Five Hidden Heritage Gems

Have you visited these Canadian heritage gems?

Compiled by Canada’s History

May 4, 2016

Explore these five hidden heritage gems from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, and a bonus one from Nova Scotia.

Kerr Hall

Ryerson University, Toronto, designed by S.B. Coon & Son, 1956

Black and white photograph
During the twilight of World War II, and with the thunderclouds of the Cold War gathering, Toronto’s Ryerson Institute of Technology opened in 1948. Conceived by director Howard Hillen Kerr as a Canadian version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it not only retrained veterans for civilian life but was also meant to serve as a bulwark against totalitarianism and to instill democratic values in all its students.

By 1956, the exponential growth of the student population required a new campus building. Designed by S.B. Coon & Son, Kerr Hall embodied the inclusive vision of its director by incorporating new technology — a radio tower on Church Street — with traditional forms.

Its courtyard forms are taken from Oxford and Cambridge colleges, while the brick and granite walls, classical columns, and sculpted relief panels recall the Greek roots of democracy. Other relief panels portray contemporary life at Ryerson: radios, microscopes, electric mixers, and a hockey player.

Located at the head of Bond Street, Kerr Hall formed a backdrop to the statue of Egerton Ryerson, the chief superintendent of the Canada West education system. His Normal School was demolished to make way for Kerr Hall. But, in a move that anticipated Ontario’s heritage movement, Kerr preserved the central portico, which now serves as an entrance to underground athletic facilities.

Kerr Hall enshrines the value of educating all citizens, regardless of gender or race. It looks forward to the potential of future technologies and generations while retaining the heritage of the recent and distant past.
— Marybeth McTeague, originally appeared in August-September 2012 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

Contributed by the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada, a learned society devoted to the examination of Canada’s built environment. See canada-architecture.org.

Marine Building

Vancouver, designed by McCarter & Nairne, 1930

Colour photograph
The Marine Building has been a landmark on the Vancouver skyline since its completion in 1930. The twenty-storey office tower, located in the heart of the business district and adjacent to the waterfront, brought together grain, shipping, lumber, insurance, and other import/export merchants under one roof.

Designed by Vancouver architectural firm McCarter & Nairne, it was promoted in its day as “the largest, highest, and most modern office building in Western Canada.” The abundant decoration on the exterior and interior of the building certainly justifies the architect’s assertion that the building “suggests some great marine rock rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea green, flashed with gold, at night a dim silhouette piercing the sea mists.”

Terra-cotta decorative panels above the ground floor and at the top of the facade depict seaweed, seahorses, and fish, while others showcase contemporary modes of transportation such as a submarine, airplane, train, and even a dirigible.

The front entrance is embellished with six bas-relief Canada geese in full flight. Sconce lights in the form of ships’ prows illuminate the richly detailed ceiling.

Today, the building remains a prestigious address for law firms and other businesses.
— Tim Morawetz, originally published in April-May 2013 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

Town of Arvida, Quebec

Designed by Harry B. Brainerd, Ernest I. Barott, Frederic G. Todd and others, 1925

The remarkably well-preserved city of Arvida, Quebec, has a unique place in the history of town planning. Built from scratch in 1925 by the Aluminum Company of America, the town was designed to provide the company’s workers with the best possible environment for personal and social fulfillment. Arvida is a Canadian manifestation of the eighteenth-century utopian dream to build successful communities through quality architecture and skilful town planning.

The first 270 houses in Arvida were completed in a mere 135 days. The model city realized a previously unattainable dream of providing workers with individualized bungalows in a varied townscape. “Not a single house was built that resembles its neighbour,” said a contemporary. Over 30 different basic models were used, and houses were further varied through the use of differing wooden architectural components. Wagons criss-crossed the streets and busy building sites, unloading pre-cut materials on each lot as a new house was completed every five hours.

Designed by an army of architects, landscape architects, artists, planners, and engineers, Arvida was the brainchild of Arthur Vining Davis (thus the name Arvida), president of the Alcoa Aluminum Company (later Alcan). Its combination of high-quality architecture and impressive engineering quickly earned an international reputation. “For those who see company towns as modern forms of feudalism,” declared Toronto’s Saturday Night in 1949, “Arvida is a welcome relief.”

In 2010, the city of Saguenay, Quebec — of which Arvida is now a part — underscored its commitment to protecting the unique architecture and urban landscape with a heritage recognition bylaw of unprecedented scope, encompassing 700 properties. Arvida was the site of the 2011 conference of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada.
— Lucie K. Morisset, originally published in August-September 2011 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

Contributed by the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada, a learned society devoted to the examination of Canada’s built environment. See canada-architecture.org.

Holy Trinity Church

Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan, designed by Robert Hunt, 1854 to 1860

Holy Trinity Anglican church stands across the Churchill River from the present-day community of Stanley Mission, 461 kilometres north of Saskatoon. Built between 1854 and 1860 by an English missionary, Reverend Robert Hunt, the church is Gothic in style. British architect and theorist Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) and the Cambridge Camden Society advocated Gothic as the only appropriate style for Christian architecture.

The design suggests that Hunt had knowledge of Norwegian stave churches, probably through the Oxford Architectural Society, and of contemporary churches in England. The scale of the church and the inclusion of a tower and spire are exceptionally ambitious for a missionary church. Rupert’s Land Bishop David Anderson, who visited the church in 1859, “felt that it would make an admirable cathedral church, but for the fact that it was constructed of wood.”

Hunt’s journal tells of the construction of the church, bitterly cold temperatures, food shortages, and serious health concerns. On the latter, he wrote on October 14, 1856: “Our dear little boy very restless & irritable & cannot be moved without shrieking with pain; yet strives against these accompaniments of his disease: today after a fit of impatience he sweetly said ‘Dear mamma will you pray to God to make me good?’” The prayers were eventually answered, as noted October 6, 1857: “Our dear little Robert’s knee and leg, from which he has suffered so many months, is now so much better as to allow of his walking a little. It has discharged matter in the form of hardish, elongated waxy looking crystals.”

Holy Trinity stands as a testament to the ambition and endeavour of the Hunt family and its members’ unwavering belief in the missionary work of the Anglican Church.
— Malcolm Thurlby, Originally published in October – November 2011 issue of Canada's History magazine.

Contributed by the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada, a learned society devoted to the examination of Canada’s built environment. See canada-architecture.org

Holy Cross Church

Skatin First Nation, British Columbia, Douglas, Skatin, and Samahquam Bands, 1895 to 1906

Colour photograph

An arduous drive along fifty kilometres of forestry road south of Pemberton in the Cascade Mountains of British Columbia will lead the adventurous to the Skatin First Nation at Skookumchuck (fast-moving water) and the Church of the Holy Cross. Many of the families living on the Skatin Reserve are related to the people who built the church that is believed to have been constructed between 1895 and 1906.

The residents are the proud custodians of this National Historic Site, one of Canada’s most impressive and least known architectural treasures. They have vivid childhood memories in which the Gothic revival church plays a significant role.

Alongside the complicated history of organized religion’s role in the attempted erasure of First Nations people from British Columbia, there are stories of Skatin children climbing into the rafters of Holy Cross during games of hide-and-seek with their mothers. Skatin catechists conducted religious services, since the missionaries came to the area only annually.

The church’s interior shows the influence of artisans who decorated the building’s walls with boards in the shape of the bottom of a woven basket. The Ama Liisa’os Heritage Trust Society is restoring this beautiful church and recently installed a concrete foundation. Plans are afoot to stabilize the triple western towers — an ornate feature related to other churches in the region that are no longer standing.

An arduous drive along fifty kilometres of forestry road south of Pemberton in the Cascade Mountains of British Columbia will lead the adventurous to the Skatin First Nation at Skookumchuck (fast-moving water) and the Church of the Holy Cross. Many of the families living on the Skatin Reserve are related to the people who built the church that is believed to have been constructed between 1895 and 1906.

The residents are the proud custodians of this National Historic Site, one of Canada’s most impressive and least known architectural treasures. They have vivid childhood memories in which the Gothic revival church plays a significant role.

Alongside the complicated history of organized religion’s role in the attempted erasure of First Nations people from British Columbia, there are stories of Skatin children climbing into the rafters of Holy Cross during games of hide-and-seek with their mothers. Skatin catechists conducted religious services, since the missionaries came to the area only annually.

The church’s interior shows the influence of artisans who decorated the building’s walls with boards in the shape of the bottom of a woven basket. The Ama Liisa’os Heritage Trust Society is restoring this beautiful church and recently installed a concrete foundation. Plans are afoot to stabilize the triple western towers — an ornate feature related to other churches in the region that are no longer standing.
Barry Magrill, originally published in December – January 2011 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

Bonus

Africville

With its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century, the north Halifax community known as Africville was eventually home to eighty mainly black families. decisions to locate heavy industry in the area and to deny services, plus consultations involving outside experts, culminated in a 1964 recommendation to demolish Africville’s homes. Africville has since become symbolic both of the aspirations of black Nova Scotians and of imposed urban renewal schemes gone wrong. In february 2010, Halifax Mayor Peter kelly issued a formal apology for the loss of the community.

1848 Year of land purchases by William Brown and William Arnold, the first to be documented in the area that became known as Africville.

1919 Year of petition to Halifax council ask-ing for better police protection in Africville.

100 distance in metres from some homes to the Halifax city dump after the latter was relocated in the mid-1950s.

65 Percent of Africville residents surveyed in 1959 who liked living there and did not wish to move. Most believed their children would have better lives in Africville.

800,000 Cost in dollars of the 1964–70 relocation — the same amount the city had in 1963 deemed too expensive to upgrade services for the area.

95 Percent of relocated residents who in 1969 thought the city had gotten a better deal than they did.

3 million dollars pledged by the city in 2010 toward rebuilding the Seaview African United Baptist Church, which was bulldozed in 1967.

Compiled from The Spirit of Africville (second edition 2010), produced by the Africville Genealogical Society.

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