Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, May 29, 2017

They don't make 'em like this....

Our James Bay walking tour guide (no, not that James Bay, rather the beautifully treed and gardened neighbourhood within walking distance of Victoria's iconic spots - the Provincial Legislature, the Empress Hotel, the Inner Harbour, the historic downtown, that James Bay) featured two early-for-Victoria structures, must-see places that we came upon in our many walkabouts, when we visited that wonderful garden city in April. April folks, and everything was in bloom. Heady stuff.

The area's built heritage was fascinating. Not ancient, granted. Not Sienna or Orvieto here, And new, even on Canada's relatively short time-line. And frame, not much stone or brick. But why would you, there are all those trees? And it is all lovely. Truly lovely.

There are so many spots I'll share, once I have synchronized my memory, my photos, and the various print resources we came away with. For now. An absolute. The 1861 villa 'Woodlands'. "The oldest surviving residence still in use in James Bay." Italian Villa style, build of California redwood. From the Victoria Heritage Foundation walking tour guide:

Built for a Hudson's Bay Company employee (likely not entry level) and altered in 1909 by Victoria name-to-know Samuel Maclure. Owners won a heritage award in 1992.

Looked for additional information. Searches of worthy Ontario houses often turn up a heritage designation with all sorts of info. Searching for Woodlands Victoria got me links to condos and new-built houses. Suggests the Victoria Heritage Foundation and old house enthusiasts in the area have had their work cut out for them. Kudos to you folks, for what you have saved from development. It is just lovely.

Monday, May 22, 2017

May Two Four musings

invisible Outlet beach
Camped last week at Sandbanks Provincial Park; home before the weekend, beating both the rush and the change for the worse of the weather. One day I cycled along the beach road to the Outlet. The outlet is actually the mouth of a small river which flows from East Lake to Lake Ontario. The mouth of the river fills with sand in the fall, and opens with the spring flow. Dad used to mark the passage of the seasons by the opening of the river; and his and mom's annual pilgrimage to the trillium woods.

For years people called the area, and this beach, the Outlet. Most of us still do, despite its being subsumed into the greater Sandbanks Provincial Park.
So I checked out the water levels (high) and the trilliums (splendid.) On my way back to camp, something made me stop and ponder the OHT plaque in front of the park store. I admired the store's iconic field stone and dark brown cladding, the fieldstone planters and massive chimney. The building has been expanded in recent years to house our increasing appetites, with a camping supply store, and a quality food concession.

I got that feeling of being where it all began. I'll explain why.

 Outlet opened as a provincial park in 1959. I began in 1947. The beach was a big attraction, although I can't remember too many family visits there. One or two picnics with McCornock cousins, our mothers laying on dining room quality/quantities of food, dying with fright every time we disappeared in the breakers after the obligatory hour wait to swim.

This is what family outings looked like in the day. My grandmother in pearls, grandfather and great-uncle ingesting cold tea from a glass jug.
Sunday drive - no Enroute required

 Locals had been campaigning for provincial protection for the beach area since the early 50s, I read, given the general misuse to which the beach was being submitted, with cars driving from Martins, a resort on the river, out onto the beach, and folks spending time there without benefit of washrooms or change rooms. Invites all kinds of disorderly conduct.

Shortly afterwards, Sandbanks Provincial park was established, and the two eventually fused, gobbling up good farm land for campsites (one of them mine, so I can't editorialize here.)
iconic brown slant-top posts along what was once the main road
But what drew me to stop my bike, and contemplate something so very familiar was the resonance. That building featured in a late 1950s photo of our grandmother's car, parked in front of the shiny new park concession. Notice the fieldstone chimney, which now sits in the centre of the expanded building. 
a quieter time at the Outlet
The cladding of the time was rough-edged brown-painted cedar (still to be seen at one of the Presqu'ile beaches.) See the brown picnic tables and those slant-top posts in the sand? Tradition. Notice the Maple Leaf flag? Too soon for that. Note the crowds? No, well. Those will come, too...the photo is almost 60 years old, after all. These days, electronic highway signs inform beach-bound hopefuls when the park is filled to capacity.

Designing...well, men.

I got to spend quality time last month with a building that towered over many of my formative years. I had always loved its bulk, its stepped profile against the dramatic city backdrop, its presence. But I had never before enjoyed the luxury of time (and the patience of generous loving friends) to wander the property, and scan its bulk for the brilliant bits of design which appear from every angle.

drain cover
For now, I won't tell you what it is; many of you many already have guessed the sum, from its parts.

Suffice to say that it was designed by architects Fred L. Townley and Robert T. Matheson. The year was 1936. The project reflected boosterish enthusiasm about the city's growth, tempered by sober constraints of the Great Depression. I read somewhere that the building was a make-work project.

sinuous concrete

 The form of the building is described by several of my sources as Modern Classical. The decorative elements such as light fixtures and surface ornament borrow from the Art Deco/Streamline Moderne. This building, and its designers are credited with a successful fusion of these architectural design elements.

Getting warmer?
I'll reveal the name of this building, and some of the things that have been said about it, in a future post.

A little more Mary

schoolmaster William Donnelly house (c.1859)
Some time ago, in March to be precise, I went on a bit about one of my favourite Picton streets, Mary Street. Mary is unusual in that it appears in several spots through the southern part of town. West Mary is the section I visited in my last post.

The part of Mary Street which runs eastward from Picton United Church is called East Mary on the maps, not surprisingly. Somewhere in my memory is Short Mary. I will investigate on my next wander through that old part of town; there's an interesting rubblestone house I want to explore further.

But for now, here is the little brick house I mentioned at the end of my March ramble. Unfortunately, there is a car parked in front, but I can live with that, in that it likely belongs to folks who purchased it (the Streetview photo still shows a realtor's sign out front) and tidied up both house and property (I had a secret fear that someone with little imagination might buy it, knock it down, and put up a four-plex on the wooded site.) I like these folks already.

What I really like about this snug cottage hiding at the end of a long sloping well-treed lot is recounted in The Settler's Dream. Stokes and Cruikshank give the house special attention, as well they should. They note the unusual form of the brick cottage: "a storey-and-a-half with a peaked gable over the front door, quite unusual for a hip-roofed structure." They mention the flanking single-storey wings, a symmetry recalling to me the Greek temple form.

The feature that distinguishes this wee house even more is its brickwork, currently covered with handsome blue paint. This is another of Picton's unique row-lock bond houses, bricks laid on their edge, a style made 'famous' by the Welch brothers. I've written about this brick construction a few times- in the March post I mentioned above, and if you're in a brick mood, you could visit herehere, and here. There's even an example in Port Britain, with some very interesting PEC connections.

This house sports rowlock bond construction with a twist. It's the only example in town where "row-lock courses alternate with headers laid conventionally to create a series of continuous horizontal cells or rectangular tubes encircling the building." Bands, I would suggest. Can you see them in this photo?

SD goes on to relate that the cottage was built around 1859 for Picton schoolmaster William Donnelly and his wife Margery. I have been unable to find the dates of the old Queen Mary Public School just up the hill on East Mary, but it's intriguing to think one of its staff might have resided here. The cottage would have been a great spot for someone teaching nearby.

I'm sure I can recall this school building from my early days. Pictonians, let me know? Now the empty space offers free parking, with a million dollar view. Wasn't always such a great view, as I will recall the next time I write about East Mary Street, and its industrial past.

(quotes from The Settler's Dream, page 245.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

the 'deer' little houses of Victoria

We've been home from Victoria for two weeks, and I'll admit that I am still looking for my heart among the stuff I unpacked on our return. Ontario's earnest but feeble attempts at spring don't cheer me as in other years. Victoria's exquisite gardens play like a repeating loop in my mind. One of our best garden experiences (and I won't go on about it, as this is an architecture blog) were the acres surrounding the Lieutenant Governor's house (1959) in Victoria.

Laughably, I didn't even take a photo, so satiated was I with faux castles after the walk through Rockland after a visit to Craigdarroch! And my eye was drawn down the exquisitely landscaped natural paths around the house to the Terrace Gardens and an inviting bench overlooking the Salish Sea.

giant sequoia dwarfing giant gates

Oh, yes, here's a link to the house, if you, like me, want to know more about its architecture and its history. Just as we rounded the corner of the vice-regal digs, I noted this little fellow making short work of the shrubs in the v-r flower bed. It's that kind of a garden. Just beyond lay 22 acres of wild oak savannah. Here's more on the gardens.

Now, back to the dear little cottages we encountered along our many walks. More on them later.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Walk this Way - Dave Mason's Victoria

Walk this way, with apologies to John Cleese.

Seemed like the right way to introduce you to a great guy. The fellow in green, to your right, is Dave Mason. This is his (matching) card. Next time you're in Victoria, look him up. Dave can be found in the area of the Visitor Centre at the inner harbour. He is the city's best ambassador, and an engaging and informed walking tour guide. We spent a delightful afternoon walking about downtown - this after we'd walked the perimeter of James Bay peninsula. We were well matched for energy and enthusiasm. Where Dave had the edge was that he had all the stories. Without his insights, we would have missed SO much of the city's history and architecture.

Here are some examples.

Where you or I might look at this and see a tacky fake Elizabethan half-timbered Victoria tourist trap, Dave pulls out of his knap-sack a photo of the Victoria (later Windsor) hotel, which enterprising George Richardson  built in 1858 to accommodate the hoardes of miners coming into town on their frantic way to the Fraser River gold rush. Here's more.

Without Dave's suggestion, we might have spent so much time looking up that we might have missed the tiles laid in downtown Victoria streets, outlining the footprint of Fort Victoria, the Hudson's Bay post which started it all. Have a look at Historic Places' backgrounder on the fort.

We would have failed to grasp the irony of Broad Street, and the ladies of the night who made it interesting. We wouldn't have heard about Stella Carroll, a madam who established her, er, establishment in the Duck's Block, owned by a protective local politician, Simeon Duck. This, courtesy of Greater Victoria Public Library.

And I think it's quite likely that without Dave in the lead, we wouldn't have ventured into the curiosities of Chinatown and its rags and riches history, its narrow alleys, benevolent societies or secret half-storeys.

wooden 'cobblestones'

Lee's got your back

cuban cigars for American tourists

Or into posh places like E.A. Morris, Tobacconist, with its amazing 1910 interior.
Here's more on that spot, my first chance to get up close and personal with a priceless alabaster Electrolier.

Tell them Dave sent you.

Lots more stories to tell, from Dave Mason's Victoria.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Deco Dream come True

I have mentioned on occasion my passion for Art Deco or Moderne or Machine Age architecture. I posted about a Picton beauty back in 2012, and about online contact with Tim Morawetz, who produced the exquisite  Art Deco in Toronto. Link here .

While in Vancouver, I had an time and opportunity to succumb to the deco charms of 3 iconic structures: the Burrard Bridge, The Marine Building, and Vancouver City Hall.

I believe in  synchronicity. Call it coincidence if you like, that thing that can happen when people have passion or energy for a subject, and things come together. When we were in Vancouver, our dear friend Ronnie (who had heard me going on about Burrard Bridge, suspended as it was above our Granville Island waterfront glass of wine patio) suggested a visit to a gallery on Clark Drive, which was hosting The Lost Vancouver: An Unexpected Art Deco Tour.

The gallery was experience enough - a meeting of minds and talents, generating enough energy to light a small town.

The show, with photos by Simon Desrochers, and artwork by Matthieu Persan (here's a link to a
CBC story on the show) is the brainchild of a bright and beautiful Parisienne, Anne Vegnaduzzo, of AVA Artists Agency. Her unique website features a link to AVA's Facebook with photos of the opening of the show, and of the walls featuring the photos and illustrations. Deco Heaven.
photos: Simon Desrochers, illustrations: Matthieu Persan

Vancouver City Hall
So, here I am, pouring over the images, devouring the text, considering risking a photo or two, when a Titian- haired dynamo bursts into the room, and engages me in conversation. Overwhelms, actually, with her energy, vision, youth - and her passionate interest in heritage architecture. That Anne Vegnaduzzo!

As we part, promising to be in touch, she promises me a link to the exhibit artwork/text. And follows through.

And all this happened before I got to spend quality time with the Burrard Street Bridge (1932), the Marine Building (1930) and Vancouver City Hall (1936.)

Deco delirious.
Burrard Street Bridge

Marine Building, 355 Burrard Street

As I was browsing about I came upon this site which contains images from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes,  considered to be the birthplace of Art Deco.  Ironically, the term Art Deco was coined, by Corbusier no less, as a pejorative.