Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Talking Stick

what we did while not visiting Uniacke
The arrival of an email from Ancestral Roofs friend Mark usually signals a lost half-day. Mark's emails contain addictive links to fascinating fields of study, many new to me. Mark is deeply engrossed in the early building/society of Loyalist Nova Scotia, and his links usually take me touring. Just recently, while we 'chatted' about barns, I enjoyed a drone flight over the spectacular 1813 Uniacke estate not too far from Halifax.
This week, we revisited  Dendrochronology. Did I not warn you? Read this email, lose a day.

I first learned about dendrochronology from Ron Tasker of Ham House in Bath, Ontario. He and partner Bonnie Crook were able to establish that the trees used in the construction of the house they were restoring, were cut in 1816/17.


Ham House before
We've visited on several occasions. I wrote about visits in 2015, 2013 and originally in 2010.  I am encouraged by the 2016 appearance of a website telling the Ham House restoration story. It suggests that the astonishing amount of work they've done is nearing an end - or close enough that there is now time to write about it! Here's their website; the History page recounts the dendrochronology (tree ring dating) research.
during


The work was done by labs at Cornell University. This is time-travel...consider this quote from Ron and Bonnie's site: "one of the most remarkable results was the year the northwest sill plate...started growing - 1498! This was the oldest historic timber from eastern North America yet seen by the Cornell lab." Now that's cool, you have to admit.

Madlabs Saskatchewan report on the oldest timbers they've researched, at Government House in Halifax, that got their start in 1442. Now, I didn't know that, But you know who did.
Ham hoiuse after restoration - used with permission

Back to Mark. His email contained a link to  lab reports on dendro reports, which were done by the dendrochronology lab at  Mount Allison University, which later moved to the University of Saskatchewan. Consequently, several dozen research reports examined the age of Canadian Prairie Shelterbelts...oddly resonant, as we recalled visiting the Experimental Farm in Indian Head, a place where such novel ideas were likely explored and demonstrated. Many prairie homesteads hunker down within soldierly rows of sheltering trees, planted before the farm blew away in the relentless winds.


But the houses hold most interest for me. Here's a typical report, done on a house in Halifax, whose construction date turns out to be 1764, making it the oldest residential structure in Halifax. Good to know, right? And for more on dendro, check out page 3 of this typical report.


Hmmm. I do go on a bit. I'm guessing the only person who will read this post will be...Mark!



Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Industrial Revolution - redux

The most recent issue of architect Catherine Nasmith's outstanding online digest Built Heritage News contains a link to an article written by former provincial ACO president Richard Longley. The piece appeared in NOWToronto magazine and outlined the urgency for rethinking our late C19 and very early C20 industrial buildings - not demolishing them - and putting them to work.

He writes about 401 Richmond Street - a bit of warm brick in a street of featureless glass towers. This is a lively 'character' building housing a lively artistic/entrepreneurial community. The vision is to repurpose heritage industrial buildings, in this post-industrial Toronto. There are issues. Like taxes. But there is life here, and hope. Jane Jacobs would be at home here.

A phrase I loved: "crucibles of a post-industrial revolution." The creative industry, not weary factory workers producing widgets, will be the life of these places.

 As I have never visited 401 Richmond, I have no photos to share, so will have to let Streetview take you there.

This inspiring article about heritage industrial conservation includes a profile of 4 worthy examples. Here's that link again, have a look.

My small contribution to the conversation is these shots of a ruined industrial building on Wabash Avenue at Sorauren Park, near Roncesvalles Avenue in Parkdale. If you want to look around, here's a link to Streetview .

The structure is rotting away just adjacent to Sorauren Park, where a neighbourhood friend and I once celebrated the park's "world-famous" pumpkin parade, up to 2000 jack-o-lanterns twinkling in the dark and magical city night. (Photos)
This neighbourhood ruin was once home to The Canada Linseed Mills (1910-1969) a cog in the industrial wheels along Sorauren south of the railway lines on Dundas. Other neighbourhood industries included a ball bearing plant, a leather goods manufacturer, and the Dominion Bridge Company, which occupied the space now enjoyed by park visitors.

Here's a good history link.






So, for some time the neighbourhood has held out hope that the old factory would just go away, and the park would take over the spot. I noticed when I visited that part of the industrial building has been adopted by the Sorauren Park Fieldhouse. New windows. Traces of old lettering.

As I continued my research I discovered the triumphant announcement that the old linseed factory is about to be demolished and the Wabash Community Centre built on its footprint. The wait has been a long one, the activism determined. Now the waiting appears to be time-sensitive, with dates attached for pre-engineering this year, design and engineering in 2018 and '19, and completion scheduled for '22 or '23.

Robert Watson entrance
Another post-industrial (to use Richard's term) building with a happier ending popped up during the same Roncy/Ronces walkabout.  The classically inspired entrance dignified a workmanlike building of beautiful brick, with new steel windows, but old ghost signs, which proved difficult to decipher. I admired for a bit, and later had a look-see online. This brick structure, which has adapted readily to loft condo development, is the c1907 premises of  Robert Watson's candy factory (which started in 1874 in Toronto.). After the industry tanked, the building became a grotty loft address popular with artists, and by 2007 it had completed the transition to condos. Here's a look inside. And outside.

This Star article dubs this a good conversion, ensuring the building's future. And adding character to the neighbourhood.

Richard Longley describes the demographic drawn to such buildings. I once experienced that first hand, when I visited the workplace of my pumpkin-party friend, who worked for a film company at the Centre for Social Innovation at 215 Spadina. Energy enough to keep any century old industrial building standing.

So. One lost. Others rescued and wisely re-purposed. Need a program to keep up? Turns out there is one. ACO Toronto has just launched TO Built, "an open-source database about buildings and structures in Toronto."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hello...Goodbye

 Uh-oh.

On my way back from the countryside west of Brighton last week, and an interview in an exquisite hill-top aerie overlooking Presqu'ile Bay, I chose the less travelled route, as always, and found myself in the fog, on Smith Road west of Smithfield. See for yourself.

An upcoming issue of County and Quinte Living magazine will explain why I was in the area. But for now, it's about this house.

As I motored by, the pronounced cornice and eaves returns of this unfortunate house caught my eye. I returned and took refuge in someone's driveway, while I had a closer look.

Now here's what I'm thinking.

At the risk of repeating myself (because surely I would have posted about this at some time, but even my blogger search tool won't confirm it) I am fascinated by houses in the temple front form.
Like the Ontario icon, and ACO 'mascot' Barnum House in Grafton, this sadly neglected structure displays some Classical Revival 'temple front' features.

The finely moulded eaves returns echo the pediment of a Greek temple. Note a vestigial corner board in the photo to the left.

Sadly, the years have not been kind - whatever may exist of window and door trims have been muffled by plywood sheets.
Barnum House, Grafton

No idea what the original cladding might have been - buried under insulbrick then gold siding, who knows, might be flushboard siding like Barnum's.

The Smithfield house retains wings to each side, like Barnum House. And like it, this grungy gold house presents its gable end boldly to the road.Symmetrical wings of lower height flank the facade; in this case the low roof  of the wings extends forward to create a front verandah, held up by wobbly kneed posts.


Despite its decrepit condition, the Smithfield house recalls the wonderful temple houses in Demorestville. These houses haven't been neglected, but that's not to say they've survived. They didn't have the sophistication of detail of larger houses, even to start.


Modernized and reclad, they've lost all trace of their fine Classical detailing from the period of affluence that made that village the biggest concern west of Kingston (surpassing even York) at the beginning of the c19. The village still has some Classical revival architecture (I'd recommend Northport also. Here's a peek.)


For a glimpse at a 1930 Eric Arthur photo which captures the delicate beauty of the houses, have a look at The Settler's Dream, page 309.


You can see both of Demorestville's tiny temple houses as they are today, from this Streetview vantage point.




"I'm so tired..."


I wish this house well; but I fear for the worst. Lots of estate home building going on in the unspoiled neighbourhood.

I think its prospects are about as gloomy as the day we met.






Cobourg (flying on one wing)



But, hey. That's no way to say goodbye. Let's not part on a sad note. Have a look at these examples; that graceful temple front form (with or without columns or pilasters, two stories or one/one half,) the constant.


c,1850 Miller's House, Lake on the Mountain (before renovation)






a classic, Colborne
Crysler Hall (1846-8) now at Upper Canada Village



Fralick's Tavern (1836)



Feel better now?

Feel like a browse?

Fralick's Tavern
Crysler Hall
Barnum House

That should do 'til we get there in person, right?



Merry Sunshine

This beautiful house in Peterborough just popped up on my laptop slide-show.

Really needed the sun and shadows on this gloomy day.

Doesn't it make you think of some of Lawren Harris' Toronto houses?


Lawren Harris 

  This is Engleburn House (1853) in the east section of Peterborough. I wrote about a wintry walk there almost exactly 3 years ago.




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It's Tax (Incentive) Time

A lot of attention is being paid to Bill C-323, an Act to amend the Income Tax Act for historical rehabilitation. A lot of people with more political savvy than I are holding forth on this topic. If you love heritage architecture, and are concerned about saving irreplaceable built heritage, read on. And act fast.

 Here's a link to the article 'Income Tax Incentives for Historical Rehabilitation', by Dan Schneider, republished in the outstanding Hills of Heritage blog. I wrote about this blog back in February.
What you must do is inform yourself with the reasons behind this well-thought out argument, and contact your Federal Member of Parliament TODAY. Literally. If enough MP's support this bill tomorrow, it will move on to committee, and third reading. The bill was introduced by Peter Van Loan, MP for York-Simcoe.

Here's a sample letter created by the folks at National Trust for Canada. Here's a list of MP's, in case, like me, you don't do this letter-writing thing often. Now, I'll let you go, to read Dan Schneider's letter in the link at the top.

Once you've fired off that email/phone call to your MP, spend a bit of time on ACO's Facebook page to join some built heritage campaigns, and celebrate some heritage victories. When it's gone, it won't come back.

A Breath of Fresh Brick

Adoring from afar, that's my stance. I make a point of absolute compliance with the convention of respecting private property. My admiration and photographs of people's homes and castles is always conducted politely from the curbside.

I scrupulously obeyed my own rule (and the law) during a wander (husband dear would suggest 'forced march' might be more accurate) up and down many of the exquisite streets of the Durand, a posh neighbourhood in Hamilton a few years ago. As we climbed ever higher, the homes became grander, until just under 'the edge', Ravenscliffe Castle hove into view. Streetview captures the moment for you.

My interest in Ravenscliffe was rekindled on March 14 when Liane Pluthero whose posts on Historical Hamilton pop up occasionally on my Facebook, added this listing. The 1881 castle is again for sale, an outstanding family home/castle, for just a bit of pocket change under nine million.






The old pile was up for sale back in 2014. Here's that listing - amazingly (or not?) the asking price a scant three years ago was 1.7 million. That listing alluded to the work that might be required. So perhaps, in the way that old assessment records tell building stories, the new asking price implies that considerable improvements have been made.
But the very best thing about Liane Pluthero's post was the link to a realtor's blog, Fresh Brick. Adam Wilson has a great eye, an unshakeable belief that a picture is worth a thousand words (and a gifted photographer on his team.)

So, although we are really not in the market for a castle, I am loving this site, for doing what I cannot do. Go inside. See how this beauty looks, 'staged' for the market. Whoa.
2 Ravenscliffe Avenue (1906)

I read somewhere that James Balfour's castle originally sat on nine acres of property; lots were sold off over time, and homes were built around it.

None of them detracts from the magnificence of the setting. Take a Streetview walkabout yourself, and enjoy some of these beauties. Then enter the properties, and pass through the front doors of a select few, thanks to Adam Wilson and Fresh Brick.

It's okay. It's estate tourism. Check out this CBC Hamilton article from a few years ago.


Like 2 Ravenscliffe Avenue, pictured here. Here's a link to the Fresh Brick tour.

Or the 1908 Finn mansion at #12.

I do love Hamilton. As I mentioned here, here , and here, for starters.

And poring over my Ravenscliffe Avenue photos today, I believe I am about to do it again.

12 Ravenscliffe Avenue (1908)


Monday, March 13, 2017

Parable of the Wheat...

When we visit the west, I look for grain elevators. They're getting harder to find.  The human scale of those iconic frame elevators, with their attendant railway stations, sheds, water towers and pump houses on the edge of town, are being replaced by  high-capacity terminals in concrete or steel located far from population centres. They're not building the old frame models anymore; since the 1950s when small branch lines were closed and delivery points were centralized, larger storage facilities are the thing.








So the old-style grain elevator is vanishing from the flat horizon. Their kind warrants heritage preservation. Inglis, Manitoba has established a National Historic Site with five grain elevators, commemorating "the development of Canada's grain industry from 1900 to 1930." Scroll down their page for some great photos.



Now, all that being said, this post is not really about grain elevators, although wheat remains a theme. My recent trip back to the Qu'Appelle Valley photos caused me to wonder anew at the Bell Barn, which sits just north of Indian Head, Saskatchewan.

This is  a story almost Biblical in its proportions.

1882. The Qu'Appelle Valley Farming Company. A 53,000 acre corporate farming enterprise, an experiment supported by John A. Macdonald's government. Manager and major shareholder,  Major William R. Bell, of Brockville, who saw action in the Fenian Raids and the Northwest Rebellion.

This round field-stone barn was built in 1882 to house the farms' many horses. It was derelict and dismantled in 2008, but rebuilt using the original stones by the Bell Barn Society of Indian Head, formed for just that purpose in 2006.

The barn's vital statistics are worth noting: the wooden lookout tower sat 33 feet above the prairie; from there the major could supervise work in the hundred or so buildings with in a 5 mile radius. Some sources point to similarities with Martello towers (with which a military man of the day would be familiar) and suggest that the stone barn was built as protection from a possible Indian attack. Verbal reports mention a tunnel between the main house and the barn.

Workers were housed in 27 cottages similar in design to the guest services building replica here.


The photos which follow are taken from the interpretive panel at the entrance. We visited after hours, in the long shadows of an early summer evening.


Some of the cottages were linked by the province's first rural telephone company in 1884. Pretty progressive.
The horse barn housed 33 horses; the round design enabled one man to look after them all. Do the math: I don't know where the rest of them lived, either. You can see from these photos that the farm depended on horse-power in a big way.

grain binder

To give a sense of the operation's scale - one year the tenants used 25 binders (each drawn by three horses) to harvest a single wheat field of 7000 acres of wheat.


The company farm didn't last 10 years. A devastating September 7 frost in 1883 (Krakatoa?) destroyed the crops.

Land was subdivided for the town of Indian Head. The Dominion Experimental Farm, which we have visited, was once part of the farm.


note the pith helmet



The prairie seems endless even today; imagine how it would have appeared in 1883?

There's a good website which keeps track of new discoveries about the farm and its story. Think I'll check back occasionally.