Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Chambers of the Heart

top storey, Palladian windows in decorative pediments
This is the most astonishing building. It's holding its own against the every changing backdrop of higher and higher reachers at the corner of Elgin and Queen Street in Ottawa.

This is the Central Chambers, and it is a NHS for a number of good reasons. It stands in a remarkably intact grouping which are visible in a page from my 1920s Ottawa souvenir booklet.

I guess this Streetview capture would be a roughly comparable current view, the National Arts Centre having entered stage left in 1967. I've been trying to figure out what the structure on the right is in the old photo. I'm pretty confident it's the old Post Office (1876-1936) which was demolished to expand Confederation Square, and I think this photo which sadly, I cannot copy, proves the point.

And the site Ottawa Past and Present shows a building directly opposite, which I will track down and identify sometime.
But back to The Chambers. Here's the full reveal at Canada's Historic Places. The writers use the word 'splendid' several times. Not undeservedly.

The view at left is fascinating for me, showing the upper storeys, as during my Ottawa years I had only a street facade acquaintanceship. I do believe there was an Indian textile and fashion importer on the ground floor.

A 2005 plaque commemorates the "successful restoration of the Scottish Ontario Chambers, the Central Chambers and the Bell Block...with special note made of the "reconstruction of the distinctive corner tower and cornice."

Central Chambers
My summer acquisition Exploring the Capital explains that the striking Queen Ann style red brick Central Chambers (1893) bedizzened with oriel windows and Queen Ann decorative excess is but one piece of a complex called The Chambers, which consists of the modern infill behind, this exuberant red brick block, another large block at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets called  the Scottish Ontario Chambers and a small plain connecting structure, the 1867 Bell Block.

Moorish maybe?
vaguely Venetian

Scottish Chambers, Bell Block (1867) to left
  It is the Scottish Ontario Chambers whose corner tower was replaced and honoured in the 2005 plaque. This Historic Places photo shows the Victorian Italianate building without the tower, a sadly depleted structure indeed.

The Scottish Ontario Chambers, constructed in 1883 by a land speculation company is/are distinguished by the high ground storey of stone housing (of all things) an Irish pub, and repeated arched windows highlighted with polychromatic brick on the upper floors. The heavy brackets supporting pediments at each corner and  decorative cornice have been restored, the Mansard corner tower reinstated.

Scottish Chambers upstaged by wrapped Postal Station B
The plain ('modest' as Andrew Waldron describes it) buff brick and stone Bell Block between the two Chambers now serves as the common entrance to the complex of modern tower, and the two red brick two Victorians. All owned and operated by the National Capital Commission, major landlord for much downtown property.

Incidentally in my prowling about for answers to the mystery building photo in the 1920s souvenir guide above, I came across an interesting Ottawa blog, Urbsite. I'll capture the address here, so we may all revisit.

Ottawa and I have history

 The other day, while I was browsing a drawer of family photos, I came across this undated (1920s?) souvenir booklet of Ottawa, in its leather-look cover. I think it must have belonged to our grandmother, don't recall when it came into my possession.

I hope that the person who purchased it, presumably on a visit to the city, enjoyed it as much as I am doing. The photos of nearly empty streets, shiny black autos, the occasional freight wagon pulled by horses, trolley cars, and Wellington Street lined with mature trees are fascinating.

What is surprising and really impressive is the similarity of the street scenes - so many of the buildings still stand. Admittedly, many of the photos are of Parliament Hill, and barring fires or gift-wrapping for facade repair, they do tend to remain the same.

I'm about to do a few posts of before and after photos. Stand by, should be fun.

Hastings Hello

A nice thing happened the other day. Nancy and John Hopkins, editors of the popular Hastings County based Country Roads magazine, which celebrates life in Hastings County, sent out a cheery seasonal newsletter, and included a link to this blog.



River Valley



 So by way of thanking them, and welcoming any new Hastings County readers, I'm popping up a few photos of my adoptive county, appropriately under snow. Hello Hastings, and Happy Holidays, she added, alliteratively.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Last Banker Standing

If ever there were a 'dress for success' street, I would suggest Wellington Street, Ottawa might be a great candidate. Despite having lived in Ottawa for years, I think the only time I walked along this street (until last summer) was when we Carleton Frosh were paraded downtown and dumped unceremoniously (although perhaps there was some arcane ceremony attached) into a fountain. Embarrassing.

Last summer, on an urban break from a week of camping at Rideau River PP, we cycled the 30-some kilometers of the Ottawa River Pathway from Britannia Beach into downtown, and walked our bikes directly to an outdoor patio on Sparks Street for lunch and libation. It felt so peculiar ride-walking my bike across the street from the Parliament Buildings that I vowed to return the next day, park my car, and continue with the close-up look at the Welly buildings, for which the bike ride had whetted my appetite.

I'll keep my back turned on the governmental Gothic, and admire with you some of the fine buildings along the south side of the street. This stretch of Wellington Street was once known as Banker's Row.

 This great/after photo on the Ottawa Past and Present site tells the story of Banker's Row. At the peak of its importance, this stretch housed seven banks: the Bank of Ottawa, the Quebec Bank, the Union Bank, the Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Banque Nationale and the Bank of Montreal. Only one stands, although there is a newer (1932/4) Bank of Montreal still extant.

Today the sole survivor of the original Banker's Row (from a time when tenements and parapet wall stone commercial buildings also still stood along Wellington) is the Union Bank Building (1887/8.) Typical of its time, it included a residence for the manager and his family. The building came close to demolition by the Americans in 1962, when their Embassy wanted the space. They got to use the building for storage, instead. It's now owned by the Federal government, as are many of the former commercial buildings in the blocks adjacent to Parliament Hill.

Here's the Historic Places listing for the Union Bank Building. It's built of yellow sandstone from New Brunswick and boasts Romanesque Revival rounded arches, and some nice sculpture here and there. On the upper two storeys the facade is distinguished by "robust sculptural decoration"... and a "turreted roofline with central pediment."

To give you a sense of scale, and an insight in to what constitued an impressive bank in 1872, here's a  Streetview look at how the early building measures up today. Miraculous that it still stands, plucky little thing.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Deco Delight

Friend Larry saved me from a dilemma this morning, when he emailed to say he'd just read a Globe and Mail item about a new book, Art Deco Architecture across Canada, by Tim Morawetz. This is a release I have been anticipating for a while, since Tim and I began a correspondence based on the
dilemma I found myself in two years ago.

I learned of Tim Morawetz' first book, Art Deco Architecture in Toronto about the same time I found that it was already out of print. I became a fan when the author generously gave me access to a PDF of the book, for my own research. We corresponded about some Deco delights in Tweed and Picton, and I was able to provide a bit of local content.

The topic of Art Deco architecture in Toronto was not broad enough for Mr. Morawetz, apparently, as he's now taking on the inter-war style across our wide country.

As I mentioned in a Facebook post this morning, if you have ever visited the Marine Building in Vancouver, and found yourself simultaneously gob-smacked and frustrated at your inability to capture the Art Deco magnificence of the place (or is it just me?) then this book will be for you. The book appears (from the Amazon samples) to be designed like the first volume - masses of informative text and photos.

 All this excitement is reviving an experience I had last spring in  Vancouver. Yes, that Vancouver. The one with Burrard Bridge, Marine Building, City Hall's Deco detailing. Won't repeat it here (but if you've travelled the link, you already know the story.)

 So. The Marine building visit. The D rested in the cool damp across the intersection  as I explored the exterior, and later we investigated the interior and found hot coffee. As I mentioned above, I despaired of capturing the wonder of its form and detail, but I'll share some images nonetheless. Here's a  link to a Vancouver history website with more detail on this magnificent building's appearance in 1929, the best of buildings at not the best of times.
impossible plasterwork

These will have to do, until you get a chance to see Art Deco Architecture Across Canada in person.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Go north, young man

broken dreams, westward along the Monck Road
I fell under the spell of the Old Hastings Road last fall. It's a place humming with old voices, ambitions, tragedy. I wrote about the road here and on my return the following week, last fall.

I posted  about a sister scheme, the Frontenac Road in a post some time ago.

The Colonization road scheme always infuriates me. Can't know, wasn't there, but I suspect it wasn't unbridled optimism in the potential of the north and a fervent desire to see the little guy get ahead, as much as cynical manipulation by  land agents in the 1850s, that led to the surveying and granting of marginal swamp and rock to desperate settlers hoping to make a future. It served some other purpose than altruism. Nation-building by distributing population northward? Stepping stones for the lumbering industry's march northward, little farms available to provide food and labour to the massive logging operations harvesting the thin soil's only crop?

Many have quoted C.F. Aylsworth , Ontario Land Surveyor, who described the Hastings Road in 1925 as "one long, long trail of abandoned farms, adversity, blasted hopes, broken hearts and exhausted ambition."

I spent a while in Bancroft and Maynooth last year, learning more about two more colonization roads, the Monck Road and the Peterson Road. (Gerry Boyce in Historic Hastings relates stories of  the Ottawa, Opeongo, Addington and Mississippi Roads as well.)

This squared timber building once sat eight miles east of town, HQ for the Bronson&Weston lumber company. Now it serves as Bancroft's museum and visitor centre.

an echo of  yesterday's limitless white pine forests
Outside is an OHT plaque telling the Monck Road story:
"This road was constructed for the dual purpose of opening up a wilderness area to settlement and providing an alternative, less vulnerable military route between the upper Great Lakes and the Ottawa valley. Its line from the vicinity of Lake Couchiching to the junction of the Hastings and Mississippi Colonization Roads at the hamlet of York River (now Bancroft) was surveyed in 1864-5 at the time of the American Civil War. Named in honour of the Governor General (1861-1868) Lord Monck, construction was begun in 1866 and completed in 1873, Free grants of land along its route were made to persons fulfilling the required settlement duties."

Indulge me in a bit of petulance about how decisions about the development of this country, the use of its resources and the fate of its people, were in the hands of an absentee landlord of sorts, a  British lord, top of the pecking order of privileged oligarchs who intended to recreate the English system of class and privilege in the colonies . How much did he know or care about the fate of the folks to whom he granted 'free' land?

No wonder Upper and Lower Canada's stories are filled with rebellions for democratic reform. I would have been hung.
towards the Peterson road turn

Later on and further north, at Maynooth (formerly Doyle's Corners) I read another plaque, this time,  about the Peterson Road:
"The Peterson Road was named after surveyor Joseph S. Peterson who determined its route in this region. Constructed 1858-1863 at a cost of some $39,000 it stretched  about 114 miles between the Muskoka and Opeongo Roads and formed part of a system of government colonization routes built to open up the southern region of the Precambrian Shield. Poor soil disappointed hopes of large-scale agricultural settlement along this road both on government "free grant" lots and on the land of the Canadian Land and Emigration Company. Though portions of the route were overgrown by the 1870s, the Maynooth-Combermere section aided lumbering and now contributes to the development of an important Ontario vacation area."

looking east torward Combermere, the road still travelled
Little Maynooth is doing alright.

Jane Urquhart's Away is a stunning novel which captures the colonization road settler's experience - the desperate hope, spirit-crushing privation, soul-destroying labour, and the madness born of isolation. It's a favourite I return to time and time again. There's a heart-breaking scene when the son of an Irish famine migrant free grant-holder realizes that the small holding and the future he hoped for it, is built on solid rock.

Liam seeks out the failed bush school of his dead father, to find a rotting copy of the Canadian Geological Survey. He locates his farm north of Moira Lake on the map, "noting that the shading of the map had changed from a dot to a slanted line pattern...According to the words at the bottom of the page, this vast territory was called the Canadian Shield. It covered hundreds of thousands of square miles. There were no pauses in its pervasiveness, no exceptions to its continuity. It had been put there by an ice age that would never happen again, it would be there for all time, and it was made of solid rock."