Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Converts make the Best Catholics

"Converts make the best Catholics,"someone once said to me. She observed that people who switch to a belief later in life tend to be more fervent in their convictions and can even demonstrate a tendency toward proselytizing.

I'll admit I'm a convert.

I used to lose my mind over Queen Anne confections, or over-the- top grandiose Second Empire buildings. Admittedly, I am still drawn to them, and appreciate more and more the craftsmanship that went into their exquisite details (and the time and expense that preservation-minded owners commit to their maintainance).

But my week in Niagara on the Lake area has made a convert of me - to the simple elegance of Loyalist/Georgian/Neoclassical or Adam style - the terms tend to overlap in this incredibly significant living history region of Ontario. There is an utter simplicity and serenity in these symmetrical clapboard and brick homes of Loyalists who imported the styles they knew from England, via their lives in the Thirteen colonies. They started life over in a harsh wilderness, then soon after were embroiled in the dreadful destructive war that resulted in the heart-breaking burning of most of Newark in December of 1813. (Newark was the town's original name; it functioned as the capital of Upper Canada under the Governor Simcoe, until keen perception of the obvious led him to seek a safer location for government at York in 1797.)

Two days of strolling and cycling leafy streets, sitting in the lakeside park on a humid summer evening overlooking a fort which once fired in anger upon this very spot, photographing house after achingly beautiful house, have made a convert of me. Niagara on the Lake has so many stories, and I will share more. And none of them will be about wineries or theatre or retail tourism. Sorry. No, not sorry.

centre: MacDougal-Harrison house, Queen Street, 1820's
left: The Whale Inn, King Street, 1830's
right: Breakenridge-Hawley House, Mississauga Street, 1818

For anyone interested in reading someone who really does justice to the houses of Niagara on the Lake, I recommend Peter John Stokes' Old Niagara on the Lake, 1971,with drawings (that rival any photograph, imho) by Robert Montgomery. I just obtained a copy from, my favourite used bookseller, for $1.00 plus $6.50 shipping.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, enjoyed the visit very much. You're making me feel like taking to the road. More, more more! B.