Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, January 5, 2013


If I had to live downtown anywhere, it would be downtown Port Hope.  This is a place that "gets it" about the commercial and tourism value of built heritage conservation. Although most people come here for the shops, restaurants, B&;B's and spas, most of them, unwittingly or no, are drawn to the historic character of the place. They respond to the charm, whether or not they notice a single eaves return or cast iron window surround. And always, a core group of enthusiasts continues to pilgrimage to this outstanding c.19 town.
Captain J. Wallace house, c. 1822

This c.1822 frame Georgian structure sits across from the town's sandy beach. In an earlier life, it would have been front and centre for the early days as a lakeport. It has been much altered, but the doorcase which welcomed the sea-captain home is original. You have to channel the bustling and roudy lakeport life for yourself.

I learned from Jane Ashenburg's 'Going to Town' that this frame house was a character in Jane Urquhart's evocative novel Away. It "played" the Seaman's Inn, which symbolized home for two Irish immigrants.  'Away' is one of my absolute favourite novels, conjuring. most marvellously, starving Ireland, Upper Canada lakeport settlement, settlement road tragedies and rebellious Montreal of the mid-1800's.
A little Italian palazzo- home to the Bank of Upper Canada 1857

Of course, Port Hope doesn't have masses of heritage charm because developers just missed finding it on the way out of Toronto. The town is associated with pioneers and champions of conservation: ACO powerhouses Alice King Sculthorpe, Joan and Don Rumgay and Friends.

Tom Cruikshank and Peter Stokes write often about the town's valuable built heritage...must find out if they were townies too.

The Bluestone, 1834, home of 'Century Home' for many years

a stunning Greek Revival terrace, 1852/3

Walton Street, the historic downtown was saved by the intelligent and assertive conservation advocacy of people like Alice King Sculthorpe. Although she died in 2002, her legacy lives on at the annual ACO awards.


  1. I used to go to Port Hope frequently, and always enjoyed my time there. For a built heritage fiend like myself it was a sweet way to spend some time. The Cptn. Wallace house used to have a sign on it saying it was built around 1800, but maybe thats not there anymore ?? The c.1800 date is also noted on the Historic Places website. It certainly has the massing of an early 1800´s house, and many similar structures from the same era can be found in the Kingston Peninsula area in New Brunswick.

    1. Hi Mark. It's always hard to get dates isn't it? c.1800 could well be 1820. Then of course there are additions and such. McBurney and Byers don't offer a date, but they talk about Captain Wallace, and the fact that the house "is thought to have been built for him." Registry office visit? Fact remains, it's pretty old for Ontario, and we can time travel to a pretty early point in our development just by wandering that little beach neighbourhood.

    2. Ya, didn´t mean to come off as a bean´re absolutely right, its a step back to the earliest days of the town. That link for Port Hope properties is a wonderful piece of work that escaped my ever-watchful eyes... I´ll be spending some time on it, for sure.

      Can´t emphasize enough how similar the Wallace house is to those I just mentioned in NB. The website you just noted labeled it a Loyalist structure, and that is indeed what those houses in NB are as well (c.1790-1810). Hope everyone had great´s to a great 2013 !!

  2. What a pleasure to see photos and a celebration of Port Hope, a town where I lived for many years! The preservationists in that town (and I still like to think of myself as one of their number) have moved heaven and earth to get and keep heritage-conservation efforts front of mind for the town and its residents. I know from deep personal experience how much work and uphill slogging that has been for them. So lovely to hear the indefatigable A.K. Sculthorpe, whom I remember with all the fondness in the world, evoked. And yes, to answer your question, Tom Cruickshank is a former town resident (and current resident of the general area, if I'm not mistaken) and the wonderful Peter Stokes, who over the years has done so much for Port Hope (and so many other historic Ontario towns) is now a resident too!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Katherine. I am so glad I provided a little trip to Port Hope in return for your contribution regarding the current whereabouts of these two wonderful men!