in the c19 section of many Ontario graveyards. Its durability was its (ahem)strong point.

I find the combination of floating high relief figures and low relief decorative floral and geometric elements with little connection between them to be a bit distracting. McKendry explains that plates were cast and attached to the base with special screws. Designs were chosen from the manufacturer's catalogue, which may explain the combinations of patterns. The cast iron front catalogues I've written about on occasion were similar.

I believe that must be Hope, pointing - hopefully - heavenward. The other figure I didn't catch. Looks to be lurking in the bottom photo. There's a wreath, a bible, and the words 'Gone Home', The family name is Halliday, and the name above (dates unclear in my photo) looks like Joes.

I am annoyed that I didn't spend more time and photograph all the faces of the obelisk...the fact that it looked in danger of tipping over did distract.

The top of the column is quite pleasing - the book states that the obelisk was typically topped with a finial. This tinsmith's tiny hip roof with pennant edge solution is lovely.

I didn't look for a maker's mark, although McKendry writes that they are occasionally stamped on. The Ontario manufacturer (1883-1899)  would have been the White Bronze Co. of St. Thomas which held the sole franchise from the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport Conn. head office (1874-1912.)

Jennifer McKendry explains that white bronze and cast iron memorials are quite rare, and cites the few examples. She mentions a cast iron example in Belleville cemetery (which I have failed to find.) I'll resurrect this discussion later.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The train doesn't stop here anymore

There is train rumbling from various quarters at the moment. Friend Larry is researching a book on the dozens of railways in the Quinte area in those exciting early days - and linking the trail systems built upon the abandoned railbeds.

I am working on my stated intention of attempting to  photograph extant train stations (and commune with the spirits of those gone before) on my travels.

3 hours gets you from Picton to Belleville

I've been collecting some of the prolific Ron Brown's series on Canadian railways and their stations, most recently The Last Stop (profiling Ontario's heritage railway stations.) I like that he tells the story of Brighton's Memory Junction, which I wrote about in August. Incidentally here is a poster on the Friends of Memory Junction Facebook page, announcing the September 26/27 Applefest invitation to visit the Junction. Sounds like a party!

Tom going the distance for train artifacts

Last week I braved the busy lumberyard of C.F.Evans Lumber Co. Ltd. on West Mary Street in Picton, determined to get to the bottom of the Picton train station story. I just knew it was there - and when I peered across the sea of tarmac, I recognized the familiar red brick form.

Far from getting shooed off for trespassing, I was treated to a delightful visit with Tom Evans, a train geek, who showed me memorabilia from the building's life as a train station.

one of the few bits of history CN left behind

a window latch - back when craftsmanship was valued

freight shed roof recycled from a CN boxcar

On the weekend I picked up a copy of another great resource, recommended by Larry. It's called Life on the Trails, Past and Present, written by Dorothy Fraleigh, and published by County Magazine.

I got my copy at Books and Company in Picton. The scrapbook style volume follows today's Millennium Trail (PEC), Lower Trent Trail, and the Hastings Heritage Trail routes, and illustrates the recreational trails' former lives with photos of the train stations which stood along the lines. Great nostalgia.
the stationmaster's windows - long ones allowing
for a view up and down the tracks

The photo to the left provides just that 'the way things used to be' feeling. This is taken in front of the former station, looking west along right of way of the former tracks of the Central Ontario Railway/CNR that in its day, ran from Picton to Maynooth.

Incidentally, the early brick house in the background wouldn't have been visible in the day. The home which now sits adjacent to the Millennium Trail, was recently moved to accommodate Picton's expanded LCBO being built at the corner of Lake and West Main Street.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Graveyard shift

I love cemeteries.
Massive old trees. Ponds. Benches. Charming changes in elevation. Picturesque. Quiet. Contemplative. Cool.

I have visited several of my favourite graveyards over this hot summer, and discovered a few new ones. One of my guidebooks on these explorations is Jennifer McKendry's thorough study entitled Into the Silent Land:Historic Cemeteries and Graveyards in Ontario (self-published 2003.)
Glenwood Cemetery, Picton

 I first spoke about the book back in January, when I could only look ahead, way ahead, to leafy days among the ancestors, so I won't repeat myself on the subject of the garden cemetery aesthetic and design, which explains why so many cemeteries are just so darned beautiful.

Instead, I'll spend a minute now and then on the imagery on grave markers. Just a minute, as McKendry spends hours, beginning at page 186. She writes and illustrates (she is an award-winning photographer, as well as an architectural historian ) examples of markers with nature imagery, human and divine figures, religious motifs, as well as symbols of the deceased person's membership in an organization or a trade/profession.
St. Andrew's United Church, Grafton
All of these markers, photographed in the old Colborne Union Cemetery and in Grafton, feature the ubiquitous willow tree. McKendry explains that "it reigned alone or with other images from the 1810s to the '80s, and was closely aligned with the classical style...Willows became associated with loss and mourning: no matter how many branches were cut off, the tree flourished."(p.189/90) 

She explains that stone carvers could portray the willow naturalistically or stylise it, and that individual artist's work can be distinguished. She goes on to describe the motif's use in a variety of decorative combinations.

I find it all so moving. A death in an early Ontario town, a hundred and sixty years ago. The sad talk with the local stone carver. The creation of a memorial that lasts. A loss that somehow we can still feel when we spend time with them. They aren't forgotten.