Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Armchair Traveller - I'll take you there

Winter, they tell us, is on the way out. Summer campsites are booked, old house touring plans are forming up. My winter of unbridled reading has resulted in three read, five new titles added.

One very great pleasure of reading is arm-chair travelling, and this book which I picked up for two dollars at our library used (read discarded) book store was just the ticket.

The book is called Buildings: A Traveller's Guide. It was written by architecture prof Richard Reid and published by Michael Joseph Limited of London (1980). I have tried everything to contact the writer or the publisher to get permission for what I am about to tell you (but even without permission they cannot question my motives - which are to get all of you to run to your favourite used bookseller and pick up this book!)

Buildings features text and illustrations about 3500 historic buildings, organized by country, region and architectural tradition. It's recommended for the traveller, though at almost 500 pages it might be a bit heavy. But what a great resource for planning, and for background information.

Let me tell you what happened when I delved into this book. I went through what I will call the Armchair Traveller's four stages of acceptance.

First stage - Consternation. "Oh, no, there aren't enough years (or dollars) for me to see all of these places. And I must, I simply must!"

Second stage - Consolation. "Oh well, there are loads of ways for me to enjoy these places - outstanding documentaries and DVD's, books, websites, courses.
me at the Forum, Pompeii

Third stage - celebration. " Well, we have been to a goodly number of these astonishing places". My bookshelves are filled with tourist guides and souvenir volumes from dozens of spots in England
Europe and North America. Time to have another look.

Fourth - Determination. Make a plan to cross places off the must see list. "We will go to Rome. We will spend a week immersed in the incredible complexity of this ancient city and its buildings from the Roman era to the present."

Denis has been there, and he is determined that we will get those tickets in the next year or two.

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice
This is silly but I have to say it. Sorry Richard Reid. Something about the exquisite black and white drawings takes me back to those activity and sticker books of our childhood. Something makes me want to hand-colour the drawings of places I have seen, or find the corresponding colourful sticker to place on its outline. And that makes me want to post a few more photos and copy a few more of these incredible pencil renderings of the world of architecture.

St. Anthony Padua

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence

And to emulate my lovely blogger friend Katherine, I have provided you with a link to a song.  I loved singing this when I spent a year with Georgette Fry's 'Shout Sister' choir. It's called I'll Take You There. And Mavis will.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mill Ends

 Yesterday we heard the sad news that The Old Stockdale Mill Restaurant - yes, in Stockdale, a few minutes north of Trenton in a most scenic location - is closing. Owner Peter Sutton had a vision for this lovely spot, and he made it work for a while.

 Many regulars made the deck by the millpond their summer home. Others came for special event dinners and great music. But it's been a hard winter - for trees, for animals, for people! - and for restaurants.

 I was fortunate to meet Peter and tell his mill story in the Winter 2012 issue of County and Quinte Living magazine.

A browse through this photo essay shows how smitten I was with the place. Enjoy a little more time here.

And check out Peter's farewell message, and pass on his offer for sale.

 There will be someone out there for whom this is their next best place to be.

So thanks Peter Sutton - for the memories. For the vision and hard work. Sorry we let you down. Sorry so sorry to see you go. Exit to the rising strains of one more chorus of "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

Monday, March 31, 2014

the story of a great Canadian magazine

The subtitle of this post could read "I may be the only person alive who finds this interesting, but since it's my blog..."

I've mentioned a few times Judith's incredible gift of many many issues of the fine Canadian old house publication Century Home. I have been working my way through the collection, highlighting articles for my research (and to read because they're just so darned interesting, as they reveal the evolution of our relationship with our heritage homes and domestic furnishings), from the Premiere Issue March-April 1983, through its decline (imho) into a 'décor trends' magazine, and eventual demise, in the way of so many fine and important Canadian magazines.

As old popular press and films do, the magazines also reflect a change in who we are: what advertising worked on us, what photography we found interesting (yes, early issues had some black and white photos still), what we thought our homes - and ourselves should look like. Oh indeed, there were plenty of big-haired gals in country peasant-wear and Victorian ruffles in early issues.


One morning recently, I spread the collection over every surface in my living room. My goal was to remove all duplicate issues, both to reduce the number I have stacked in my research pile and to make possible a trickle-down to some other old house nut. As I scanned the array, checking for doubles (which became as obsessive as a jig-saw puzzle), I began to notice different title styles. The magazine started as Canada Century Home. By the 1990's it claimed to be Canada's Magazine for Traditional and Country Living and by 1998 it was Canada's Magazine for Today's Traditional Home. Another change and by 2001 it was Canada's Magazine of Country Living and Style.

I would love to have been a cluster fly on the plaster, as editorial and layout discussions took place over the years. Joan Rumgay started out as editor, working from the family home in Port Hope. The impressive Tom Cruickshank guided the magazine from 1985 to 1997. Mrs. Rumgay reappeared as editor in chief in 1998, leading a talented group of contributing editors and by 2001 Erin McLaughlin took over. On her watch, Century Home evolved into a decorating magazine, with  stylish photography and clever tips on how to 'get the country look'. Fewer historic home visits, little heritage preservation sensitivity, limited Ontario town and family history, less information about architecture and furniture, no book reviews - less authentic somehow. Ryerson Review of Journalism (see link below) chided the magazine's earlier incarnations for their "rather limited focus on older homes." It's called Century Home, people, what would you expect!?

Erin was at the beginning of an impressive editorial career. By 2010 she became the "style savvy editor in chief" for Style at Home and Canadian Gardening. (Masthead's words). Erin brought her style savvy to CH - it's hard to explain the subtle changes, but I know that I fell out of love with it.

Here's what Ryerson Review of Journalism said on the matter the summer of 2002: "Century Home, now helmed by Erin McLaughlin, a former House and Home staffer, was repositioned in February 2001 as a rurally-oriented alternative to the more urban style of both House and Home and Style at Home." Despite very little experience in the trade, McLaughlin was hired "to create an entirely new identity for the sagging Century Home. Once a magazine for the genteel 50-plus rural Ontario woman, Century Home has morphed into a bona fide 21st century shelter book complete with clean modern lines and trendy décor. House and Home gone country, some might say." Ick. Here's the rest of the article.

Under Erin's leadership the magazine more than doubled its circulation in the first year. But where is it now? I wonder if there was more interest in the authentic and historical than the publishers suspected. Because that's how they lost me.

Premiere issue, March-April 1983
For the last word on this tribute to a great lost magazine, I offer publisher/editor Joan Rumgay's thoughts from the premiere issue, March/April 1983: "In all fairness, Century Home is not just a magazine about homes, it is a frame of mind. It is an appreciation of today's living but a freedom from the rush. It is a feeling of warmth and beauty; it is a desire for simplicity and serenity; it is a love of character and individuality; it is a sharing of information and experiences."

And as every last word begs for a post-script:
One very nice discovery in my exploration was several issues in which Diane Brisley features, writing about blanket boxes, wood-graining, stencilling and other decorative arts. Diane and John appear a number of times, as Tom Cruickshank followed their old house restoration journey from Peterborough to Bath to Centreville and finally to Prince Edward County. I got to visit them earlier this endless winter; the account of our visit will be in the Spring issue of County and Quinte Living.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Heating it up with the Victorians

Glanmore (National Historic Site - 1883)
Maybe it's the relentless cold that has persisted for the past N months. Whatever it is, I have been enjoying thinking and photographing and reading and writing about places of fire - open hearth cooking fireplaces, beehive bake ovens, cast and sheet iron stoves, fireplace mantels of a variety of eras and styles. One thing is certain, when we get to the late 1800's, we get some of the most elegant fireplace mantels in the known world. Nobody outdid the Victorians in sheer exhuberant elegant excess.
north drawing room

These seven fireplaces are at Glanmore. Originally fitted out as gas or coal-burning fireplaces, they  augmented a convection heating system which utilized two basement fireplaces.

the dining room
The Victorian fireplace bears little resemblance to its hard-working cooking hearth cousins. Although it was less essential as a heating source (and never called upon  for cooking), the fireplace served as picturesque nostalgia, representing home, an important Victorian value, and hospitality - and was a fine place for pater familias to prop an elbow during after dinner port and cigars. It was certainly an excellent spot for your Parian ware, your cloisonné, glassware and painted china, candelabra and lustres and feather floral arrangements under bell jars, all arranged on decorative mantel scarves or lambrequins.

the library

And in that Victorian way of bigger is better, heavily ornamented overmantels with mirrors and shelves make an appearance. Although marble mantels were common by Victorian times, Glanmore's rooms have intricately carved mantels of mahogany and other woods, with applied decoration.  Several have arched openings and cast iron grate inserts while others are rectangular. Imported ceramic tiles surround the fireplaces in the dining room and billiard room; the breakfast room has hand-painted velvet panels.

Toronto furniture-makers Jacques and Hay, the Canadas' most prestigious firm from 1835-70, managed to break the gentry's preference for imported furniture with their fine machine produced walnut furniture, known for its high gloss and quality (dictionary Canadian Biography). I believe the elaborate overmantel in the dining room was fashioned by Jacques and Hay. I found a meticulous academic source on the company - a University of Ottawa doctoral thesis by Denise Jacques dated 2010. And I have Ruth Cathcart's book about the company on my wish list with Abebooks.
billiard room - a cut above

faux painted surround

breakfast room mantel - room restoration underway

For additional information about this amazing house, visit the website or pay Glanmore a visit!

I'll end on a nod to one of my favourite sources, Tom Cruickshank and his article Home Fires in the October-November 1986 issue of Century Home magazine.

Journeys with John - Second Empire

Cox Terrace (Canada's Historic Places)
It's been a while since I journeyed between the covers of that esteemed guide to Ontario Architecture by John Blumenson. My trip to Peterborough rekindled my interest, not for what I was able to capture, but what I was not, given the failing of light and energy to explore P'boro's rather peripatetic street layout. That building was the rare Second Empire terrace (row) structure Cox Terrace on Rubidge Street. Might be better to wait for a bit of greenery to cheer the scene; I seem to recall the last time I saw the building, it was a bit sad. And I'm happy to wait for my spring visit.

So, for a bit of Second Empire styling. In keeping with the premise of this series, and to ensure absolute veracity, I use only photos which Mr. B. selected for his book. (In a 'companion series' for the blog, which I intend to title 'Wish you were here', I will include other examples of the form which appeal especially to me.)

 This imposing red brick Second Empire home in Mallorytown has all the requisite bits: mansard roof, eyebrow dormers set into the roof to light the third floor, cornice and brackets, plain segmentally arched windows and a tower set centrally between projecting bays. Wonder if the roof is the original slate, or replacement shingles? The boxy white vestibule doesn't do a thing for it (aside from keeping north winds from hurtling into the front hall).

The local history Fact, Folklore and Fiction: The History of Mallorytown, provides the name 'Doctor's House', so dubbed because its late 1880's builder was Dr. Joseph W. Lane. The name stuck although the only other doctor in the house didn't take up residence until 1946.
Blumenson describes the sombre stone version above as "an excellent example of the formal but towerless version of the Second Empire style that most often served as a town or city dwelling" and draws attention to the "balanced facade of Classical details" and iron cresting, along with the obligatory mansard roof. This house sits across from the park at the corner of  King and Simcoe streets, a few steps from the lakeshore. Magnificent.

And everyone's favourite Second Empire haughty lady, the exquisitely restored Glanmore National Historic Site on Bridge Street in Belleville. For a closer look visit the Glanmore website, or even better come for a visit.

Imagine when this house sat on a wooded property that stretched east to Dufferin, and all the way south to Dundas Street?

Friday, March 28, 2014

an afternoon in East City

Verulam (1877)
 Peterborough Ontario has a lot of layers for me. When I was five years old I spent several months there, with my lovely English war-bride aunt and her husband, my bombastic uncle, in their tiny Victory wartime house, while my mother struggled with illness prior to the birth of my little brother.
Engleburn House (1853) - and it's for sale!
There I sampled city delights such as venturing too far afield on scorching sidewalks in my little bare feet, and being overwhelmed with shyness at the Kindergarten down the street, which I attended with my dear wild cousin Terry; I recall trying to string large wooden beads in primary colours, onto a frayed and uncooperative shoe lace. My uncle's wonderful garden of scarlet runner beans, the huge high swing I jumped from in my do we remember such tiny things, from such a long distance?
Another English immigrant, my husband, was taken to the bosom of a Peterborough family when he arrived during an unexpected savage winter in 1970. Although the family was lovely, he was unimpressed with the distinct lack of English pubs or the attendant cameraderie...and shocked with the Canadians' proclivity to fighting after partaking in a few pints.

Henry Calcutt House (1866)
Peterborough has a fascinating history. It was founded as Scott's Plains in 1818 by Adam Scott, who built the requisite mill complex. In1825 the place received an infusion of 1,878 Irish immigrants from the city of Cork; the town was renamed in honour of Peter Robinson, a politician who sponsored the immigration scheme. Peterborough has lived through the glory days of the Peterborough Canoe Company, Outboard Marine, and Quaker Oats in full production. But now, and despite clear evidence to the contrary, Peterborough is often described as down at the heels, with high unemployment, a sluggish economy and a dying downtown (same could be applied to most of our towns and cities at some time or another.)
The Pines (1877)
Fortunately, last weekend we travelled to visit that lovely war bride aunt, now in her 92nd year, and going strong. She ably assumed the navigator's seat, and saw us about the town, in search of some leafy neighbourhoods (well, the potential is there), and some stately homes, in the former Ashburnham Village, which was founded in 1859 and annexed to Peterborough (on the more prestigious west side, or so thought the westerners) in 1909.
According to Canada's Historic Places Peterborough boasts 50 properties worth a close look. And despite the bitter wind, my camera and I made the acquaintance of a goodly number, while husband and aunt sat in a warm car and chatted. In one short late afternoon we found Italianate, Ontario Gothic Farmhouse, Second Empire and British Classical styles in beautiful condition in the 'East City'.

Grover-Nicholls House (1846)
Once back west of the river, the Greek Revival glory of the Grover-Nicholls house was the day's final hurrah. The shadows were lengthening,the temperature dropping, so my camera and I sought the companionable warmth of my little car filled with loved ones.