Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bright On!

Bright On! Not mine but I like it.

Heard it on the car radio while I was (briefly) a citizen of this lovely town last week, encamped outside the walls, at Presqu'ile PP.

beautiful site of  the former town hall, post 1973 tornado

On my several errands to the town's lovely welcoming library, I captured a couple of very appealing buildings. On my drives through its green residential streets, finding a new route 'home' after each town trip, I vowed to return for a wander, resisting just once the lure of the shore.

Brighton has great appeal.
Brighton Funeral Home - great house

Great history.
A tornado. An appalling passenger train fire. The downtown fire. Newcastle, the townsite that never developed, as a result of a terrible shipwreck in 1804. A great restored historic home, Proctor House.

Great historians.
I wrote about Dan Buchanan 'the history guy' at the end of this recent post which introduced you to Ralph and Eugenia Bangay, the creator/curators of Memory Junction railway Museum. Dan just published a super history whodunnit, about (the only) nasty branch of his family tree.

And of course, there's my friend Florence Chatten, another local historian and a lovely soul, who has had a large role to play in many local histories. Including her own Brighton Township, where she shares neighbours' memories of the area.

Great history event. This coming February (to banish all reluctance about falling into winter) will bring us the third annual Brighton History Open House, with events on February 18, 20 and 21. This year will focus on the area's railway history.

Great independent bookseller. Lighthouse Books. Of course Mia Woodburn and Ann Dobby had all my favourite local histories; managed to pick up one I didn't have, That's Just the Way We Were. And yes, Florence was a willing and able contributor.
Proctor House

Mia told me about Lighthouse's regular book events; the photos include a signing by my favouite Canadian author - Jane Urquhart, almost a local. Another reason to love Brighton.

Now. Back to the shore.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The benefits of Zinc

This crisply detailed obelisk in the graveyard of the former Presbyterian (1844) church in Grafton caught my eye. Although it's trying to fit in with its weathered white marble neighbours, there's something a bit too fresh about it after all these years.

I wasn't surprised when I tapped the monument, to hear a tinny ring. For this memorial is made of zinc or 'white bronze' cast metal. Jennifer McKendry (Into the Silent Land) explains that despite the manufacturers' claims that it outlived marble, the material never really caught on in Upper Canada/Canada West. There might be one or two found in the c19 section of many Ontario graveyards. Its durability was its (ahem)strong point.

I find the combination of floating high relief figures and low relief decorative floral and geometric elements with little connection between them to be a bit distracting. McKendry explains that plates were cast and attached to the base with special screws. Designs were chosen from the manufacturer's catalogue, which may explain the combinations of patterns. The cast iron front catalogues I've written about on occasion were similar.

I believe that must be Hope, pointing - hopefully - heavenward. The other figure I didn't catch. Looks to be lurking in the bottom photo. There's a wreath, a bible, and the words 'Gone Home', The family name is Halliday, and the name above (dates unclear in my photo) looks like Joes.

I am annoyed that I didn't spend more time and photograph all the faces of the obelisk...the fact that it looked in danger of tipping over did distract.

The top of the column is quite pleasing - the book states that the obelisk was typically topped with a finial. This tinsmith's tiny hip roof with pennant edge solution is lovely.

I didn't look for a maker's mark, although McKendry writes that they are occasionally stamped on. The Ontario manufacturer (1883-1899)  would have been the White Bronze Co. of St. Thomas which held the sole franchise from the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport Conn. head office (1874-1912.)

Jennifer McKendry explains that white bronze and cast iron memorials are quite rare, and cites the few examples. She mentions a cast iron example in Belleville cemetery (which I have failed to find.) I'll resurrect this discussion later.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The train doesn't stop here anymore

There is train rumbling from various quarters at the moment. Friend Larry is researching a book on the dozens of railways in the Quinte area in those exciting early days - and linking the trail systems built upon the abandoned railbeds.

I am working on my stated intention of attempting to  photograph extant train stations (and commune with the spirits of those gone before) on my travels.

3 hours gets you from Picton to Belleville

I've been collecting some of the prolific Ron Brown's series on Canadian railways and their stations, most recently The Last Stop (profiling Ontario's heritage railway stations.) I like that he tells the story of Brighton's Memory Junction, which I wrote about in August. Incidentally here is a poster on the Friends of Memory Junction Facebook page, announcing the September 26/27 Applefest invitation to visit the Junction. Sounds like a party!

Tom going the distance for train artifacts

Last week I braved the busy lumberyard of C.F.Evans Lumber Co. Ltd. on West Mary Street in Picton, determined to get to the bottom of the Picton train station story. I just knew it was there - and when I peered across the sea of tarmac, I recognized the familiar red brick form.

Far from getting shooed off for trespassing, I was treated to a delightful visit with Tom Evans, a train geek, who showed me memorabilia from the building's life as a train station.

one of the few bits of history CN left behind

a window latch - back when craftsmanship was valued

freight shed roof recycled from a CN boxcar

On the weekend I picked up a copy of another great resource, recommended by Larry. It's called Life on the Trails, Past and Present, written by Dorothy Fraleigh, and published by County Magazine.

I got my copy at Books and Company in Picton. The scrapbook style volume follows today's Millennium Trail (PEC), Lower Trent Trail, and the Hastings Heritage Trail routes, and illustrates the recreational trails' former lives with photos of the train stations which stood along the lines. Great nostalgia.
the stationmaster's windows - long ones allowing
for a view up and down the tracks

The photo to the left provides just that 'the way things used to be' feeling. This is taken in front of the former station, looking west along right of way of the former tracks of the Central Ontario Railway/CNR that in its day, ran from Picton to Maynooth.

Incidentally, the early brick house in the background wouldn't have been visible in the day. The home which now sits adjacent to the Millennium Trail, was recently moved to accommodate Picton's expanded LCBO being built at the corner of Lake and West Main Street.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Graveyard shift

I love cemeteries.
Massive old trees. Ponds. Benches. Charming changes in elevation. Picturesque. Quiet. Contemplative. Cool.

I have visited several of my favourite graveyards over this hot summer, and discovered a few new ones. One of my guidebooks on these explorations is Jennifer McKendry's thorough study entitled Into the Silent Land:Historic Cemeteries and Graveyards in Ontario (self-published 2003.)
Glenwood Cemetery, Picton

 I first spoke about the book back in January, when I could only look ahead, way ahead, to leafy days among the ancestors, so I won't repeat myself on the subject of the garden cemetery aesthetic and design, which explains why so many cemeteries are just so darned beautiful.

Instead, I'll spend a minute now and then on the imagery on grave markers. Just a minute, as McKendry spends hours, beginning at page 186. She writes and illustrates (she is an award-winning photographer, as well as an architectural historian ) examples of markers with nature imagery, human and divine figures, religious motifs, as well as symbols of the deceased person's membership in an organization or a trade/profession.
St. Andrew's United Church, Grafton
All of these markers, photographed in the old Colborne Union Cemetery and in Grafton, feature the ubiquitous willow tree. McKendry explains that "it reigned alone or with other images from the 1810s to the '80s, and was closely aligned with the classical style...Willows became associated with loss and mourning: no matter how many branches were cut off, the tree flourished."(p.189/90) 

She explains that stone carvers could portray the willow naturalistically or stylise it, and that individual artist's work can be distinguished. She goes on to describe the motif's use in a variety of decorative combinations.

I find it all so moving. A death in an early Ontario town, a hundred and sixty years ago. The sad talk with the local stone carver. The creation of a memorial that lasts. A loss that somehow we can still feel when we spend time with them. They aren't forgotten.

"We used to make things in this country"

The sentiments in the title, adapted from Frank Sobotka's classic line in the gritty HBO drama The Wire, sum up the feelings of many North Americans watching their industry move offshore. Admittedly, there is still some manufacturing going on in our country, large and small, and I salute those folk. I feel such a sense of pride when I pick up a 'made in Canada' item - our local Home Hardware is a great source for home-made items; we frequent their hardware store, which feels like the old-fashioned kind. They have everything, and know what it's for. But I digress.
We took a little road trip to Napanee this past weekend, to walk their superb Springside Park Trail, and browse local history at the numerous kiosks and interpretive panels (well done Napanee, waiting for Belleville to catch up!)

Napanee is very history minded, and provides some great online visits also. I particularly like this slide show of archival photos; slides 25-28 provide a peek at the old Gibbards factory. Also intriguing is the Lennox and Addington e-history project. I'll spend more time there, when the weather is less pleasant for walkabout.

At the end of Sunday's walk we made a little pilgrimage to the old Gibbard factory. We remember visiting there with mom and dad years ago - mom wistful about their fine quality furniture, as was many a lady of her generation. The firm's lustrous cherry and walnut furniture was sold by up-market Eatons in the 1920's; Gibbards was touted as "the aristocrat of cabinetmakers" in the store's advertising. The links in this post evoke the generations of Gibbards' influence better than I can. This Gibbard tribute was created by the Economic Development Department of Lennox and Addington township in 2008, the year the final owners announced the plant's closure; it contains some wonderful old photos, and the 'bird's eye map' of the early town with its mills.

The Gibbard Furniture Shops Ltd. at the time of its closure the oldest furniture manufacturer in the country, was established in 1835. It was "older than the telephone, the zipper and older than the country itself." Irishman John Gibbard arrived 32 years before Confederation, and started a cabinet making business using water passing through a canal on his leased property to propel the machinery. A history of fires, rebuilding and growing spanned 4 generations. Parts of the red brick factory date from the end of the 1800's.

In 1940 Jack MacPherson, former Gibbards sales manager took over, and with his son Bruce, modernized the plant. During WWII Gibbards turned its talents to supporting the war effort, building ships wheels, and shipping boxes for ammunition.

This Globe and Mail article about Bruce McPherson conveys the Gibbards impact and its legacy. Here is the Star's account of the 2008 closure announcement.

During our walk, Denis began to long for an opportunity to tour the old factory, but we recognized that this likely wouldn't be possible. Later I found the Jermalism blog, an account of a 'visit' to the old factory by one of the band of urban explorers, people who enter abandoned buildings and photograph what they find. Sometimes they reveal a lovely resonance in these dark, dank, often dangerous spots. Sometimes the results are just plain creepy. But this visit is lovely - dozens of shots of a closed, but somehow still loved and beautiful, fine cabinet making workshop.

Then even later in my web search, I found this news report link on CKWS. Seems there's talk of revitalizing the old plant and the property for residential and commercial use. An ambitious plan for sure. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Johnson house c.1835
Frequent reader Mark suggested a post idea some time ago. He mentioned houses that had stood the test of time (and avoided detection and demolition) while a city grew up around them. They were likely isolated on a farm or estate when they were built. Now the city flows around their old-fashioned setbacks, large trees and lawns (like rushing water parting to get past a rock in the stream); they create an invitation to time-travel for those of us who stop to look.

I've been searching, but the best I can come up with are these two curious houses in Picton. While they are still surrounded by lovely neighbourhoods of well-kept heritage homes, they are distinguished by their orientation to the street, as they were built before their part of the new town was subdivided.

Both houses face Main Street East. Although infill housing over the last century has diluted the effect,  I suspect at the time they had a clear line of sight to the edge of the bluff overlooking the all-important harbour. What's unique about them is that the street does not run past the front of the house anymore, which rather dilutes the effect of their impressive front entrances.
In the case of the house at top, you can travel along its side elevation (which was also oriented to this important street/road, thanks to two entrances in the kitchen tail) on Johnson Street. Prestigious Flemish bond brickwork, stylish eaves returns and splayed stone lintels, and a gorgeous doorcase with finely patterned sidelights and transom (alas, not shown in my photo, but described in Settler's Dream.) make it worth a closer look. The lovely verandah replaces an earlier trellis verandah.
Washburn House c.1835

The wonderfully parapet walled, corbelled, massive four-chimneyed house at Main Street East is in an even odder predicament. Facing Main Street, yes, like its peers along that prestigious old street. But the house now sits behind and slightly to the right of St. Mary Magdalene Church (1913) which is planted as it were in the front lawn. I only got to know the house up close, while singing in a choir group which met at the church hall, and parked behind. In the Streetview photo, if you let your eye follow the driveway back toward a pink flowering shrub and a grey car, you can spot one window and a warm glow of red brick. Think of that house rising on open farmland, back around 1835.
Stokes and Cruikshank (Settler's Dream) deem it "one of the best in the village...closest comparisons that can be made are with the house of William Macaulay." The deep cornice boasts the Greek key geometric pattern, and the portico with pediment has dentils along the raking cornice. SD mentions the paired modillions below the soffit, though my photo doesn't show any of those. Time to creep back to that church parking lot to admire this beauty.

As a postscript to this post, and in deference to Mark's original idea, I just revisited this story about a wonderful stone house in Kingston that would qualify as an early structure well and truly overtaken by the city! And surviving beautifully thanks to good owners.