Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Queensborough in Print

Not long ago, I enjoyed lunch with one of Queensborough Ontario's most dedicated champions, the writer of the delighfully homespun nostalgic blog Meanwhile, at the Manse. I won't describe it, as only a visit can do it justice. Suffice to say if avocado green, church basement sandwiches, aprons, Donny and Marie Osmond or genuine neighbourliness resonate with you, this blog, and the community from which it originates will appeal to you.

That community is Historic Queensborough, about which I have written on several occasions. I came upon it (and a severe headcold) in February 2012 ,dashing about for "just one more photo" of the surprising old village, and its fine (some of them admittedly needing love) buildings.

Orange Hall
Again I urge you to visit the lovely blog. To hear all the stories. And when (note, I say when and not if) you get to town, you will need a walking tour guide to fully appreciate the town's history, natural beauty and architecture - and the guide will speak for itself about the community spirit and plain hard work which brought it into being. That guide? It's called Historic Queensborough (that's it above). It can be obtained by phoning K. Sedgwick at 613-473-2110.

But don't believe me about Queensborough. Just consult the venerable Century Home magazine, June 1998 issue, for an item entitled 'The Miller's Daughter'.

Daniel Thompson's Mill

St. Peter's Anglican Church

American Hotel/Diamond Hotel/McMurray's General Store

Thompson house

I'm still vowing to return on a warm green and yellow summer day, for a picnic beside the millpond. How often in this world can one still do that?

Spadina - art imitates life imitates art...

285 Spadina Road - 1905 port-cochere for the chauffeur and auto
On March 24 a group of Downton Abbey (no doubt you've heard of it) fans junketed to Toronto, to a favourite house, Spadina. This wonderful museum house depicts life in the Toronto high society of the 1920's and 1930's. On this occasion Spadina was even more fabulous than usual as it hosted the Canadian-exclusive exhibition 'Dressing for Downton' featuring twenty costumes worn by actors in the series which depicts the life of British landed gentry between 1912 and the early 1920's.

dresses from Toronto's high society

The Downton collection was augmented by items from the City of Toronto collection, from 1900-1920. The display of Downton Abbey costumes and jewellery was ably interpreted by display panels, and our charming guide, program director Doug Fyfe.
wouldn't you just recognize that dress anywhere?
one of many informative panels

 Downton fans can no doubt still hear the imperious tone in the Dowager Duchess' voice, as she wore this costume to take the measure of young Mathew Crawley.
worn by Shirley Maclaine's character 
remember lovely Lady Sybil in blue?
when good heiresses go bad - and what they wore

An exploration of art imitating life might easily imagine these Downton Abbey frocks comfortably (well, certainly more comfortably than a decade or two earlier) at home in the drawing rooms at Spadina.

Spadina is a museum house well worth a visit, real or virtual. It is a multilayered place, built by the father of the Honourable Robert Baldwin in 1835, purchased and remodelled several times by Toronto financier James Austin and his descendants between 1866 and 1984 when the home became a museum, with many of the family's original furnishings intact.

As a student of buildings and interiors, I enjoyed seeing how changes in style (and in society) impacted the house over the Austin's tenure. (And as a Downton fan, I can imagine the discussions and tensions as social and domestic change took place in those rooms.)

Although the drawing rooms with their Jacques and Hay suite of upholstered furniture, and stately Renaissance Revival over-mantel mirror anchors the home in Victorian style, other areas of the house illustrate changes in taste and activity.

The guidebook explains the 1905 changes to the house: "Interior alterations, such as widening doorways, removing walls, and curving the front staircase, reflected changes in architectural fashions and social customs" and made the Victorian house brighter, more spacious and adaptable to enertaining and dancing. (Do scenes of the servants rolling up the Downton carpets leap to mind?)

for the coming out party grand entrance

Two of my favourite rooms at Spadina are the blue room and the palm room.  The second-floor blue room, at the top of the stairs, received an update in 1905, a wall replaced by a delicate arcade. Incidentally, the blue room is hung with a number of paintings by women artists. Anne and Margaret, James Austin's daughters, one of whom started the Women's Art Assocation, were talented painters.Work by many of the association members are in the Spadina collection. (and if we think about Edith Crawley and her struggles to become a jounalist, we might imagine parallels?)

The visitor's guide explains that the wicker and rush furniture which fill the "chic" palm room, part of a 1905 expansion, "came into fashion at the turn of the [last] century."

Styles began to change with the restless late c.19/turn of the century mood. The billiard room showcases Arts and Crafts pieces like the bentwood chairs and oak desk, and the William Morris design armchair. And the Art Nouveau frieze is astonishingly modern.

Art Nouveau styling in front foyer
I've just had a prowl through photos of Spadina online. I realize (never having visited in the summer) that I have paid no attention to the gardens and outdoor terraces, nor mentioned the unique exterior silhouette created by the addition of a third floor, and the incorporation of several expansions.

And I failed to mention the archaeological research under the house. Truly below stairs.

Time for another visit this spring.
Join me?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Armchair Traveller - I'll take you there

Winter, they tell us, is on the way out. Summer campsites are booked, old house touring plans are forming up. My winter of unbridled reading has resulted in three read, five new titles added.

One very great pleasure of reading is arm-chair travelling, and this book which I picked up for two dollars at our library used (read discarded) book store was just the ticket.

The book is called Buildings: A Traveller's Guide. It was written by architecture prof Richard Reid and published by Michael Joseph Limited of London (1980). I have tried everything to contact the writer or the publisher to get permission for what I am about to tell you (but even without permission they cannot question my motives - which are to get all of you to run to your favourite used bookseller and pick up this book!)

Buildings features text and illustrations about 3500 historic buildings, organized by country, region and architectural tradition. It's recommended for the traveller, though at almost 500 pages it might be a bit heavy. But what a great resource for planning, and for background information.

Let me tell you what happened when I delved into this book. I went through what I will call the Armchair Traveller's four stages of acceptance.

First stage - Consternation. "Oh, no, there aren't enough years (or dollars) for me to see all of these places. And I must, I simply must!"

Second stage - Consolation. "Oh well, there are loads of ways for me to enjoy these places - outstanding documentaries and DVD's, books, websites, courses.
me at the Forum, Pompeii

Third stage - celebration. " Well, we have been to a goodly number of these astonishing places". My bookshelves are filled with tourist guides and souvenir volumes from dozens of spots in England
Europe and North America. Time to have another look.

Fourth - Determination. Make a plan to cross places off the must see list. "We will go to Rome. We will spend a week immersed in the incredible complexity of this ancient city and its buildings from the Roman era to the present."

Denis has been there, and he is determined that we will get those tickets in the next year or two.

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice
This is silly but I have to say it. Sorry Richard Reid. Something about the exquisite black and white drawings takes me back to those activity and sticker books of our childhood. Something makes me want to hand-colour the drawings of places I have seen, or find the corresponding colourful sticker to place on its outline. And that makes me want to post a few more photos and copy a few more of these incredible pencil renderings of the world of architecture.

St. Anthony Padua

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence

And to emulate my lovely blogger friend Katherine, I have provided you with a link to a song.  I loved singing this when I spent a year with Georgette Fry's 'Shout Sister' choir. It's called I'll Take You There. And Mavis will.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mill Ends

 Yesterday we heard the sad news that The Old Stockdale Mill Restaurant - yes, in Stockdale, a few minutes north of Trenton in a most scenic location - is closing. Owner Peter Sutton had a vision for this lovely spot, and he made it work for a while.

 Many regulars made the deck by the millpond their summer home. Others came for special event dinners and great music. But it's been a hard winter - for trees, for animals, for people! - and for restaurants.

 I was fortunate to meet Peter and tell his mill story in the Winter 2012 issue of County and Quinte Living magazine.

A browse through this photo essay shows how smitten I was with the place. Enjoy a little more time here.

And check out Peter's farewell message, and pass on his offer for sale.

 There will be someone out there for whom this is their next best place to be.

So thanks Peter Sutton - for the memories. For the vision and hard work. Sorry we let you down. Sorry so sorry to see you go. Exit to the rising strains of one more chorus of "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."