Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, November 12, 2018

Dan Buchanan - an architectural history

Dan Buchanan is a friend, a friend of friends, a tenacious history researcher, a delightful storyteller and a most entertaining writer. Dan, the 'history guy' of Brighton, is heavily implicated in several important history activities in his area, including the annual Brighton history week events and Brighton Digital Archives. Then there's his own history/genealogy site . And two great local history reads.

Unlike many folks with a murderer in the family, Dan outed his relative, Dr. William Henry King, the only man ever hung in Northumberland county, in "a true crime tale of poison and philandering,"* the whodunnit (well, we get to know from the start) Murder in the Family (Dundurn Press, 2015.)
This year, Dan released 38 Hours to Montreal: William Weller and the Governor General's Race of 1840. If I were to tell you that it's the story of GG Charles Thomson rushing from Toronto to Montreal in February, on a unimaginably tight time line (there's a wager involved) with new legislation he'd drafted in response to general whinging that grew into the Rebellion of 1837-38, I might not induce you to join the bookstore queue. But it's fascinating. Exciting. And time travel by one of the best guides around. Again I quote from the back cover: " Dan Buchanan brings the reader along on a breathlessly exciting journey that intricately explores Canadian history through the people, places, and buildings that existed along those treacherous roads in 1840."*

The reader shares Weller's pride in his efficient stage coach company, his thoughts of family, his solicitousness regarding the coach horses, his apprehension about the condition of the plank, corduroy and mud roads, his concern about the dangers of river and ravine crossings (when was the last time you worried about crossing the Rouge River valley?) and the cold and dark of the journey, almost as if you were seated on the bench beside him. But of course, what I am appreciating most is the spotlight back through time, as we see buildings which still stand today, through the eyes of Weller as he passes by.

Buildings. Hear that? It struck me last night, as I had yet another "I've been there" moment, that it would be fun to capture photos of some of the places Dan's account mentions, in a post. William Weller and I notice some of the same places.

The journey starts from Toronto, a smooth ride along the planked expanses of King Street. Dan suggests that the journey begins at John. This Streetview glimpse is...well, no help at all. William Dendy's Lost Toronto might be a more reliable resource.

Even then, several buildings which stood in 1840 along Front and King Streets have since been replaced by newer versions. These more 'modern' iterations stand out and stand firm,  as wonderful examples of our built heritage in 2018.

I'm thinking of the fabulous Gooderham Building, built in 1891. Its unusual shape conforms to the wedge-shaped space created by the junction of Wellington (Market Street once upon a time) and Front Street (that name actually made sense in the days when the street hugged the lakeshore, before developers started to build more Toronto. Here's a great BlogTO post.) The night of Weller's trip by the area, the building standing on the same wonky lot was the earlier Coffin Building; it was from this location that the Toronto office of William Weller's stagecoach line operated.
Dan mentions St. James Anglican Cathedral. Today its 1874 Gothic Revival presence stands on the site of an 1839 version, which Weller would have seen as he passed. Sadly that lovely neo-Classical structure perished in the terrible 1849 Toronto fire. Have a look at St. James's bold glass Parish House addition. Thanks to a dear fellow photo wanderer for the introduction.

Another important building in the area in 1840 was the Market Square. Iterations in 1803 and 1831 were later replaced by the one so familiar today, the St. Lawrence Market built in 1845.

Here's another thing I love about the book. Dan the self-confessed 'history geek' makes sure that we learn the story of each village the team and sleigh pass. Many place names change over time and we lose contact with the intrepid UEL or Irish immigrant who received the initial land patent, or built the first mill, and had the spot named after him. Later, new names were often adopted to curry favour with governors general or other somebodies, then perhaps changed again when the post office was opened. Did you know the hamlet of Norway once stood at the corner of Kingston Road and Woodbine? A steam-powered sawmill operated there by 1835; the local Norway pines were a specialty. A wooden post office stood here in 1825.

Then there's Pickering Village, which started out as Duffins Creek, after an Irish settler. The name changed in 1829 when a post office was established. Nearby was the Old Post Inn (1815)  a happy rescue in recent years. This was a frequent stop for the Weller stage coaches. Dan usually has a story to tell about the early inhabitants of the places 'we' pass.

Here are a few of the spots I have enjoyed over time, made even more resonant with the backstory provided by 38 Hours to Montreal.

William Weller and his important package arrived in Cobourg after an astonishing five hours from Toronto (the press went wild at the feat.) Dan Buchanan offers a detailed look at this most prosperous town, rival of Port Hope, noting several important buildings. On his gallop along King Street, Weller could look up College Street to the Upper Canada Academy. It became known as Victoria College. Today it's a retirement residence, but it's kept its splendid pedimented portico since 1832.

Weller's fresh horses thunder eastward along Kingston Road from Cobourg to Trent Port. They're entering my home territory. So many landmarks, still familiar today, fly by that night in 1840. Just west of Grafton, the pre-1812 Barnum House tavern and hotel, burned during that war, later rebuilt, would have hove into view. I've written about Barnum House occasionally  The house, when it's open, interprets life in the 1820s to 1840s. William Weller would feel right at home.

Our travellers in 1840 would have seen the fine brick Spalding's Inn, built just outside Grafton by Thomas Major Spalding around 1834. The Georgian brick structure served as home, tavern and inn. Today, if I'm not mistaken, it's the home of one of historic Port Hope's most influential realtors. "Spalding's Inn was well known as a halfway house between York and Kingston. It is mentioned in records as early as 1816, mostly related to fees due for inn-keeper licences." (page 98, 38 Hours)

William Weller must have liked Grafton as much as I do. "Arrangements had been made to change horses at the Grafton Inn, and William Weller could see the fresh team standing off to the south side of the road in front of the Lawless store." (ibid)

The Grafton Inn operates today, its historic Neo-classical charm as well-known as its hospitality. Here's an AR flashback to when I fell in love with Grafton. When Mr. Weller stopped at the inn, the community bore the name Grover's Corners.

 Dan describes the street scene - two other  structures persist from the day he passed by. I just love this c1820 commercial building, its setting on the old Danforth Road, the way it's been preserved and prettied up.

To my embarrassment, in my Grafton wanderings I overlooked an equally historic building, the James Lawless store, which you'll have to appreciate on Streetview. This structure (thanks Dan) "was originally built in 1837 of  one-inch planks stacked and nailed on top of each other." A rare plank wall house! And I dismissed it because of my vinyl siding snobbery. My historic bad.

Keeler House (1812)
William Weller goes on to navigate past "a lumber wagon stuck on the bridge over Shelter Valley Creek" (think about that the next time you speed over Shelter Valley on the 401) and the gumbo on fearsome Herriman Hill, to hasten past several landmarks which grace the lovely village of Colborne even today.

Wesleyan Methodist Church 1823
"William Weller guided his sleigh over and around the hills and soon came to the curve just west of Colborne,where the road heads south to meet King Sreet by the public square in the middle of the village." p. 105

If you've ever travelled that route, or lingered in Victoria Park (est.1815) you can still see a lot of what Weller observed in passing. He noted the 1823 Wesleyan Methodist Church, and Old Joe Keeler's House further down Church street.

Thornton Residence (1819/30) Colborne's oldest house

As he turned the horses left onto King Street he recognized the Thornton Residence and the house next door, built in the 1830s.

Steeles Regency cottage - 7 King Street West

St. Andrews, imposing since 1833

"Not far along King Street East, the imposing St. Andrews Presbyterian Church stood majestically on a rise, back from the street."page 106

Dan writes that the "travellers would not be stopping in Colborne but if they were it would likely be at the Keeler tavern in East Colborne." Thanks to our writer/guide, we can discern the proportions of the Georgian style tavern at the corner of Parliament and King Street, despite some 'remuddling' (credit to Laura Smith for the term.) Let the Streetview folks take you there.

"Just after the creek, on the right, Mr. Weller would notice Salem Cemetery..." page 106

" the team galloped along the Kingston Road, with a cold breeze blowing off the lake. He had decided to stop at Proctor Inn, at Huff Road..." page 109 Somewhere I have a photo of this house, built after the Proctor family arrived from Vermont in 1810. But for now, this Streetview peek will remind me to keep looking.

Hodges Tavern, Brighton
Weller gallops on to page 110. " A little further along, on the north side of Main Street, William Weller would see the Ira Hodges tavern, which was built in the 1820s, along the same lines as the Keeler and Proctor inns."

Staunchly and symmetrically Georgian in proportion, Hodges Tavern at 156 Main Street, Brighton, resembles so many fine old houses, some of them taverns, along old Highway 2.

The sleigh continues across the old covered bridge at Trenton, and the Moira River crossing over Bridge Street at Belleville, to dinner at the Mansion House hotel in Belleville. I'm still trying to find an historic photo of that hotel, 'cos it's certainly not here anymore. Best I can do is a photo of a favourite building further south on Front Street, a contemporary of the Mansion House - the Commercial House hotel, built around 1838.

Napanee river mill site
Clippity-clop through Napanee and its mills, and onto the rather disconcerting new macadamized (ie. gravel road) damaging to sleigh runners and horses' feet,  and a change of team at the Fralick tavern coaching stop in Morven. For some reason, I don't have a photo of this historic place, either. It's now a private home. But I will collect one soon.

McDonald House (1831) now Gananoque Town Hall
I have appreciated, as did Weller, the fine stone Timmerman's store (on left here) in Odessa (although the coachman would have known the place as Mill Creek.) I have also failed to capture the two Kingston businesses that our travellers would have seen along Store Street (now Princess) but once again the roving Streetview cameras saved the day. The limestone buildings at 68 and 75-77 Princess would have been familiar in 1840 - and miraculously, still serve Kingston today.

I've had better luck with Gananoque, , not yet known as the Birmingham of Canada in 1840. I posted about the industries that soon lined the riverbank, only last month. Dan Buchanan hints that Weller might have glimpsed mill-owner John McDonald's fine brick house. Certainly did that.

Then Lansdowne, and the McNeil home still standing today, just at the intersection on the way to Charleston Lake Provincial Park.

"As he approached the tiny community of Springfield, much later to be called Escott, William Weller sounded his horn once more. As he drove up to the inn at the corner of Rockport Road, a team was waiting. The change was performed quickly, and they were on the road again." p.153.
This magnificent 5-bay Georgian built of local sandstone must be the inn, right at the intersection. Here's a link to prove it, right? Well, actually, no. This building which serves as the library along the Front of Yonge, was actually built (way out of style by then) in 1871. Weller missed it by a country mile!  Here's the account of my discovery back in 2013.

Dan Buchanan, William Weller and GG Thompson next galloped past Mallorytown, the town Nathaniel Mallory built. I believe this might have been his home. I've visited Mallorytown from time to time.

The author mentions the famous Mallory glassworks, Canada's earliest, established 1839, closed 1840. Devilishly difficult. The hard to produce glass is very rare now, found here and there in museums (this peculiar looking link takes you to Google image files, and a shot of a collection at the ROM.)

Through tiny villages, past many coach stops, Weller and his cargo continue. "It was after three in the morning when the travellers approached Brockville." p.156. Imagine sitting on the driver's bench of a sleigh, exposed to the weather, hands frozen around the reins, in February, for 38 hours!

Dan Buchanan suggests that  William might have looked up the wide boulevard to the court-house and jail. The impressive ceremonial route remains, but the building we see at the top today was built 2 years after Weller peeked uphill.

downhill here to Flint Street

I've always enjoyed the Brockville/Belleville connection. One of Belleville's earliest entrepreneurs was Billa Flint, son of Brockville merchant "Billy" Flint. Several streets in the wharf area recall his pugnacious presence.

"Glancing toward the river, William Weller could see that lamps were already casting shadows at Billy Flint's wharf at the end of St. Andrew 158. Today there's a highrise tower and a parking lot; Flint Street runs along the side. But these brick houses along St. Andrew, associated in some way with Flint, will serve as stand-ins for the area.

Longley Tower, Maitland
"The next village along the King's Highway was Maitland, a bustling commercial centre with wharfs at the shore of the river and a long history to boast about." p.159 Quieter now.

This 1828 windmill, later steam driven, even later a distillery among other things, became a heritage site in 1923. Indeed, according to this article, it might just be Ontario's oldest windmill.

Two miles on, Dan imagines, Weller might have spotted Homewood, the 1801 home of the Jones clan. This historically significant stone house with the distinctive French accent was almost lost to us. The Grenville Historical Society stepped up and ensured its safety in the 1970s.

I visited on a bright summer day few years ago.

But back to a cold February night in 1840. "The King's highway stretched out in front of the sleigh, flat and relatively straight for the next few miles into the town of Prescott. In many places, if not for the rhythmic pounding of the horses' hooves, William Weller might have heard the lapping of the waves of the St. Lawrence just off to his right. At this hour of the day, in dull, cold February weather, the river was only a deep blackness off to the south." p.161

Such are the sensations Dan Buchanan creates, taking the reader along on this historic journey.

From this point, however, I will have to stand at the roadside and wave as Weller and his important personage gallop off into the darkness toward Prescott and Montreal.

I plan to revisit Dan's book as my historical atlas next spring, on our (already) planned return to Prescott and the drowned villages, communities inundated by the St. Lawrence Seaway project of the 1950s. Some of the historic buildings of these towns and villages rest at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, others were moved to 'new' towns. Others, well, drowned.

Thanks Dan, for a great dash through a great deal of our built heritage!

 If you haven't had a chance to pick up 38 Hours from Montreal, you should, you know. You can purchase it at any of the area's bookstores, at a book talk and signing (Dan is tireless) or, as a last resort, online.

all quotes are from 38 Hours from Montreal, with the permission of the author.
*cover notes

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Industrial Devolution

Friend Larry commented just yesterday that there was a demolition in progress along Keegan Parkway. The portents had been evident for some time. Abandoned buildings with a growing rash of broken windows along the street side, empty yards and buildings throughout the rest of the massive complex. The most optimistic sign was the proliferation of wild grapes along the chain link fences.

It's inevitable that the property evolve into something more useful, accessible, and (ahem)  attractive. Turns out, residential development has been under discussion since 2014, for the former Stephens-Adamson property. A proposal for parkland expansion into the area went before city council in 2003. I spent some time at the factory site today, in the bright late fall sun, to pay my respects.

After a bit of casting about online, I found some stories of the plant. A 1957 newspaper article enthused about the recent completion of a 200 ton ore sintering machine (prepares ore products for blast furnaces) for the smelter at Wawa.

(Ironically, when we visited Wawa a couple of years ago, the former smelter, which once climbed a hillside overlooking the city, was in the throes of disappearing, leaving a huge raw wound up the hill, and a good workforce going wanting.)

Stephens-Adamson was a Division of Metso Metals, their mission the production of heavy equipment for the steel and mining industries. Conveyors rose up often in the conversation.

The massive building across the road from the Bayshore Trail  has often come up in conversation, as we walk along the waterfront. Den often recalls his early worklife, as an apprentice at the huge Ruston Bucyrus excavator equipment manufacturer in Lincoln, England, working in just such a space, a massive crane in the roof delivering heavy components to workers in each of dozens of bays, each served by a smaller crane branching off from the main one. Not the workplace for quiet confidences!

I studied the building, and absorbed that sort of sadness that comes with any demolition, the sense of the history made here, the lives lived. I had noticed a couple standing at the roadside, watching the work going on, arms wrapped around each other, for the warmth, or the comfort. The fellow called out a question: "Do you suppose they're going to demolish the crane, or remove and reuse it? Turns out he knew about such things, and on my request, explained how the equipment worked. He pointed out the 10 on the main crane, 10 tons, and explained just how much such things cost.

Stephens-Adamson. Going, going, gone.

Community of Belleville and Hastings County HC00380B

After checking with the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, I share this photo of what the company looked like once upon a time, in 1948.

Monday, October 29, 2018


What do these two places have in common?

Stay tuned, New to Newboro will reveal all.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

'Dirty Old Town'

We fired up the turn-table recently to play an anthem from Den's youth, Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger singing Dirty Old Town. Here's a link if you'd like to sing along. Denis grew up in industrial Lincoln, UK, in a terraced house on a Coronation Street kind of street, with allotment gardens along the railway tracks, a coal gas plant at the end of the street, and a genuine stone "gasworks wall" on which a  lad could lounge, while talking cycles with his mates.

I paired the nostalgic folk song with these photos of Gananoque buildings - water, reflections, textures of peeling paint, grey rubblestone and warm hand-made brick, and regenerating wild vegetation. These husks of buildings (and others like them) once crowded the banks of this lovely river.There's drama here - a sense they're poised for something new to come. I find old industrial structures beautiful, story-tellers evoking the day when they were the engines of progress in old Ontario towns. And many of them are waiting for repurposing, communities and developers making audacious plans. Gananoque is one of those stories.

Here's what the professional builders' journal Construction Canada has to say on the topic of  "sustainable solutions for intensification (read, we need more people living downtown to keep our city vibrant.)" Actually, the architecture press is full of articles about creative adaptive reuse projects. Here's another from Archdaily, one of my favourite news feeds.

15 Clarence Street
This article features 6 great projects in Toronto. You may have followed the press about the arts hub at 401 Richmond, which almost saw Margaret Zeidler's idea of an arts collective founder, when taxes on lofts and studios at 401 became untenable.

Your community likely has some adaptive reuse successes. There are lots. Here are yet more happy endings from Vancouver.

Allow me to digress. There are many more abandoned structures than repurposing ideas, and most, arguably, could be put to good use. Here's a site which purports to be archiving these empty spaces - although it must serve 'urban explorers' well. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the urban exploration movement. (and yes, I have made my 2018 Wiki donation): "Urban exploration, often shortened as UE or urbex, and sometimes known as roof-and-tunnel hacking, is the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment."

  I met an urban explorer once. Not too many years ago I participated on an ACO-sponsored tour of every creepy nook and cranny of a dormant former ice hockey arena which has sat vacant for years, waiting for an adaptive reuse idea to catch fire. A fellow who tagged along was a self-confessed urban explorer who was happy to explain its appeal. Given that urban exploration involves trespassing into nasty and dangerous abandoned spots, the chances of my succumbing are small. This fascinating video from Business Explorer does a pretty good job of explaining the attraction, however.

Okay, the urban exploration was an aside. But that's what a lot of abandoned factory spaces have to settle for by way of attention, until the happy day that a plan such as Gananoque's begins to percolate.

A quick search of Gananoque news stories yields the 2014 consultants' report on the Riverstone Development, a  "residential rehabilitation of three former factory buildings." Turns out, the development will centre on the three buildings I photographed on a visit last year.

For the tapestry of brick and peeling paint alone I love this "early Modernist" structure at 15 Clarence Street (see the Heritage Impact Statement put together by Bray Heritage, for Brennan Custom Homes.)

The metal window dividers, shaped parapet and elusive lettering set it apart from just another abandoned building.

This was the 1912 home of the Parmenter & Bullock factory, producer of wire nails and rivets. When we parked in the lot just in front, the young attendant recounted that his grandfather had worked there.
185 Mill Street

This brick building started out in 1872 as a stone building, the St. Lawrence Woolen Mill and the Thousand Islands Carriage Factory. In 1892 the stone building was destroyed by fire, and 3 years later a brick building rises from the ashes, and sits on the ruined stone walls. Among the many tenants who have  occupied this structure over time were the McLaughlin Carriage Company of Oshawa (ancestor of General Motors) who set up here, after a fire destroyed their Oshawa plant around 1899.
And in 1938, Link who manufactured the famous flight simulators, the Link trainers, acquired the building.

Pages 20 - 24 of Appendix A of the Bray report show historic views of the factory.
stone foundation walls from 1872 stone mill
185 Mill Street

This imposing stone structure rose on the busy banks of the Gananoque River in 1871, home of the Leeds Foundry and Machine Works. Additions were constructed when the machine works merged with the Canada Nut and Bolt Company. It was being used for storage by 1947, and was later abandoned. It was in desperate shape (see pages 43-44 of the Heritage Impact statement) by 2014.
New windows and roof on this Georgian mill are signs of intent. In fact, signage on the west wall reads:   "Riverstone Sales Centre 75 King Street East."

Stay tuned.
 If you'd like some other suggestions while you wait for the fulfillment of the project, here are two.

Have a Streetview wander around the neighbourhood.

Devote some time to Appendix A which I've mentioned above. It starts at page 35 of the Riverstone report.  A Chronology of Gananoque emphasizing the Mill Street Industries, is a 50 page history of the complex, written by Dr.Jennifer McKendry, a Kingston area expert and writer on historic architecture.

St. John the Evangelist church across the river
I've talked about her books before. Were you to do a Google search for 'ancestral roofs Jennifer McKendry' you'd come up with a representative sample. I'm a huge fan.

a former industrial river gone recreational

former railway bridge now walking trail
view to the east bank