Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Suddenly Last Summerhill


I've visited this lovely spot in Kingston many times, and wrote about it here 6 years ago. Some of the photos I borrowed for that post have disappeared, as it turns out, so it's time to retell the story. But I did a pretty good job on that post, so I encourage you to have a look.

This is Summerhill, the oldest building on the Queen's University campus, a graceful Neoclassical villa built as home for George Okill Stuart, Anglican Arch-deacon, in 1839. Remarkably old. Changed over time, but in recent years, much restored and nicely maintained. 

The image at right is from an interpretive panel installed since my last visit. Summerhill's pure Palladian form, (here's one now) a central block with flanking pavilions and linking colonnaded porches, is evident in this 1858 drawing.

Folks must have felt fortunate indeed when in 1854, the home was acquired by the still new and struggling Queen's College, established in 1848 by Royal Charter issued by Queen Victoria. Queen's was the work of the Presbyterians of Upper Canada, desirous of a College for the education of Presbyterian ministers.

 The College had begun in a wood frame house on the edge of town, with 2 profs and 13 students. Despite the classy new digs, the college continued to struggle financially, and suffered growing pains as it strove to establish identity and direction.

The interpretive panels go on to explain the challenges, and principals who made a difference. I won't. For me, the visit was about taking in the beauty of the place and the day.

Do drop by yourself, and swot up.

So, can you spot the changes? I'm just going to let you do the thinking, and revisit my warm early fall day euphoria now. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Where's Waldron?

Well, thank goodness for Dr. Jennifer McKendry. I've mentioned Kingston's well-known and much-published architectural historian in a number of posts over my love affair with her city. 

Today, I appreciate her even more, as she is THE ONLY source I could locate which references a most unique and wonderful structure in that city,  the Waldron Tower. Built in 1968, this building, originally a student nurses' residence, and now a co-ed residence for Queen's students, is easily underestimated, amid the Collegiate Gothic buildings of the campus, the early incomparable Summerhill, and the homes of the well to do along King Street.  

 There are student videos posted on the Queens residence services site, showing off the utilitarian concrete interiors, and the windows - as soon as I had drawn his attention to the building, my design engineer husband noticed that the design provides each of them with a view of Lake Ontario, just across the street.

The marriage of the stepped brick tower with the textured stone and curving concrete elements of the one-storey wing - likely the student common area at one time? - is appealing. I couldn't stop looking and shooting.

Curving, smooth, undecorated surfaces of the reverse arch portico contrast with the rough stone walling.  The rotunda is supported by an external skeleton of concrete spines, separating long narrow windows. 

It's a bland beige brick tower at first glance, but with such caprice, embracing all that was iconoclastic in the International Style, everywhere one looks. McKendry includes a brief but laudatory comment: "the city building that most successfully shows the potential for beauty in the International Style." She mentions the curved lines and broken cornice. 

More and more curves in concrete.

Look up, look way up. McKendry suggests this very tall building looks light because of the broken cornice and curved lines.

Incidentally, the book where I finally found some architectural mention of Waldron Tower is Modern Architecture in Kingston - A survey of 20th century buildings, self-published, 2014, by Jennifer McKendry.

Notice the tiny square porthole like windows  on the slightly concave end wall?

Sorry if this post trails out a bit. As undisciplined as I was while taking photos, I have been even more profligate at sharing them. And as I have complained before, "new" Blogger does not allow portrait oriented photos to be moved into a comfy side by side arrangement. And that's an improvement how?

The datestone - 1968. I had to sneak up what looked like a private drive, behind the wonderful Katherine Bermingham Macklem house which now houses a hospital department, to find it. Unmistakeable. The whole building a celebration of what I knew to be its era.

In closing. A Streetview link, if you fancy a wander yourself. 

Or is it just me...?

During my dear husband's final autumn in 2020, we spent many hours in Kingston while he received attention at the fine hospital. I spent hours amidst the city's changing foliage, wandering Kingston streets within a half-hour or so of KGH. One reason is the biological imperative. As non-patients were forbidden access to the comforts of the hospital, due to the exigencies of the pandemic, one was forced to seek relief  either at the top of City Park, or the extreme west end of Breakwater Park, a heart-healthy 20 to 25 minutes away. There was an evil genius at work. Upon arriving at one biffy, signs often directed the sufferer to the other, maintenance being promised. Nevertheless, there was always plenty to see (a needed distraction) on the quest. And this house along King Street never fails to delight me. I tried several times  one day to capture the classical calm, the brilliant foliage, and the shadow, all of which put me in mind of one of Lauren Harris' early Toronto houses. Sadly, trees on either side prevented me getting what I wanted (the theme of the walk.) Streetview did a rather better job, actually, from the intersection, safer in a vehicle than on foot. But really, is not the genius in the light? 

If I may, a couple of Harris houses to make the point. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

When Plywood was King

photo credit: Eric Pierce
 One day this summer, my brother happened by the site  of the new Port Picton development which is beginning to transform the landscape above Picton Bay, along busy Bridge Street. Turns out, he captured a moment that had immense significance for us, and none at all for the developers or the heavy equipment operators. 
photo credit: Eric Pierce

Within minutes, this ordinary family home, which housed our parents for a couple of happy decades in the 1980s and early 90s, and could have provided (affordable?) housing for others, was rubble. Nothing salvaged. Time is money. Turns out this simple raised (well, built into the slope, with the coveted 'walkout basement') bungalow is one of several along Bridge Street which ended up 'behind the fence' and demolished as part of the 'vision' for this part of town.

photo credit: Eric Pierce

I compared the aerial view of the property in this 1919 Picton Gazette article with its tabletop miniature concept of Monopoly houses created by the architects and I see a few other casualties. Trees. Promises of parks and walkways must compensate. The stately Claramount, lawyer Edward Young's 1903 Colonial Revival mansion ( Ancestral Roofs post DIY) is being refashioned as a spa clubhouse. The fate of  lovely red brick Taylor home sheltered among well-aged trees is unclear. It has been moved as has the little gatehouse beside the Claramount. The stone wall has been removed, to be rebuilt later?  I have my hopes pinned on local developer Cleave, who is reported to respect historic buildings.

Here's a Streetview link dated May 2018. I hope it helps you remember the street as it was, for a while yet.

I had a look at the Port Picton prospectus. "Stylish living...benchmark for luxury living." European style kitchens, engineered hardwood floors, porcelain, ceramic, quartz, pot lights, bright white walls and expanses of glass in the file photos. Promises for "luxury in a natural environment", a confidence that the vast assortment of wildlife will remain in the area, and the birds that call the ancient trees home will be unruffled. Feeling a sense of loss, somehow. This is a new lifestyle and design aesthetic. 

I like to think back to that plain unfashionable bungalow. Wood panelling, patterned indoor outdoor carpet, hand-built plywood kitchen cupboards. Sears curtains, ivy printed wallpaper, harvest gold appliances, floral print sofas from a local store, piles of books and tchotchkes,  hand-quilted treasures, family photos, furniture from the grandparents and beyond. Trees planted and pruned by dad, a neighbouring lot lovingly maintained.

 A handbuilt deck where Dad held dominion over the barbeque. I remember visits to that house from B.C., and shortly later, from our first home back in Ontario. Big and small Picton events - the Villeneuve castle explosion happened within view of the picture window. A visit from a dear mum from England. 

 Warm welcomes always, and lots and lots of celebratory dinners. Christmas fare stored in the attached garage, a custom pocket door to the cold room Mom's biggest convenience. Dad always working on a project or other in the basement. So many warm family memories. I look forward to sharing this with my brother, and hearing his recollections too.

I wish the newcomers at Port Picton well. I hope their lives are filled with warmth and love, in the shiny new world they're creating for themselves.

Monday, August 31, 2020

To the Manor - born and died

 I am indulging in demolition porn this afternoon, researching for a post. I'm studying images of the ruins of a home once dear to our family, lost to the Port Picton development. 

As I Googled through articles about demolitions, I came across this one on County Live, an account of the razing of the old Picton hospital, which reformed as Picton Manor, a nursing home in its later years, stood vacant for several more, and has now given way to a new development. 

Down this rabbit hole for a while. I was born here, recall having my tonsils out here, spending time with on-duty mom when she returned to nursing at the care home, and visiting Georgia, a dear family friend, when she made Picton Manor her final home. 

Must drop by the old 'hood one day, to see if there is progress on promised housing. The town is certainly hopping with building projects - doubt I'll recognize it in 10 years.

I wrote about Picton Manor a few years ago. I'll let the post Life Cycles speak for itself. Enough to say, I was born in this old hospital turned Manor, and something in me died when it was lost. I'll go pay my respects to its ruins in the newspaper account.

Where's Wolford?

 Not too long ago, we actually went somewhere. The recent dearth of AR posts attests to a long pandemic self-isolation, when even a solo drive in the country felt like civil disobedience.

We spent a delightful week at a secluded cottage on the Rideau River and although we passed three of the days immobile like cats in the sun watching the river run, we did go on a couple of visits to favourite sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rideau locks system, and to others we hadn't met yet. A quick shufty online mentioned a church of historical interest, Wolford Chapel. And wasn't Wolford Chapel just down the road, a nearby dot on the map? We began scouting around for an historic stone church, further dignified by a bright blue Ontario Heritage plaque. 

Wolford Chapel is associated with Sir John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, 1791 - 1796, back when we needed imported vice-regal authority to manage our fledgling country on behalf of the British Crown.

We found this tidy Carpenter Gothic at the corner, and did a quick recce. No plaque. No suggestion that there might have been an earlier stone church clad in wood siding, after an ill-advised improving decision at some point. No confidence that the great Simcoe would have been buried in this bucolic farming country.

Ah - no similarity at all, actually. A quick return online, and the truth emerged. The photo at this link explains everything. Ah, well, it does raise a few additional questions, but we'll come to that. Wolford Chapel is on what remains of the Simcoe estate in Honiton, Devon, England. The chapel was built of local limestone and roofed with slate, in 1802, at Simcoe's behest. Sadly, Simcoe died (and was buried here) upon his return to England after his Upper Canada service, before heading off for similar responsibilities in India.

the real Wolford Chapel (Wikipedia. Credit: Steve Kieretsu)
The church remained with the estate during its eventual subdivision and selling-off. The most recent owner, Sir Geoffrey Harmsworth, likely not wanting to be lumbered with its maintenance, had a brainwave. In 1966, 160 years after Simcoe's death, Harmsworth donated the chapel to Canada - the Sir John Graves Simcoe Memorial Foundation, actually. So Premier John Robarts received the deed on behalf of the people of Ontario, and in 1982 the Ontario Heritage Trust acquired the property. Dedicated English volunteers maintain the chapel on behalf of the province. Don't anyone tell Doug Ford.

Research for this post has rekindled my interest in Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe, who not surprisingly is also buried at the chapel in Devon, along with many of her many children. She enjoyed her stay in Upper Canada with hubby. Admittedly, it was likely not a life of many hardships, as was life for many of her contemporaries, newly arrived in the bush. But she distinguished herself with an enthusiasm for life - as a diarist, artist, traveller and centre of a brilliant social life. Her delicate watercolours and sketches, with that soft English complexion, create a fascinating look at early Toronto (it was Sir John, after all, who selected the location for York and the fledgling government.) One of Elizabeth's watercolours depicts her home, Castle Frank.
Castle Frank with fluffy Constable trees - Elizabeth Simcoe
Archives of Ontario

Have you ever wondered about the Castle at Castle Frank Road, Toronto? Or are you like me, who on the rare occasions I've been driving east on Bloor, positioning myself for the needle's eye that marks the descent to the Don Valley Parkway, preoccupied with "I'm going to die" thoughts? Perhaps, if you've ever stood around waiting for the train at the Castle Frank subway station (no castle that) you might have pondered the name. 

Turns out, there is a plaque on the surprisingly leafy grounds of Rosedale Heights School of the Arts (risen phoenix-like from the former Castle Frank High School) at 711 Bloor St. East.  The OHT plaque commemorates Elizabeth Posthuma (so named by lugubrious relatives to honour the recent death of both parents) Simcoe, diarist and artist, who so enjoyed the freedoms of Upper Canada. And the plaque marks the approximate location of the couple's home in the wilderness, poised at the top of the bluff overlooking the Don River.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Pier Influence

Brighton Palace Pier
Brighton UK holiday, March 2019. Needs must, and the trudge to the pier happened. I've always been fascinated by the Victorian pleasure piers - nothing in my childhood remotely like them. Blackpool and others occasionally slunk into adult conversation, like slightly sinister characters in British novels. Later, Skegness Pier in Lincolnshire peopled reminiscences from my dear one's British childhood.
the skeletal West Pier on the far horizon, far left
Pleasure piers boomed during Victoria's reign, as people's horizons widened due to increasing prosperity and mobility. I talked about the new leisure phenomenon in this Australia-based post - though our horizons aren't quite so wide this time.

According to this 5-Minute History site, wonderful for the vintage photographs, painful for the appalling advertising, the pier idea started small. Over time, with the promise of shillings to be made, the sea-reaching structures, originally landing stages for tour boats, grew into "complex entertainment venues with ornate pavilions, delicate ironwork and exotic lighting."

Looking at these images, I am astonished at the lengths the builders went to - and at the tenacity of the structures constructed far out into the ocean, as if daring the sea to do its worst. And sometimes it did. In 1896 a raging storm destroyed the work in progress, almost ending the pier before it began.

By 1850 there were a dozen piers throughout the country, the age's great thing, cast iron, providing reliable footings, although the wood frame confections built atop them were less viable, many succumbing to fire. By 1900, over 80 pleasure piers lured the masses to the seaside. Some retained their jetty jauntiness, others were outfitted with theatres, bars and restaurants, domed pavilions splendidly adorned.

Only in England does this look like a beach day. Or a beach, for that matter. But on the April day we visited, people were enjoying the seaside. Den was intrigued by the breakwater's construction so we clambered down to sea level.

And that's when hagstones entered the conversation. Our family collects 'lucky rocks'. Might you know about them? Our mother started the tradition of looking for these smooth beach rocks pierced by tiny holes, Lake Ontario's limestone shingle being an especially good hunting ground.  In some circles, they're called hagstones, with Druidic connections. I have maybe a dozen 'lucky rocks' in bowls and baskets, any container that will hold luck. Included is a bright orange lucky stone Den found on Brighton Beach.

Back to pier history. The world's oldest pleasure pier opened in 1814, in the town of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Although we managed to cram an exhausting number of IOW destinations into our few days, we did not stroll that particular pier.

But here's quick overview - although the length is astonishing, and its age impressive, there's not much magic here, IMHO.

Now these photos don't contain any magic, either, taken as they were on a chilly March day. Then again, they wouldn't have any appeal to me in the pale sunshine of a July English day.

Brighton Palace Pier is the darling of day-trippers still today, though shorn of any trappings of high culture it might once have had,  its theatre and reading rooms demolished, an amusement dome replacing them.

"Our war-bride aunt" as we are prone to calling her, recently recalled going dancing at Brighton Pier with our uncle, from her home/his army training camp in Surrey.

Not a dancing day. For me, the appeal lay in searching out vestiges of the historic pier, anachronistic bits of cast iron, timeless planking, the endless sea. This Arthur Lloyd gallery of ephemera and post cards helps.

The pier's own website manages to include a bit of history along with exciting news about rides and attractions ("wristbands here, save 25%,") food and drink, and an Instagram gallery.

Incidentally, even the academics are having a look at the pier phenom, though whether this project survived past 2016 is something I haven't pursued, in favour of travelling further back in time.

Brighton Palace Pier is the third pier built in the city. The Royal Suspension Chain Pier preceded it, built in 1823 and destroyed by a storm in 1896. It looked like an Egyptian inspired suspension bridge reaching out into the sea, from what I can tell from this Brighton History Museum site. The Brighton Palace Pier was its replacement (things got messy, but we won't go into that here.)

West Pier, RIP
I am strangely moved by the story of the West Pier, visible as a tiny skeleton on the horizon at the left of this photo. It was  opened in 1866, just offshore from Regency Square (in fact residents of the square objected to its construction, destined as it was to bring the daytrippers and who knows what sort of people to their shores. Down-market, darling.)

The West Pier and the extinct Chain Pier were contemporaries. A concert hall was added on the West Pier in 1916; an astonishing 2 million visitors enjoyed the pier between 1918 and 1919.

Things have gone badly for the West Pier. In the first decade of 2000, major sections collapsed, two fires 'happened', and "structured demolition", whatever that is, took place in 2010, according to Wikipedia. The skeletal dome visible in this Streetview, er, view was what we saw last spring. (Incidentally, if you turn 180 degrees from that capture, you get a fine view of the Regency Square.)

And were you to visit Brighton today, you could take a 'flight' on British Airways i360, a revolving viewing tower offering splendid views, and champagne; check out this promotional video. Ironically, the tower didn't figure in any of our holiday photos, how can something so tall fall below one's radar? Not our kind of thing. Sadly, at the very end of the endlessly repeating loop, you can see the rusting frame of West Pier, once upon a time, the next big thing.