Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

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?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Paper Chase

Some time ago, I received a most remarkable gift from a friend. It was a small treasure among a number inherited from a dear aunt, chosen with me in mind. How perfectly lovely. It's quite an artifact. It's a sheet of Prince Edward County Heritage Paper. Suitable for wrapping a copy of  The Settler's Dream for impressive gifting.

The nameless individual who created these fine renderings is identified onlyby S.A.H. Design; the work is dated 1983. 

Now in 1983 I was living in Grand Forks, B.C. and my interest in Ontario heritage architecture was germinating between the covers of my copy of  The Settler's Dream, a gift from my mother, on a trip 'back east' 

I recall our exit from PEC, beginning yet another drive across our beloved country, the book on my knee, tears streaming down my face as I identified one after another of the homes Cruikshank and Stokes had recorded. Leaving my red brick town - and heritage - behind until our permanent return to Ontario in 1985. 

On many photo junkets through my home county since then, I have captured so many of these worthy structures, and pored over their beauty and history. This is fun. Like a sticker book. Pair the photo with these wonderful renderings, created to celebrate the rich architectural history of this place. And please, someone, let me know who the talented S.A.H. might be?  

And so on. You get the idea.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Morituri te Saluant

It's taken a bit of time on Streetview and other odd places to track down this neo-Gothic building and its history. Now I can say I know its past. Its future is more in doubt. This is 51 Bond Street, whose life was tied up in this alteration plan in 2018. So far, no good.

Next I unearthed the 2009 designation bylaw. It dignifies the boarded-up, windows-smashed dereliction of the place with some great detail. 

This Streetview capture, taken within the past couple of years (note careful pedestrians with face masks) shows the house's position at the corner of Bond and Shuter Streets. Given its location across the street from St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica  I at first assumed it belonged to the holdings of the archdiocese.

Metropolitan United Church 1872
 (rebuilt after a fire in 1929)
But no. In fact this boarded up structure belongs - or belonged?  - to Metropolitan United Church at 56 Queen Street East. It's the 1906 Metropolitan United Church Parsonage.

The late Doug Taylor's astonishing website Historic Toronto contains the history of the first Cathedral of Methodism near Toronto's tony (in the day) Jarvis Street residential neighbourhood .

I am feeling a sense of loss, having just wandered onto Doug's site, to find the notice that he died of cancer in 2020. Yet another significant soul lost that year. Doug's executor has found a home for his work, now housed with BlogTO. They post his incomparable Toronto history items from time to time. 

north side

Photo from the parking lot across from Jazz Apartments on Church Street. So much 'potential.'

Seen from the southeast corner, towers looming behind  its still dignified human-scaled late Medieval detail. Old trees, once in leaf, will dignify the graffiti and posters on the hoarding surrounding it.

So, old friend. I salute you. I will look for you when next I visit your town.

Layered Look

 An offering of views that caught my eye -  captured, but not ennobled, by a 5 year old Android phone on a mostly dull (weather, that is) Toronto weekend.

I've written before about the visual treat that a large city is for me - easy when my vantage point is a quiet spot, my schedule contains only peaceful enjoyments. The mix of styles, materials, ages of buildings creates a rich texture, a tapestry, which I love. I didn't bother to caption these - if you know Toronto even as well as I, you will recognize these buildings and perhaps take a moment to enjoy the patchwork with me.

This view of the instantly recognizable 1891 Gooderham Building ( history ) was taken from an Old Town walkabout in 2017, in the fullness of spring. Like the St. Lawrence Market it keeps its head above water in the maelstrom of  a burgeoning modern city in the original 10 blocks of historic York, here in Old Town Toronto.


As anticipated, my first visit to Toronto since the death of my dearest travelling companion, and two years in hiding during the tempest of Covid, was an emotional journey. But a great one, doing what I love most in this great city - walking. (Well there was that afternoon at the AGO, and La Traviata at the light-filled Four Seasons Centre.) From my delightful bolthole at the friendly and efficient Hilton DoubleTree, 'my' Toronto was at my feet. The opera? A short ten minute walk off-street - and that's counting reading ubiqitous plaques. 

The texture of Toronto - walls of towers oppressive yet appealing, their variety of design and material creating a rich tapestry which never fails to delight me. And occasionally, leaved between all that glass and masonry, there will be something on a smaller scale, of earthier materials, quieter somehow, emitting a different energy, surely an invitation to time travel. Something from 1850, say, or thereabouts. Seeing the city before its many trees burst into leaf, bleak on this grey day, focussed attention on these little islands in all the city haste, and wonderfully, revealed secret places usually hidden in treetops.

This day, this walk, enabled me a new view of a favourite place. I found it in another life, fleeing the overload of yet another download of new stuff from the Ministry in the overwrought Mowat Block on Bay Street, then escaping the intensity of a fast-walk along Bay Street. Trinity Square. 

Since then, I have been drawn many times to this square. It's a portal to another age, evoking the power of the ancient labyrinth. It makes an homage to past building and natural history - Taddle, one of Toronto's buried creeks, arches recalling an early Eaton's structure. I found a 1908 photo of men hand-digging the foundation for the Eaton's warehouse, hard by the side of the church.

Many photos exist of a later incursion, when the entire church complex of three early buildings was saved from extinction during the ambitious 1977 insertion of the Eaton's Centre, built around and not over the square, thanks to  passionate opposition by heritage groups.

Despite all this city, and history, peace of a sort reigns here. This 1847 church, built on what was once farm fields and swampland has been a radical church from the beginning. The church appears to have been  endowed by an Englishwoman who was shocked at the inequity of  pew rentals - costs which prohibited those without means, access to church services. Ironically, the church continues its ministry to the inner city poor, cheek by jowl with that icon of posh shopping, the Eaton Centre. I  keep getting the image of the poor huddled outside the castle, the moneychangers in the temple.

marble mosaic, broken in rage that the homeless die
amidst all this wealth

Holy Trinity's social justice mission is expressed more eloquently than I can do on their home page.

Here are two comprehensive accounts of  the rich history of Holy Trinity - the incomparable Taylor on History, and that of  Blog TO, which has taken over the archive of  Doug Taylor's lifetime of work, and publishes his accounts from time to time. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Fair Day on Faraday

Monck Road
I'm forever on about the stories old houses can tell. This past fall, based in a comfortable rental on Baptiste Lake north of Bancroft, I was reminded once again that old roads also have the power to take us back in time. No matter how widened and well-surfaced they are - true of most of the back-roads I explored, although the blind hills and corners cancel out any feelings of security - the impenetrable forest bordering them recalls the experience of new European arrivals determined to make a stand, and a better life for their descendants.

Baptiste Lake 
  I have written about the area on several occasions. 
 Should you be in any way interested, you might  search the blog for Old Hastings Road. Here's   a starting point.

The week in the Hastings Highlands included daily back-roads drives and regular hikes. I finally visited all the communities on all the roads we'd had to postpone visiting, on our regular commutes between Belleville and North Bay, prior to our own settling here on the Front years ago. Evocative names, and roads, and heaps of  history. Today  rural hideaways and cottages of all sizes replace the settlers' hand-hewn homes and hopeful barns of the mid-1800s.

What links all these roads and experiences and the history of the area together for me is an exceptional book. I've read  Your Loving Anna, by Anna Leveridge half dozen times, and given away copies. Should you want to spend several hours in the shoes (and hopeful heart) of English settlers transplanted into the bush near Coe Hill in the early 1880s, this is the book for you. The book consists mostly of letters written by Anna Leveridge from her shack in the forest, to her mother at home in England. Despite the struggles and privations of her life, it is a hopeful and joyful read. Can you say, character?

Lower Faraday School
On my final day, my return trip to the city (one might think I was delaying the inevitable, and one might be correct) I travelled several northern settlement history rabbit-holes - Lower Faraday Road, the Ridge Road, and the Old Hastings Road (the section between McGeachie Lake Road and Ormsby (where I stopped for a chat with Lillian at the Old Hastings Mercantile... and a bit of restorative retail therapy.)

Incidentally, I met Lillian years ago while I was writing for Country Roads magazine; editor Nancy Hopkins had asked me for an article on General Stores. The issue came out in 2012 Sadly, Nancy died earlier this year, and the magazine is no longer. A sad loss, both of a great magazine and of a much-loved champion of Hastings County.

Lower Faraday Road, deep forest
Lower Faraday Methodist Church

On the road again, I  came upon the Lower Faraday School. At some optimistic time in the more recent past it was converted to community use, but is again abandoned.  

At the intersection of White Church Road and Lower Faraday, I came upon this humble white frame church. I read somewhere that it had been used as a community library in more recent time. Imagine the hopes and efforts of the fledgling community, building this simple structure to house their deep faith in God and the future.

now would you call this historic beauty The Gut?
Towards the end of my drive I travelled The Ridge, a surprising little area of prosperous farms and an active church, south of Coe Hill.  I'd like to show you the route I took, but the intrepid Streetview camera people decided not to take this road, which, incidentally got me to The Gut, a much more scenic spot than the name would suggest, and onward by a bit of crossroads sleuthing, to The Ridge and beyond. 

I love just motoring on, uninterrupted by map consultations, until I discover for myself how roads connect and assemble my own mental map - ah, this is a familiar place just off Highway 62! So, since I'd come upon them,  I walked the trails at the McGeatchie Conservation area on Steenburg Lake. I first visited in 2012 with Dave Golem, local councillor and McGeatchie CA enthusiast,  on another assignment for Country Roads.

And all dreams end in cemeteries. The Lower Faraday pioneer cemetery dated 1893, was restored by St. Michael's Anglican church of Coe Hill and others, and rededicated in 1980.

I fear that these road memories may be out of chronological north to south order.  But should you wish to retrace my route, I can recommend another fine book, which I learned about on this trip.

Before I left on my Baptiste Lake sojourn, I contacted area poet Kathy Figueroa, whom I met in my Al Purdy A-frame Association volunteer days; Kathy read at the first Purdy Picnic back in 2014.

 I suspected she might know if there were a book about the area, a sort of back roads driving tour resource. And Kathy did. She recommended Touring the Past by Bob Lyons. Published by KirbyBooks, a fine local publisher of area history, and written by a well-known Bancroft Times columnist and author with an eye for history, the book made for delightful reading, and proved a great guiidbook. I recommend it! I picked up my copy at Bancroft's deservedly famous Ashlie's Books.

So, now you have all you need for your trek to the near North. Since Baptiste Lake has already called a time or two, we may run into each other (ahem) on one of the back roads of North Hastings County next summer.

Land o' Goshen

1905 Goshen Evangelical Lutheran Church

 "Land o' Goshen!" Look it up. An old-fashioned expression, a "mild exclamation of surprise, alarm, dismay, annoyance or exasperation." The kind of thing you'd expect to hear Mayberry's Aunt Bea say. It derives somehow from the biblican Land of Goshen, the region in Egypt inhabited by the Israelites until the Exodus. And Goshen is the original name of this church in a fascinating "lost village" in the Abbotsford area of B.C. 

So says On this Spot, a wonderfully researched site devoted to this tiny old village, since absorbed by sprawling Abbotsford. The village of Matsqui.

Layers on layers of B.C. history pass unnoticed, as one drives the flat river bottom land en route to other pleasures. Like the charming and historic - and restored - village of Clayburn with which friends Meg and Tom delighted us  on our visit to them and their province, nearly five years ago. How can it be? 

This post was a draft in my new series from early this year, when the Covid travel famine forced me to mine for virtual road trip material in journeys from another time, with my travelling companion who made his own last voyage not long before. So. This makes me happy. And sad. To remember his infinite patience with photo junkets filled with "oh, can we drive down there!" "Oh, will you follow me in the car?...I just want to walk through that lane..." Whatever will I do without my getaway car driver?

the mighty Fraser
The visit with Tom and Meg was special in so many ways - and notable for walks. Walks along the dyke holding back the mighty Fraser, visits to a Chilliwack heronry. Walks along a mossy ferny cedar-scented neighbourhood stream. Walks among towering azaleas at a hillside monastery.

Stay with me, as I remember how to write again.

This is a post about a place people drive through daily without noticing, a place of spreading subdivisions and shrinking village presence. The village of Matsqui  has been absorbed in the municipal sense by the sprawling city of  Abbotsford - absorbed and disappeared.

1914 Matsqui Hotel
It's difficult to get a feel for life in today's Matsqui, much less the thriving little community of 120 years ago. A walk through town helps. A visit to a great website with  then and now photos and good commentary aids and abets. Matsqui seemed a familiar name from my Vancouver days, but U couldn't place it until a bit of searching revealed Matsqui....ah, that Matsqui. The one with the Federal medium-security prison; I once drove a neighbour there to visit her husband, in another life.

once the commercial centre of town

Then, as until recently,  I had no knowledge of the traditional keepers of this area. The Sto:lo people who lived lightly on the land and river in the valley were forced out by European settlers in the mid-1800s, in that way we colonizers had. Their ancestral lake and wetland territory with its abundant cedar and salmon economy was drained for agriculture, and their free and proud life disappeared. In a tragic irony, Sumas Lake is now reclaiming the territory this month. Important to read the entire story at the website I have provided links to; it's not pretty but one we must learn.

The  Norwegians played a role in the colonization of the area. The On This Spot site tells their story in detail. But for an abridged version: it's the same story of hope and struggle told by immigrants everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of Scandanavians caught 'Canada fever' in the 1890s to 1900. They left their harsh lot at home and started over again in the Canadian west. Their roots took hold in the fertile Fraser Valley, and many of their descendants live there still.

typical Matsqui clapboard
I'll leave you with a few views of wet-wool cloud, rain-nurtured ever-green grass and moss upholstering the old walls of the village. 
in 1915, the Patterson Blacksmith Shop

On this wander down St. Olaf Street, named after the patron saint of Norway, you'll see many of the places I've shown you, captured by the bigger technology of the Streetview folks. 

former Post Office

So...this post  which has sat waiting since February asks to be written, Now that our hearts and minds turn to the flooded farms of the Fraser Valley, I revisit these photos and those carefree days when my love and I travelled the area with Abbotsford friends Tom and Meg.

 Hearts are breaking everywhere there.