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Well Read in Architecture

Many of us heritage preservation people have our favourite books about Ontario’s architectural  styles.  My all-time fave, a book I will often pick up, browse through, learn something new from, and always be delighted with is: ‘The Ancestral Roof, Domestic Architecture of Upper Canadaby Marion Macrae and Anthony Adamson. Published in 1963 by Clarke, Irwin & Company of Toronto, this authoritative yet quite delightful book is full of photographs (by Page Toles) and Adamson’s well-proportioned and detailed drawings of heritage architectural styles.

This book helps us understand the difference between Regency, Georgian, Edwardian and other styles.  People like myself who drool over Regency cottages, will be thrilled to find an entire chapter devoted to the Regency style. If you are a fan of heritage architecture, this book is guaranteed to amaze and delight. I especially like the tongue-in-cheek notation on the title page “By Marion MacRae in constant consultation with, and sometimes in spite of Anthony Adamson, who wrote the first word and the last word and made the drawings“.

Mr. Adamson’s drawings at the back of the book depict how Ontario houses evolved. House plans  were influenced by many things – for example changes in architectural taste, heating methods, and new availability of building materials other than what was readily to hand. This section starts with a simple diagram of a ‘shanty’, then goes on to demonstrate the evolution of early centre-halls, kitchen wings and tails, porches, umbrages, verandahs and galleries, the Ontario cottage, octagon buildings, row houses, double houses, treillage, belvederes and roof walks to privies, water closets and bathrooms!

What I find especially interesting is the ‘Door and Window Trim’ section of the book which demonstrates the evolution from year to year of the trim used in domestic buildings. This progression has been found to be just as reliable in determining the age of a building as registry office or assessment roll records.

Towards the back is a section dedicated to entrance doorways, and clearly showing the differences between Georgian, Loyalist Neo-Classical, Regency, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and Italianate ones.

For me, the best part of all is entitled ‘Ancestors: Pre-Confederation’ and ‘Ancestors: Post- Confederation’. It has nicely done drawings that start with a house in the year 1827 and finish with one in 1957.

You will not likely find this book in a local bookstore as it has been out of print for many years. When you are lucky enough to borrow (or steal) a copy, or you purchase one off eBay or Amazon, from a bookseller selling vintage books or stumble upon it at an auction or garage sale, I expect you to agree that this is one fabulous book, one that can be treasured for years to come:By Deborah Robillard

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