|shame about the Armco - road-widening
limestone - with the odd outcrop of cobblestone in Hastings County - has led me to a fascination with a type of stone building not seen in Prince Edward County and other eastern Ontario locations. Recent conversations and research about threatened houses in the Whitevale area, have prompted me to find out more about fieldstone houses. I love the mottled appearance of muted jewel tones of granite, and am in awe of the extraordinary work and workmanship involved with splitting the irregularly shaped rocks to create uniform blocks for coursed stonework.
|random rubble on sides, coursed dressed stonework on facade
A website on drystone wall building gave me the only glimpse into the preparation of stones (because it's got to be really hard work, right?) "Use a wax pencil to mark the sections of the stone you want to remove. To make cuts you'll need a three-inch carbide chisel, a three-pound hand sledge, and safety glasses." And time. Strength. Endurance.
|south of Myrtle
To understand this distribution I had to approach one of my other passions, geology. Our relationship is less than fulfilling as I haven't devoted the time needed, despite having collected some fascinating books. One of my favourites is Canada Rocks.
|photo courtesy Steve Redman
The building supply stores left by the great glaciers' debris fields included stones of various origins (light Canadian Shield "granite" and dark amphibolite for example - think pink, grey, black.) This wealth was available only in certain areas - scraped too clean and the bedrock was exposed (revealing stone for quarrying - think limestone, sandstone.) Patterns of moraine distribution might result in overburden with a dearth of suitable large stones. I am guessing that the pocket of fieldstone houses in Whitevale and areas around Toronto is linked to the Oak Ridges moraine.
Regrettably I have few photos. The photos of threatened fieldstone houses in Whitevale are courtesy Steve Redman of ACO Collingwood. I wrote about them recently.
I came across a few others in my quest; I'll pause a moment while you run to your library shelf.
Old Ontario Houses by Cruickshank & DeVisser (Firefly Books, 2000) shows the Reid House near Embro (page 147.) The photo captures the richness of colour and texture, and highlights the patterned effect resulting from small fill-in stones called 'closers.' Mary Byers and Margaret McBurney et al tell the story of a number of fieldstone houses in Rural Roots (UofT, 1976) featuring pre-confederation buildings of the York Region (Markham, Pickering, King townships ) and Governor's Road (1982) featuring early homes from Mississauga to London.
Early field-stone houses are definitely making headlines. Here are a few.
This link to a Durham region newspaper highlights the Walter Percy House (c.1875) which as of press time in June 2014 was being saved from the forces at work in Seaton township. One of the photos shows the closers.
Here's a rubblestone Pickering Farmhouse which has made it to National Historic Site designation. I hope it will survive the current GTA trend of tearing down historic communities to build new developer-designed ones.
|Richardson-Will House, Pickering
One final note. Who built these fieldstone houses? The top 3 photos of a lovely home south of Myrtle, offer one possibility. When Denis stopped to let me grab a photo, I made contact with the owner and we had a great chat. He pointed out the heritage plaque, and suggested that the stone came from Scotland as ballast in cargo ships returning empty. I've heard these ballast stories before. Thomas McIlwraith (Looking for Old Ontario, UofT 1997) mentions roofing slates from Wales travelling as ballast in ships returning empty to Ontario.
More likely, after absorbing as much geology as possible for one day, I come to the conclusion that German and Scottish stone builders, with their different masonry techniques, looked about them at the farms' annual crop of rocks, and rolled up their sleeves. Gerard Middleton provides an answer to why the techniques differed: different traditions. "The Scottish were skilled in cutting stone, even the hardest granites; while Germans preferred to work with wood (think Joseph Schneider House) and had an ancient tradition of using fieldstone in its natural shapes."