Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

It All Starts Here

photo taken the first week of our BC visit
 So. Just back after 3 weeks on the wet coast. Still a bit travel-weary, and struck pretty much dumb with the intoxicating beauty of the gardens, the forests, the ocean. I had forgotten how incredibly lush trees, shrubs and flowering perennials can get, when they don't suffer the annual discouragement of winter. And oh yes, the built heritage. More, much more to come on that topic.

Our first few days were spent in Victoria's James Bay neighbourhood, a heritage district just a short walk from the breath-taking inner harbour. These homes are built on land once named Beckley Farm, which in the 1840s served as the 'home farm' which fed the Hudson's Bay Company fort. (The fort's footprint is still visible in the historic downtown, outlined by decorative tile.) Adding another layer, one of the early landowners in this neighbourhood, once the Company divested itself of the farmland, was a Mr. Carr, father of the beloved Emily. In fact, Government Street was once called Carr Street. I'm looking forward to sharing a few of these stories (with matching houses) with you.
Our goal during our miles of walkabouts was to absorb Victoria's natural world, and the built one, thanks to some good planning, and the welcome suggestions of our bed and breakfast hosts, David and Toshie. They were in a good position to make recommendations, as they live in part of the area's history.

David has written a meticulously researched local history about the James Bay neighbourhood, which I am just beginning to enjoy. It's called Victoria's Past: The View from Marifield House. The book is available online, and I recommend it highly.

photo taken on our return to Marifield House 2 weeks later
David Helme and Toshie Kikuta share their home, and their stories, at Marifield House, 235 Government Street. The house was built in 1925. David's book tells the story of the first owner/builders, the Chaves, and subsequent stewards of the property. He tells the couple's own journey which led them here, to welcome other travellers. And he describes the French doors, the granite fireplace, the green stained glass - all of which greeted us each morning in the private breakfast room, as we marvelled at the hummingbirds and spring flowers through the wide windows.

There are so many B.C. house stories waiting to be told.
But first, some other deadlines to honour. No pressure.

Now this is pressure (of the very best sort.) Friends Larry and Bill, enthusiastically returning from a month in Australia, yesterday presented me with two volumes of architectural drawings of favourites from their visits to Sydney and Melbourne, in anticipation of our own travels there, all being well, next winter. Hope I'm caught up by then.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Talking Stick

what we did while not visiting Uniacke
The arrival of an email from Ancestral Roofs friend Mark usually signals a lost half-day. Mark's emails contain addictive links to fascinating fields of study, many new to me. Mark is deeply engrossed in the early building/society of Loyalist Nova Scotia, and his links usually take me touring. Just recently, while we 'chatted' about barns, I enjoyed a drone flight over the spectacular 1813 Uniacke estate not too far from Halifax.
This week, we revisited  Dendrochronology. Did I not warn you? Read this email, lose a day.

I first learned about dendrochronology from Ron Tasker of Ham House in Bath, Ontario. He and partner Bonnie Crook were able to establish that the trees used in the construction of the house they were restoring, were cut in 1816/17.

Ham House before
We've visited on several occasions. I wrote about visits in 2015, 2013 and originally in 2010.  I am encouraged by the 2016 appearance of a website telling the Ham House restoration story. It suggests that the astonishing amount of work they've done is nearing an end - or close enough that there is now time to write about it! Here's their website; the History page recounts the dendrochronology (tree ring dating) research.

The work was done by labs at Cornell University. This is time-travel...consider this quote from Ron and Bonnie's site: "one of the most remarkable results was the year the northwest sill plate...started growing - 1498! This was the oldest historic timber from eastern North America yet seen by the Cornell lab." Now that's cool, you have to admit.

Madlabs Saskatchewan report on the oldest timbers they've researched, at Government House in Halifax, that got their start in 1442. Now, I didn't know that, But you know who did.
Ham hoiuse after restoration - used with permission

Back to Mark. His email contained a link to  lab reports on dendro reports, which were done by the dendrochronology lab at  Mount Allison University, which later moved to the University of Saskatchewan. Consequently, several dozen research reports examined the age of Canadian Prairie Shelterbelts...oddly resonant, as we recalled visiting the Experimental Farm in Indian Head, a place where such novel ideas were likely explored and demonstrated. Many prairie homesteads hunker down within soldierly rows of sheltering trees, planted before the farm blew away in the relentless winds.

But the houses hold most interest for me. Here's a typical report, done on a house in Halifax, whose construction date turns out to be 1764, making it the oldest residential structure in Halifax. Good to know, right? And for more on dendro, check out page 3 of this typical report.

Hmmm. I do go on a bit. I'm guessing the only person who will read this post will be...Mark!