Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Post - Parham


Well, it's been a while, folks.

And you may not know that, even now. Just this moment, I logged onto this blog for the first time in a very long time, to learn that Feedburner is going away. Feedburner was the magic that notified you of the arrival of another post on this blog. Clearly, I have not kept them busy enough of late, and they have become discouraged. Perhaps you, too, have given up looking for new old news. 

Well, I'm back. Feedburner, not so much. The name slays me - I remember our father, ever the practical farmer,  calling pleasure horses hayburners. Feedburner conjures up an old nag with one of those feedbags over its nose. 

Which is all I have to say about all of that.

Parham is quite another matter. This horrible 'time' we have endured together for the past 16 months has created its share of tension and mental anguish, leading to some tragic stories which have not received much attention. Nor have the people impacted by the tragedies, so intent have we been on the need to distance and stay well.

I was looking for Parham stories and came across, not for the first time, the outstanding local online paper the Frontenac News. If you follow this link you will arrive at an account of the saddest event to hit Parham, perhaps ever. I won't retell the senseless and violent episode that changed Parham's pretty historic streetscape, and many if not all of the inhabitants of the village, forever. I'll just say that the photos of the 1887 St. James Anglican church that I took on my visit 7 years ago represent a view that you will no longer enjoy as you drive through the village. The red brick manse and the church were destroyed by fire in June 2020. 

Nor will you enjoy this view captured by Streetview, and not yet changed. Hope they don't revisit. At least the locals will have that. The event broke so many hearts. There's even a fine song written by Greg Tilson of the Kingston-based group The Gertrudes, performed by the group and supported by guest artists like Georgette Frye and members of the Kingston Symphony, among others. The well-produced video can be found at this last link I've posted. A fine project to lift dashed spirits.

So, I will share with readers who might come across this post, these photos. Parham has a special association for me. I once stayed at  the red and white house, summer retreat of a family whose scion I was dating. This was years and years before I found the true love of my life, and my travelling companion for 44 years, whom I lost last December.

So, July 2021. I'm on the road again. Don't wait for Feedburner to tell you I've enjoyed another village with interesting architectural history. You'll wait a long time.

Monday, February 22, 2021


 Yesterday morning ArchDaily, one of my architecture news feeds, featured a look at Brutalist Belgrade, seen through the lens of Alexey Kozhenkov. Nothing warm and fuzzy about these strictly functional neighbourhood blocks of undressed concrete. Very 'Eastern Bloc'. 

I am rather fond of Brutalist architecture. To develop your own affection, you might visit Shannon Kyles' website OntarioArchitecture. Here's a link to her chapter on Brutalism. The key concepts are emphasis on form and texture, windowless expanses of concrete bearing the forthright marks of the wooden forms from which it emerged after curing.

Brutalism is a child of the 60s, although it emerged in the 1950s during post-war reconstructiom projects in UK. People either love it or hate it. There's that association with utilitarian, low-cost, socialist ideas, which explains its staying power in the former Soviet union. As Shannon notes, it's also popular with universities.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the old National Arts Centre in Ottawa, that "fortress for culture" which raised eyebrows in 1969 when its raw concrete form and texture was being revealed from behind the wooden forms. I recall the outdoor terraces, pebble-surfaced asymmetrical shelves topped with planters,  cafes sheltering under the heavy concrete eyebrows. The canal-side main entrance was hidden, a low-ceilinged space reminiscent of a back entrance refuse bin location. Once inside the visitor could get further lost in low-ceilinged hallways and mazes of rough concrete open stairways. Could stir "I'm not worthy" feelings among culture seekers, it was that imposing. Ah, but the performance spaces were wonders. And despite its dourness, I loved it all.

When LOML and I were last in Ottawa, on a cycling trip from a campsite well outside of town, I snapped a couple of photos of the remaining Brutalist presence. But much of what I knew and loved was gone. In a highly celebrated $110 million dollar project, the exterior and interior spaces have been transformed by glass, gold-toned aluminum and pale wood. A glass tower, its surfaces embedded with LEDs for video projections (ermmm) has been added. What the world needs is more flickering screens, writ large.

Another favourite architecture online news source, DeZeen, describes the transformation, inside and out, with lush photos. You'll want to have a look.

The new design opens up views of Parliament Hill and invites light in; it seems more inclusive, bright  and inviting, more a gathering place. Less a ticket-holders only sort of spot.

A 2017 article in Capital Modern echoes my resistance to yet another glass building refurb: "..the same imperatives are shaping every type of public building...Make it open and informal. Make it bright. Add cafes. What if, 50 years from now, every public building is a glass pavilion...What if cloistered, dramatic public spaces are again in vogue?" I intend to heed the invitation to explore in person, as soon as I may.  Fifty years on, not so likely.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

My Canadian Cousin

Today I began sorting through photo files from our travels of the past few years. Part of the motivation is the frustrated travel urge, the pandemic having severed a life-giving connection with the outer world. So we'll just have to be satisfied, for a bit longer, with looking back and looking forward. The other, deeper reason for the research is the need to be in touch with places that call back to mind great fun, adventure, discovery and love, a response to the loss in December, of my dear travelling companion of 44 years.

This post takes me back to the historic canal village of Shardlow, Derbyshire. 

view from our bedroom window

 We stayed here at the beginning of our travels in England and Ireland in the spring of 2019. Shardlow is a fascinating place, an inland port central to the nation's commerce since the time of the Domesday book.  Given my passion for canals (if you're so inclined, search the blog for canal posts) it was inevitable that I fell in love with Shardlow and its history. Given that we stayed in the village over a week with dear cousin Elaine, inveterate traveller, walker and student of the wider world, we had the opportunity to wander the towpaths of this ancient canal town, and to get to know its distinguished architecture first-hand.

As one might expect in historic Britain, Shardlow history is well-documented. A walking tour map is posted on the breezy bridge, with details on many of the converted warehouses and grand houses that make the village unique. In 1770, the Trent and Mersey Canal was completed; Shardlow was the point where goods were transferred between carriers on the Trent River, to the narrow boats moving things about on the  midlands canal network. The picturesque narrow boats, both restored antiques and newly manufactured, are a delight. The canal shipping era created great wealth and lovely homes.

A canal-side home caught my eye, Broughton House. Broughton House was built around 1790, by the scion of one of the well-off masters of canal commerce. It's situated on the old London Road (doesn't that conjur up the dashing arrival of coaches and fours?) and had some interesting history. Here's your chance to travel the London road via Streetview. Once you've had a good look at Broughton House, stay for a wander. It's a fascinating village. I'll share some other house stories sometime soon.

The Broughton House's three-bay facade is, not surprisingly, of fine ashlar, the back is in red brick. Stone window surrounds, a stone band course at basement level. Hipped slate roof, ashlar side-wall chimneys. Steps lead up from the gate and stone wall (itself with heritage status) to what one source calls 'a Tusan porch.'  This video shot at a rather breathless pace by a rather breathless realtor, gives a glimpse of high ceilings with plaster cornices, fireplaces, reeded wood detailing, and a wonderful staircase.

Video 2 offers a slightly more adoring look.

Even the wall has history. It's a Grade II listed element, built in the early 1800s of brick with stucco, stone copings. The original iron gate with lantern arch above completes the perfection.

Broughton House recalled a particular favourite in Niagara on the Lake here at home. The similarity resonated as we had spent a delightful time at NOL the previous year, when cousin Elaine visited with us. Each home boasts upright Georgian symmetry, although the materials are different, and elliptical Neoclassical elements. But the detail that caught my eye was the blind arches around the windows. Why, why? But it's stayed with me, so might as well share it. A challenge to the bricklayer's or stonemason's skills, I would think.

I just relived my first meeting with the 1820s MacDougal-Harrison  house in NOL (and you can too, here.) Isn't the facade a thing of orderly beauty?

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Suddenly Last Summerhill


I've visited this lovely spot in Kingston many times, and wrote about it here 6 years ago. Some of the photos I borrowed for that post have disappeared, as it turns out, so it's time to retell the story. But I did a pretty good job on that post, so I encourage you to have a look.

This is Summerhill, the oldest building on the Queen's University campus, a graceful Neoclassical villa built as home for George Okill Stuart, Anglican Arch-deacon, in 1839. Remarkably old. Changed over time, but in recent years, much restored and nicely maintained. 

The image at right is from an interpretive panel installed since my last visit. Summerhill's pure Palladian form, (here's one now) a central block with flanking pavilions and linking colonnaded porches, is evident in this 1858 drawing.

Folks must have felt fortunate indeed when in 1854, the home was acquired by the still new and struggling Queen's College, established in 1848 by Royal Charter issued by Queen Victoria. Queen's was the work of the Presbyterians of Upper Canada, desirous of a College for the education of Presbyterian ministers.

 The College had begun in a wood frame house on the edge of town, with 2 profs and 13 students. Despite the classy new digs, the college continued to struggle financially, and suffered growing pains as it strove to establish identity and direction.

The interpretive panels go on to explain the challenges, and principals who made a difference. I won't. For me, the visit was about taking in the beauty of the place and the day.

Do drop by yourself, and swot up.

So, can you spot the changes? I'm just going to let you do the thinking, and revisit my warm early fall day euphoria now. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Where's Waldron?

Well, thank goodness for Dr. Jennifer McKendry. I've mentioned Kingston's well-known and much-published architectural historian in a number of posts over my love affair with her city. 

Today, I appreciate her even more, as she is THE ONLY source I could locate which references a most unique and wonderful structure in that city,  the Waldron Tower. Built in 1968, this building, originally a student nurses' residence, and now a co-ed residence for Queen's students, is easily underestimated, amid the Collegiate Gothic buildings of the campus, the early incomparable Summerhill, and the homes of the well to do along King Street.  

 There are student videos posted on the Queens residence services site, showing off the utilitarian concrete interiors, and the windows - as soon as I had drawn his attention to the building, my design engineer husband noticed that the design provides each of them with a view of Lake Ontario, just across the street.

The marriage of the stepped brick tower with the textured stone and curving concrete elements of the one-storey wing - likely the student common area at one time? - is appealing. I couldn't stop looking and shooting.

Curving, smooth, undecorated surfaces of the reverse arch portico contrast with the rough stone walling.  The rotunda is supported by an external skeleton of concrete spines, separating long narrow windows. 

It's a bland beige brick tower at first glance, but with such caprice, embracing all that was iconoclastic in the International Style, everywhere one looks. McKendry includes a brief but laudatory comment: "the city building that most successfully shows the potential for beauty in the International Style." She mentions the curved lines and broken cornice. 

More and more curves in concrete.

Look up, look way up. McKendry suggests this very tall building looks light because of the broken cornice and curved lines.

Incidentally, the book where I finally found some architectural mention of Waldron Tower is Modern Architecture in Kingston - A survey of 20th century buildings, self-published, 2014, by Jennifer McKendry.

Notice the tiny square porthole like windows  on the slightly concave end wall?

Sorry if this post trails out a bit. As undisciplined as I was while taking photos, I have been even more profligate at sharing them. And as I have complained before, "new" Blogger does not allow portrait oriented photos to be moved into a comfy side by side arrangement. And that's an improvement how?

The datestone - 1968. I had to sneak up what looked like a private drive, behind the wonderful Katherine Bermingham Macklem house which now houses a hospital department, to find it. Unmistakeable. The whole building a celebration of what I knew to be its era.

In closing. A Streetview link, if you fancy a wander yourself. 

Or is it just me...?

I've spent hours this wonderful fall, wandering Kingston streets within a half-hour or so of KGH. One reason is the biological imperative. As non-patients are forbidden access to the comforts of the hospital, one must hike to either the top of City Park, or the extreme west end of Breakwater Park, a heart-healthy 20 to 25 minutes away. There is an evil genius at work. Upon arriving at one biffy, signs often direct the sufferer to the other, maintenance being promised. Nevertheless, there is plenty to see (a needed distraction) on the quest. And this house along King Street never fails to delight me. I tried several times last week to capture the classical calm, the brilliant foliage, and the shadow, all of which put me in mind of one of Lauren Harris' early Toronto houses. Sadly, trees on either side prevented me getting what I wanted (the theme of the walk.) Streetview did a rather better job, actually, from the intersection, safer in a vehicle than on foot. But really, is not the genius in the light? 

If I may, a couple of Harris houses to make the point. 


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

When Plywood was King

photo credit: Eric Pierce
 One day this summer, my brother happened by the site  of the new Port Picton development which is beginning to transform the landscape above Picton Bay, along busy Bridge Street. Turns out, he captured a moment that had immense significance for us, and none at all for the developers or the heavy equipment operators. 
photo credit: Eric Pierce

Within minutes, this ordinary family home, which housed our parents for a couple of happy decades in the 1980s and early 90s, and could have provided (affordable?) housing for others, was rubble. Nothing salvaged. Time is money. Turns out this simple raised (well, built into the slope, with the coveted 'walkout basement') bungalow is one of several along Bridge Street which ended up 'behind the fence' and demolished as part of the 'vision' for this part of town.

photo credit: Eric Pierce

I compared the aerial view of the property in this 1919 Picton Gazette article with its tabletop miniature concept of Monopoly houses created by the architects and I see a few other casualties. Trees. Promises of parks and walkways must compensate. The stately Claramount, lawyer Edward Young's 1903 Colonial Revival mansion ( Ancestral Roofs post DIY) is being refashioned as a spa clubhouse. The fate of  lovely red brick Taylor home sheltered among well-aged trees is unclear. It has been moved as has the little gatehouse beside the Claramount. The stone wall has been removed, to be rebuilt later?  I have my hopes pinned on local developer Cleave, who is reported to respect historic buildings.

Here's a Streetview link dated May 2018. I hope it helps you remember the street as it was, for a while yet.

I had a look at the Port Picton prospectus. "Stylish living...benchmark for luxury living." European style kitchens, engineered hardwood floors, porcelain, ceramic, quartz, pot lights, bright white walls and expanses of glass in the file photos. Promises for "luxury in a natural environment", a confidence that the vast assortment of wildlife will remain in the area, and the birds that call the ancient trees home will be unruffled. Feeling a sense of loss, somehow. This is a new lifestyle and design aesthetic. 

I like to think back to that plain unfashionable bungalow. Wood panelling, patterned indoor outdoor carpet, hand-built plywood kitchen cupboards. Sears curtains, ivy printed wallpaper, harvest gold appliances, floral print sofas from a local store, piles of books and tchotchkes,  hand-quilted treasures, family photos, furniture from the grandparents and beyond. Trees planted and pruned by dad, a neighbouring lot lovingly maintained.

 A handbuilt deck where Dad held dominion over the barbeque. I remember visits to that house from B.C., and shortly later, from our first home back in Ontario. Big and small Picton events - the Villeneuve castle explosion happened within view of the picture window. A visit from a dear mum from England. 

 Warm welcomes always, and lots and lots of celebratory dinners. Christmas fare stored in the attached garage, a custom pocket door to the cold room Mom's biggest convenience. Dad always working on a project or other in the basement. So many warm family memories. I look forward to sharing this with my brother, and hearing his recollections too.

I wish the newcomers at Port Picton well. I hope their lives are filled with warmth and love, in the shiny new world they're creating for themselves.