Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Post cards from the Edge


One golden day last October I wandered to one of my favourite spots in Picton, a charming little park on Hill Street. The little strip of green sits on the edge of a bluff which overlooks the harbour,  and unlocks so much history for anyone prepared to ponder a bit on one of the benches. Here's a peek at the spot. I told you a bit about that day, here.





I remember wondering about this uniquely shaped building, and its story. Still haven't found the opportunity to just ask around. Last night I was reminded of the structure, while rifling through my brother's collection of vintage Prince Edward County post cards.


Here it was. In a faded sepia toned post card showing "A pretty bit of Picton Harbor." [sic]. The arched roof of the main three-story section is discernible through the murk. The foreground is undeveloped, as today. Across the harbour, not visible in my photos of the day, due to the dense autumn foliage, stood Edward Young's impressive Colonial Revival 'Claramount', its Edwardian elegance perfectly repurposed as an inn and spa today.

Here are a few more images of the workmanlike little round-headed corrugated steel-clad building on the wharf. For goodness' sake, Picton people, would someone please let me know its history?




The building sits right at the water, so I'm sure it had to do with fishing, or milling, or shipment of some sort. A tree has grown up, unnoticed. It's upstream from the yacht club, not at all 'gentrified.' A stalwart.




I believe the steel building appears at right

From the docks, as I looked up and down the harbour, I felt the years roll back. I mused about the fact last November,when the landscape changed yet again. To my own early experiences, all the way back to the beginnings.





the late great Villeneuve Castle on the harbour



A few more of Eric's historic post cards, to help you on your journey.





And the way the scene appeared last fall.







There is a history portal on Hill Street, and you are invited to enter.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

And where are YOU from?

When I started this post it was the end of February, and it was raining. In torrents. The few grimy snowbanks were giving way to streams of water churning down our lawns and streets. Rivers and streams, in such jeopardy from last summer's drought, were gaining confidence again. Creeks were rising.

It was a great day to pull out photos from one of my favourite creeks, Black Creek, that tributary of the Humber which runs through a lovely old village. Which really isn't a village at all, but a heritage park not far from the intersection of Jane and Steeles in Toronto. Oh, you've guessed it. Black Creek Pioneer Village.




A virtual wander through these deliberately dusty streets has put me in a thoughtful mood about historic village parks. Now you may know I'm a big fan. Upper Canada Village and Lang Pioneer Village are two exquisite places to time-travel, and I've written about them often.

Black Creek Pioneer village was created, credit in large part to a Mr. Russell King Cooper, to be "a replica of a typical 19th century crossroads settlement in southern Ontario." Somewhere else I read it portrays life around 1867. So this could be my Canada 150 offering.


 I picked up a book by the Mika's, whom Belleville people will know, at the shop. Black Creek Pioneer Village (Natural Heritage Books, 2000) sets the scene, "a time when travel was measured in days, not hours, and when life was harder and simpler but rewarding."

The introductory passage continues, hypnotically: "As you walk down the dusty road along 'Queen Street' you find yourself drawn into the life of this pleasant little community until you become a part of it and the gentle rhythms of its activities take you back in time." (page 15) You see yourself passing the harness shop, watching an old dog in the sun, an apprentice scuttling by.


You notice ladies in sunbonnets at the general store, and wait for the stage coach at the Halfway House. You hear the school-children at play. You get the idea.

And it is lovely. And so important, for us to remember where those of us whose ancestors took up their land grants here, came from. And for school children, and folks new to the country, and urbanites, to understand the country and its agricultural roots.

But people, as lovely as it is, it is pretend.


Here's where my thoughts are taking me on this visit. Today I am thinking about provenance. Where these buildings came from. Whose they were. What were they used for? What life did they contain?

For the reality is that all but the Stong homestead (which I wrote about here) were dismantled and moved from their original locations, and restored  for educational purposes. Lovely, but almost too perfect. I'm a farm kid, remember?
I would love to know the discussions that took place in their original towns, villages, before the move. Were the structures derelict or in good condition? Why were they moved? Who was behind the plan? Was there impassioned local opposition, or grumbling about the cost of moving an old husk ready for the bulldozers? What prompted the move? Road widening, subdivision development, city encroachment?
Provenance. Some of the meaning of an artifact is contained in the story of its origins: who owned it, when, what was it used for? The provenance of these buildings has largely been lost; the story recreated. The buildings are renamed, cast in new roles to create this replica village.

I would like to know a bit of the back story. Who built them, and the communities around them? What were they like? I'm sure that some of these villages were buried as the juggernaut Toronto moved over the countryside, surviving only as a dot on the map. But I do go on.

There is only the sketchiest of information about original locations in the Village Guidebook, or the publication I've mentioned. However, I did find a great page on the Village website, which provides lots of what I was looking for.

Here's an example.

Some lovely friends recently mistook this photo for my house. I only wish. Mind you, if I had the responsibility for this c.1830 Greek Revival double house with the copper-clad  Regency awning verandah, I likely wouldn't have time to sit here and create this post.
the doctor is all in

This house originally stood in Chinguacousy township (Brampton today.) It was a farmhouse, home to two generations of a farm family. When was the last time you saw a farm in Brampton?The house was dismantled and moved in 1973, opened in 1978.

It's now playing Doctor's House, one half of the former family farm home doubling as the surgery.


Exquisitely furnished. I feel a furniture study coming on.

Mennonite Meeting House (1824)
BCPV's dignified plain Mennonite meeting house hails from Edgely, a community which was born, lived and died, at the corner of today's busy Jane Street and Highway 7.

The website recounts that it was transported, intact and original, in October 1976. Fortunate. It's the oldest meeting house in existence in Ontario.
The bright white board and batten house at left dates from c1850, Woodbridge. I recall heading out that way one summer night in 1986, needing a taste of country during my incarceration in a tower at York for a summer course. Even then, the evidence of development was everywhere. This building housed a hardware store, with a Masonic Lodge upstairs. It was moved in 1983, opened 1984. Today it interprets the tin-smithing trade.

This elegant Georgian with a surfeit of Wyatt windows was imported from Woodbridge, once called Burwick (today the house plays Burwick House, and is a one-way time travel ticket.) It was built by Rowland Burr (clearly a man of substance in town) in 1844.

Sounds like a real rescue story: "the front portion... was moved more or less intact...the kitchen wing was then reconstructed as authentically as possible." In 1958.



The lovely barn was restored to the original form. Such a sheltered spot in the ell. I remember old-style homes from my childhood, the house with kitchen tail, summer kitchen and woodshed adjoining them, maybe even a link to the drive-shed and barn complex beyond. Also remember seeing one such homestead go up in flames, as a child.
This frame Georgian style inn was built in 1849 at the intersection of Kingston Road and Midland Avenue, in Scarborough. Things were different then. The tavern would have been a Halfway House, a rest stop (and goodness knows it would have been necessary) for drivers and passengers on the stage coaches bouncing along the rudimentary roads on the  Dunbarton, Pickering, Toronto route.

The building had been changed over time, but fortunately the Village had the expertise and resources to restore it to original in 1966. Lucky us.


Joseph Baldwin built a general store and post office in Laskey, Ontario, in 1856. Imagine the buzz - the settlement had arrived!

The store evaded demolition and took refuge at the Village in 1960. The website describes the scholarship involved in returning the store to 1845. Love the boom-town front and the sloping roof verandah.

This red brick schoolhouse, with the his and hers doors, round headed windows with tracery, the wide shallow pitched roof, special brick work in voussoirs and quoins, and modillions under the eaves, doesn't resemble the typical one-room schoolhouse in our area - like the one I attended.

Perhaps it's standard issue in Markham area; this is the 1861 Dickson's Hill School, S.S.#17. The local hand-made bricks were moved one by one, and rebuilt at BCPV in 1960.

And of course, there's the story of Roblin's Mill, from my neighbourhood of Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County. Told the story back in 2015. Still a good read.




There are so many more exquisite buildings with stories to share. Maybe another time.
So. See you next time you're in the village?