Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, June 29, 2017

School's out forever

S.S.#19 Wilton
A dear friend who once worked as a school secretary used to play Alice Cooper's (pretty awful) School's Out for the Summer at high volume over the school PA system, as part of the 'announcements' on the final school day of the year. Now the chaos of that song probably added nothing to the already feverish pitch of excitement as kids savoured the prospect of summer freedom, but I like to think of that story on the final day of school each June.

This, however, is a peaceful school story about a bucolic spot, my homage to the last day of school, and to educators (and students) everywhere who have toughed it out this year.

bell pull - bell still rings

 old S.S.# 19 school photos

artwork from Australia beside the deep windows
My school story came about after an Ancestral Roofs reader contacted me, to invite me to tea and a tour of her new old schoolhouse in Wilton, Ontario. The limestone schoolhouse was built in 1871, but was closed about a hundred years later. Jude has created a comfy home in the back addition to the schoolhouse, with a sunroom overlooking gardens and a pond, and transformed the bright open space of the original school into an open family room decorated with schoolhouse memorabilia.

And on the day after labour day in September, Jude will ring the still-functioning school bell in the refurbished belfry, in memory of her international teaching career, and in honour of kids and colleagues once more returning to school.

This is fun. Bless the researchers who daily recreate our past for us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Purdy's Mill

Long a devotee of the poetry of Al Purdy, and a former busy local A-frame volunteer and member of the APAFA board, I prick up my ears when I see or hear the name Purdy. Should you have read In Search of Owen Roblin, Al's very evocative long poem about Ameliasburgh and its history, you would remember that he traces his roots back to Gilbert Purdy:
"Back here at home on page 263/of Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte/the names of Gilbert Purdy and his eight sons/who were also at Adolphustown with Van Alstine/as well as Philip and Owen Roblin/Barnabus Day and Michael Grass..." (from In Search of Owen Roblin)

For a couple of years I produced a blog titled In Search of Al Purdy, a kind of literary tour of places Al mentions in his work. Here is a post from May 2013, in which Al ponders Roblin's mill.

In Cataraqui not long ago, I investigated the Purdy story. I had noted Purdy's Mill on my road atlas and looked for the signs as I walked the village (never would have picked it up while driving crazy busy Princess Street/Highway 2 as it chicanes down a hill and across Cataraqui Marsh to 'the city.' In recent years the corner has grown up into an almost exclusively vehicular neighbourhood, and a pedestrian, most especially one with eye to viewfinder, can come a cropper.

Outside the Cataraqui United Church (built as a Methodist church in 1881) I noticed the historic plaque telling the Loyalist story. In the churchyard, I came across the marker for Captain Michael Grass, who in 1784 led 50 Loyalist families to Cataraqui, out of which grew Kingston.

A Purdy grave marker

I crossed a parking lot and entered Purdy's Mill Road...and history. The short road felt like it had been bypassed long ago. All around buzzed the noise of the city, but here, not a vehicle passed as I trudged beside the wild ravine above what I suppose was a creek which would once have powered the mill.

MargaretMcBurney and Mary Byers wrote a chapter on Cataraqui in their 1979 volume Homesteads. The village was once called Waterloo; its population peaked at 300 in the 1870s. It had "a town hall, church, stores and inns" and the 65 acres of cemetery which still provides refuge to living and deceased today.

The limestone schoolhouse with its simple cupola has no datestone, but the fine stonework compensates.

The small houses along the road would have been for mill workers; despite some new cladding, the native limestone is visible here and there. The cottages cling to the edge of the ravine cloaked in trees and underbrush.

I expect that this board and batten clad hip roofed home cottage (the one with the exuberant rooster) was also one of Purdy's mill cottages.

At the end of the road (where heavy equipment was hard at work creating another subdivision) stood Purdy's Mill, operated by Micajah Purdy, one of the descendants of Gilbert Purdy Jr. whose family settled here and along the Bath Road. Years ago, I wrote about one of the Bath Road houses in a post.

Here's a great article from the Kingston Whig Standard about the village history. The writer quotes a City of Kingston report on village activity in 1846: " three physicians and surgeons, a carding machine and fulling mill, cloth factory, asher, tannery, store, three taverns, three wagon makers, a saddler, two blacksmiths, two shoemakers, one tailor and one baker."

Later, "a office, confectionary, a fanning mill factory [and] a mason" added their talents to growing the village. I love this spot; have more to share in another post.

He who shall remain nameless

The TR...Tower looming above 1930 Bank of Commerce
Not getting political here, but an article in BlogTO just caught my attention. Turns out that a controversial name may just disappear soon from the Toronto skyline, as a business deal (in which I have no interest) rolls out.

While locating this photo in my files, I decided to share a few photos of my delightful Toronto walkabout with dear friend Larry (he's the I in Making Eye Statements) a few short weeks ago. I love the juxtaposition of old and new in these photos taken along Front and King Street, shortly after my arrival at Union Station, on a delightful day of walking a city I love, with someone who knows and loves it infinitely more.

I adore the 1930 Bank of Commerce building, with its Deco inspired stepped form, giant sculpted heads representing Courage, Foresight, Observation and Enterprise at the 32nd storey observation tower level on once was "the tallest building in the Commonwealth. Here's a great link to its story. Here's a glimpse at ground level.
Brookfield Place - Hockey Hall of Fame/BofM 1885

 A walk through downtown Toronto yields a substantial number of Victorian and Edwardian buildings still standing for inspection (so far.) Sure, many are compromised by facadism, and building up - towers climbing skyward balanced on the stone shoulders of earlier giants. This article coins the term 'hybrid architecture.' We saw an alarming number of development proposal signs, lego block masses depicted for the future, dwarfing existing c19 buildings. Inevitable I guess.

And I do appreciate much post-modern architecture. But when it comes to luxuriating in carved and applied decorative excess, you need to look back.

Commerical Bank of Midland District (1845)
Here are a couple of views I failed to record as I was trying to get my head around just what was Brookfield place. A couple of mighty towers. A Beaux Arts Bank of Montreal branch dated 1885 (seems a slightly incongruous location for a bunch of hockey memorabilia.). An astonishing light-filled galleria designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, itself enclosing the facade of an early bank moved from Wellington Street. Offices. Restaurants. Art gallery. Residences. What a great mash-up.

Further along Front Street, we stopped (and it wasn't easy with pedestrians, traffic and construction all going at a slightly different speed than us)
to admire the Richardsonian Romanesque decoration on the Gooderham Building. I like the photo below of the little red brick flat-iron building. It makes me think of a sturdy red tug, towing the mass of glass towers looming behind and above it.

Similarly, I enjoyed this perspective of the majestic Gothic Revival presence of St. James Cathedral squeezed into a tiny space between some fairly featureless newer builds. Many have done it more justice than I.

St. Lawrence Market blending with the condo tower next door - colour and curves somewhat complementary, though likely not planned. I loved that there were bright green leaves opening overhead as we lunched al fresco across the street from the market building.

 Not sure if this commercial block overshadowed by the curving L building is the commercial block called the Beardmore Building (it was challenging to get a good photo) but I'll include this link to a very worthy block I must revisit.

The shot of the entrance to the former Hummingbird Centre, a modernist icon, shows 'the L' overachieving in the background.

 Then there's the wonderfully crumbling red brick basilica at the corner of Front Street E. and Berkely, the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre, part of the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre.

( I loved the old names for places, before naming rights became necessary evils to balance the budget. Family Dental Centre indoor walking track, really?)

another characterless tower looms
This evocative building is the 1887/8 Consumers Gas Company purifying house. Behind the facade is a portion of the clerestory roof, designed to raise the roof in case of a gas explosion, avoiding the dangerous blowing out of the walls.

Here's the history of the Canadian Opera Company's repurposing of the gas company plant, and the woolen mill next door. Good on you, people! The arts community has greatly enriched the heritage of Old Town Toronto.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eye of the Hurricane

If you were to ask anyone who has experienced the excitement of Vancouver's Granville Island, the first word they think of, it is unlikely to be "brownfield development." Okay, that's two words, but you take my point.

Restaurants and waterfront bars, high end shops, parks, miles of sea wall walks, an art school, a community theatre, house boats and a yacht harbour, museums and marine stores, an incredibly diverse food and craft market, high density waterfront living on its doorstep - and did I mention industry? - all thrive, a short water-taxi hop from the residential west end and commercial downtown of Vancouver.

This fascinating history link tells the whole story. Here's a precis. In the early 1900s, what is today's 38 acres of Granville Island was a mud flat that disappeared at high tide. But a bright light at the Vancouver Harbour Commission saw the potential of creating new land in (even then!) expensive Vancouver. A seawall was built and dredging began after a brief pause for a depression, in 1913. The resulting Mud Island (called Granville Island after 1938, and later joined to the mainland) was divided into 80 lots for factories and mills housed in post and beam structures with corrugated tin siding.

I won't go into the ownership history, but feel free. By the 1960s, industries were closing down and the place was becoming an eyesore. Indeed, it had likely always been a bit seedy, with heavy industry and little environmental awareness. During the 1930s depression a shanty-town was born there.

Townley and Matheson architects, 1938
Saw factory, now community centre
industrial maritime heritage preserved

 Enter CMHC who were developing False Creek housing, and a new generation of environmentally attuned developers, and the shift from industry to people began. Redevelopment started in 1975, with the wonderful Granville Island Public Market opening in 1979. The seawall walk was opened in 1977. Here's a good account of the evolution.

So the development proceeded with buying out some of the industrial leases, others expired. Adaptive reuse of the industrial buildings was the norm.

The False Creek Community Centre is housed in the former Spear and Jackson Saws and Tyee Machinery Company quarters.

Opus Framing and Art Supplies brightens up the 'hood

The soon to be former campus of Emily Carr School of Art and Design pays homage to its industrial past.

Public art project at the cement plant (one of the last remaining working industries on the island.) OSGEMEOS, two artists from Brazil painted this astonishing three-dimensional mural on the silos at Ocean Cement.
There's something sheltering about being under the bridge, with the white noise of traffic rushing overhead, islands of green willows springing up. I love the contrast of boutiques and fine art studios housed in repurposed steel clad factories and warehouses. Grit and glam.

As a student of weather, I am fascinated by the concept of the eye of the hurricane, that region of calm weather in the centre of a tropical storm. In this huge city, which can easily become overwhelming, Granville Island is a place to rediscover the human scale and pace. To sit on the wall and watch a heron fishing in the rock pools, or listen to a fine street musician like Shawn Bullshields, or grab something to eat and sit in the sun and let the world go by. Island life.

Friday, June 9, 2017

City Mouse Country Mouse

Brookfield Place -  Calatrava meets Midland Commercial Bank
I have had two of the loveliest days. The weather's been sunny and hot, the company convivial, and discoveries lurked around every corner. Bright new trees, sun on stone and glass, people shedding layers and squinting into the sun, winter hunched shoulders gradually relaxing.

Yet my photo excursions could not have been more different. On Wednesday I spent eight lovely hours in the company of long-time friend Larry, who loves Toronto. It's catching. He knows Toronto. And is willing to share.
We wandered Front and King Streets and connecting routes, with stops for historical plaques, for food and beverage, for rests, for photos. Lots and lots. Larry's original and beautiful images will appear in due course on his blog Making Eye Statements. Mine will trickle out in dribs and drabs here, along with local lore and some architectural smart remarks. 

Wilton School (1871)
On Thursday, I was invited to the tiny limestone village of Wilton to meet with the new owner of the old schoolhouse. We shared life stories, enjoyed tea overlooking the pond, toured beautiful home and garden. Wilton will appear again soon, also.

This is the time of year where, like a squirrel harvesting for winter, I make photo forays to capture the exquisite built heritage of our province. Later, when grey rain streaks my windows, I will put fingertips to keys. In the meantime, I will savour these two wonderful spots, and invite you to join me.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Brickyard Blues

This is a rainy day photo of Brickyard Beach on Gabriola Island. The reddish hue comes from thousands of broken bits of clay brick. From the 1890s to 1951, the Gabriola Brickyard produced 80,000 handmade bricks a day, the gruelling labour supplied by locals and imported workers.

The historic plaque shows a photo of the works - the buildings were demolished in the 1950s and the few remaining foundations were quickly overtaken by the undergrowth. Thing grow fast in B.C.

The brickyard history is featured on the Gabriola museum website, and the local Historical and Museum Society offers plenty of photos to help you travel back in BC's built heritage story. The journal of the Society,
Victoria City Hall 1878-91
SHALE, features an in-depth study by Jenni Gehlbach.; yet more info (and some of the same photos) are found in this article

Dave Mason, our guide for a wonderful, if cloudy. walkabout in Victoria mentioned that the Victorian city used brick for many of its civic buildings: Victoria City Hall , the  Royal Theatre , the Board of Trade Building,  the  Law Chambers  and the  Provincial Courthouse. Without doubt, many of these bricks originated in this foggy cove on Gabriola Island.

Board of Trade Building 1892
We glimpsed the Victoria City hall as we trotted across Bastion Square. We were following an experienced guide, who knew and loved his historic city. Looking back, we could have taken four times longer to see, process, photograph (the falling in love part happened quickly) the dozens of neighbourhoods Dave Mason led us through. My photos - captures rather than studies, which I typically aim for, lack the detail and compositional quality I would like.

That being said, just look at the Board of Trade Building, a towering 4 storeys (well it was the 1890s) of red brick, rusticated sandstone, and terra cotta panels.
eclectic Victorian  grandeur

Does this convey the "historic prominence and power of the Victoria Board of Trade, which had administered local and provincial economic and commercial activities since its beginning as the Victoria Chamber of Commerce in 1863" Yes? I think so. (Quote from Link is above)

A bit of Romanesque swagger, some Chicago School verticality. A statement.

Then there is the Provincial Courthouse at the upper end of Bastion Square. Here's another great quote from Historic, to whom I resort when my brain becomes waterlogged after several days of rain and low pressure. Of the 1889/01 Provincial Courthouse, they say: "this castle-like structure remains as an historic embodiment of law, order, stability and justice which have been practiced [sic] at this site since the 1860s."

It's quite extraordinary, really. Rapunzel towers, arched windows, Italianate detailing you'd expect to see in Venice, all on the still pretty rough and tumble west coast.

It's of brick, yes, but covered with stucco imitating stone, the better to intimidate the law-breakers.

rounded corners of  pressed brick
 terra cotta bands and rosettes
And finally, my personal favourite, the Temple Building, yet another brick Victorian, also recorded by the folks at They deem it "one of Victoria's most architecturally significant buildings" with its rusticated sandstone main floor, arched entry with lots of pressed brick and/or terra cotta ornament (too bad about the doors.) Architect Samuel Maclure, who figures in many chapters of the city's architecture story, designed the commercial building.

Temple Building (1893) rusticated sandstone base

The HistoricPlaces description revels in the surface decoration,  inspired by American architects Louis Sullivan and H.H.Richardson. Do follow the link. They do it justice.

The Temple Building was one of our guide Dave Mason's favourites as well. He pulled this photo of Malatesta Temple in Rimini, Italy (Wiki link, thanks Dave) from his knapsack, to illustrate the classical source of Maclure's inspiration.

Magnificent Victorian buildings. These bricks are a long way from the beach.