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Looking for Old Ontario

Looking for Old Ontario

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Looking for Old Ontario
    Book Description:

    McIlwraith walks the reader through the southern Ontario landscape, showing how its field patterns, house designs, village layouts, and road structures reveal two centuries of development and change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7681-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1 Acknowledging landscape
    (pp. 3-12)

    Ontario′s landscape is filled with evidence of its history. From Windsor to Cornwall, from Niagara to the edge of the Precambrian Shield, the hopes and achievements of tens of thousands of men and women are written on its fields, roads, houses, villages, and much more. This book is a reflection and interpretation of the way the land reveals those lives. It offers direction for reading the story and demonstrates the rich rewards of such an enterprise.

    The cultural landscape of Ontario is the product of innumerable, often anonymous stage hands, toiling over two centuries and creating the sets for a...

  6. Part I: Building old Ontario

    • 2 The evolving vernacular
      (pp. 15-31)

      ‵Palimpsest′ means ‵rubbed again.′ It is a label applied to ancient parchments that have been written on again and again but imperfectly erased between successive uses. What a fine way to describe southern Ontario′s landscape, including its buildings, repeatedly altered but always showing what went before.

      Most people limit their aesthetic awareness to a few famous buildings and beauty spots, and then only when away on holiday. And most of us are inclined to praise only those structures that stand unchanged and to invest money to restore others, ‵denatured,′ to the way they looked when new.¹ Alterations made long ago...

    • 3 Natural and human history
      (pp. 32-49)

      Southern Ontario surely has one of the most placid histories of any place of its size the world over. It is practically inert geologically, and its glacial deposits were laid down only with glacial speed. The martyrdom of Jesuit missionaries in Huronia in 1649, me rebellion of 1837, and the feuding Donnelly families of Lucan in the 1870s are rare aberrations in a peaceful process of social change. The last (and almost only) domestic war hero, Sir Isaac Brock, fell in the War of 1812. City fires, the occasional tornado, and Hurricane Hazel in October 1954 are events only slightly...

    • 4 Surveys and place names
      (pp. 50-70)

      A metal pole stands at the intersection of two gravel roads in Osprey Township, in a remote area southward from Georgian Bay (Figure 4.1). Bolted to it are two bent and rusted metal signs, at right angles to each other, one reading ‵SIDE RD. 20′ and the other ‵CON. 4.′ This labelling marks the passage of a land surveyor and introduces the passing motorist to the system of recording the land. Rural folks know the code so well that it is of minor importance that the sign has become almost illegible. But city people, out for a country drive, occasionally...

    • 5 Building materials and arts
      (pp. 71-100)

      Old Ontario was built from wood, soil, and stone, by people familiar with brick, iron, and glass. For them, getting started in a forest was a humbling experience, hard on gentility but good for ingenuity. Everything from treetops to bedrock was hacked, dug, or chipped into useful forms with rudimentary tools. Axe and wedge slew the tree, while the ground yielded to shovel and iron bar. Teams of oxen supplemented human muscle. Gradually, over a few generations, persevering residents achieved a cultural landscape as modern as any in the industrialized world.

      As society caught up, local natural resources diminished in...

  7. Part II: Reading individual features

    • 6 Houses
      (pp. 103-125)

      Ontario has some 300,000 dwellings in the countryside and small towns.1 Virtually all of them are visible to the passer-by, and each one contributes to the broad picture of economic, social, and technological change. And while most of us have little to say about mills or county registry offices, we all can contribute to a discussion of houses.

      The aspect of a house that catches attention varies widely among people. Some may be struck first by Greek columns, others by patterned brick, and still others by double-garage doors or landscaping. Folklorists and anthropologists see ordinary human expression in nondescript abodes,...

    • 7 Revealing details
      (pp. 126-140)

      As the engineer and author John Mactaggart travelled through the settled townships along the Lake Ontario shore late in the 1820s, he was struck by ‵the orders of architecture [that] baffle all description: every one builds his cottage or house according to his fancy.′¹ Such was perhaps the case among higher-class households, where occupants were able to indulge what Mactaggart calls ‵whims′ and ‵conceits.′ But such display was not the common experience, and by mid-century the Ontario landscape was a far plainer place, filling with humble classical houses and balanced cabins of limited variety. These buildings expressed the sameness of...

    • 8 Community buildings
      (pp. 141-172)

      Ontario′s need for spacious, enclosed areas for community gatherings has been almost as strong as the need for personal shelter. Migration to southern Ontario in the nineteenth century upset traditional group activities such as worship and teaching, disruption that was exacerbated by cultural mixing in every local neighbourhood. The absence of sanctuaries and academies was an aspect of the simplification process described in chapter 7, but the activities associated with such buildings survived, albeit at first hardly visible. Long before permanent church buildings appeared on the landscape, for instance, congregations were flourishing and services were being provided (Figure 1.3). Such...

    • 9 Barns
      (pp. 173-190)

      The Ontario barn is a practical, general-purpose building. It is the place to store crops and tools, shelter livestock, and provide working space for such mechanical operations as threshing. British immigrants would have been familiar with such terms as ‵stable,′ ‵granary,′ and ‵byre′ and would have known each as a separate building. Individual farm buildings in Ontario rarely bore these names, however, though parts of barns did. Rather, Ontario farm makers were content at having protective roofs and walls and cared little for what they were called.

      A chronology of Ontario barn types is easily traced by changes in the...

    • 10 Fences
      (pp. 191-202)

      Fences and gates are to farm fields what walls and doors are to a barn or mill. They contain the workspace and give access to it. Fields are deliberately open to the elements, but in other ways equivalent to the drive floor or milling room, where production occurs. Brush, tree trunks, and stumps made primitive fencing, still occasionally seen, and split rails and peeled posts were hardly more sophisticated. By the 1870s, however, baling wire was being used to bind the wooden parts together, and a generation later box wire was supplanting all wood but the posts. Slender steel bars,...

    • 11 Power and mills
      (pp. 203-222)

      Ontario took hold in an age of bulky, unrefined exports, most notably wheat and wood. Harvest, transport, and storage of these products created a landscape of fields, roads, and barns. Sawmills and grist mills were the landmarks, but such small parts of the broad setting as to be relatively unseen. Other specialists were no more visible. The workshop of the itinerant artisan – shoemaker, barn framer, or gravestone carver – was the set of tools carried about the countryside in his saddlebag. His skill, acquired through apprenticeship, was carried safely in his head.¹ These country specialists boarded with their customers...

    • 12 Graves and monuments
      (pp. 223-238)

      The family home was almost the only place for dealing with personal wellbeing during the nineteenth century. People were born there, sheltered there, and died there, with the family. The doctor ministered to people where they lived, making his rounds by horse and buggy, toting the familiar black bag.¹ A gentleman in Bruce County described his boyhood tonsillectomy in 1912, performed by the village doctor on the welltop behind his house, with a spot of iodine, a pair of scissors, and the promise of a penknife when it was over.² The criminally insane were taken away to the Asylum in...

  8. Part III: Examining clusters of features

    • 13 Farms
      (pp. 241-248)

      Ontario′s farms are the creations of immigrants of varied backgrounds who often showed disdain, if not outright hostility, for their neighbours (Figure 13.1). The landscape mirrors this outlook: no residential farmer villages, a system of public roads that bypass farm buildings, and private lanes leading to them. Building sites varied with local conditions but tended to be set well back on the lots. Here was privacy, freedom from the ‵disagreeable necessity′ of gazing at one′s neighbour, and security from passers-by helping themselves to the orchard or kitchen garden.¹ We are told that the spread of idle gossip and rumour would...

    • 14 Roadsides
      (pp. 249-261)

      One day in 1978, five university geography students set up little wooden stools along a country road and prepared to draw the Ontario landscape. A latesummer haze gave a mellowing cast to rural Charlottenburg Township, south of Simcoe, and the group was gradually absorbed into the tranquil scene. Grasshoppers rasped, starlings wheeled, somewhere beyond sight cattle lowed, and, on four of the clipboards, vistas of farmsteads or close-ups of barn siding were taking shape. On the fifth sheet a different scene unfolded: a straggly mass of lines between a recognizable fence post on one edge and the blacktop road on...

    • 15 Transport systems
      (pp. 262-280)

      Workplace and home were the same for most people in old Ontario, well into the twentieth century. The shopkeeper lived above the store, the railway agent was quartered in the station, the farm family worked in the kitchen, and the doctor had an office in the house with a separate entrance labelled ‵Surgery.′ Factory hands and managers in towns such as Alton or Almonte walked between the house on the hill and the mill in the valley, but it was hardly commuting in the modern sense of that term. The roads reflected this living style, being useful for getting around...

    • 16 Townscapes
      (pp. 281-292)

      The town is the apogee of Ontario achievement, if literature be our guide. Sara Jeannette Duncan, Stephen Leacock, Hugh Garner, and Robertson Davies have done as much in words to promote Ontario as the Group of Seven painters have done on canvas. Out there in Jubilee, a couple of generations ago, Alice Munro found a pleasing scene, of ‵Sidewalks, street lights, lined-up shade trees, milkmen′s and icemen′s carts, birdbaths, flower borders, verandas with wicker chairs, from which ladies watched the street – all these civilized, desirable things.′¹ Not roads with ditches, but streets with sidewalks that are stages for the...

  9. Part IV: Finding limits

    • 17 Boundaries
      (pp. 295-313)

      It is so easy to assume that Ontario as outlined sharply on the familiar provincial road map will stand for all time. The Great Lakes shoreline looks absolutely definitive. Such apparent stability has deflected our attention from regional cultures welling up within the province and spreading beyond its boundaries, and others that have spilled in from adjacent places. Exact congruence of political and cultural areas might occur in a static, pre-industrial world, but there has been no such match here.

      Coffee-table gift books provide one type of view of Ontario. Prize-winning photographs – of Queen′s Park, Fort Henry, a fall...

    • 18 Decay and renewal
      (pp. 314-334)

      Oakville, November1979. A theatre group staged Shakespeare′sHamletagainst a set consisting of a pair of worn, fluted wooden columns. A note in the playbill stated that these had been taken from the porch of the Petrie house in Bronte, recently demolished. After more than two thousand years of revivals of classical architecture, one more use had been found for a surplus piece of the Ontario fabric. Maybe these columns had already been recycled from a forgotten log house.

      Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1967. New granite gravestones were erected at the Butler′s Rangers burial site, no doubt as a Canadian Centennial project...

  10. APPENDIX A: Structure and outside finish
    (pp. 335-335)
  11. APPENDIX B: Halls
    (pp. 336-337)
  12. APPENDIX C: A fence typology
    (pp. 338-338)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 339-376)
  14. Suggested reading
    (pp. 377-380)
  15. Selected bibliography
    (pp. 381-386)
  16. Illustration credits
    (pp. 387-388)
  17. Index
    (pp. 389-400)