Monthly Archives: June 2010

Mercury Glass Candlestick from Herring Glassworks

Napanee, Ontario

Herring Candlestick

Mercury glass is the descriptive term often used for ninteenth century pieces which consist of two layers of glass with a compound between to make them appear “silvered”.

No records remain from the Herring Glassworks (Napanee) which was in business only for a short time (1881-1883).   Without records, it is difficult to define the output of this factory.  The challenge is greater because it seems that the products had no manufacturer’s mark — or at least none have so far been discovered.

A strong family tradition claims that the above candlestick was purchased from Herring Glass.  It is about 9 1/2″ tall (24.2 cm).   The plug which sealed the base after the silvering was accomplished is, alas, missing, so we do not know what device the Herring craftsmen were using to close the hole.   Local tradition also maintains that Herring was selling mercury glass balls (so-called witches’ balls) which were popular as ornaments.  The question is, were they made at the Works, or did Herring import and re-sell them?

By the 1880’s, domestic lighting was no longer accomplished by candles.   Pieces like this one would have been purchased as decorative objects.  The appearance of silver was a welcome touch of luxury in the rural farmhouse or village church.  Candlesticks were almost always sold in pairs.

The candlestick is in the collection of the Lennox and Addington Historical Society, at the Lennox and Addington County Museum at Napanee.

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Filed under History, Ontario, Material culture

The Barriefield Debate


Barriefield Village

Kingston agonizes over development in old Pittsburgh township.

The City of Kingston has given approval for a new assisted housing development which will be constructed on an old pasture bordering on the historic village of Barriefield.

The site is poorly served by public transport and is located far from major amenities.   Significant economic incentives in the form of a bargain land deal and promised government grants seem to have persuaded Kingston Council.  Many Barriefield residents opposed the plan.  Unfortunately, this has prompted insults from the usual morons who seem to lie in wait to drag any sensible debate into the gutter.   It has been insinuated that Barriefield defenders are secret snobs with a grudge against anybody living on social assistance.

The real problem is that there is weak provision in Ontario at present to encourage preservation of early architecture and heritage districts.    Municipal heritage committees have little power, and it is mostly left to enthusiastic private citizens to purchase, restore and preserve built heritage.  Municipal grants are few, small, and often come with strings attached.  Maintaining heritage properties is expensive.

The community gains significantly from the investment of  sympathetic owners of heritage properties.   In addition to providing landmarks which enhance our recognition of neighbourhoods and encourage a feeling of  respect and belonging,  built heritage  contributes to the uniqueness of municipalities.  History and heritage enter corporate decisions when it comes to establishing new offices, but more important, history and heritage are significant generators of tourism income. 

Cities like Toronto, which have the misfortune to look like any city in North America, are forced to continually generate and maintain events to convince visitors to spend time there.  Cities with significant amounts of built heritage have the luxury of using events as enhancements, as (assuming that the heritage assets are known) visitors will come anyway.

In the case of Barriefield, we are asking property owners to preserve a rare asset — a village of the 1830’s with streetscapes little changed from Upper Canadian days.     

In theory, assisted housing should not be a threat to Barriefield village, but Barriefield residents are to be forgiven if they worry that something might effect ultimate property values, leaving them without resources to recover their investment.  It is unfortunate that the silly accusations of snobbery could not be tossed out to permit a rational discussion of this concern.

September 8th: Kingston City Council turned down the Barriefield Village Assisted Housing project (by one vote). Council was persuaded by a Staff report which showed that millions of dollars of investment in infrastructure would be required before the site would be ready for the project. (Duh!) I was very pleased by this decision, but I was even more happy to hear that Council has directed staff to look at alternative sites closer to central services. Kingston needs more assisted (and senior assisted) housing. (JB)


Filed under Architecture, Buildings - Ontario, Material culture, Ontario Architecture