Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Kaslo is one of our favourite places in B.C., one of many memories for Denis from before we met, and many more that we created over the years we revisited Kootenay Lake following its silver-mining story and exploring its wild rugged beauty.

blame the tilt on the photographer, not the structure

Last month we returned after five years away, to find Kaslo looking quite splendid, a determined and visionary town capitalizing on its fine architectural legacy, and its important history, to draw tourism and revenue.

The town's flagship (truly a ship in this case) is the legendary S.S. Moyie which transported people and goods up and down the lake into the 1950's, preserved through great local effort, now a National Historic Site. The Moyie is the oldest intact stern-wheeler on the planet.

It was great to see the old Langham Hotel, which was built in 1893 for the hoards of silver miners sleeping in shifts in the heyday of the mining boom, looking so fine. The ambitious frame hotel, once abandoned, had functioned over the years as a bank and a wooden boat factory, among other reincarnations. The ruined structure was narrowly rescued from demolition not long ago by determined citizens, and stands today, proud in its Victorian finery, as the award-winning Langham Cultural Centre, housing a gallery, museum and office spaces. The history of the building's almost unbelievable rescue is told here.

During WWII, the Langham housed 80 Japanese internees:  a small part of the 1100 proud and resilient Canadian citizens from coastal B.C. who were transported to Sandon. They, along with thousands of other folks of Japanese origin were deemed enemy aliens and housed in appalling conditions in many then-desperately remote areas of the interior.

It's a powerful display, telling a forgotten chapter in our not so proud story of wartime fear, ignorance and prejudice.

 In a curious coincidence, the other night I came upon this superb TVO documentary  by Mitch Miyagawa, about the internment and other injustices in Canada's history, and the awkward attempts to redress past mistakes. The film-maker's father (like David Suzuki's) was wrongly interned as an enemy alien during the war.
Geigerich Building 1894 - internee's school
To read more about Kaslo follow this link to B.C. Magazine:  magazine.
boomtown fronts
The Kaslo Hotel (1896)- demolished 1951
Recreated in 1955/2009
Enjoy a Kaslo Walking Tour!
Kaslo City Hall 1898

The Scotsmen of Brighton Township

 Northumberland County. Sun and brisk air, winding roads that climb and swoop, green and pleasant farms and woodlands turning to fall colour. What a way to spend a day. And yesterday I did, in the company of a woman who knows her township and her history. A woman of Scots heritage, who delighted me with tales of the local folk, and sightings of well-crafted stone houses of the settlement in Brighton and next-door Seymour townships.
Fogorig mill

I plan to return soon - history is everywhere in the Northumberland hills. People with deep roots in the old country transplanted them here, made buildings to last, and history to tell. A good place to look back, and see forward.

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you sow." Robert Louis Stevenson.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Genteel poverty

At the corner of Hastings and Cambie Streets, across from that
city's infamous Victory Square, and an intersection away from the human misery that is East Hastings, stands Vancouver's absolutely extravagant Beaux Arts Dominion Building (1910).

Many resources tell its story better than I can (being still a bit inarticulate after 6 weeks of travelling, entirely in input mode).

The Vancouver walking tour guides available in PDF from the Vancouver Heritage Foundation and a June 2013 Inside Vancouver article by Miranda Post both do the Dominion Building proud. For now, I just want to recall that sunny early September day I actually made its acquaintance (after years of living in Vancouver, and walking or bussing past it on my trips to Chinatown, or to work in Burnaby) and just stand and look at this most lavish and colourful of Vancouver buildings.

should be a snooty hansom cab, not a democratic bike

those Beaux Arts folk really knew how to decorate surfaces!

the symbolism of muscular cherubs around your cartouche?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

Good Hope Hall, near Melville, Sask.
 We've just returned from six weeks of driving and camping across the face of our astonishingly diverse country. Over the winter I will endeavour to process what I have learned from all the museum visits, the walking tours, the mountain hikes and canyon explorations, the dusty backroads and open countryside, all the moments of standing in awe ....and of course, the buildings.

And, if I still remember how to write, I will try to share them.

I love the prairies. Of course, our country is huge - the width of rivers, the expanse of lakes, the height of virgin forest trees and of mountains. But for me, the limitless horizons of the prairies, dwarfing us and our illusions, best convey the vastness.

In face of this, settlers created homes, farms, communities in the late c.19 and early c.20.

across the road, canola stretching to the horizon

We saw so many picturesque early farmhouses,  barns, and outbuildings,  returning, dignified, back into the land. But opportunity to capture most of these on camera were hampered by lack of opportunity - traffic, distance, fences, light and lack thereof, rain. I will hold these images in my head forever, but they are somewhat difficult to share with others.

This weathered and abandoned little community hall, standing at a cross-roads on municipal road 13 east of Melville Saskatchewan, can ably stand in for them all. This is the Good Hope Community hall. Looks to have been built around 1910/20.I expect at one time it was the centre of a striving farming community, likely composed of optimistic immigrants from Europe, plowing the virgin prairie, starting farms and ranches, always looking forward to better yields, better houses, a better future for their families. Hopeful.