Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Porchfest is the name of a yearly event in Belleville's historic residential East Hill, which features local musicians entertaining from host porches throughout the neighbourhood. It's a great community event and brings out lots of neighbourly folks to wander along leafy streets among our best houses. If only it wouldn't rain every year.

This isn't about that event. I stole the name for this celebration of an unusual porch  noted in my travels.

As I walked through Port Hope early this past summer, I came upon this truly unique Egyptian Revival porch. It seems to dwarf the cottage it's attached to.  Katherine Ashenburg identifies the material as concrete, and identifies the style as "one of the novelty revivals fashionable around the turn of the [last] century." I would love to know what transpired at that address before the project began. (Honey, you want to build what?)

Notice the detail? Under a pretty standard flat roof and fascia, an organic pattern on the columns led me to scour my Egypt notes from Shannon Kyle's world architecture course.

Columns weren't always stone; they began as tree stumps, or when unavailable,  bunches of likely palm or reed branches, bundled together, stooked upright and covered with clay, to support a lintel. Later columns of stone were carved with patterns recollecting those early forms - encircling bands representing the twine binding a bundle of reeds, flaring capitals recalling the flowers of papyrus. The Port Hope Egyptian column shaft bears organic decorative motifs, leaves and their ribs perhaps, and recalls some of the wonderful palm capitals we studied in the course.

 But still I looked for the exact pattern. A search led me to this paper by Jimmy Dunn, webmaster and publisher of Tour Egypt online. No, I did not find the origin of the pattern this Ontario home-improver used, but what a lot of detailed research I did find. Bookmarked. Have a look. Somebody's done his homework.

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