Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wish you were Here

I'm just back from a wonderful few days in Toronto, visiting with my oldest dearest friend, and exploring some wonderful neighbourhoods with my camera. Friday we boarded the ferry to the Toronto Islands, and stepped off into a different world. So much is written about the island ambience that I won't even try! Just imagine looking at Toronto from this perspective, every day.

Doesn't seem possible does it? There's more. No cars but for a few service vehicles providing full Toronto city services. Tree-lined paths, lush informal gardens, wild spaces of woods and marsh and beach. Cottages of every vintage dating back to the 1920's, I'm thinking. A pleasing number aren't even updated, sporting insulbrick and shingle siding. Some are rugged style individualists. Most are smallish and unpretentious.

We like our city very much in the background

Residents commute by bicycle to the foot of Bay Street, arriving at the feet of the looming towers. These same behemoths are reduced to  a painted backdrop once they return home with their carriers full of groceries. It looks idyllic, but must be challenging sometimes. Clearly, the benefits would outweigh any number of rough rainy-day crossings, or winter blizzards.

My great friend would love to live here. So I picked this Ward Island cottage for her. There's much much more to come about my love affair with Toronto's neighbourhoods.

But for now, let's have a cup of lemon-ginger tea in this sunny garden and think our island thoughts.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Gibbard, then and now

This character-filled brick structure sits on a side street in Napanee. These are not especially good photos, since the light was bad and I was compromised by the construction fencing. But they do catch the Gothic verticality and eclectic eccentric detail of this once fine school building.

Recently on Facebook there was a report from Heritage Places Television about the Old School House in Napanee, until recently a storehouse for the much-mourned Gibbard Furniture Company, established 1835, which produced  justifiably famous mahogany and cherry furniture.

This lofty structure is now in the hands of the Willy Dog Food Cart Manufacturing Company (ordinarily I would look askance). Heritage Places TV reports that the caring firm is working on  stabilizing the c.1872 'Upper Canada architecture' with plans to restore the structure.

Perhaps the old East Ward Public School on Camden Road will rise again. Unlike Gibbard Furniture of Napanee. Sadly.

Watch this space.

Tender Tourist Trap

 I've wanted to photograph these Queen Anne beauties in Wellington for a long time. One day last week, it was warm enough to wander the Main Street of the village, despite the icy breeze from the lake. An advantage of the early date was that the old trees which give the street its old-fashioned character and charm had not yet burst into leaf. But it's close, as the buds at left can attest.
 Wellington took advantage of those very breezes around 1875, when folks began to build summer homes overlooking the lake. In keeping with the genteel and  leisurely pace of summer fun in the day verandahs, porches and shaded lawns prevailed.

The Queen Anne lace-iness of this famous trio of old summer homes must capture every photographer's fancy at some time. They exhibit all the style's showiness: irregular rooflines, decorated gables, a wide variety of windows, verandahs and porches, decorative wood shingling- the blue trimmed house has fishscales!

I love the brackets supporting the two gable ends, which curve to form little ogee hoods above the windows.

Notice that the blue-trimmed house and its neighbour are twins?

Think Young

 I don't know how many times over the years I've passed this house, set far back from the road in the old way, and sighed to myself, "you little beauty you". Today my eye caught the glow of warm green grass, and the gulls exploring the temporary pond in the front field - and my heart said 'stop'.

So I obeyed and grabbed my camera for a long-range photo - though everything in me wanted to walk up the driveway and hug the people who have protected this house over its long life.

When I got home and checked my photos, I was rewarded by a glimpse of the familiar red and white rosette of a PEC heritage designation plaque, which led me to my Designated Properties file containing the designation bylaws and descriptions of the county's precious heritage buildings.
So I'm delighted to know its name! This lovely little house with its evenly coursed squared limestone on the main house and an unusual stone kitchen wing to the side (in the 'American' style) and rare chinoiserie glazing in the front door sidelights (and a heartbreakingly beautiful setting) is the house built by Job Young in the 1830's or early 1840's. It's an astonishing early house, with a heavy cornice flavoured by the Greek Revival influence of the day. Would love to see the gable ends, likely some gracious eaves returns there. The sash windows - oh, could they be original? Eight over twelve in the house, twelve over twelve in the kitchen wing. No plate glass anywhere!

I consulted my go-to guys Cruikshank and Stokes (The Settler's Dream, 1984) for background. Job was son of Robert Young, pioneer, who sold the property to his son in 1810. I wrote about his father's house, the wonderful frame one, still standing, near The Carrying Place, back  in November, 2010, a scant 200 years later.
ashlar lintels and quoins

Stokes and Cruikshank make some interesting observations about the stonework. They comment on the stone lintels above the windows - 'soldier lintels' I've heard them called - composed of shaped stones stood on their ends. Other houses of that period might have opted for the carved stone lintels of this house, the c.1840 Philip Way house in Sophiasburgh township.

Perhaps economy, maybe availability, likely practicality, forced the choice.
granite fieldstone adds texture to the woodhouse wing

Another stonework curiosity they describe is the use of the nicely squared regularly coursed limestone on the front facade, and more utilitarian rougher stone - in this case, granite fieldstones - for the utilitarian, and less visible back wall of the wing. I wasn't able to get a look at the back (although there is a photo on page 347 of SD), but the shot of the 1861 James Johnson house in Athol shows the same practical solution.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Found Toronto - the 1857 Armstrong, Beere and Hime panorama

Impressive Osgoode Hall - the neighbourhood, not so grand
Mark, a regular visitor to Ancestral Roofs, has just sent a link to an astonishing image of Toronto, the justly famous Armstrong, Beere and Hime panorama, taken in 1856/7  from the roof of the Rossin House Hotel at the SE corner of King and York streets in Toronto.

The 1856 panorama was created from 13 photos stitched together. The seams are a bit loose at times, given the limits of technology, but the series is absolutely astounding in its detail.
waterfront used to be closer 

Understandably, these photos have created a lot of excitement over time, and many websites contain much information, so I won't go on, but just to say I suggest you visit.

Rossin House Hotel 1857/8 - City of Toronto archives
The BlogTO site developed by Derek Flack is an outstanding blog of the big city's heritage; he has posted each of the photos (which are public domain). This Wikimedia link provided by Mark Wilson is a stitched together version giving the full panorama effect. Click to enlarge. Prepare to be lost in the past for a goodly time.

Derek Flack also refers to the evocative novel Consolation, by Michael Redhill. It's a modern day story about a man consumed by the past, as Toronto obliterates its early built heritage. Turns out, the novel was inspired by this compelling series of good a reason as any to reread the book (I've contacted my local library to request William Dendy's Lost Toronto as a good companion read...all in preparation for another Toronto photo journey in capture what may still be left.)

A quick Google search also yielded:
The Toronto Archives link and this Wikipedia entry.
John Ritchey's fashionable (1855) white brick terrace

My favourite Toronto book, Toronto, No Mean City(1964), by the venerable Eric Arthur, talks about this photograph. He draws attention to the obvious contrast between the haughty Ritchey's Terrace on Adelaide Street in the centre of the photo to the left (with part of Osgoode Hall peeking over its shoulder), with the humble frame structures in the foreground (on today's Pearl Street.)

Look at the tired woman standing in her doorway at the very bottom of the photo- she's stood there a long time. The streets look empty in most photos, because the long exposure necessary to get the shot would ensure that people or conveyances moving at any speed would be blurred out.

Where's Wilton?

 On our way back from a visit with nice folks near Harrowsmith the other day, we were enticed by the profile of this barn down a distant side-road, the back way into the village of Wilton. Such a tall barn, such a unique barn colour - great roof lantern with windows - terrific view, tricky getting up there. The red hay barn is slumping a bit, but has character, with what looks like an equally tired old-style conveyer parked outside.

Page wire fence (albeit attached to iron stakes) completes the bucolic scene. Now, just a bit of green and work can begin.

The house on the other side of a row of tall spruces was likely the original farmhouse, a lovely stone with ashlar corners.

I like the touch of subdued barn-red on window, door, roof and verandah trims, like the concession to fancy of a plain farm wife on her way to a community supper. The French windows along the simple verandah, and the unusual tall narrow windows in the tiny matching gables (paired on the side elevation) make it very appealing.

But what I love most is the setting, and the stone. Oh the stone. The countryside round about is graced with numerous old limestone quarries. The earth's cross-section reveals rich deposits of creamy grey fine-grained limestone that make the mouth water. They look soft, and malleable, like giant marshmallows. Eighteen to twenty-four inches deep (tall?) would be my guess, and fractured along such regular vertical lines that masons must have been able to "pull them off the shelf" and build with minimal trimming and shaping. Home Depot, you didn't invent building supply depots.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

what do birds see?

"Picton, Ont. taken from an aeroplane"
A little known fact about Owen Sound native and World War I flying ace Billy Bishop (because after all with a record of 72 "victories" making him the top Canadian ace of that conflict, what more would you need to know?), is his somewhat less distinguished post-war career.

Seeking to bank his skills in a marketable direction, he established (with a fellow ace William Barker) a passenger airline and aerial photography service. This was 1919, folks, so I doubt they offered business class and in-flight movies.

Little is known of the enterprise, but legal and financial problems and a bad crash must have dampened enthusiasm as the company (and the partnership) were short-lived.

Billy Bishop might be surprised to learn what a legacy these photos are. They give us a glimpse (however tiny) of towns and cities across the province, townscapes now lost to expansion and modernization. Although few would express regret at the loss of the harbour-side coal-yards in the photo at top, the image is a window into a forgotten era. Imagine the life of a child growing up at the bottom of Picton's town hill, in an industrial slum. Imagine the life of a shipping magnate (oh yes, Picton had them) living discretely removed from the grime.

Just fly over these tiny townscapes (with the aid of Blogger's lightbox functionality). They're three dimensional, and so detailed, you can stroll down Main Street or along leafy sidestreets and into houses which stand today, explore kitchen gardens and small farms within town limits (which don't).

(Incidentally, I've just read that Billy Bishop had an important role in establishing and promoting the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which I have been researching for my other blog. Link to follow)

The postcards are copyright Bishop Barker Co. Ltd.Toronto, 1919, and are in the collection of my generous brother, Eric Pierce.

Monday, April 1, 2013

polar fleece lined kayaks recommended

the old mill at Queensborough
Queensborough, Ontario has quite the reputation - for hospitality mixed with great whitewater kayaking - even on what promises to be a cool damp April weekend.The village participates enthusiastically in the Marmora and area Canoe and Kayak Festival (M.A.C.Fest), to be held this year on April 6 and 7th. Folks open their Black River-side properties to villagers and locals who paddle the river in its spring enthusiasm. And if that's not enough, once you arrive in the village (making a grand entrance over the dam pictured at left), the villagers offer yummy food, including their famous home-made pies.

the millpond - will look more inviting than this April 6/7
Here's a link to some video of kayakers arriving at the millpond last year. They look hungry don't they?

the old Thompson place (1845)

For more information, community boosters Elaine and Lud Kapusta welcome your calls at 613-473-1458. And while you're in the village, have a look at their superb Georgian/Neo-classical house, overlooking the millpond.