Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, October 27, 2018

'Dirty Old Town'

We fired up the turn-table recently to play an anthem from Den's youth, Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger singing Dirty Old Town. Here's a link if you'd like to sing along. Denis grew up in industrial Lincoln, UK, in a terraced house on a Coronation Street kind of street, with allotment gardens along the railway tracks, a coal gas plant at the end of the street, and a genuine stone "gasworks wall" on which a  lad could lounge, while talking cycles with his mates.

I paired the nostalgic folk song with these photos of Gananoque buildings - water, reflections, textures of peeling paint, grey rubblestone and warm hand-made brick, and regenerating wild vegetation. These husks of buildings (and others like them) once crowded the banks of this lovely river.There's drama here - a sense they're poised for something new to come. I find old industrial structures beautiful, story-tellers evoking the day when they were the engines of progress in old Ontario towns. And many of them are waiting for repurposing, communities and developers making audacious plans. Gananoque is one of those stories.

Here's what the professional builders' journal Construction Canada has to say on the topic of  "sustainable solutions for intensification (read, we need more people living downtown to keep our city vibrant.)" Actually, the architecture press is full of articles about creative adaptive reuse projects. Here's another from Archdaily, one of my favourite news feeds.

15 Clarence Street
This article features 6 great projects in Toronto. You may have followed the press about the arts hub at 401 Richmond, which almost saw Margaret Zeidler's idea of an arts collective founder, when taxes on lofts and studios at 401 became untenable.

Your community likely has some adaptive reuse successes. There are lots. Here are yet more happy endings from Vancouver.

Allow me to digress. There are many more abandoned structures than repurposing ideas, and most, arguably, could be put to good use. Here's a site which purports to be archiving these empty spaces - although it must serve 'urban explorers' well. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the urban exploration movement. (and yes, I have made my 2018 Wiki donation): "Urban exploration, often shortened as UE or urbex, and sometimes known as roof-and-tunnel hacking, is the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment."

  I met an urban explorer once. Not too many years ago I participated on an ACO-sponsored tour of every creepy nook and cranny of a dormant former ice hockey arena which has sat vacant for years, waiting for an adaptive reuse idea to catch fire. A fellow who tagged along was a self-confessed urban explorer who was happy to explain its appeal. Given that urban exploration involves trespassing into nasty and dangerous abandoned spots, the chances of my succumbing are small. This fascinating video from Business Explorer does a pretty good job of explaining the attraction, however.

Okay, the urban exploration was an aside. But that's what a lot of abandoned factory spaces have to settle for by way of attention, until the happy day that a plan such as Gananoque's begins to percolate.

A quick search of Gananoque news stories yields the 2014 consultants' report on the Riverstone Development, a  "residential rehabilitation of three former factory buildings." Turns out, the development will centre on the three buildings I photographed on a visit last year.

For the tapestry of brick and peeling paint alone I love this "early Modernist" structure at 15 Clarence Street (see the Heritage Impact Statement put together by Bray Heritage, for Brennan Custom Homes.)

The metal window dividers, shaped parapet and elusive lettering set it apart from just another abandoned building.

This was the 1912 home of the Parmenter & Bullock factory, producer of wire nails and rivets. When we parked in the lot just in front, the young attendant recounted that his grandfather had worked there.
185 Mill Street

This brick building started out in 1872 as a stone building, the St. Lawrence Woolen Mill and the Thousand Islands Carriage Factory. In 1892 the stone building was destroyed by fire, and 3 years later a brick building rises from the ashes, and sits on the ruined stone walls. Among the many tenants who have  occupied this structure over time were the McLaughlin Carriage Company of Oshawa (ancestor of General Motors) who set up here, after a fire destroyed their Oshawa plant around 1899.
And in 1938, Link who manufactured the famous flight simulators, the Link trainers, acquired the building.

Pages 20 - 24 of Appendix A of the Bray report show historic views of the factory.
stone foundation walls from 1872 stone mill
185 Mill Street

This imposing stone structure rose on the busy banks of the Gananoque River in 1871, home of the Leeds Foundry and Machine Works. Additions were constructed when the machine works merged with the Canada Nut and Bolt Company. It was being used for storage by 1947, and was later abandoned. It was in desperate shape (see pages 43-44 of the Heritage Impact statement) by 2014.
New windows and roof on this Georgian mill are signs of intent. In fact, signage on the west wall reads:   "Riverstone Sales Centre 75 King Street East."

Stay tuned.
 If you'd like some other suggestions while you wait for the fulfillment of the project, here are two.

Have a Streetview wander around the neighbourhood.

Devote some time to Appendix A which I've mentioned above. It starts at page 35 of the Riverstone report.  A Chronology of Gananoque emphasizing the Mill Street Industries, is a 50 page history of the complex, written by Dr.Jennifer McKendry, a Kingston area expert and writer on historic architecture.

St. John the Evangelist church across the river
I've talked about her books before. Were you to do a Google search for 'ancestral roofs Jennifer McKendry' you'd come up with a representative sample. I'm a huge fan.

a former industrial river gone recreational

former railway bridge now walking trail
view to the east bank

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