Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bless their little pointed heads

All across the Ontario landscape, the last vestiges of Europe's great high/late medieval 'Gothic' era of architectural history stand stalwart.

The Ontario farmhouse style (aka Gothic Revival Cottage) is the simplest form of a revival which took place in Ontario( from about 1750-1900) of the heaven-reaching forms of  the Gothic style. The Gothic Revival style was touted by Pugin (France) and Ruskin (England) in the mid 1800's as the architecture of a Christian nation; their ilk spurned as 'pagan' the classical forms being used in Europe for the church and civic architecture of the day. (Visit for a good look at the variety of Gothic revival domestic, religious and civic buildings among us.) The plain little Ontario Gothic cottage design was made accessible to home-builders through pattern books - and the idea caught on enormously well. One of the most well-known pattern books was 'The Architecture of Country Houses', by A.J. Downing (available as a free Google e-book I love his thoughtful essays on style; he was so dismissive of things classical, mumbling about "the impossibility of making a dwelling-house of reduced copies of the Parthenon."

It's neat to think about how different our countryside would look today, without Downing's help.

 1853/55 Wesleyan Methodist cobblestone church
 Sidney Township
The point about Ontario farmhouse style is made here is at the top of the windows. Occurring first in the amazing churches of the Gothic era, and getting pointier and pointier as the style evolved, the pointed arch is the vestigial feature which stays around in those lovely Ontario farmhouses. They grace the steep or wide front gables of hundreds of plain and fancy farmhouses including my own childhood home. Other details, like bargeboarding and finials may not have endured, but the prim little gable with the (typically) pointed arch window withstands the test of time.

Lake Consecon, PEC - the classic look

Massassauga Road, PEC - a fanciful variation 

North Marysburgh township, PEC
 the wide NM gable observed by Cruikshank &Stokes 

Have a look round the next time you're out and about and give a nod to the Ontario farmhouse. 

South Marysburgh, PEC


  1. This is a style that should still be constructed in the old-fashioned way, albeit with all the mod-cons!

  2. My favourite style of house. I would be happy to find a client that wanted a home designed and built in this traditional way (and with the modern conveniences as mentioned above!). Modern subdivisions are trying to "fix what isn't broken" and ending up with unappealing and impractical homes.