Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Precisely my point

  I have an instinct for these things. A   mention  in a local tourism publication. An   interesting road snaking along a blue line on the map. NHS directional signage.  Interesting   road names or appealing  topography.

 I don't know what led me to Sturgeon Point,   but I do know what kept me there. Sturgeon   Point village is what people do when they band   together to preserve a way of life, and fine  buildings, from change due to bureaucratic contols and development. 

I assume. I didn't speak to anyone at Sturgeon Point, but I visited the Sturgeon Point Association website. And I wandered some of the charming narrow twisty cottage roads lined with majestic trees, bordering the lake. And I ogled cottage homes from the later 1800s and early days of the last century: simple frame cottages and stately family enclaves set back in wide lawns shaded by enormous pines. And I could see why the residents would want to circle the wagons to limit changes and maintain this lovely summer cottage communtiy. 

The place put me in mind of Point Abino near Fort Erie, which I visited years ago with my dear friend Judy, a fellow traveller lost long ago,  A gated cottage community (irritatingly, owned almost exclusively by Americans) from which we were shooed when we went to visit the historic lighthouse .

There is some interesting Sturgeon Point village history online. The first regatta was held in 1838 - and these exclusive events continue to this day. The point became a summer destination for locals in the 1850s . Excursion boats, everyone in their best collared and corsetted attire no doubt, started arriving for picnics in the hardwood groves near the water. The most popular such event, for a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta performance in 1881, numbered 3000! That's a flotilla of excursion boats! 

The village history site is worth a visit. There's the story of Crandell's Sturgeon Point Hotel, with marine and train traffic bringing thousands to the point. Built in 1876, it burned in 1898. George Crandell's story makes for an interesting read!

In the 1880s, the first permanent homes were built. And that's where I come in. The signage that led me to the point directed me to the beautiful rustic Sturgeon Point Union Church, built 1915. Its history is fascinating, the structure is unique. An octagonal building of Georgia pine, it was commisioned by a Lady Clara Flavelle, and gifted to the community as an ecumenical church. Although I couldn't get inside, the woodcraft is phenomenally beautiful. The website welcomes "residents, guests and visitors" and I felt that welcome as I found a spot to park, to set out on my wander through the streets and along the shore road.

The residences range from tiny original cottages to fine summer homes. All are beautifully  maintained, the roads are tree-lined with views over Sturgeon Lake. 

The whimsical canary yellow Cherry Tree Lodge, set in wide treed grounds, caught my eye. And as I did some research for this post, I learned to my delight that it has a story. Not only is the tiny cottage one of the first purpose-built cottages, and thus the object of my search, but it has a fascinating history. Cherry Tree Lodge was  built in 1887 by artist W.A.Goodwin (no, new name for me also.) The late Victorian cottage with Arts and Crafts influences, "built to evoke the appearance of the large canvas tents campers used at the time" (website) was home to sedate family activities and wholesome local youth events. And it served as inspiration to an artist unjustly overlooked until recently. A grand story, doubtless one of many told in this delightful little community.

So, Sturgeon Point Association board members and supporters, you have a precious legacy and a special place in your care. I wish you success, as burgeoning development pressures build on quaint and character-full places. They come for the charm, and destroy it in the process.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Lucy Maud's (not so very) happy place

 "Homesickness" replied the guide. I had just marvelled at the astonishing literary output of a former resident of this village, nostalgic stories based in a long-forgotten era in a seaside world she had left and longed for always.

On a July.stay in Port Perry I had the opportunity to visit a National Historic Site I had long wanted to see, in  Leaskdale, Ontario. This plain buff brick house was the home of the writer Lucy Maud Montgomery for 15 years. The manse and the lovely church up the road are now busy museums open to the public. There are quite a few houses in the hamlet which were standing when Montgomery (1864 - 1942) lived and wrote in Leaskdale,  a tiny place at the bottom of an impressive hill in beautiful (remarkably, still) open countryside.

Most girls of my generation spent at least some of their youth reading the novels of L.M. Montgomery. Here's a bio from the Canadian Encyclopedia Montgomery upon which I doubt I can improve.

My purpose in returning to these photos is to contemplate her life here, in this place even my hosts in nearby Port Perry did not know about. Getting in touch with the stifling Edwardian life of the wife of a Presbyterian minister suffering from major depressive disorder in the 1910s. It gets worse, but I'm not going there.

neighbouring farm where LM found her muse

Instead, because loss and longing have become part of my vocabulary, I want to think about how much Lucy Maud missed rural PEI and the ocean, and how she found her solace  and inspiration in the countryside here, which in a part of Ontario increasingly blanketed with graceless subdivisions, is still bucolic and lovely.

LM Montgomery's famous Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908. She wrote eleven of her 22 novels in this simple house with few conveniences and high expectations.

I've always found it interesting, though it's seldom commented upon, that although LM married Ewan Macdonald in 1911, she "kept her maiden name" (what a quaint old expression) in her published writing.

her statue in a lovely garden at the church

A really great resource if this story captures your attention, or your heart is the LMMontgomery Society of Ontario. There's tons more information there. 

And if this visit is not enough, I suggest you venture here. I suspect I will. 

Monday, June 6, 2022

The Athenaeum -

 Now THAT was fun. I discovered a fine forgotten building in Toronto not long ago, and crossed Church Street to read the magnetic (to me) blue and gold plaque. This unusual building (more on that later) bore the sign JAZZ. A jazz club, I assumed.

No, turns out to be apartments - if you hurry there are several available right now in the $1950  to $3350 range. I'm afraid I have no more information, as I was caught up in the account of the Athenaeum Club (1891) and Labour Temple (1904)

'Athenaeum' rang a bell; weren't they akin to the Mechanics' Institutes (here's a Toronto example).which offered reading rooms and technical and adult education for those men seeking social and economic betterment? Many evolved into public libraries. Institutes, not the men. And I use 'men' for reasons unfuriatingly obvious in that day. 

Here's where the fun starts. The first item in my search for Athenaeums (ae?) turned out to be one of my own. In the February 2016 issue of the newsletter of the Hastings County Historical Society (doubtless you still have the issue) I warbled on about the Atheneum in Belleville, Ontario. Modelled optimistically on the Athenaeum Club, that exclusive arts and letters club of London, England, Belleville's offered improving fare from 1859 - 1866.  Spoiler: it failed and became a skating rink. Here's a link to the Outlook article.

But back to 167 Church Street.

No, the anonymous concrete apartment tower isn't just invading personal space. It's embedded - or whatever terms one uses for the regrettable facade conservation compromise which allows for vertical expansion while maintaining the heritage features, if not the charm, of old building fronts. Lots has been written about this, but honestly, with square footage at a premium and a city multiplying itself daily, what choice?

 Without greenery, without historic context, there is too much lost. But without that preserved front, and a plaque, types like me would never know about this ornate historic appendage welded onto the strictly functional Jazz apartments.

The building was built in 1891 for the Athenaeum Club, the facade designed by Denison and King architects. The style is the rare-in-Toronto Moorish Revival, according to the plaque. Now when was the last time you enjoyed Moorish details like its intricate brickwork and Moorish windows? (The 1894 interior of Massey Hall featured Moorish arch balconies, perhaps the exotic style was associated to intellectual and cultural pursuits?) 

From 1904 to 1967, the building housed the Labour Temple, "a home to the local labour movement, and home to key debates in Canadian labour listory." Given that Jazz apartments is owned by Oxford Properties which is owned by OMERS, there's a nice resonance.

Other features noted in the heritage designation report: smooth-faced stonework at ground floor level, roundheaded windows, paired square basement windows. Some decorative metal grillework and window frame detail remains. The second and third floor feature finely detailed brickwork, with areas of raised diaper patterning. Some of the windows have flat stone lintels, others Moorish arches. The fourth floor dormer windows are set into the gambrel roof. The entrance is dignified by the windows above, and the recessed balcony with a single cast iron pillar with an exotic Moorish revival style capital. Projecting bay windows highlight the third floor facade, and a rooftop tower with chimney rises above it all. The facade features are all applied asymmetrically. 

Sadly, the eye is distracted from all this worthy detail by a nasty case of efflorescence. Perhaps for her 131st birthday, a facade polishing?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Paper Chase

Some time ago, I received a most remarkable gift from a friend. It was a small treasure among a number inherited from a dear aunt, chosen with me in mind. How perfectly lovely. It's quite an artifact. It's a sheet of Prince Edward County Heritage Paper. Suitable for wrapping a copy of  The Settler's Dream for impressive gifting.

The nameless individual who created these fine renderings is identified onlyby S.A.H. Design; the work is dated 1983. 

Now in 1983 I was living in Grand Forks, B.C. and my interest in Ontario heritage architecture was germinating between the covers of my copy of  The Settler's Dream, a gift from my mother, on a trip 'back east' 

I recall our exit from PEC, beginning yet another drive across our beloved country, the book on my knee, tears streaming down my face as I identified one after another of the homes Cruikshank and Stokes had recorded. Leaving my red brick town - and heritage - behind until our permanent return to Ontario in 1985. 

On many photo junkets through my home county since then, I have captured so many of these worthy structures, and pored over their beauty and history. This is fun. Like a sticker book. Pair the photo with these wonderful renderings, created to celebrate the rich architectural history of this place. And please, someone, let me know who the talented S.A.H. might be?  

And so on. You get the idea.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Morituri te Saluant

It's taken a bit of time on Streetview and other odd places to track down this neo-Gothic building and its history. Now I can say I know its past. Its future is more in doubt. This is 51 Bond Street, whose life was tied up in this alteration plan in 2018. So far, no good.

Next I unearthed the 2009 designation bylaw. It dignifies the boarded-up, windows-smashed dereliction of the place with some great detail. 

This Streetview capture, taken within the past couple of years (note careful pedestrians with face masks) shows the house's position at the corner of Bond and Shuter Streets. Given its location across the street from St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica  I at first assumed it belonged to the holdings of the archdiocese.

Metropolitan United Church 1872
 (rebuilt after a fire in 1929)
But no. In fact this boarded up structure belongs - or belonged?  - to Metropolitan United Church at 56 Queen Street East. It's the 1906 Metropolitan United Church Parsonage.

The late Doug Taylor's astonishing website Historic Toronto contains the history of the first Cathedral of Methodism near Toronto's tony (in the day) Jarvis Street residential neighbourhood .

I am feeling a sense of loss, having just wandered onto Doug's site, to find the notice that he died of cancer in 2020. Yet another significant soul lost that year. Doug's executor has found a home for his work, now housed with BlogTO. They post his incomparable Toronto history items from time to time. 

north side

Photo from the parking lot across from Jazz Apartments on Church Street. So much 'potential.'

Seen from the southeast corner, towers looming behind  its still dignified human-scaled late Medieval detail. Old trees, once in leaf, will dignify the graffiti and posters on the hoarding surrounding it.

So, old friend. I salute you. I will look for you when next I visit your town.

Layered Look

 An offering of views that caught my eye -  captured, but not ennobled, by a 5 year old Android phone on a mostly dull (weather, that is) Toronto weekend.

I've written before about the visual treat that a large city is for me - easy when my vantage point is a quiet spot, my schedule contains only peaceful enjoyments. The mix of styles, materials, ages of buildings creates a rich texture, a tapestry, which I love. I didn't bother to caption these - if you know Toronto even as well as I, you will recognize these buildings and perhaps take a moment to enjoy the patchwork with me.

This view of the instantly recognizable 1891 Gooderham Building ( history ) was taken from an Old Town walkabout in 2017, in the fullness of spring. Like the St. Lawrence Market it keeps its head above water in the maelstrom of  a burgeoning modern city in the original 10 blocks of historic York, here in Old Town Toronto.


As anticipated, my first visit to Toronto since the death of my dearest travelling companion, and two years in hiding during the tempest of Covid, was an emotional journey. But a great one, doing what I love most in this great city - walking. (Well there was that afternoon at the AGO, and La Traviata at the light-filled Four Seasons Centre.) From my delightful bolthole at the friendly and efficient Hilton DoubleTree, 'my' Toronto was at my feet. The opera? A short ten minute walk off-street - and that's counting reading ubiqitous plaques. 

The texture of Toronto - walls of towers oppressive yet appealing, their variety of design and material creating a rich tapestry which never fails to delight me. And occasionally, leaved between all that glass and masonry, there will be something on a smaller scale, of earthier materials, quieter somehow, emitting a different energy, surely an invitation to time travel. Something from 1850, say, or thereabouts. Seeing the city before its many trees burst into leaf, bleak on this grey day, focussed attention on these little islands in all the city haste, and wonderfully, revealed secret places usually hidden in treetops.

This day, this walk, enabled me a new view of a favourite place. I found it in another life, fleeing the overload of yet another download of new stuff from the Ministry in the overwrought Mowat Block on Bay Street, then escaping the intensity of a fast-walk along Bay Street. Trinity Square. 

Since then, I have been drawn many times to this square. It's a portal to another age, evoking the power of the ancient labyrinth. It makes an homage to past building and natural history - Taddle, one of Toronto's buried creeks, arches recalling an early Eaton's structure. I found a 1908 photo of men hand-digging the foundation for the Eaton's warehouse, hard by the side of the church.

Many photos exist of a later incursion, when the entire church complex of three early buildings was saved from extinction during the ambitious 1977 insertion of the Eaton's Centre, built around and not over the square, thanks to  passionate opposition by heritage groups.

Despite all this city, and history, peace of a sort reigns here. This 1847 church, built on what was once farm fields and swampland has been a radical church from the beginning. The church appears to have been  endowed by an Englishwoman who was shocked at the inequity of  pew rentals - costs which prohibited those without means, access to church services. Ironically, the church continues its ministry to the inner city poor, cheek by jowl with that icon of posh shopping, the Eaton Centre. I  keep getting the image of the poor huddled outside the castle, the moneychangers in the temple.

marble mosaic, broken in rage that the homeless die
amidst all this wealth

Holy Trinity's social justice mission is expressed more eloquently than I can do on their home page.

Here are two comprehensive accounts of  the rich history of Holy Trinity - the incomparable Taylor on History, and that of  Blog TO, which has taken over the archive of  Doug Taylor's lifetime of work, and publishes his accounts from time to time.