Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It's what's outside that counts - the facts on faux

Belleville has been doing a lot of reminiscing lately about its personal connection to the great Hotel Quinte, which we lost to fire before Christmas. I've done several posts about it, and anyone with a google can find dozens of media reports.

I'm just here to talk about pillars for a moment.

The most recent version of this hotel was reopened after an earlier fire, in 1907. The press of the day, given to hyperbole, described the sumptuous interior and its appointments. Newspaper reports describe the Etruscan and Macedonian marble pillars in the rotunda and dining room, with great enthusiasm.

With colleagues from Heritage Belleville, our local municipal heritage committee, I toured the interior in early spring 2011 and took these photos of the lobby (called the Rotunda in the days of spitoons, public writing desks and ladies' entrances.)

The pillars drew my attention. Not only was their surface slightly roughened, as if by brush-strokes, it was room temperature, not the cold I associate with marble. And there were nicks and building scars where a desk had been removed and those breaks in the surface revealed... white plaster. So, faux!

 All that glitters is not gold. There were certainly some fine plasterers in the day, although I wonder if some of this cornice detail might have been pre-cast.

marble mosaic in the hotel main lobby
I have heard these marble mosaic floors described as Italian marble. I have even read that Senator Corby, one of the consortium of men who built the hotel, imported the Italian marble and the marble-worker to do the job. Then on the weekend, at the Historical Society/Archives outstanding display of historical photos and facts, I saw the words "Vermont marble". 
the reveal - a brief glimpse
One very fine story about the Hotel Quinte rotunda was the real thing - real dedication, real love of the place and its history, real hard work! During the hotel's final year, before it fell into the hands of the receiver, dedicated manager Angela and her team tried very hard to capture the hotel's history and charm. One of the projects was the removal, by heat and hard labour, of carpeting that had been glued over a section of the marble mosaic floor in the Bridge street side of the lobby, which greeted patrons as they entered through the majestic south portico, removed and blocked in the 1960's (the entrance at the right in the post card at the top of this post). The words 'Hotel Quinte' and the design  which continued that of  the main lobby and halls, was revealed. For a little while.

And those pillars?
Greg Pinchin of Belleville's planning department, who serves as staff support to the Heritage Belleville committee, took the two photos which follow. One displays the nicks in the 'marble' of one of the pillars. The other view, available, sadly, only after the fire, shows one of the square pillars, and its decidedly un-marble interior.
to the right of the settee, the interior structure of a column

photos used by permission

Friday, January 25, 2013


 One of the best times of my summer with a camera was a hot August afternoon wandering among these rescued early log homes. I had spent the morning with Mel Shakespeare at the Tradition Home home/office, learning about Mel and his passion for early homes, for an article in Country Roads magazine.
I did a post about the visit back in September. After the interview, Mel directed me to his outdoor warehouse of rescued log buildings, where I spent two happy solitary hours listening to old house stories. Sitting on worn doorsteps, wandering in and out of log house doorways, I imagined the lives led in these rooms.

Suddenly this damp, dull, -10 degree day fades, and I am alone again in that sunburned wildflower meadow, surrounded by the warm shells of early early log buildings which had been disassembled, moved and rebuilt here, waiting for a customer to purchase and build a home in and around them.

 After I enjoyed the memories of that day, I went to Mel's website, to see how his retirement sale was progressing...though to imagine this man retired is a bit of a reach...and found this. Nice, Mel, thanks.

My surprise at seeing the article brings back the delight at exploring the featured home with its owner, the lovely Anne Keefer, and the sadness at hearing she passed away soon after the article was written. Her home brought her such joy...I cannot think of a lovelier spot for her spirit to have chosen to rest than this sunny meadow.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy Bicentenarians

16 Orchard Street (before 1800)

A correspondent, whose heart is clearly with the homes of the c.18 in Maritime Canada, sends links regularly to images of venerable early homes of eastern Canada. Some are doing very well thank you...other reports are obituaries.

top, across the bay: Christian Ernst House (1765)

Today I was browsing photos of our wander round Mahone Bay a couple of years ago - yearning for a sunny summer day, for a bit of travel, for a look at some old houses.

photo of Christian Ernst house - borrowed from
 Coastal Winds Realty website listing

Thought I'd share these in case you're in the same frame of mind.
Hyson House (1800)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Love and Loss 2 - Rickarton Castle

The black and white photo below of Picton's once-upon-a-time Rickarton Castle was taken by Rodger Greig and published in the Spring-Summer 1990 issue of ACORN, the ACO publication.

He explains the building's evolution: "[it] must have started as a simple symmetrical box of a house, but just before 1863 it developed the trappings of a castle: a massive square tower at one end and plenty of miscellaneous rambling additions at the other, crenellations along every roofline and shapely Tudor gothic verandahs in back to look over the harbour."

I recorded his comments about its chances for survival in a post on January 9.
symmetrical box proportions re-emerge

Picton's second castle after Villeneuve, the home was originally called Warwick House by Colonel Rylands who did the gothic facelift. A cut above your usual house, it was sold for a boarding school in 1866, then bought by shipping magnate Arthur Hepburn who renamed it Rickarton to recall family estates in the old country.

Sadly, it's remembered by most folks in town as a pretty divey beer parlour. Went there once, had a great reunion with a local cousin, when we were home on a visit from the west. Felt odd, though, like being a tourist in my own town.
another good house good-bye

Warwick/Rickarton met its end sometime in the roaring '80's. A developer had purchased the land, discovering too late that there was an historic building on the site. (I am trying to emulate Greig's famous sarcasm here). Unfortunately, the building did not fit with their plans for a development site, so it had to go. You understand.

The alternative would have been to make it the centrepiece of the housing estate. But that's seldom a solution...stripped of their property, surrounded by new builds, homes like this become anachronisms.

But lest I be accused of tying myself to every old building, I offer this bit of wisdom from Harold Wilson:

"He [and, I assume, she] who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery". 

(photo credit: mom and dad)

Be sure to venture below to the comment by a visitor to the blog, who has special recollections and memories of one of Picton's lost castles.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Love and Loss - Villeneuve Castle

looking up from Picton Bay
 Mom and Dad took great interest in the historic and beautiful buildings of their town. They were especially pleased to live on Bridge Street overlooking the treed hillside where stood the Castle Villeneuve.

They were 'first on the scene' with their Instamatic the morning after the explosion. Just recently I found these photos and wanted to share them with folks who still mourn the loss.

 In the 1986 propane gas explosion, a patron of the (then) restaurant was killed. The building could not be allowed to stand without some kind of retribution, and was quickly demolished.

The six acre property which slopes down to Picton Bay marina has been for sale forever. The Lester Group  which is handling it (one simply does not 'sell' a property this special) has assembled some of the history on their website. I guess in time the property will fill up with McMansions, and the castle will be nothing but a name...bragging rights.

It will always be there for me, part of the scenery we drove by on the way to 'town'.  I still remember the matching gatehouse which stood along Bridge Street. It stood for many years after the castle was demolished. I remembered to look recently and it has disappeared. Wonder how long ago?

Be sure to venture below this post, to read the heartfelt comment sent by the son of the then-owner of our wonderful Villeneuve.

Gone Walkabout

ACO Quinte area walking tours have been going on for a long time. I have just enjoyed reading a delightful eight-page account (a significant chunk of the 25 page Fall 1986 issue of ACORN) written by then Quinte Region president, the well-known heritage activist and writer Rodger Greig. He titles the article which describes tours of Glenora, the village of Roslin, and Cherry Valley, 'Lessons Learned from Walking Tours' and makes the point that "our buildings are on our streets for our education, enjoyment and use." Provided we are good citizens and stay on the sidewalk.

Sidney township but tour October 2012

On Sunday, January 20, at 2 PM at Bridge Street United Church, the AGM for the Quinte chapter of the ACO will take place (with cookies) in the meeting room of historic Bridge Street United Church. President for life (or so it doubtless seems to him) is David Bentley, with whom I worked for some years.

 David has been continuing the tradition of third-Sunday walking tours in the area.

Old East Hill walking tour 

These photos are from two of the tours in 2012 - a walking tour of the Old East Hill and a bus tour of some of the historic farms and buildings in Sidney township.

David assembles a tour guide for all these junkets; they are available at the archives of Prince Edward in Wellington. I have enjoyed exploring the back roads of Sidney township, following the instructions in a 1990 ACO tour itinerary, taking photos to add to the guides.

Kathryn enjoying the Corby Rose Garden
George and Denis 
David who makes it all happen

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Muscular Christianity

Canterbury Hall (1879)
Muscular Christianity. A idea which emerged during the Victorian era - physical strength and health married to the manly pursuit of Christian ideals in life and politics. A phrase which links these images of a very unusual church building in Trenton, and a glacial erratic found several miles north.

 But first...a few words about this polychromatic brick church, which has always caught my eye. Only a warm day last week brought me onto the streets of the town, to have a closer look. This is Canterbury Hall, built 1879 as the Sunday school and function hall for nearby St. George's Anglican Church. A picturesque Gothic revival building perched on a rise, it's an interesting style departure from its mothership, the 'English village' church in local limestone.

St. George's Anglican Church, Trenton
The brickwork is fascinating. Red brick creates bands across the facade, and follows the raking cornice of the gable. The exotic cross in the gable and the triangular motif depicting the holy trinity are unusual, conjuring mysterious lodge symbols. Diamond shapes, zigzags. The bricklayers were on fire that day.

Arches over the windows are flattened, Tudor style. Bricks are pressed into service to form decorative hoods over the windows.

And soaring overhead is a wonderful belfry pierced by a Gothic lancet arch opening.

Sadly, successive alterations to the front entrance have given the hall a perpetual dirty face. The building looks unoccupied. Graffiti are starting to add to the interesting facade. Uh-oh.

 And the link to the Bleasdale Boulder, that most muscular of rocks which rests where the glacier dropped it, in a lovely Conservation area on Highway 33? Reverend Canon William Bleasdale was the rector at St. George's from 1848-1889. The Reverend Canon supervised and volunteered in the actual manual work of building Canterbury Hall. And in his free time, this Victorian Renaissance man studied botany, astronomy, entomology and geology. Bleasdale drew scientific attention to the big rock in Glen Miller; featured on the scientific lecture circuit, it became a national curiosity - 'The Bleasdale Boulder'.

weighing in at one million kilos, the most muscular of Ontario rocks

Thanks to the LACAC notes resident in the fabulous Trenton library for the words to describe the wonderfully eccentric Canterbury Hall. And thanks to reference librarian Robert Amesse for making them available to me. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Resonance - Port Britain style

Regular visitors to this blog know that I am always on about resonance, or echoes, the feeling you get that you have been transported back in time by a landscape or townscape, or an old building. Some places seem like portals inviting us to closer communion with the folks who once lived and died there. Lots of little villages, hamlets, or even ghost towns hum with the energy of times gone by, the domain of homesteaders, early industrial areas, empire-builders.
sadly, this 33 acre farm was for sale - future estate lots

For me, one such place is Lakeshore Road, which winds close to the edge of the bluff/beach of Lake Ontario, west from Colborne. From this winding road which respects the topography (no rock cuts or overpasses to make it an idiot-proof drive) and snuggles up to trees and fences, one can time travel. I won't say more. Just go.

Port Britain, according to an account by Ann King Sculthorpe at an ACO meeting in 1985, was settled in 1796 or '97 by a Samuel William Marsh, UEL from Vermont, who built the Port Britain mill.

The hamlet became a c.19 industrial village, its best years around 1856/7 when the harbour and Grand Trunk railway were built (and if you watched Downton Abbey on Sunday, you know what happened to that endeavour).
the rowlock bond cottage
There is a rowlock bond cottage on Jane Street, the road leading to the lake. The street was named after son Samuel Marsh's wife. Jane Ostrum came came from near Picton.

If this does not strike a chord with you, best visit 'The Settler's Dream', or wait til I post Row,Row,Row.

('Homesteads' by McBurney and Byers has an endearing account of their meeting).

 You might pass the hamlet  by, should your eye not be caught by the diminuitive scale of the homes set so close to the road.
  But in 1848, according to McBurney and Byers, "the community then supported more than three hundred and fifty people, including one wagon-maker, two blacksmiths, two coopers, two shop-keepers, two builders, a stonemason, contractor, stationmaster, harbou-rmaster, postmaster, teacher, veterinarian, innkeeper, fishermen and a tailor...[plus all] those involved in William Marsh's shipping and lumbering busines"s. p.208

I read somewhere that over 200 ship's masts were sold to the Royal Navy in one year. Which no doubt explains the absence of first-growth pine, also noted in Prince Edward County, due to the navy's enthusiasm for our tall straight trees.

perhaps this is the portal?

While my back was turned...

You know the feeling. When a tree which has always stood in a place is somehow removed, or a building that you were so accustomed to seeing is all of a sudden...gone. And you ask yourself, what was there? When did it go?

That feeling has happened to me lots on trips 'home' to Picton over the decades. Buildings succumbed, perhaps amid great furor, but on my return, just an empty spot, or a new building pretending it has always been there..."nothing suspicious here."

I recently received a wonderful gift. Actually, made a discovery. In a recycling box (well, you can't keep everything) I recognized a familiar magazine, in a former black and white iteration. I winkled several issues out from a pile of other discards, and am now enjoying ACORN, the newsletter of the ACO, from the 1985 to 1990 seasons.

There are so many stories to share, but today I am sharing photos of Picton buildings which were part of my childhood. At some point, when I was away, they disappeared. I am so grateful to the folks who fought on their behalf, and share their sadness at the losses.
The little building to the left is the Tecumseh Hotel, whose story was told by Gilles Miramontes in the Spring 1987 issue of ACORN. He makes the point that this corner of Bridge and Union streets was "the cornerstone of the original village of Picton" and emphasizes the importance of context, with this hotel and the (fortunately saved) North American hotel at the top of the town hill providing the visual anchors to the history and the townscape. The old Delhi  district with its coalyards was still viable (though shabby) when I was a girl.

from Spring/Summer 1990 issue of ACORN

Rodger Grieg, a well-known champion of built heritage in the Quinte area, contributed his usual acerbic and knowledgeable take on the future of Picton's Rickarton Castle in the Spring/Summer 1990 issue of the magazine. He issued a dare of sorts to city council:
"It remains to be seen whether the town of Picton will have the moral fibre to hold on to this highly important landmark if, as some suspect, the new developer-owner chooses to think of removing it."

You think?

Picton had two 'castles' once upon a time.
In 1986 Castle Villeneuve was felled by a tragic explosion.
And then it was Rickarton's turn.
Does anyone remember the date?
My go-to girl for local history, my dear little mom, is no longer with us.

The bottom caption reads "A robbery is not a fair exchange"
from ACORN, Fall 1988
And finally, this building. On a visit in the late 80's I can remember mom proudly showing off the modern new drugstore, where I encountered a former classmate from S.S.#3 in her crisp white working smock. What I recall only now, was the butcher shop, Starks' Meat Market, which once stood in its place. As our farm produced meat for the table, we seldom had occasion to visit "Boney Starks" as he was (no doubt unfairly) nicknamed in some circles. What I never noticed, to my loss, was that the butcher shop was housed in a nice three story premises with a detailed brick frieze and eight Renaissance Revival inspired cast iron window hoods. As Greig puts it, "Heritage types like us are supposed to admire the re-use of [4 of the 8] iron window-hoods..." In the same vein, the editor comments that this might be considered "criminal facadism or Teaseling."  Never met Greig, wish I had. Clearly the man did not suffer architectural heritage fools gladly.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Before and after

These two photos followed one after another on my screensaver slideshow.

I love the juxtaposition.

The first is found at Upper Canada Village, to which it made the trek in 1958. Originally, it was the 1825  home of the McDougal family of Glengarry County.

This confection with the ogee-arched entrance porch is the greenhouse in the gardens of Spadina House in Toronto, the home of financier James Austin and his family from 1866. The house and gardens are recreated as a museum depicting a  life the inhabitants of the home above could never have imagined, the life of the wealthy and privileged in the era between the two great wars. Think Downton Abbey series 3. Starting in 45 minutes, you say? Must dash.

Save our Schools

On one face, the 1919 Thunder Bay Technical Institute
they don't make 'em like they used to
ACO has long been active in attempts to save historic school buildings. The winter 1989/90 issue of ACORN (part of my dumpster discovery) is devoted to the Provincial Save our Schools Coalition and its conservation efforts on behalf of some very worthy buildings with great history.

Our summer 2011 camping trip to Lake Superior provided one photo day (unfortunately, it was the only rainy day on the trip, so this empty school looks appropriately glum). This astonishingly grand building  is the 1919 Thunder Bay Technical/Collegiate Institute. The building occupies a complete block - extra space needed for all this architectural grandeur! We found it interesting that the technical school opened on one street, the collegiate institute on the opposite side of the building, a block away. Was there a wall, a 'class structure', halfway through to separate the tech boys from the uni types?
The other side of the building, The TB Collegiate Institute

Old schools are vulnerable. We DO want kids to have warm shiny classrooms, with all mod cons, which results in those 'judgement of Solomon' moments. Why do we have to have them at the expense of lost heritage?
1915 Brighton Public/High School
2011 Brighton PS - photo from Board website

Despite determined activity by members of the East Northumberland ACO, the 1915 Brighton school (above) was demolished last year, and replaced by a shiny new school with some interesting stylistic echoes.

I worry a lot about this empty school, Trenton Collegiate Institute. Built in 1917, its library was frequented in the years between 1933-36 by no less a reluctant student that Canada's beloved poet Al Purdy. It was here that he retreated into the library, a habit of self-education he continued throughout his peripatetic life.

Despite this distinction, we all know school boards' reluctance to continue responsibility for redundant infrastructure. Watch this space.

And the little one-room school-house at the bottom? Folks who visit the blog may remember my old school, S.S.#3 North Marybsburgh, where I toiled through Grades 1 to 8 with the indomitable Miss Eaton. Interestingly, the shiny new consolidated school near Lake on the Mountain, which replaced it, has been empty for years, itself supplanted by the cheaper alternative of school-buses to town.