Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Castleton, Ontario, April 28, 2010

We have lost a giant. I am speechless.

Update: A regular reader has brought this November 9 obituary in the Globe and Mail to my attention.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poetry and Architecture

Al and Eurithe Purdy's A-frame at Roblin Lake
To establish firmly the link between poetry and architecture, I offer this fascinating chapter by D.M.R. Bentley, on 'the Poetics of Al Purdy's Architecture' from Canadian Poetry's erudite online offering 'Essays on Canadian Architexts'. And then there's this, from Canadian Architect.

I hope by including these links I have satisfactorily explained the connection between my two passions - the work of Al Purdy/ the work of saving the A-frame, and my study and sharing of images and thoughts about historic architecture.

And this is by way of saying, I have been absent for the past month or so, immersed in the minutiae and the stupendous, co-organizing the First Annual Purdy Picnic at the historic literary landmark.

When time permits, when all the unpacking is done, I will post images and recollections on this blog's sister site In Search Of Al Purdy. Please do drop by.

And then, once the thank-you letters, the port mortems and the tidying up (and the sleeping) are all caught up, I want to share my wanderings around Leeds and Grenville United Counties and their townships,during an escape week at Charleston Lake Provincial Park in mid-July. I had to look up their names, because my knowledge of the counties and county towns of Ontario was acquired (under threat) during my S.S.#3 North Marysburgh school days, and is now a useless pre-amalgamation relic).  We'll make stops at Outlet, Escott, Lyndhurst, Lansdowne, Mitchellville, Lynn, Mallorytown and oh, yes, Brockville, which had more places of interest than I had, battery.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

See you in September

Today I feature a clip from the venerable BBC's nature program Walk on the Wild Side. Forgive me, but this YouTube clip is one of my favourites; I think it's hysterical. Now what it makes you think of me, not so sure.

But the Black Heron playing 'Daytime-Nighttime' reminds me of the peekaboo I went through trying to catch a glimpse, much less a good photo, of the famous octagonal Barrett House in Port Hope recently on a misty English countryside kind of day.

For a really good look, consult Tom Cruikshank's Old Ontario Houses, with John De Visser's lovely exterior and interior photos. The home's origins lie with Orson Fowler. Its builder was William Barrett, Jr., Port Hope miller and business magnate, who created this fashionable octagon in 1856. The grounds are huge, running downhill to the river, with massive old trees. I would LOVE an invitation.

I confess to a bit of an obsession with the form. I've written before about my interest, in a post on this blog, and a short article in the Hastings County Historical Society's newsletter Outlook.

For me...have to return in the fall, when the leaves are golden, to complement the siding, or even later, when bare branches finally permit a closer look.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Town that Radiates

'Muidar' c.1868

I was very tempted to title this post 'I Shot the Sheriff' as I posted the photo of the very pleasant police officer who stopped his cruiser to chat with me - caught photographing a unique checkerboard house in Port Hope last week. The title would fit, as during the course of our animated discussion about small peaceful communities, and being known by everyone (I had asked if it contravened some policy to take his photo) he divulged that in his small town of Colborne, he is known as "the sheriff of Cramahe township."

The sheriff was a huge fan of Port Hope, and dedicated to keeping the town orderly; any miscreants, like the ones who once inhabited the brick checkerboard cottage I had been admiring, were not invited to the party.  The cottage has been wonderfully rehabilitated since the day its inhabitants got out of Dodge with the determined assistance of the local law enforcement agency.

Cameco seen from Dorset Street
The officer shared some of the town's interesting tales, including its role in the processing of radium from the Great Bear Lake area in the far north. (It's extracted from pitchblende ore, I later learned, a name that resonated somehow from an old school geography textbook).

 The owner of the red brick house at the top was Dr. Marcel Pochon, who had studied with Madame Curie. He was "the first manager of what became Port Hope's largest employer, the pioneering Eldorado radium refinery", according to Katherine Asheburg in her super walking tour book 'Going to Town'. The house was named 'Muidar' - radium spelled backwards.

Dorset street's flower boulevards far above the waterfront

Port Hope's motto was once "The town that radiates friendliness". Wags started to call it "the town that glows". Inevitably, as concern about low level radiation contamination began to grow, with its impact on Port Hope's real estates ambitions, the motto lost its cachet. Today Cameco (the new name of the town's pioneering Eldorado Mining and Refining Company) is a world leader in radium remediation. Doesn't ring a bell? Think glow in the dark watch dials. My guide gave me a DVD produced in 2011 by the LLRWMO, the Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Office - a comprehensive guide if ever there was one.

Port Hope's flirtation with radium is being told in a series which began in the Saturday July 6 issue of the worthy Northumberland News.

Port Hope ambassador 'the sheriff of Cramahe township'
The officer's story (I swear he told me his name, but to use Brenda's expression, I have a slippery brain), compelled me to find my way through the very twisty hilly block-end streets ("we gather at the river" he said) to Dorset Street to see Muidar House. Beautifully maintained, if not striking architecturally. A place with a past.

The discussion got me thinking about how many 'lives' communities have, and how completely their stories get lost over the years. Archival photos help us peel back the layers, as do all the wonderful local histories being written.
red stretchers+buff headers=checkerboard

But it's hard, on a jog through quiet Madoc for example, to see it as the terminus of a massive assault on the forests and rocks of an Ontario just opening up - opening up a bit like a seagull opens a clam, not without violence and great cost to one of the participants.

PEC's only checkerboard - in Waupoos

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hopelessly Devoted

Penstowe - 1890 Queen Anne Revival

I spent three hours solo in beautiful Port Hope yesterday, enjoying an English mist, wandering up and down astonishingly leafy streets (not just parks, wild ravines! not just slopes but ambitious hills!), revelling in beautifully kept heritage homes and the heady scent of gardens and street plantings (ivory silk Japanese tree lilacs everywhere!), and time-travelling.

The town's Georgian main street is legendary; each time I go there I see more to love. Admittedly, I am perhaps not the type they want, as I while away my hours admiring building features, and how they have been preserved, looking above and beyond the fronts of beautiful shops, spending time, not money. Fortunately, many others come for the ambiance of a finely preserved town, and invest in luxury B&B accommodation, or exquisite fare, art, culture and stuff. Me, I'm too excited to eat or sleep.

175 Dorset Street West (c.1874- with Beaux Arts portico 1900)

Bank of Upper Canada (1857) an Italianate fortress