Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Invincible Summer

No less a worthy than Albert Camus (whom I admit to not having read since a French lit course at Carleton in the 1960's) is reported to have said "in the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." Nice. Good album title. Oh, sorry Ms. Lang, you did get to it first. And a fine recording it is, too.

I started looking for summer quotes as the world turned to iron in -15 degree temperatures this morning. I was looking for quotes about summer as I suspect there are a number of us out there thinking ahead...way gentle summer days again, as an antidote to the brute force of winter. And of course, the historical reaction is to look back...way how we once celebrated our summer days.

A few times before Christmas I tried to put together something clever about summer days gone by for the Quinte Arts Council's Umbrella arts newspaper (there being little in my estimation to celebrate in the advancing buffalo-robe-in-the-cutter season). My subject was to be the iconic resort Lakeshore Lodge. This past October I spent a lovely afternoon there, sitting under the oak trees listening to the wind, climbing over the limestone ledges, exploring the ruined foundation for resonances. Trying to link what I was seeing and feeling with the archival photographs which are all that remains.

On a whim, I cycled round and round the crumbling terrazzo dance floor humming 'after the ball is over'. Later I chatted with some fellows guiltily harvesting nearby beach stones for a gardening project (and they were worried that I'd noticed them!) I brought out all my memories of this place, and enjoyed them, like a beach-comber's treasures. From childhood car trips right up to the sunny October afternoon with Jo at West Point.

I've just revisited the place today, via Tom Cruikshank's tribute in the Settler's Dream, and this lovely postcard view. There's sun on the vine-covered verandahs. The summer trees are filled with birdsong. There are folks at the front door, waiting to greet you. Welcome to summer.

Left: photo credit to PEC Library and Archives. Thanks, Krista.
Right: the Lakeshore Lodge crest on the terrazzo dance floor.
Centre: a forgotten corner of the lodge
Bottom: the path to the lodge, sans lodge

Old stores, Old stories

I've begun researching old stores, those general stores from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that stocked socks and sugar, coal oil and cookies, hoes and harness. Centres of rural community life at one time, they were often found at country crossroads. Add a church and a school and a few isolated farms and you have a settlement. We can still find echoes of these centres today in small rural communities around Hastings County.

Most general stores are very simple practical structures, with few architectural pretensions. I like this store, which although now in the centre of Madoc, was likely on the outskirts at one time. Must ask local historian Brenda Hudson. It has a sweet and refined Italianate shopfront with rounded arches proliferating, and a vaguely gothic false front to the simple front gable design. I love the arched double doors with etched glass. A beautiful rubblestone side-wall with brick window surrounds and quoins is the perfect spot for the sign advertising the resident Tea Room and Antiques.

As I begin watching cross-roads for signs of former stores, and talking to people about my quest, I have been delighted by the generous loan of two wonderful local histories, prized family treasures. Unasked, Byron loaned a Wollaston township history 'Memories of the Lives of our Pioneers' and Judith shared 'Times to Remember in Elzevir Township'. I began by scanning the pages for references to country stores; I stayed to savour these accounts page by page, photo by photo. These books and the legions of others produced by communities to commemorate significant local anniversaries are history goldmines, inspiring and heart-breaking accounts of the difficult lives of simple folks.

I recall our delight at meeting author Peter Unwin this summer, while we were camping in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Peter was on a book tour, sharing slides and stories from his recent  book 'The Wolf's Head: Writing Lake Superior'. An inveterate outdoorsman, he was conducting his book tour from the comfort of his tent, which he shared with his lovely wife and delightful daughters. We enjoyed his presentations, and a growing friendship, and we met up again in Lake Superior PP. Peter's favourite source for his books are local histories like the ones I'm enjoying. His dedication in 'The Wolf's Head' speaks to their importance: "This book is dedicated to the diarists, letter-writers, history buffs, historical society and museum volunteers, authors of self-published chapbooks, story-tellers, old-timers and all the crucial enthusiasts who keep the past from giving up on us." Nice, Peter. Couldn't agree more.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

House and Gardens

These are two places I would like to be today. Such a contrast to the motionless, sepia-toned frozen field outside my study window, the only signs of life the flit of chickadees at the feeders and the hyperactive fits and starts of the raiding red squirrel. I'll spent some time in the tame wilderness of these English style gardens.

I'm digesting a tasty and interesting little book I've just finished reading. A History of Domestic Space by Peter Ward (UBC Press, 1999) explores the history and sociology of privacy in the Canadian home. He talks about all the rooms in the house (assuming there is more than one, which in much of our history, there was not), then the space around it, and how we have changed in how we use and think about those spaces.

In the chapter 'Gardens and Yards' Ward discusses the evolution of the space outside our front doors. At one time, all "classes" of folks, whether blessed with wealth or not, stepped from their front door directly onto the street (think Georgian terraces in an English town). Over time the houses of those with property moved further back on the site and a green semi-public space of lawn and secluded verandah evolved. At first, especially in rural areas, this space was just an extension of the work-space, the verandah for food preparation, the space in front for a kitchen garden, wood-splitting and chickens. Eventually, the more prosperous farms (read, farmers' wives) began to cultivate flowers and lawns like their urban and suburban 'betters'. Good spot for a book in the shade, a hammock, a wander to gather flowers. Great spot to be today.

Left: Macauley House,Picton
Right: an Ontario farmhouse in stone near Marlbank

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

a night in the stable

I have just purchased Eric Arthur's wonderful book The Barn (1972), so of course, I am thinking lots about barns. And this being the week before Christmas, my thoughts inevitably go to that special season - and the way each Christmas takes us back in time to relive Christmases past. For most of us, the Christmases we most love to revisit are those of childhood when the innocence and magic of a simpler time made strangers of today's cynical commercialism. For me as a child, the magic of the Christmas story was cozily interwoven with the magic of Santa, special decorations and treats, visitors and events, music and lights, surprises and secrets.

I especially remember warm Christmas services in country churches at Bongards and Glenora, with neighbours and folks home for the holidays, crowding the respectfully excited space, singing the familiar songs (I have my old hymn book, the pages of the Nativity section worn parchment thin by my little fingers), listening to the lessons taking us back to a night in a stable in the dark countryside far away in time and place. I think the Christmas story held special magic for me as a little child at the local country church because of that barn. For farm kids, the story of a cold inhospitable winter night, a sheltering stable, a baby and weary mom nestled in soft clean straw, drowsy animals warming the space with their breath and bodies, and silence, peace, wonder - all made sense. The story reached us 'where we lived' - the story was never more true.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Bright idea...not!

It's a damn shame, but it looks like the great old 1915 school in Brighton will be demolished soon. It's great to see the kids and teachers getting the shiny new school which is being built on the large property, but seems a shame that the fine old school has to be sacrificed in the bargain. It's frustrating that the combined needs for community space and heritage conservation cannot be met by some sort of compromise other than demolishing this once proud community achievement, and consigning fine workmanship, community history, and a lot of good building material to landfill.

We first learned about this struggle at an ACO meeting in Warkworth last spring, where we went to hear heritage architecture writer Robert Mikel speak about the grand summer homes of Cobourg. We met a lot of great folks, and heard first-hand of the frustration and heartbreak of this campaign. Nanci Anderson was kind
 enough to send me a copy of  the archival photo at the top of this post.

Here's the most recent report on the struggle, from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario on-line newsletter December 2011 edition, received today.

Last Chance for Brighton School
Gordon Tobey writes from Brighton:
Following an almost five-year fight against the intractable Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, our small community of Brighton is facing the imminent demolition of its classical 1915 public school building early in the new year. After exhausting all avenues (and our meagre finances) we will appear as a delegation to Brighton Council's December 19th meeting, to make one final plea for them to act to protect the building before the wrecking ball swings.
Perhaps more important is the willful destruction of a publicly owned building with an estimated value of 3.4 million dollars and over 30,000 square feet of space that is badly needed by the community. To add insult to injury, the demolition will cost provincial taxpayers at least $280,000 and the rubble will end up in local landfill that we heard just this week has almost reached capacity. 
We can't see why the Ministry of Education isn't mandated to influence the School Boards to conserve heritage buildings in its care when the Ontario government professes to support heritage conservation.

Friday, December 16, 2011

down on the farm...

I love farms in towns...farms that have stood far longer than the towns or villages which now surround them. They are islands in time, gently revealing stories of our rural past as modern-day commerce swirls around them...a reminder that this land was once deep forest cleared at great effort to establish a homestead, and a living for a family. Gerry Boyce's book Hutton of Hastings chronicles that transition from bush to settlement so well - and the hopes and heartbreaks associated. These days, in many communities, early farms are being eclipsed by the growth of our urban way of life.

Until recently, Napanee has had a working farm with a proud red barn and black and white cows standing stalwart near Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons. I always wondered how long THAT would be allowed to continue. My neighbour recently showed me the shiny new barn that has been built in the countryside nearby to entice the cattle (and their people) to leave their traditional territory in town, no doubt to free up the property for a big box store. Bloomfield village in PEC also has a working farm just west of the posh boutique downtown, which occasionally perfumes the air with something not quite potpourri.

I have loved the homestead in this photo for ages, catching glimpses of the front of the house, its unpretentious low limestone profile and its inviting verandah, set on a hill above the main road in Cannifton village. Just recently, I headed up a small side-street at the south of the property to effect a u-turn, and came upon this wonderful view - a page wire fence woven with grape vines, a lush and lovely, but empty pasture, a grouping of barns, a limestone building at the back of the house and the charming brick addition on the south side.

The discovery made me think of my grandmother's stone house on Royal Street, and took me back to magic sunshiny days of exploring - the cathedral-like stone wood-house, the deep window seats, the early 'transparent' apple tree inviting hungry kids up into its comfy branches, the shadowy woods where we found the cows in the hot late afternoons, the creaky mysterious windmill - all features of that farm which we didn't have at home.

Mary Plumpton, in her lovely book The Rambling River (1967) tells the story of the Canniffton farm. It is associated - as are many of the buildings in this lovely stone village - with the founders, the Canniff family. Interesting, Ms. Plumpton records that in 1860, there were said to be 90 people by the name of Canniff in this important community! The lovely farmhouse in the photo was built by Joseph Canniff (b.1798), son of the first Canniff in the area. There is another fine stone house and store adjacent to the farm property,which I must get back to, also associated with that family.

In fact, one day soon, I hope to capture all of the wonderful stone buildings in Cannifton - have to wait for the right light to warm their beautiful river-stone faces.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nobody Waved Goodbye

My most literate friend Brenda and I spent a golden October day along the Bay of Quinte shores. During our walk - and over the welcome tea and treats - she reminded me of Ben Wicks' book about the story of London's evacuated children during WWII. The title is Nobody Waved Goodbye. Despite the compelling stories of children in a war-time we poorly remember and scarcely understand, the title itself drew me to a very different tale.

This story is the long life and inevitable disappearance of a part of Belleville's history, the historic Hutton-Ponton house.As we walked through the noisy construction on Dundas Street (a detour in the lovely waterfront walk due to some suspected short-sightedness on the part of city government?) we encountered this monument standing in an empty grassy lot - Ponton Park as it turns out. The text on the stone tells a story many may have forgotten, others may never know.

The inscription reads: "Ponton Park was bequeathed to the city of Belleville by Enid Ponton Zimmele in 1964 through a land transfer as part of the sale of the Ponton lands for development. The land and premises were 'to be used as parklands and no buildings whatsoever are to be erected thereon'. Enid received this land, including the English Regency cottage style house from her husband, Col. William Nisbet Ponton, a lawyer and militia officer....Colonel Ponton was the last descendent of William Hutton who purchased these lands in 1834 and improved an original frame house built in the early 1800's by Dr. Seth Meacham'. A view of the lovely little home is etched on the stone.

I've just finished reading Gerry Boyce's masterful 1972 book Hutton of Hastings. Mr. Boyce weaves the story of Irish pioneer William Hutton and his struggles to establish his home, Sidney Cottage, and a profitable farm on this very spot, from his arrival in 1834 to his death in 1861, from letters written over that period by Hutton to his cherished mother back in Ireland. Sidney Cottage and its inhabitants are woven into the fabric of Belleville and Hastings County. William Hutton went on to a career in public service - as first county warden, first county school superintendent, and a founder of the Canadian Bureau of Agriculture. He was associated with notable figures in local and provincial history - Francis Hincks, Robert Baldwin, Egerton Ryerson and George Benjamin.

The book brings to life the daily details of homesteading, raising children to become successful citizens, and the constant struggle with finances, weather and pests that still bedevil farmers. William Hutton and his indomitable wife Fanny farmed the land on which housing, schools, and industry exist today, leaving not a trace. But because of this incredible book I feel the spirit of this home and this family to this day, on this location. Thank goodness somebody thought to place a monument at least. How wonderful it would be if that little limestone Regency cottage still stood where it was until its demolition in 1981.

Sincere thanks to Gerry Boyce for his permission to use the black and white photos from his book Hutton of Hastings.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Classic Rock

Great title....great publication. Thanks to co-publishers Nancy and John Hopkins. Country Roads magazine, featuring articles about our adopted county of Hastings, has just printed my article on cobblestone houses in this area, in their winter edition. The magazine is distributed free in selected locations in the county, including Belleville, Bancroft, Madoc, Marmora, Stirling and Tweed. Super magazine, published four times per year. Celebrate Hasting's amazing cobblestone legacy with us!

on my way to town...

I've been enjoying a browse through Ameliasburgh township in The Settler's Dream. I came upon the description of this unusual house, one of the triumvirate of PEC homes featuring "novel architectural forms" - the others being the octagonal houses associated with Owen Roblin, and the J.P. Downes house which I am keeping an eye on. Interesting that all three are favourites of mine....guess I would have created a unique house in the day (or attempted to influence my lord and master to do so).

I may have talked about this before - when I was growing up in North Marysburgh PEC, the trip to Belleville was a long and infrequent one. Our dad was a great 'buy local' kind of guy. Who bought? We grew it. Indeed, the daunting prospect of being caught in the lineup for the swing-bridge, or the possibility of a flat tire delaying the arrival home for milking made the whole trip somewhat fraught.

In those magical days, the road to Belleville travelled the old highway 14, a treed and twisty route around the impassable expanse of the Massassauga marsh (how would they build a road over a marsh, we thought), past the road to Massassauga Point, and through Rossmore village to the south end of the causeway to the old swing bridge. Even today, there are tantalizing echoes of the old route in Rossmore and along Highland Avenue in Belleville (where we were delighted finally by the Riverboat House on our way downtown).

My mother, perhaps to lessen the tension, or to amuse the "are we there yet" contingent would draw our attention to unusual sites along the way. This house always drew comment. Like the Downes house in Picton, it had a castle whimsy that appealed to me. The tiny windows in the second half-story were especially appealing, suggesting a short second floor that only the small people could inhabit. Cruikshank's term for them, "stomachers", though doubtless correct, doesn't convey the Rapunzel romance of those whimsical windows.

The monitor with its spiky finial, the four gables with yummy gingerbread above pointy gothic windows, the sharp finials on gable peaks, and the askew chimneys all created a lively and appealing storybook house we looked forward to visiting around the tree-lined turn near the tiny bridge over the creek on this narrow road - now passed by daily by speeding commuters.

Nice that the old Zufelt/Weatherhead house, c. 1852, is looking pretty good for her age. She was already 100 when I loved her as a child.

The shape you're in*

This project started out with a search for octagonal houses, after a walk around Picton and rediscovery of the brick house at left.. Thought it would be fun to learn a bit more about that Fowler chap, and his theories about building. Already knew of two octagons in Picton. Had a distant memory of another one - or two?- in Ameliasburgh. The Settler's Dream gave me all I needed to know about that foursome. A visit to Krista and Kelly at the PEC Archives in Wellington provided me with photos of the two now lost to us. John Rempel published a most comprehensive and erudite account of octagons/round buildings (including dead houses and outdoor privies) in Building with Wood (1967).

However....the story I'm working on is for the Hastings County Historical Society. I need Hastings County octagons! So I've spent a day at the Hastings County Historical Society/Community Archives in Cannifton, with my building researcher/friend Lois...and what we discovered will be available for your enjoyment and edification in the January issue of Outlook.

left: King Street, Picton.
right: Main Street West, Picton

title: *apologies to Eric Clapton.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pen pals

Remember pen pals? When I was a kid, children's magazines like Chickadee sometimes featured a column with names and addresses of youth around the world. Readers could send off a letter and begin a lifetime relationship with another kid in a faraway country...hands across the water stuff. At least that was the theory. Don't think I ever got a single reply.

Enter email, and blogging and facebook and we are just connecting at an alarming rate...

I have been delighted at the responses I've received at my blog gmail, and am enjoying a correspondence with a number of folks - from California, the prairies, the Maritimes, and spots in Ontario, on topics as wide-ranging as dry-stone walls, other writers' architectural projects, Methodist churches and quests for local building and family history.

Just recently a fellow contacted me to correct hazy info I had gleaned from a local history book about the above house, appropriately obfuscated by the hedge beside the property. The detail he provided leaves me in awe of the detective instinct alive in researchers and genealogists.

stony ground

A small biblical allusion for a Sunday morning. I am recalling the tranquility of this bench warming itself against the stone wall of a cobblestone church near here. The owners have converted the sanctuary into an amazing gallery and yoga retreat. I'd suggest a visit to their website and a visit (by appointment) to their wonderful space. Brigitte and Dennis are wonderful folks.

I met the couple while interviewing owners of some of Hastings County's cobblestone buildings. Nancy and John Hopkins, the fine folks at Country Roads magazine discovered my interest in cobblestones and asked me to do an article. I'm pleased to say I picked up 100 copies yesterday - and it looks wonderful!