Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Blame it on David


In recent weeks, friend David, who is past president of our local ACO branch, has been sampling the delights of Victoria, BC. His many Facebook posts have set me longing for the neighbourhoods and attractions of that delightful city. 

Last night I browsed through hundreds of house photos taken when my love and I spent a week wandering the city in 2017. Seems like yesterday. In truth, I suspect Denis indulged me well beyond his capacity for appreciating architecture, as we trudged through most of the Victoria Heritage Foundation's neighbourhood walking tour guides. It's a time I am looking back on today with a full heart.

Back in 2017 I wrote about our James Bay neighbourhood B&B home base with our hosts the delightful Toshie and David. This neighbourhood occupies the  'home farm' land which provided food for the Hudson's Bay Company fort 'downtown', epicentre of the fur trade in the west in the 1840s.

"The Empress"

The area includes the delighful Fisherman's wharf floating home neighbourhood, Francis Rattenbury's grand 1898 "classical renaissance  Romanesque" Parliament Buildings with their lovely grounds, and the imposing 1904 "Franco-Scottish Chateau style Empress Hotel" among other architectual delights   

We explored the beauties of the endless trails bordering the James Bay peninsula, and ventured into lush and exotic Beacon Hill Park. 

A plaque beside the location where a traditional pole is being rebuilt, acknowledges the colonial history of the HBC. There are many public plaques and interpretive panels by which to inform oneself. 

camas flower beneath oaks, Lieutenant Governor's mansion
ave Mason post, written about our guided walking tour tells tells the history better than I, as does the book written by our B&B host David Helme. I look forward to being greeted by the new Welcome Pole when I return this spring.

But the focus of attention on several long walking days were the frame homes which for a red-brick Ontario girl, were exotic enough. 

Thanks to David, I am homesick for the houses of the James Bay area, that neighbourhood of vernacular Colonial bungalows, Arts and Crafts and Craftsman styles - and folksy blends. The photos following also capture the rich colour of March in Victoria, sigh, a feast of flowering shrubs and trees and spring bloom, including the wild camas flower cultivated by the Lekwungen people."Such much", to misuse one of our favourite Casablanca quotes.

For architectural details please consult the wonderful walking tour brochures provided by the researchers of the Victoria Heritage Foundation, those worthy documents  my Denis assiduously followed as I darted about excitedly with my camera.

 I will leave my pilgrimage to the Emily Carr homes for another post. 

Walk on.

deer in Lieutenant Gov's flower beds

Are you still with us? As the Staple Singers said, "I'll take you there."

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Precisely my point

  I have an instinct for these things. A   mention  in a local tourism publication. An   interesting road snaking along a blue line on the map. NHS directional signage.  Interesting   road names or appealing  topography.

 I don't know what led me to Sturgeon Point,   but I do know what kept me there. Sturgeon   Point village is what people do when they band   together to preserve a way of life, and fine  buildings, from change due to bureaucratic contols and development. 

I assume. I didn't speak to anyone at Sturgeon Point, but I visited the Sturgeon Point Association website. And I wandered some of the charming narrow twisty cottage roads lined with majestic trees, bordering the lake. And I ogled cottage homes from the later 1800s and early days of the last century: simple frame cottages and stately family enclaves set back in wide lawns shaded by enormous pines. And I could see why the residents would want to circle the wagons to limit changes and maintain this lovely summer cottage communtiy. 

The place put me in mind of Point Abino near Fort Erie, which I visited years ago with my dear friend Judy, a fellow traveller lost long ago,  A gated cottage community (irritatingly, owned almost exclusively by Americans) from which we were shooed when we went to visit the historic lighthouse .

There is some interesting Sturgeon Point village history online. The first regatta was held in 1838 - and these exclusive events continue to this day. The point became a summer destination for locals in the 1850s . Excursion boats, everyone in their best collared and corsetted attire no doubt, started arriving for picnics in the hardwood groves near the water. The most popular such event, for a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta performance in 1881, numbered 3000! That's a flotilla of excursion boats! 

The village history site is worth a visit. There's the story of Crandell's Sturgeon Point Hotel, with marine and train traffic bringing thousands to the point. Built in 1876, it burned in 1898. George Crandell's story makes for an interesting read!

In the 1880s, the first permanent homes were built. And that's where I come in. The signage that led me to the point directed me to the beautiful rustic Sturgeon Point Union Church, built 1915. Its history is fascinating, the structure is unique. An octagonal building of Georgia pine, it was commisioned by a Lady Clara Flavelle, and gifted to the community as an ecumenical church. Although I couldn't get inside, the woodcraft is phenomenally beautiful. The website welcomes "residents, guests and visitors" and I felt that welcome as I found a spot to park, to set out on my wander through the streets and along the shore road.

The residences range from tiny original cottages to fine summer homes. All are beautifully  maintained, the roads are tree-lined with views over Sturgeon Lake. 

The whimsical canary yellow Cherry Tree Lodge, set in wide treed grounds, caught my eye. And as I did some research for this post, I learned to my delight that it has a story. Not only is the tiny cottage one of the first purpose-built cottages, and thus the object of my search, but it has a fascinating history. Cherry Tree Lodge was  built in 1887 by artist W.A.Goodwin (no, new name for me also.) The late Victorian cottage with Arts and Crafts influences, "built to evoke the appearance of the large canvas tents campers used at the time" (website) was home to sedate family activities and wholesome local youth events. And it served as inspiration to an artist unjustly overlooked until recently. A grand story, doubtless one of many told in this delightful little community.

So, Sturgeon Point Association board members and supporters, you have a precious legacy and a special place in your care. I wish you success, as burgeoning development pressures build on quaint and character-full places. They come for the charm, and destroy it in the process.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Lucy Maud's (not so very) happy place

 "Homesickness" replied the guide. I had just marvelled at the astonishing literary output of a former resident of this village, nostalgic stories based in a long-forgotten era in a seaside world she had left and longed for always.

On a July.stay in Port Perry I had the opportunity to visit a National Historic Site I had long wanted to see, in  Leaskdale, Ontario. This plain buff brick house was the home of the writer Lucy Maud Montgomery for 15 years. The manse and the lovely church up the road are now busy museums open to the public. There are quite a few houses in the hamlet which were standing when Montgomery (1864 - 1942) lived and wrote in Leaskdale,  a tiny place at the bottom of an impressive hill in beautiful (remarkably, still) open countryside.

Most girls of my generation spent at least some of their youth reading the novels of L.M. Montgomery. Here's a bio from the Canadian Encyclopedia Montgomery upon which I doubt I can improve.

My purpose in returning to these photos is to contemplate her life here, in this place even my hosts in nearby Port Perry did not know about. Getting in touch with the stifling Edwardian life of the wife of a Presbyterian minister suffering from major depressive disorder in the 1910s. It gets worse, but I'm not going there.

neighbouring farm where LM found her muse

Instead, because loss and longing have become part of my vocabulary, I want to think about how much Lucy Maud missed rural PEI and the ocean, and how she found her solace  and inspiration in the countryside here, which in a part of Ontario increasingly blanketed with graceless subdivisions, is still bucolic and lovely.

LM Montgomery's famous Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908. She wrote eleven of her 22 novels in this simple house with few conveniences and high expectations.

I've always found it interesting, though it's seldom commented upon, that although LM married Ewan Macdonald in 1911, she "kept her maiden name" (what a quaint old expression) in her published writing.

her statue in a lovely garden at the church

A really great resource if this story captures your attention, or your heart is the LMMontgomery Society of Ontario. There's tons more information there. 

And if this visit is not enough, I suggest you venture here. I suspect I will. 

Monday, June 6, 2022

The Athenaeum -

 Now THAT was fun. I discovered a fine forgotten building in Toronto not long ago, and crossed Church Street to read the magnetic (to me) blue and gold plaque. This unusual building (more on that later) bore the sign JAZZ. A jazz club, I assumed.

No, turns out to be apartments - if you hurry there are several available right now in the $1950  to $3350 range. I'm afraid I have no more information, as I was caught up in the account of the Athenaeum Club (1891) and Labour Temple (1904)

'Athenaeum' rang a bell; weren't they akin to the Mechanics' Institutes (here's a Toronto example).which offered reading rooms and technical and adult education for those men seeking social and economic betterment? Many evolved into public libraries. Institutes, not the men. And I use 'men' for reasons unfuriatingly obvious in that day. 

Here's where the fun starts. The first item in my search for Athenaeums (ae?) turned out to be one of my own. In the February 2016 issue of the newsletter of the Hastings County Historical Society (doubtless you still have the issue) I warbled on about the Atheneum in Belleville, Ontario. Modelled optimistically on the Athenaeum Club, that exclusive arts and letters club of London, England, Belleville's offered improving fare from 1859 - 1866.  Spoiler: it failed and became a skating rink. Here's a link to the Outlook article.

But back to 167 Church Street.

No, the anonymous concrete apartment tower isn't just invading personal space. It's embedded - or whatever terms one uses for the regrettable facade conservation compromise which allows for vertical expansion while maintaining the heritage features, if not the charm, of old building fronts. Lots has been written about this, but honestly, with square footage at a premium and a city multiplying itself daily, what choice?

 Without greenery, without historic context, there is too much lost. But without that preserved front, and a plaque, types like me would never know about this ornate historic appendage welded onto the strictly functional Jazz apartments.

The building was built in 1891 for the Athenaeum Club, the facade designed by Denison and King architects. The style is the rare-in-Toronto Moorish Revival, according to the plaque. Now when was the last time you enjoyed Moorish details like its intricate brickwork and Moorish windows? (The 1894 interior of Massey Hall featured Moorish arch balconies, perhaps the exotic style was associated to intellectual and cultural pursuits?) 

From 1904 to 1967, the building housed the Labour Temple, "a home to the local labour movement, and home to key debates in Canadian labour listory." Given that Jazz apartments is owned by Oxford Properties which is owned by OMERS, there's a nice resonance.

Other features noted in the heritage designation report: smooth-faced stonework at ground floor level, roundheaded windows, paired square basement windows. Some decorative metal grillework and window frame detail remains. The second and third floor feature finely detailed brickwork, with areas of raised diaper patterning. Some of the windows have flat stone lintels, others Moorish arches. The fourth floor dormer windows are set into the gambrel roof. The entrance is dignified by the windows above, and the recessed balcony with a single cast iron pillar with an exotic Moorish revival style capital. Projecting bay windows highlight the third floor facade, and a rooftop tower with chimney rises above it all. The facade features are all applied asymmetrically. 

Sadly, the eye is distracted from all this worthy detail by a nasty case of efflorescence. Perhaps for her 131st birthday, a facade polishing?