Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I always feel a bit of 'I'm not worthy' when faced with the imperious beauty of the Second Empire style as expressed in such places as Glanmore National Historic Site and others of its ilk. Of course, that's perfectly natural as that was just the effect the owners were looking for.

Second Empire style was popular in Canada in the 1870's and 80's, so named because it used many of the design elements made famous by Napoleon III and his man Baron Haussmann during the Second French Empire (1853-70), as they transformed much of medieval Paris into those iconic wide boulevards of tall mansard roofed buildings (think: Champs Elysee.) Heavy decorative mouldings abound, dormer windows characterize the style, but what says "Second Empire' most loudly is the Mansard roof - named for French Baroque architect Francois Mansart who popularized the style in the 1600's.

Mansard roofs could be straight, convex or concave curved or double-curved. I've read that many straight gable-roofed houses in North America were remodelled to add a Mansard roof - certainly increased the interior floorspace.For more on Second Empire, check out Shannon Kyles' Ontario Architecture site.

Glanmore NHS, Belleville
I've included photos of a few favourite Second Empire homes, but the real reason for this post is an email from a reader based in Gravelbourg Saskatchewan, a tiny town we actually sought out on a trip west in 2005, because it is a unique French enclave.

Gravelbourg, Sask. - photo courtesy of Jake
Lunenburg, N.S.
The reader sent me a photo of his house, a rare and noteworthy Eaton's catalogue house, a story from our past that I told in a post back in 2011.

 The photo got me thinking about small-scale Mansard roofed houses I've seen in my travels.

Sackville, NB

Although they lack the snooty presence of the grand Second Empire houses, these smaller scale homes made the sensible decision to hold onto that idea for extra space upstairs, and in so doing retained those peekaboo dormers with mouldings.

Picton, Ontario
 There are even a number of Mansard roofs in 1970's and 80's subdivisions - many near my home.

M. Mansart would be pleased.

PS Just came across this mini-Mansard as I was Streetviewing around Lindsay, in preparation for a photo tour on the weekend.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lost on Cavan Street

 I love getting lost. Whether on foot, or driving, I enjoy striking out to see what I can see. Usually I find something, a key intersection or the location of a landmark (oh, so THAT'S where it is!) which can be filed away to make the wandering less random at another time. But that feeling of being disoriented on purpose is delightful. (That being said, and as a concession to my dear one who HATES being lost, regularly choosing the same route to avoid doing so, I will admit that I usually have a map in my pocket to consult should the need for coffee or a bathroom, or a scheduled meeting arise.) Fortunately, I love maps as much as I love getting lost.

 What is she on about? Well this. I just pulled up this handy map of Port Hope, and realized to my amazement that the waterside street I wandered along one recent July, Cavan Street, quite totally and delightedly lost, followed the Ganaraska for some distance on its journey to oblivion in Lake Ontario. I knew this was an early settled neighbourhood, likely industrial and gritty in the day as the power source for early industry, the river, ran through it, and the buildings were small, frame and very close to the street. But until just now I didn't see how it all fit together.

So, I wandered around this block just north of downtown Walton Street. Had I driven further north along Cavan Street, I would have travelled alongside the brushy banks of the Ganaraska up to and under the 401 with its traffic whizzing eastward directly overhead. And had my millpower instincts led me, I would have looked across to the Ganny's east bank, and seen the historic preserved Molson Mill at the top end of Hope Street (above whose rooftop I have hurtled, along the eastbound 401, so many times.) Must investigate the source of that name for the town - likely not another way to say optimistic expectations for the future?

Beamish's Dam
I walked through a pleasant riverside park, recaptured from former industrial use, and crossed a footbridge, to look the river up and down.

To the north were some derelict industrial buildings, and some concrete pads where others had stood. I did some research and think that what I captured in this photo may have been the remnants of the Nicholson File Factory (gone, like most industry in much of our country.) If the red brick structure is the one I'm reading about, it's been a very naughty building indeed, having been discovered sheltering a grow op on two occasions (2012 and 2014). Hope the wise preservationists of Port Hope have helped her turn her back on this dark period of her history.

The Cobourg, Bowmanville and Port Hope Industrial Edition 1907 recounts happier times. The Outram file factory (later Nicholson) dated from 1888*, and lasted until 1976 (phenomenal longevity), manufacturing files and rasps for the wholesale market. In 1985, the property was designated as a heritage site, because of its rich industrial and archeological significance. ACO's Preservation Works program commissioned an architectural review. Fingers crossed we see this industrial heritage preserved. No doubt there's a great collection of historic photos somewhere in this heritage-aware town, which could reanimate the Cavan Street neighbourhood. I've asked permission to show you a photo of the factory in as-was condition, but if you have trouble waiting, here's a link to '

Other bits and bobs about Port Hope's industrial heritage are emerging. This Historic Places link describes the Chalk Carriage Works, and if you're interested in an in-depth study here's a chapter from *Port Hope Historical Sketches by W. Arnot Craick (1901).

Have Thomas bring 'round the carriage

Idalia carriage house (1869)
Another pleasant hour spent with Tom Cruickshank's Port Hope: A Treasury of Early Homes led me to exploring further this blue board and batten place I spotted on Dorset Street hill a couple of spring-times ago. As I wandered up the edge overlooking the lake, among the lilac trees blooming on the boulevard, I was drawn to this unique and well-preserved rural-feeling spot on a tall terraced property, among the serene and dignified cottages and boastful estates of this lovely part of town.

A bit of searching led me to Turns out this building was moved in 1975 to the site: I so admire and respect the preservation spirit that has within it the energy and vision to disassemble, move and rebuild a structure, as part of the drive to conserve it. This structure had lived and worked on the grounds of the famous Idalia; it served as the coach house.

The carriage house's cupola and the original hay doors (guessing they're in the gable end, which I didn't capture) are original design elements. The lovely curved verandah wasn't around at feeding time.

All along the watchtower - Idalia
According to Tom Cruickshank, the carriage house stood on six acres surrounding the exotic and picturesque Italianate villa built for Charles Seymour and his wife around 1869. I'm sure the house exists today, but it's hard to find. Here's the Street View view.

A photo post card found at the site of the Ontario Genealogy Historical Newspaper Collection - Port Hope, which I'm pretty sure they won't mind me using here, shows the picturesque balconies, towers and verandahs associated with the style. Like Bellevue, a similar Tuscan villa in Kingston, it's clad in stucco.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

There's a Meetin' Here Tonight

Thanks to several great books that I've recently acquired, I am making the formal acquaintance of the province's town halls. Right now I'm enjoying Town Halls of Canada, published in 1987 by National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Environment Canada, written by various authors. The collection of essays is based on the Canadian Inventory of Historic Building, a hugely important national survey of our built heritage up to 1880 (later in the west), initiated by the Federal Government, carried out from 1970 - 1978. More on the inventory here. This growing awareness of our historic buildings led to a lot of publications being researched and published during this time, including our own Belleville's Heritage Buildings East of the Moira River.

Ameliasburgh 1874
From the number of photos I am able to find in my files, it's quite clear that the town hall has not often caught my attention. Why not, though, when a town hall is bound to be noteworthy? The town hall is a community's expression of itself, its public face, incorporating its pride, its status, its sophistication, its aspirations, its confidence in the future. It's a gathering place, a crucible where community is created.

In the earliest days, the only gathering place might have been an inn. I'm thinking of Margaret Simpson's log tavern which served as a meeting place in fledgling Belleville, for everything from militia musters to magistrate's court to political meetings - and to plenty of drinking and singing. See more on that in Gerry Boyce's super social history of the area Belleville: A Popular History.

Throughout the nineteenth century town halls evolved along with the communities they served; from the earliest simple one-room halls, to multi-purpose buildings housing paid staff administering an expanded range of  public services. Along the way, some communities undertook monumental boosterish structures, like those we see in Kingston and Cobourg. By the end of c.19 new plainer efficient modern purpose-built office buildings were replacing Victorian grandiosity.

Bath 1861
I'm devoting this post to the simple open hall plan - unspecialised one room buildings, gable-roofed, entrance at gable end, typically one, but occasionally two storeys (the second floor containing a second hall), seldom much decorated -  similar in scale to the churches and schoolhouses springing up in communities in the early decades of the c.19. In rural areas, such plain halls persisted as town halls and social centres up to the turn of the 20th century. In the west, they started later and endured even longer.

Ancaster 1871

C.A.Hale, who wrote the chapter on 'Rural, Village and Town Halls' for the book, describes a typical interior, "austere and very simply furnished...heated by a central floor stove." Council and spectator areas were separated by a railing or elevated platform, with plain wooden chairs for council members, perhaps a bookcase for the clerk's papers, a table for the secretary, and benches around the room. Those benches would be filled when the platform doubled as a stage for community concerts. Queen Victoria would preside  from her frame above the wainscoting. Council business concerned "streets, drainage...animals running at large, constructing public buildings, wharves, ditches and fence, and establishing bounties..." (hopefully on wolves, not hombres). "Later, fire and police protection, sewage, public health and education came to occupy many of these councils." (That's when halls became multi-use.)

I've somehow missed photographing a small town hall considered very significant to the authors. The Adolphustown hall "one of the oldest municipal halls in Canada," was built in 1840 and has been restored in recent years and clad in board and batten; it's in regular use by the UEL Association Quinte Branch. I have attended genealogical workshops in its plain space and I salute the volunteers who saved this worthy building.
Sophiasburgh township hall (1878) 

Sophiasburgh township hall(1878) in Demorestville is also mentioned for its "graceful arches and Gothic Revival ornamentation." Marion Macrae is less kind. In Cornerstones of Order (1983) she has this to say: "Carried away by the picturesque possibilities of bargeboards, window labels and transom glazing, an unidentified designer decked Sophiasburgh township hall with a lavish hand."

Ameliasburgh Town Hall (top) was built in 1874 of squared stone with light-coloured Kingston limestone window surrounds with keystones, and quoins. Cruikshank and Stokes (The Settler's Dream) describe the starred rose (somewhere else I noted it described as a Masonic symbol) in the Gothic transom. The hall is in regular use today.
very rural Saskatchewan community spirit

Bath town hall (1861) is an example of a more sophisticated design, possibly inspired by the pattern books available to builders by this time,  with its entrance portico and pediment above. Ancaster old township hall is quite splendid indeed, but I suspect it was a single open hall design.

Township hall, Front of Escott 1871
So. What stories can a town hall tell me? Maybe not the same tales as those told by an old house, of families, life and love, hopes, tragedies, dreams. Until now, a town hall didn't speak to me - I thought of  it as an administrative place, a place of bylaws and plebiscites - but of course there are human stories there. The town hall is the public face of the people who live in those houses. The town hall tells of their daily challenges and preoccupations, and their aspirations for themselves and their communities. Time for us to meet.

Next up: Specialized multi-use town halls. Monumental town halls.

Last word to the wonderfully evocative little prairie town hall, captured on a back road somewhere east of Yorkton, Saskatchewan.The little structure at a desolate cross-roads in flat scrub prairie bears the words 'Good Hope Hall.'

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Prince Edward County Courthouse 1832
A couple of years ago, I was pleased to be asked to contribute a chapter to a fascinating book about Prince Edward County, called Wind Water Barley and Wine. The book was the brainchild of well-known local author/publisher Orland French, himself a major contributor. To see sample pages, or puchase a copy, visit Wallbridge Publishing's online store.
portico added 1840

WWB&W explores the way the unique geology of that county has influenced the lives of the people who live there. Its chapters cover topics ranging from farming and viniculture, to wildlife, to beaches and lakes. I got the story of early homes (a no-brainer) and created 'From the Ground Up.'

Recently, I asked Orland about the fate of the material I had submitted which had not been included in the book. I felt attached to it. I remember sitting in my little trailer at Presqu'ile Provincial Park that final June week before deadline, where I had retreated to avoid distractions as I checked and double-checked sources, rain chucking down outside. I recall liking what I produced.
rare elliptical fanlights above and below 

One of the sections that didn't make it into the book was a sort of house styles 'guide' - we talked about using that material in a later book. I enjoyed the research, the photo tours, the discipline of writing it.That's good enough for me. I'm an admirer after all, not an authority.

So. I checked with Orland, and he okayed my publishing the left-over material here on the blog. "Just talk to me before you sell it," he said. So, read and enjoy these lovely early PEC homes. Just don't send money.

Shall we start with stone houses? Stone houses are not as common in Prince Edward as in other parts of Ontario. May I suggest Kingston? Perth?

 But the county has some darned fine ones, for all that. Of course, the PEC Courthouse (1832), designed and built to express the dignity of the courts and the sophistication and importance of the community, was of the best stone (light coloured Kingston limestone), meticulously dressed. (See WWB&W p.90, 102-4 for more on that.)

Vader house (1846)
Peter Stokes and Tom Cruickshank drew my attention to the homes pictured here, in The Settler's Dream. They stated that these houses displayed the same degree of craftsmanship as the Court House. Regularly coursed squared stone masonry demanded the best craftsmen.

The William Vader home on Big Island, is built of precisely cut pick-faced stone blocks, with smooth ashlar accents, and deeply v-jointed quoins at the corners. And then there's that stone wall, the curious gable/hip roof-line (barely visible on the left), the wide front gable and door-case, the askew chimneys. And the drystone wall. And the north-facing shore. A gorgeous spot.
Roblin stone Regency cottage (1840's)

I've always loved the fashionable one and a half storey cottage built by Philip Roblin Jr. at Green Point. It features four French doors along the facade, ashlar quoins and lintels. It's been exquisitely restored and sympathetically enlarged. A beautiful location atop the bluff, with so much history. Look over that edge down to the water - think mills.

Lazier home (c.1840)
Or then, the 1840's Lazier home in Sophiasburgh, with its uncommon Palladian dormer, flush-boarded, with pilasters and eaves returns. Would be worth the journey to see that dormer alone! The other three sides contain the rare and intriguing chimney dormers  - here's a link to a Fish Lake brick house with the same unique dormer/chimney form, that I visited some time ago. Then there's the deep cornice, chinoiserie sidelights and transom, ashlar lintels....Sigh.

Cornelius Clapp built this hip-roofed single storey stone cottage with the impressive roof-top monitor in Hillier in about 1841. The doorcase and the French doors are so delicious. And the ashlar quoins and splayed lintels! What a beauty, and so wonderfully restored and maintained.

On a rise above Consecon Lake stands the fine
c.1850 Ontario farmhouse style stone house of Henry Parliament, with its Gothic window, bargeboard, deeply set doorcase, ashlar lintels...and a lovely stone wall.

At tour's end, on our return to Picton for tea at Miss Lily's Cafe, we might drive past the last best stone house, the large c.1859 residence of merchant Elisha Sills, with its imposing size and rooftop lantern. It set the tone for the town's future affluent East Main Street neighbourhood.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Check it Out

Public Buildings.
The series.
I have just opened three great books on civic buildings, and in my enthusiasm to capture new stuff I am reading, I have started posts on courthouses, registry offices, town halls.

Schools, railway (not those Yankee railroad stations, explains my train aficionado friend Larry) stations and firehalls are in the neighbourhood.
Woodstock, N.B.

But libraries - ah libraries, those wonderful gifts of free knowledge which in and of themselves would justify every one of my tax dollars - just jumped to first place in the queue thanks to a delightful link that I'm  exploring, thanks to an article in yesterday's post of the Built Heritage News, edited by Catherine Nasmith (a remarkable online newsletter on current heritage architecture stories, quick, go sign up).
Belleville's old Corby library
The article features Daniel Rotsztain, an enterprising geographer who used a recent period of unemployment to create pen and ink drawing of most of Toronto's public libraries. He calls his website allthelibraries "a love letter to the library." I adore and envy  his skilful line drawings and his ability to capture the simplicity of moderne structures and the intricate detail of beaux arts branches, and make it look easy.

courtesy Eric Pierce
Daniel is also online at the urban geographer, and writes for Torontoist, celebrating life and built heritage (of all vintages) in our biggest city. I've run across his articles here and there; glad to be connected to the home base of this prolific and informed and enthusiastic writer.
used with permission of the artist, Peggy Holcroft-Cameron

And since we're on the topic of libraries in art, here's a painting of Sarnia Library done by talented local artist, and my friend, Peggy Holcroft-Cameron. Peggy regularly accepts commissions to portray heritage buildings (this one was done for a Belleville client). She has painted Belleville City Hall, Glanmore NHS, and one of my favourites, the Bellevue Terrace on Patterson Street.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pediments - Lite

photo by Arpington. Public Domain

Pediment. The good folks at Wikipedia define Pediment thus:
"A pediment is an element in classical, neoclassical and baroque architecture, and derivatives therefrom (!), consisting of a gable, originally of a triangular shape, placed above the horizontal structure of the entablature, typically supported by columns. The tympanum, or triangular area within the pediment, was often decorated with relief sculpture depicting scenes of Greek and Roman mythology or allegorical figures." I'll leave you to check off the elements in the photo at the top, from Wikipedia.

Over hundreds of years, architects have played with this pediment idea - they've opened it along its bottom edge,  broken it at the apex, massively overdecorated it, even twisted it into a swan's neck variation.

A sweet little  vestigial pediment is frequently found on frame buildings of the late c.19. A delightful little triangle over windows, the vernacular builder's attempt to make a plain building a bit grand.

Recently old house friend Shannon leaped out of the car in Deseronto to photograph a good example - I'm told they don't make these in Southwestern Ontario.

These prim little frame lintels on some Castleton homes, and the rather grand library and archives building's pediment with the super bull's-eye window - and my memory of meeting Peter Stokes - are all fond keepsakes from Castleton, Ontario.

Log On

photo credit Alex Fida
I've written a number of posts about log buildings over time, I think.
One of them appeared after we visited Upper Canada Village a couple of years ago.
Can't locate any more of them right now, but there are more, so please tell me if I'm boring you.

My reasons for writing this are two-fold.
One, I want to acknowledge a faithful reader of this blog, Alex Fida, of Prince Edward County.
I've posted about Alex's new place, the historic Falconer House, a few times. This is the account of my first awed visit to the house, a place I'd long admired.

photo credit Alex Fida
Alex got in touch with me last spring to tell me about his log house - and we have been trying to get together to tell its story ever since. He sent me these photos.

Alex has acquired two early log houses of Prince Edward County, has disassembled and moved them, and is currently reassembling one on his property in Bloomfield. (He seems to have no trouble taking on multiple projects.) Alex is aided in his log house rebuild by the well-respected restoration carpenter Kip Brisley.

These photos were taken last October. When gentle outdoor temperatures return, I will visit this log project in person, and share some of Alex's stories - and photos of its current status - on 'ancestralroofs'.
a summer log house near Salmon Point

The other reason for rebooting my log stories - Orland French, writer and publisher of the hugely successful Wind, Water,Barley & Wine (a PEC geology cum history cum geography cum architecture cum farming/winery industry cum natural history treasure) has just okayed my using a bunch of material which I submitted for the book (I wrote a chapter on the early architecture of the county), and which was not used, on this blog.
This log cabin appeared in the Spring issue of CQL

I am glad to have more photos to rifle through. Here are a couple of log homes I like - one superbly restored by the Brisley's of Fish Lake, the other, holding its own in cottage country.