Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another Town, Another Train

North Bay
"Guess I will spend my life in railway stations."
Nice line in a rather maudlin Abba song, which frankly, I don't even remember. But it's a way to start yet another post about railway stations.

When mon amour and I raided the history shelves at Berry & Peterson last summer, I finally succumbed to yet another Ron Brown book, The Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More (Broadview Press, 1991.)

Melville, Sask.
 Admittedly, I have regaled you over time with train station stops: Brighton's exceptional railway museum Memory JunctionTorontoKingston,
a junket along the Central Ontario Railway from Maynooth to PictonStirling, and Melville, Saskatchewan.

And I cannot promise this will be the last one. This is my journal after all. But I do appreciate you reading over my shoulder. At the risk of repeating myself, I thought Brown's notes on railway station styles were worth exploring.

The book has taken me on a rail-trip through my photo archives, remembering stations we have seen over time. 'Station Builders', the chapter on station architecture provides a neat organizing principle for thinking about their architecture. Brown explains how "a glance at a railway station's style will often reveal what region of Canada it was in, what railway line it was on, and even when it was built."

Seems the companies operated with the same motivation as the builders of banks, civic buildings - and even homes of the well to do -  image. Design made a statement about a railway company's financial solidity, inspiring confidence in the public.

Brown tours the entire country, and the generations, noting style differences. Suggest you have a look before your next cross-country tour. An astonishing number have been lost, so look fast.

later bay clutters the "tidy solid appearance"

My takeaway from the book was Brown's account of the Grand Trunk Railway. He states theirs were the country's "first truly distinctive stations." And the motivation? To assure the sceptical public that the railway wouldn't be one of those cheap and nasty American companies, but a proper "first-class English railway."

And how did the GTR go about this? They hired an architectural firm to build English-looking stations on their line between Toronto and Montreal. The "English look" used stone Romanesque arches (trading on the subliminal messages sent by the uncanny longevity and integrity of Roman viaducts and other structures.) We're fortunate to have several Grand Trunk stations in our neighbourhood. 

Napanee's still-operating stone station
Although most of the little stations were of stone, the Brighton GTR station (about which I have written numerous times, in its role as Memory Junction Museum) was built of locally made brick.

Napanee's limestone station displays the pattern: 5 arched windows (many, like these, filled in over time) and a door in the long side, 2 windows in the end wall. Roundel. Wide eaves with straight brackets.

Belleville's now-vacant stone heritage station with its six arches  (which, oddly, I have never recorded, but here's a peek) started out the same way, then grew a Mansard roofed second storey.

So many more of the same pattern popped up along the GTR lines. Picton, Port Hope, Prescott, Ernestown.  I don't know how many still stand. It will be a while before I get round to looking. In the meantime, this simply astonishing album of railway station photos should suffice.

About halfway down the the album is a Jim Parker photo of the Stirling station, dated 1977.
Today it's a well-restored example of another company's venture into a corporate style, the Van Horne stations of the CPR.
 William Van Horne was the CPR vice-president in 1884 who inspired a standard look for their company's stations. The Van Horne station was a two storey structure, providing quarters for the station master upstairs from work.

Frame buildings, narrow eaves, unadorned but for king post and finial in the gable end. I recall historian and tour guide Bill Hunt regaling the assembled Hastings Historical Society bus tour group over the height of this finial some years ago. Great fun. Great guy. Great loss.

Brown states that this style was most common between Winnipeg and the Rockies. In fact, its other name was the 'Indian Head' style. This 'Vintage Everyday' site photo of the Indian Head station in 1884 shows the family resemblance to the station in Stirling.

Image result for Indian Head train station Van Horne image
William Notman photograph 

I admit to getting hopelessly confused with the amalgamations, absorptions and demises of the country's railway lines. I'll leave that to my friend Larry. Me, I'll take stations for 2017, Alex.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Importance of Being...

Ernest Margetson.
Or Ernie, as I have often heard him called.
The winter issue of Watershed magazine contains a super article by Mandy Martin about the indomitable heritage hero.

Ernie is certainly a man about old towns.
I only met him once, years ago, when he joined an ACO walking tour of Consecon, and won us over with his enthusiasm and knowledge about that village's Greek Revival past.

The photo at top is just about where Ernie chipped the eaves return at the corner of Division and Porter. And proceeded to take us onto someone's lawn to admire some outstanding Greek Revival triglyphs and metopes, and doorcase with full entablature. They were fighting a losing battle with vinyl siding, but impressive, nonetheless.

At the end of Mandy Martin's article, I caught a reference to Hillier United Church. Turns out this is the church I mused about in a post back in May. This lovely church sitting in a vineyard at Closson Chase Winery, providing equipment storage and accommodation for seasonal workers - including a bedroom in the steeple, Martin reports - was the former Hillier UC, moved and repurposed. Beats demolition. Although Ernie Margetson is not implicated directly, his active role on local heritage advisory committees, and his dedication to adaptive resuse of heritage buildings in the area, would suggest that he likely was behind the inspired relocation.

the Regency rescue nearing completion
The Watershed article explains where the Margetson family lives, near the tiny hamlet of Melville at Consecon Lake. Whenever I visit Shannon Kyle's Regency 'rescue' on that lake  I pop over to Melville to enjoy the resonance - I feel the presence of  a bustling mill village from another century.

Incidentally, this Regency cottage once stood in Ancaster. It's now The Gryphon guesthouse, another preservation/repurposing story gone right. Read 'The Regency Cottage Rebuild Story' here - scroll down the page about a third of the way.

The importance of being earnest.
Thank goodness for the heritage conservationists of the world.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Country Roads

A year or two ago, motivated by the possibility of a book project, I began touring the back roads of Frontenac County, and informing myself about the area's history.

One thing didn't happen.
One thing did.

I didn't get a chance to write about Frontenac. In fact, the more I read about its history, the less I felt qualified to do so.

Caption: The red-roofed Ontario farmhouse and the stone church are from Harrowsmith and area. Harrowsmith has many polychrome limestone buildings.

Caption: Left, Hartington school, S.S.#7 (1908) Right, St. Kilian RC Church (1892) at Ardoch. Memorial plaque to beloved local nurse Theresa Weber Weiss

Hartington  - Wesleyan Methodist 1873
The thing that did happen, was that I fell in love with the county's back roads, and visible signs of its history. I have shared a few places with you already. I have written about the fascinating hamlet of Snow Road and William Richards' 1889 stone castle. I also spent some time over the natural beauty and the settlement story along the heart-breaking Frontenac Colonization Road.
I'm waiting out today's snow storm, to get to the BPL to request County of a Thousand Lakes, the 1982 local history edited by Bryan Rollason. Upon its arrival, I will be in a better position to introduce you to some of the charming spots I visited on my road trip. In the meantime, I am browsing through one of those invaluable Tweedsmuir histories, in this case, of Inverary, now available online in PDF .
Ompah - All Saints Anglican 1885

If you don't know about Tweedsmuir books, a brief aside to bring you up to speed. As you may know, I am a passionate reader of local histories - I'm browsing one at the moment, a Christmas gift from my 80-something friend Florence in Hilton. It's called Presqu'ile by Susan Bergeron and Bonnie Browne.

Aside #2 Why is it that Brighton has so many local histories in print, and an ambitious volunteer-propelled digital archives project preserving more every day? When so many other communities with which I am associated have none?
outskirts of Parham

The Tweedsmuir histories arose as a project of the Federated Women's Institutes (another force for good) in the 1920s. By the mid 30s, they received vice-regal encouragement by Lady Tweedsmuir, wife of the Governor General of Canada. When the GG died in 1940, his widow caused them to be named The Tweedsmuir Village History Books in his memory.

(Here's a bit of the W.I. story, founder Adelaide Hoodless.)

The project had legs, as they wouldn't have said in the day, and today's community Archives are the repository of many of these priceless local histories, in scrapbook form, or fancier bound books. Better yet, since 2010, the Ontario Genealogical Society has been making many Tweedsmuir histories available in digital format.

If you wish more detail about the Tweedsmuir books, here's a link.

near Ardoch
I visited this  Parham family enclave in another life

Snow Road
My route on this sunny September day took me along county road 1 through Yarker and Colebrook, to the eastern gateway of Frontenac county. A fond visit to Harrowsmith, a favourite spot, then up highway 38 through Hartington and Parham (sidetrip to Wagarville) then northward through Tichborne and Sharbot Lake at Highway 7.


From there, county road 509 leads on through Clarendon Station, Mississippi Station and Snow Road Station, all stops on the Kingston to Renfrew route of the Kingston and Pembroke Railway (fondly named the old Kick and Push) which existed from its incorporation in 1871 to its absorption by CPR in 1903.) The Whig published a fascinating account in 2013.

Route 509 circles through Ompah and Plevna, where I picked up county road 506 down through Ardock, Fermleigh, Myers Cave, Cloyne (home of a fine local museum which welcomed us during our Bon Echo camp trip this summer) and homeward through Lennox and Addington Twp.

Wait. There's more Frontenac. So many roads beckon me back: from Sydenham to Seeley's Bay, Fermoy to Fairmount, Moon's Corners to Maxwell Front, and north to the communities of Canoto and Folger.

In time, I will learn more about these historic communities I travelled through. For now, these images will have to tell their own story.
the prettiest thing about Yarker

Tett's Mill at Bedford Mills - memories of  a delightful visit 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


 I love this frame house in Brighton. The good folks at Brighton Digital Archives report in their Heritage Homes list that the three storey frame house was built in the 1880s. The site identifies the style as Colonial Revival.  Here's a Colonial Revival source. Thanks Shannon.

My suggestion is that elements of Queen Anne Revival applied to a Georgian form provide the visual appeal here.  Seems to me that Brighton has a lot of transitional, vernacular builds combining elements of Victorian style and cleaner Edwardian lines.(More on its earliest homes later.)

The uber-functional wing to the right serves in some official capacity; the home (so many large older homes fall into this line of work) is the Walas Funeral Home.

The Walas name is as well-maintained as this home. Canadian 'pioneer' Anthony came to Brighton from Poland in 1952, and to Brighton in 1972. He built homes, contributed to his community, and raised a family. One of his son has served as Mayor in recent years.

Shannon Kyles of has this to say about fish scale shingle siding. "On Victorian and Queen Anne buildings, fish scale shingles were used extensively as a finishing element. These are generally wood and are most frequently found on the gable or upper section of the buildings."

zig zags in Wellington
Fish scale shingles were just one of the ways Victorian builders added texture and contributed to the general 'decorative excess' of the styles. No need to point them out. On the Walas building the scalloped shingles are highlighted with deep grey paint on the circular bay on the second  floor, quite effective against the white frame siding. Love the little turreted band shell verandah on the third floor. The circular portico with flanking verandahs at the front entrance are the other design feature which make this otherwise pretty ordinary three bay house an eye-catcher.
scallops along Bagot Street, Kingston

Here are a few other favourite fish scale tales.

 variety in Wellington


Joudry House (1880) Mahone Bay, NS

While we're on the subject of wooden shingles (and their cousins shakes, which I read are split, not sawn) let's give a thought to shingles as an exterior wall cladding. The covering tends to be associated with New England Colonial building; not surprising to see it repeating in the UEL Maritimes, and in the Colonial Revival styles of 1900 on.

Zwicker House (1870) Mahone Bay

Shingles (and all sorts of other wooden elements, exposed structural and decorative,) show up in the Stick Style which seems to me is is Queen Anne writ in wood.

Then there are the medieval roots of building styles. Elements of the rustic building methods of  the medieval period were reprised in Victorian era stick-style architecture, and in the later Arts and Crafts style, and even later 'organic architecture' of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Colonial Revival Picton

But for now, I'm going to stop playing the name game, and just appreciate why I loved these buildings enough to record them.


plain old shed, South Bay, PEC

P.S. And then, just because they were available, no thought for their silvery beauty, shingles adorned many a shed on farms everywhere.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

'The County' way

the John Platt Williams house (c. 1817)
  I've been a fan of Steve Campbell's since mom  gave me an issue of County Magazine 30-odd    years ago, on a trip home from B.C. The magazine is staunchly 'County'-centric and I'm a proud subscriber (as a native PECtorian.) My favourite contributions are Ian Robertson's history pieces and, of course, Phil Ainsworth's house stories.  If you drop by AR regularly, you'll recall my post about Picton's old hospital. You might also be aware of Phil's generosity in sharing two early photos of the house from which the hospital grew.

I might have called this post 'P.S.' I know that I occasionally promise to return to a subject (and regularly forget) but it was just last night, while looking for something in a back issue, I came across Phil Ainsworth's detailed article about the Prinzen farm. I mused about its unique situation in the middle of the village of Bloomfield not long ago. I cannot imagine why '310 Main Street Bloomfield', which appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of County Magazine,  hadn't come to mind when I wrote the post.

Unfortunately, as County Magazine doesn't have a web presence, the only advice I can give is to check with one of PEC's great public librairies or rifle through someone's magazine rack. And enjoy Phil Ainsworth's fascinating article - meticulous research, enjoyable writing, and the archival photos of 310 Main Street, Bloomfield.