Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, March 28, 2014

an afternoon in East City

Verulam (1877)
 Peterborough Ontario has a lot of layers for me. When I was five years old I spent several months there, with my lovely English war-bride aunt and her husband, my bombastic uncle, in their tiny Victory wartime house, while my mother struggled with illness prior to the birth of my little brother.
Engleburn House (1853) - and it's for sale!
There I sampled city delights such as venturing too far afield on scorching sidewalks in my little bare feet, and being overwhelmed with shyness at the Kindergarten down the street, which I attended with my dear wild cousin Terry; I recall trying to string large wooden beads in primary colours, onto a frayed and uncooperative shoe lace. My uncle's wonderful garden of scarlet runner beans, the huge high swing I jumped from in my do we remember such tiny things, from such a long distance?
Another English immigrant, my husband, was taken to the bosom of a Peterborough family when he arrived during an unexpected savage winter in 1970. Although the family was lovely, he was unimpressed with the distinct lack of English pubs or the attendant cameraderie...and shocked with the Canadians' proclivity to fighting after partaking in a few pints.

Henry Calcutt House (1866)
Peterborough has a fascinating history. It was founded as Scott's Plains in 1818 by Adam Scott, who built the requisite mill complex. In1825 the place received an infusion of 1,878 Irish immigrants from the city of Cork; the town was renamed in honour of Peter Robinson, a politician who sponsored the immigration scheme. Peterborough has lived through the glory days of the Peterborough Canoe Company, Outboard Marine, and Quaker Oats in full production. But now, and despite clear evidence to the contrary, Peterborough is often described as down at the heels, with high unemployment, a sluggish economy and a dying downtown (same could be applied to most of our towns and cities at some time or another.)
The Pines (1877)
Fortunately, last weekend we travelled to visit that lovely war bride aunt, now in her 92nd year, and going strong. She ably assumed the navigator's seat, and saw us about the town, in search of some leafy neighbourhoods (well, the potential is there), and some stately homes, in the former Ashburnham Village, which was founded in 1859 and annexed to Peterborough (on the more prestigious west side, or so thought the westerners) in 1909.
According to Canada's Historic Places Peterborough boasts 50 properties worth a close look. And despite the bitter wind, my camera and I made the acquaintance of a goodly number, while husband and aunt sat in a warm car and chatted. In one short late afternoon we found Italianate, Ontario Gothic Farmhouse, Second Empire and British Classical styles in beautiful condition in the 'East City'.

Grover-Nicholls House (1846)
Once back west of the river, the Greek Revival glory of the Grover-Nicholls house was the day's final hurrah. The shadows were lengthening,the temperature dropping, so my camera and I sought the companionable warmth of my little car filled with loved ones. 

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