Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Fair Day on Faraday

Monck Road
I'm forever on about the stories old houses can tell. This past fall, based in a comfortable rental on Baptiste Lake north of Bancroft, I was reminded once again that old roads also have the power to take us back in time. No matter how widened and well-surfaced they are - true of most of the back-roads I explored, although the blind hills and corners cancel out any feelings of security - the impenetrable forest bordering them recalls the experience of new European arrivals determined to make a stand, and a better life for their descendants.

Baptiste Lake 
  I have written about the area on several occasions. 
 Should you be in any way interested, you might  search the blog for Old Hastings Road. Here's   a starting point.

The week in the Hastings Highlands included daily back-roads drives and regular hikes. I finally visited all the communities on all the roads we'd had to postpone visiting, on our regular commutes between Belleville and North Bay, prior to our own settling here on the Front years ago. Evocative names, and roads, and heaps of  history. Today  rural hideaways and cottages of all sizes replace the settlers' hand-hewn homes and hopeful barns of the mid-1800s.

What links all these roads and experiences and the history of the area together for me is an exceptional book. I've read  Your Loving Anna, by Anna Leveridge half dozen times, and given away copies. Should you want to spend several hours in the shoes (and hopeful heart) of English settlers transplanted into the bush near Coe Hill in the early 1880s, this is the book for you. The book consists mostly of letters written by Anna Leveridge from her shack in the forest, to her mother at home in England. Despite the struggles and privations of her life, it is a hopeful and joyful read. Can you say, character?

Lower Faraday School
On my final day, my return trip to the city (one might think I was delaying the inevitable, and one might be correct) I travelled several northern settlement history rabbit-holes - Lower Faraday Road, the Ridge Road, and the Old Hastings Road (the section between McGeachie Lake Road and Ormsby (where I stopped for a chat with Lillian at the Old Hastings Mercantile... and a bit of restorative retail therapy.)

Incidentally, I met Lillian years ago while I was writing for Country Roads magazine; editor Nancy Hopkins had asked me for an article on General Stores. The issue came out in 2012 Sadly, Nancy died earlier this year, and the magazine is no longer. A sad loss, both of a great magazine and of a much-loved champion of Hastings County.

Lower Faraday Road, deep forest
Lower Faraday Methodist Church

On the road again, I  came upon the Lower Faraday School. At some optimistic time in the more recent past it was converted to community use, but is again abandoned.  

At the intersection of White Church Road and Lower Faraday, I came upon this humble white frame church. I read somewhere that it had been used as a community library in more recent time. Imagine the hopes and efforts of the fledgling community, building this simple structure to house their deep faith in God and the future.

now would you call this historic beauty The Gut?
Towards the end of my drive I travelled The Ridge, a surprising little area of prosperous farms and an active church, south of Coe Hill.  I'd like to show you the route I took, but the intrepid Streetview camera people decided not to take this road, which, incidentally got me to The Gut, a much more scenic spot than the name would suggest, and onward by a bit of crossroads sleuthing, to The Ridge and beyond. 

I love just motoring on, uninterrupted by map consultations, until I discover for myself how roads connect and assemble my own mental map - ah, this is a familiar place just off Highway 62! So, since I'd come upon them,  I walked the trails at the McGeatchie Conservation area on Steenburg Lake. I first visited in 2012 with Dave Golem, local councillor and McGeatchie CA enthusiast,  on another assignment for Country Roads.

And all dreams end in cemeteries. The Lower Faraday pioneer cemetery dated 1893, was restored by St. Michael's Anglican church of Coe Hill and others, and rededicated in 1980.

I fear that these road memories may be out of chronological north to south order.  But should you wish to retrace my route, I can recommend another fine book, which I learned about on this trip.

Before I left on my Baptiste Lake sojourn, I contacted area poet Kathy Figueroa, whom I met in my Al Purdy A-frame Association volunteer days; Kathy read at the first Purdy Picnic back in 2014.

 I suspected she might know if there were a book about the area, a sort of back roads driving tour resource. And Kathy did. She recommended Touring the Past by Bob Lyons. Published by KirbyBooks, a fine local publisher of area history, and written by a well-known Bancroft Times columnist and author with an eye for history, the book made for delightful reading, and proved a great guiidbook. I recommend it! I picked up my copy at Bancroft's deservedly famous Ashlie's Books.

So, now you have all you need for your trek to the near North. Since Baptiste Lake has already called a time or two, we may run into each other (ahem) on one of the back roads of North Hastings County next summer.

Land o' Goshen

1905 Goshen Evangelical Lutheran Church

 "Land o' Goshen!" Look it up. An old-fashioned expression, a "mild exclamation of surprise, alarm, dismay, annoyance or exasperation." The kind of thing you'd expect to hear Mayberry's Aunt Bea say. It derives somehow from the biblican Land of Goshen, the region in Egypt inhabited by the Israelites until the Exodus. And Goshen is the original name of this church in a fascinating "lost village" in the Abbotsford area of B.C. 

So says On this Spot, a wonderfully researched site devoted to this tiny old village, since absorbed by sprawling Abbotsford. The village of Matsqui.

Layers on layers of B.C. history pass unnoticed, as one drives the flat river bottom land en route to other pleasures. Like the charming and historic - and restored - village of Clayburn with which friends Meg and Tom delighted us  on our visit to them and their province, nearly five years ago. How can it be? 

This post was a draft in my new series from early this year, when the Covid travel famine forced me to mine for virtual road trip material in journeys from another time, with my travelling companion who made his own last voyage not long before. So. This makes me happy. And sad. To remember his infinite patience with photo junkets filled with "oh, can we drive down there!" "Oh, will you follow me in the car?...I just want to walk through that lane..." Whatever will I do without my getaway car driver?

the mighty Fraser
The visit with Tom and Meg was special in so many ways - and notable for walks. Walks along the dyke holding back the mighty Fraser, visits to a Chilliwack heronry. Walks along a mossy ferny cedar-scented neighbourhood stream. Walks among towering azaleas at a hillside monastery.

Stay with me, as I remember how to write again.

This is a post about a place people drive through daily without noticing, a place of spreading subdivisions and shrinking village presence. The village of Matsqui  has been absorbed in the municipal sense by the sprawling city of  Abbotsford - absorbed and disappeared.

1914 Matsqui Hotel
It's difficult to get a feel for life in today's Matsqui, much less the thriving little community of 120 years ago. A walk through town helps. A visit to a great website with  then and now photos and good commentary aids and abets. Matsqui seemed a familiar name from my Vancouver days, but U couldn't place it until a bit of searching revealed Matsqui....ah, that Matsqui. The one with the Federal medium-security prison; I once drove a neighbour there to visit her husband, in another life.

once the commercial centre of town

Then, as until recently,  I had no knowledge of the traditional keepers of this area. The Sto:lo people who lived lightly on the land and river in the valley were forced out by European settlers in the mid-1800s, in that way we colonizers had. Their ancestral lake and wetland territory with its abundant cedar and salmon economy was drained for agriculture, and their free and proud life disappeared. In a tragic irony, Sumas Lake is now reclaiming the territory this month. Important to read the entire story at the website I have provided links to; it's not pretty but one we must learn.

The  Norwegians played a role in the colonization of the area. The On This Spot site tells their story in detail. But for an abridged version: it's the same story of hope and struggle told by immigrants everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of Scandanavians caught 'Canada fever' in the 1890s to 1900. They left their harsh lot at home and started over again in the Canadian west. Their roots took hold in the fertile Fraser Valley, and many of their descendants live there still.

typical Matsqui clapboard
I'll leave you with a few views of wet-wool cloud, rain-nurtured ever-green grass and moss upholstering the old walls of the village. 
in 1915, the Patterson Blacksmith Shop

On this wander down St. Olaf Street, named after the patron saint of Norway, you'll see many of the places I've shown you, captured by the bigger technology of the Streetview folks. 

former Post Office

So...this post  which has sat waiting since February asks to be written, Now that our hearts and minds turn to the flooded farms of the Fraser Valley, I revisit these photos and those carefree days when my love and I travelled the area with Abbotsford friends Tom and Meg.

 Hearts are breaking everywhere there.

Sunday, October 31, 2021


I spent a few days in Gananoque this month. The village was a favourite of ours, and I resolved some months ago to find a spot to stay and spend our 42nd wedding anniversary doing the things that pleased us: lunch and a beverage at the Stonewater pub, a wander through some old neighbourhoods admiring the architecture, a visit to the  1000 Islands Historical Museum to enjoy their fine indigenous culture exhibit, and the social history of Thousand Islands summers in the days of the 'big houses.' There we would marvel at the astonishing ship models built by William Morrison, a venerable gentlman of our acquaintance (3 to 4 thousand hours each ship!) And of course, there's the river and the islands -  by urban footpath, bayside hikes, by tourboat with visiting English family (years ago), and from one of the many town benches - watching the river run.    

A line from that Loggins and Messina tune, slightly out of context, describes the interplay of river and loss: "And it goes on and on, watching the river run, further and further from things that we've done, leaving them one by one." Sorry, I make no apology for this footnote. This blog is about architectural history through my eyes, and this is the mote therein.

Nevertheless, this post is about Ferncliff. Another 'thing' that is no longer with us. Or is it? The chap at the museum says it's here, the Heritage Designation report says it is, but all I found was a sagging house sign, and the street number painted  on a concrete block (viewed in Streetview should you be the least bit interested.) No sign of the " unique example of vernacular interpretation of chalet deigns found in alpine Europe."

But until I actually see the place, I won't bore you with the details. They're ready to hand, here in the Designation Report. But what does give me tingles, is that it is "a rare surviving example of an early 19th century rural property." For someone who loves natural surroundings and heritage builings, does this not have all the ingredients for a 'happy place?'

  I eventually came to the conclusion that access to the property where it sat/sits is just up someone's driveway (dare I be so bold?) I suppose at some time it became hidden behind newer infill aling King Street (highway 2). The original 1850s property would have been larger. Still today the property round about is wonderfully wild - a steep wooded city ravine tilting downwards to the river forms the eastern extremity. Fingers crossed that no cantilivered modern architectural model ends up perched in the oak canopy. At the southern extremity sits a lovely wooded park overlooking the river. 

There's more to Ferncliff than this elusive house, however. The story came to me in this park, on a neighbourhood walk close to my 'stay' on a lovely wooded residents-only road. Drawn as always to stands of tall trees (they often shelter old houses) I 'discovered' Agnes Maule Machar park - the Streetview folks beat the plaque to the location, at that time it was called Bluff Park. I learned that it took rather a long time to change the name; town council decided in 1937 to name the park after her.

cliffedge houses beside the park
The NHS plaque tells Agnes' story - a research rabbit-hole down which this Alice fell. I'd tell you learn more about this lady powerhouse c19 social reformer but this biography does a better job.

a rebuilt stone wall - cliff edge

So, mystery solved. I didn't find Ferncliff, not because it was gone, but because it took some sleuthing. Next time I'm in town - it'll be me trudging up that "narrow gravelled driveway" through the "climax forest" to visit Ferncliff.

The things we find when we park the car, and put those walking shoes on.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Brewers unlocks

 Last month I spent a lovely week in my own company at a tiny house north of Kingston, and the inevitable visits to locks on the historic Rideau Canal ensued.

My love affair with canals and locks is longstanding (and a passion I shared with my dearest travelling companion.) Hint: should you be so inclined, this blog is searchable.

It was no surprise, except to me, that I ended up at Lower Brewer's lock during the first afternoon outing of my August solo holiday. I came upon the lock station from Highway 15. It took a moment to realize just where I was. And how good it felt. How many memories reside there. I spent the afternoon there, in the lush tropical heat, solemn white cedars, purple loosestrife and a heron painted in to make the scene perfection, ospreys mewling overhead. I felt deliciously out of touch with the sunbronzed posh boat people ascending and descending. 

Blog visitors responded strongly to my photo of a humble lockstation building at this lock back in 2017. Den and I  'discovered' this place, arriving from the west, on a cross-country winter drive. The setting was absolutely pristine, silent - and nearly inaccessible due to a heavy ice coating laid over every surface. Such a different day, in every way.

First. The bridge was closed. Den was known for doing what I called "engineering studies" of heritage technology, and passing on his prodigious knowledge. This timber king post swing bridge (replica)  was a case in point. So much is closed to me now, why NOT the bridge? Ironic.

Ah, but there is much to be examined here, even without engineering expertise. A few buildings in close proximity to each other connect technology from vastly different eras. The defensible lock-keeper's house, built during the heart-breakingly difficult years of canal construction in 1826-1832. A mill, built maybe mid to late 1800s, based on settlement history, repurposed finally as a gallery. And a  hydro powerhouse (guessing 1940s due to the decoration, and steel framed windows) harnessing the river channel. 

At the time I wrote of the little white building: "a little icon to return to in what promises to be that kind of year." I'm not sure what kind of year 2017 was, but there's no doubt that 2020 and 2021 have been "that sort of year" for me.

This place was full of you, Denny, and our ice-castle visit from so long ago.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Post - Parham


Well, it's been a while, folks.

And you may not know that, even now. Just this moment, I logged onto this blog for the first time in a very long time, to learn that Feedburner is going away. Feedburner was the magic that notified you of the arrival of another post on this blog. Clearly, I have not kept them busy enough of late, and they have become discouraged. Perhaps you, too, have given up looking for new old news. 

Well, I'm back. Feedburner, not so much. The name slays me - I remember our father, ever the practical farmer,  calling pleasure horses hayburners. Feedburner conjures up an old nag with one of those feedbags over its nose. 

Which is all I have to say about all of that.

Parham is quite another matter. This horrible 'time' we have endured together for the past 16 months has created its share of tension and mental anguish, leading to some tragic stories which have not received much attention. Nor have the people impacted by the tragedies, so intent have we been on the need to distance and stay well.

I was looking for Parham stories and came across, not for the first time, the outstanding local online paper the Frontenac News. If you follow this link you will arrive at an account of the saddest event to hit Parham, perhaps ever. I won't retell the senseless and violent episode that changed Parham's pretty historic streetscape, and many if not all of the inhabitants of the village, forever. I'll just say that the photos of the 1887 St. James Anglican church that I took on my visit 7 years ago represent a view that you will no longer enjoy as you drive through the village. The red brick manse and the church were destroyed by fire in June 2020. 

Nor will you enjoy this view captured by Streetview, and not yet changed. Hope they don't revisit. At least the locals will have that. The event broke so many hearts. There's even a fine song written by Greg Tilson of the Kingston-based group The Gertrudes, performed by the group and supported by guest artists like Georgette Frye and members of the Kingston Symphony, among others. The well-produced video can be found at this last link I've posted. A fine project to lift dashed spirits.

So, I will share with readers who might come across this post, these photos. Parham has a special association for me. I once stayed at  the red and white house, summer retreat of a family whose scion I was dating. This was years and years before I found the true love of my life, and my travelling companion for 44 years, whom I lost last December.

So, July 2021. I'm on the road again. Don't wait for Feedburner to tell you I've enjoyed another village with interesting architectural history. You'll wait a long time.

Monday, February 22, 2021


 Yesterday morning ArchDaily, one of my architecture news feeds, featured a look at Brutalist Belgrade, seen through the lens of Alexey Kozhenkov. Nothing warm and fuzzy about these strictly functional neighbourhood blocks of undressed concrete. Very 'Eastern Bloc'. 

I am rather fond of Brutalist architecture. To develop your own affection, you might visit Shannon Kyles' website OntarioArchitecture. Here's a link to her chapter on Brutalism. The key concepts are emphasis on form and texture, windowless expanses of concrete bearing the forthright marks of the wooden forms from which it emerged after curing.

Brutalism is a child of the 60s, although it emerged in the 1950s during post-war reconstructiom projects in UK. People either love it or hate it. There's that association with utilitarian, low-cost, socialist ideas, which explains its staying power in the former Soviet union. As Shannon notes, it's also popular with universities.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the old National Arts Centre in Ottawa, that "fortress for culture" which raised eyebrows in 1969 when its raw concrete form and texture was being revealed from behind the wooden forms. I recall the outdoor terraces, pebble-surfaced asymmetrical shelves topped with planters,  cafes sheltering under the heavy concrete eyebrows. The canal-side main entrance was hidden, a low-ceilinged space reminiscent of a back entrance refuse bin location. Once inside the visitor could get further lost in low-ceilinged hallways and mazes of rough concrete open stairways. Could stir "I'm not worthy" feelings among culture seekers, it was that imposing. Ah, but the performance spaces were wonders. And despite its dourness, I loved it all.

When LOML and I were last in Ottawa, on a cycling trip from a campsite well outside of town, I snapped a couple of photos of the remaining Brutalist presence. But much of what I knew and loved was gone. In a highly celebrated $110 million dollar project, the exterior and interior spaces have been transformed by glass, gold-toned aluminum and pale wood. A glass tower, its surfaces embedded with LEDs for video projections (ermmm) has been added. What the world needs is more flickering screens, writ large.

Another favourite architecture online news source, DeZeen, describes the transformation, inside and out, with lush photos. You'll want to have a look.

The new design opens up views of Parliament Hill and invites light in; it seems more inclusive, bright  and inviting, more a gathering place. Less a ticket-holders only sort of spot.

A 2017 article in Capital Modern echoes my resistance to yet another glass building refurb: "..the same imperatives are shaping every type of public building...Make it open and informal. Make it bright. Add cafes. What if, 50 years from now, every public building is a glass pavilion...What if cloistered, dramatic public spaces are again in vogue?" I intend to heed the invitation to explore in person, as soon as I may.  Fifty years on, not so likely.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

My Canadian Cousin

Today I began sorting through photo files from our travels of the past few years. Part of the motivation is the frustrated travel urge, the pandemic having severed a life-giving connection with the outer world. So we'll just have to be satisfied, for a bit longer, with looking back and looking forward. The other, deeper reason for the research is the need to be in touch with places that call back to mind great fun, adventure, discovery and love, a response to the loss in December, of my dear travelling companion of 44 years.

This post takes me back to the historic canal village of Shardlow, Derbyshire. 

view from our bedroom window

 We stayed here at the beginning of our travels in England and Ireland in the spring of 2019. Shardlow is a fascinating place, an inland port central to the nation's commerce since the time of the Domesday book.  Given my passion for canals (if you're so inclined, search the blog for canal posts) it was inevitable that I fell in love with Shardlow and its history. Given that we stayed in the village over a week with dear cousin Elaine, inveterate traveller, walker and student of the wider world, we had the opportunity to wander the towpaths of this ancient canal town, and to get to know its distinguished architecture first-hand.

As one might expect in historic Britain, Shardlow history is well-documented. A walking tour map is posted on the breezy bridge, with details on many of the converted warehouses and grand houses that make the village unique. In 1770, the Trent and Mersey Canal was completed; Shardlow was the point where goods were transferred between carriers on the Trent River, to the narrow boats moving things about on the  midlands canal network. The picturesque narrow boats, both restored antiques and newly manufactured, are a delight. The canal shipping era created great wealth and lovely homes.

A canal-side home caught my eye, Broughton House. Broughton House was built around 1790, by the scion of one of the well-off masters of canal commerce. It's situated on the old London Road (doesn't that conjur up the dashing arrival of coaches and fours?) and had some interesting history. Here's your chance to travel the London road via Streetview. Once you've had a good look at Broughton House, stay for a wander. It's a fascinating village. I'll share some other house stories sometime soon.

The Broughton House's three-bay facade is, not surprisingly, of fine ashlar, the back is in red brick. Stone window surrounds, a stone band course at basement level. Hipped slate roof, ashlar side-wall chimneys. Steps lead up from the gate and stone wall (itself with heritage status) to what one source calls 'a Tusan porch.'  This video shot at a rather breathless pace by a rather breathless realtor, gives a glimpse of high ceilings with plaster cornices, fireplaces, reeded wood detailing, and a wonderful staircase.

Video 2 offers a slightly more adoring look.

Even the wall has history. It's a Grade II listed element, built in the early 1800s of brick with stucco, stone copings. The original iron gate with lantern arch above completes the perfection.

Broughton House recalled a particular favourite in Niagara on the Lake here at home. The similarity resonated as we had spent a delightful time at NOL the previous year, when cousin Elaine visited with us. Each home boasts upright Georgian symmetry, although the materials are different, and elliptical Neoclassical elements. But the detail that caught my eye was the blind arches around the windows. Why, why? But it's stayed with me, so might as well share it. A challenge to the bricklayer's or stonemason's skills, I would think.

I just relived my first meeting with the 1820s MacDougal-Harrison  house in NOL (and you can too, here.) Isn't the facade a thing of orderly beauty?