Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, October 30, 2015

Taking care of Business

Picton (1871)
Registry offices have never really called out to me. Until recently I have been blissfully unaware of their purpose and their absolute importance in the maintenance of order in our fledgling country, as our ancestors obtained crown patents for newly surveyed land in newly opened townships. For registry offices are about property, and who owns it. About what we own and who we are. Peace and good government. Records maintenance and security (fire risks especially) motivated early civic officials to create registry offices to keep valuable documents secure.

They make me think of my history friend Lois, manhandling old assessment records bigger than she is, massive crumbling old leather bound books with valuable details for the persistent, recorded in a spidery hand.
Perth Registry Office

One thing that's always interested me, is the family resemblance among registry offices. From town to town, the gable front, three bay, symmetrical facade, with pediment, the name of the municipality or town announced in the tympanum is pretty standard.

Turns out there was a pattern book.

Perth Courthouse - maxi-me
Although I admit to my ignorance as to their role, and to a lack of passion for their architecture, I often photograph them when I am visiting old courthouses. They are typically a mini-me variation on the architectural theme of the showy  massive courthouse they are often situated beside, and consequently more readily captured with my ordinary camera.

 And there are family likenesses. Picton's 1871 registry office with its symmetrical arcaded facade with three windows and central doorway, and bold detail in stone, for example bears a very close resemblance to Napanee's registry office.

I could go on, but someone already has. Pick up a copy of Cornerstones of Order by Marion Macrae and Anthony Adamson.
impressive Kingston limestone portico 

An obvious similarity in the styles is the choice of classical detailing. Classical communicated dignity and importance to newly developing towns. No brooding Gothicism or flighty picturesque here in River City, thank you very much.


Lindsay Courthouse
The Lindsay judicial buildings were designed by Cumberland and Storm, the architectural firm which brought you Osgoode Hall.

and Registry Office


  1. The Pembroke courthouse and registry office USED to look like that as well. They've kind of changed it.

  2. When I saw this bit on Registry Offices I immediately thought of the one in Port Hope, which has the very same architecture you just described. Funny how many of them were built right around 1871-1872.....I wonder if there's a reason for that. The Port Hope one has a ghost sign that mentions "East Durham".