Category Archives: Material culture

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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The Barriefield Debate

Barriefield

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)

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Was this apothecary jar made at the Napanee Glassworks?

apjarThis glass jar of a type used in drugstores surfaced in Michigan.  It has lost its lid.  It is hand-blown, with two applied rings.  The rings are rather crude and of the type known as overlapped seam.    There us a  pontil mark (pontil scar)  on the base.  The jar is 8 inches tall, and the body is 5 inches in diameter.   In appearance, it is certainly similar to several other examples from Ontario, which have been tentatively attributed to the Napanee Glassworks, but without any confirming proof.

The dealer says that this apothecary jar shows a strong, yellow florescence under “black light”, which (he tells me) means that there is a high level of magnesium in the glass. 

The Napanee Glassworks was a venture of John Herring, 1818-1896.  Herring was a very successful foundryman who manufactured farm implements.   The 1870’s were economically challenging years for Napanee.  Herring conceived the idea that a glass factory would create jobs and help end the recession.  He thought that the city fathers would  joyfully get behind the endeavour, but unfortunately the idea failed to capture local imagination.  Herring found himself over-extended financially.  He also was unable to satisfy the master glass-blowers whom he had hired to teach local men the craft.  To add to Herring’s difficulties, the Bay of Quinte Railroad (ie., the Rathbuns) cut off the south entrance of the works, resulting in a law suit. 

So, the Napanee Glassworks was only in business for under three years, 1881-1883.  It is gone and nothing of it remains.

From historical research and from the shards found during an archaeological assessment, we know that the Herring works was making bottle glass and whimsies.  A glass cane at the Lennox and Addington County Museum has the strongest claim to be from the Napanee Glassworks due to provenance.  Local tradition says that Herring also sold mercury balls (so-called “witches’ balls”) which were popular ornaments at the time, but it is unclear whether he made them or imported them for resale.

After years of effort trying to associate specific glass products with the Napanee factory, we must conclude that all of Herring’s products were unmarked, so it would be a great thing if we could connect even a single item to the factory by chain of ownership or other evidence, such as an invoice.

There is nothing to say that this apothecary jar is not from the Napanee Glassworks, but if so, how did it get to Michigan?  Did Herring’s short-lived, struggling endeavour succeed in competing in American markets?

Incidently, I come from a long line of foundrymen myself.  My father told me that in the 18th and 19th century, the men would dip their mugs into the water which had been used to cool the heated metal.  This water was believed to have special strengthening properties, and it probably did, being rich in iron.  However, as industrialization progressed, other less desirable elements were in the foundry water, resulting in cancers.   John Herring died of stomach cancer, so one wonders.

Many thanks to Tom in Michigan for allowing me to use his photograph.

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Maria M. McLaren, Winchester, Ontario

N2009-031This little photograph dates from the 1890’s.  It was taken by N.W. Trickey, who was also one of the barbers in the town.   Although the picture is clearly identified on the back, it is a challenge to find her family history.  There are many “Mary McLarens” in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, but none living in Winchester, and none of suitable age or location called “Maria”.

I have a theory that this is the Mary Morrison McLaren, widow, who died in Lochiel, Glengarry on 28 September, 1896.  She would have been born in circa 1822-4.

This Mary McLaren stands out for me because her daughter said that she was born in Quebec.  This would account for the spelling of her name, “Marie”.

However, looking back on the 1871 and 1881 census, we find that Mary McLaren, while living, said that she was born in Ireland.

Also, Lochiel, Glengarry is rather distant from Winchester.  Why would she have her photograph taken in Winchester?  And what about  her clothing, which seems rather nice for a poor widow.  However, the Mary McLaren of Lochiel made her living as a seamstress, and it is tempting to think that she made her own elaborate cape and bodice.

If anyone has family connections with Marie M. McLaren,  and has helpful information, I would be interested to know.

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Home not a Castle

House with stepsides

House with stepsides

In Ontario it is sometimes said that the unusual stepped walls along the edge of a roof are clues that the building has military connections.  Alas, this colourful idea is not true.

The walls which project above the roof at either end (which look rather like steps) are properly called “corbiesteps”.  In the US, they are also called crowsteps, or catsteps, which is rather evocative and colourful I think.   In Ontario they are  called stepsides.

Corbiesteps are an urban northern European phenomenon.   In crowded mediaeval towns, it was all too easy for fire to spread from one roof to another.   Therefore, the walls which divided townhouses were built up above the gabled roof to form a fire barrier.  As with many other architectural devices, people became familier with the appearance and felt that the building just didn’t look quite right without the corbiesteps so it became a decorative convention as well.

Although architectural reference books often say that corbiesteps were obsolete after 1700, I have seen them on 18th and early 19th century urban buildings in the British Isles, particularly in Scotland.

The idea seems to have come to Ontario with early 19th century masons.  Corbiesteps were used here  on brick and stone town buildings up to the early 1850’s.  After that,  their use was more exceptional and perhaps a symptom of taste formed from an earlier time.

Corbiesteps may also appear in retro designs today, as a deliberate attempt to evoke a nostalgic appearance.

The example shown above is a building in Napanee, Ontario.  The corbiesteps are poorly proportioned: they are big and clumsy in execution.  The house is not joined to other structures.  (In fact, it towers over its neighbours.)  This suggests to me that the motivation was  not fire barriers but taste.  Perhaps this was the owner’s concept of  the appearance of an important town building.  I also think that the builder was not a skilled mason with European roots, but a local tradesman who was yielding to the wishes of his client.

Although these stepsides are clumsy, they give character to the building, which would be a much poorer piece of architecture without them.  Because it is difficult to  incorporate corbiesteps in modern renovations, they are too often chopped away.  Numbers are dwindling.  Every effort should be made by Heritage Committees to assist owners in keeping stepsides.

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Another Historic Building Lost: The Walker House Hotel, Odessa, Ontario

Walker House circa 1900

The charming main street through Odessa will soon have another big gap, when the Rebekah Lodge Building (which burned in mid August) is demolished.   This structure was originally the Walker House Hotel, and has a long history.  The site was purchased by Johnston Walker in 1847 for 55 pounds.   At that time 55 pounds was a reasonable price for a lot with little or nothing built upon it.  Johnston Walker was the son of Weedon Walker who owned a hostelry at concession 3, lot 8, Kingston township known as “Five Mile House”.   His son may have gained his hotel-keeping experience there.   

Johnston Walker built the original, handsome symmetrical red brick building, probably in the 1840’s —  early 1850’s  as the twelve-over-six fenestration and entrance treatment suggest.   The Walker family owned the Odessa building until 1871.  It then passed to the Wycott family, who changed the name to “The Royal Hotel”.  They sold to the International Order of Oddfellows (IOOF), Lodge 361, in 1914.   The Oddfellows were a very popular fraternal society in Odessa.  The ladies’ arm of the IOOF are the Rebekahs, and both the male and female societies met in the building with the two coming together to share a sumptuous dinner annually.   The old Walker House has another connection to many local families.  In the 1940’s, when rural young folk no longer liked to have  granny’s wake in the parlour, the front room of the old hotel was often rented for that purpose.

Odessa was once one of the most thriving villages of Ernestown Township and has survived nearly in tact.  Ironically, the other major loss on the main street was another hotel, the old Stagecoach Inn.   The sign from the facade of the Stagecoach Inn and attached spoolwork elaboration now hang at the Lennox and Addington County Museum in Napanee.

Ernestown Township became part of Loyalist Township in 1999, and there is an active Heritage Committee, but it is doubtful that anything can be done to encourage a sympathetic replacement for either hotel.  The lesson is that we need to respect, care for and enjoy those old buildings which remain to us, as their numbers dwindle every year.

I am grateful to Philip Smart and Ross Babcock for sharing their research with me.  I also wish to acknowledge the late Glenn Robertson who shared his family photographs with the community, including the one above which shows the Walker House when it was the Royal Hotel, circa 1900.

Below, after the fire.

After the fire, August 2009

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Built Heritage and the City of Kingston (Ont.): the struggle continues

None of those with any interest in built heritage were in the least surprized when the final Bray Heritage report recommended the creation of an Heritage District out of Old Sydenham Ward.  In fact, I think that most of us would have tumbled off our chairs had it not done so.

It is a fine report, well-researched, with quality content.

However, after thirty years watching and participating in heritage in this neck of the woods, perhaps I may be forgiven a deep sigh.  All of our efforts, beginning with the redoubtable Margaret Angus, and continuing with efforts of well-connected locals like Jim Bennett have resulted in so few victories.

Ontario Street is a case in point.  With the old industrial structures no more,  the City had the opportunity to protect the interface between Old Sydenham Ward and the Lake for the people and instead we have a wall of mundane towers and acres of concrete.  In my opinion, this was totally unnecessary as the old city is still relatively small with lots of  land north and west which could have been used for high density development.  Some of those parcels have spectacular views.  That land is also close to the 401 corridor and there was the opportunity to plan properly for the automobile traffic which high density always generates (no matter what the developers tell you). 

The planning objection to moving the high density north seemed to be the cost of extending utilities.   I wonder how much the recent sewage spills and  flooding of lower Princess street properties had to do with the huge impact of all those new, downtown towers on aging urban infrastructure?  But I digress.

My point is that, despite great public input and energy in the past, we have just not been able to stop the inexorable intrusion of very commonplace late twentieth century forms into the unique limestone part of the city.  I don’t care what the architect’s name is, most of the newer stuff is  functional vernacular.  I would not drive to Kingston to look at, nor in my opinion would anyone else.

We can successfully persuade home-owners to select sympathetic surface elements and restore, rather than replace, Victorian fenestration, but what good is that going to do when an unrelieved red brick wall or a monolith looms at you from the foot of the road?

I need persuading that the City would not once again fold within days of an application from a developer to push back the boundaries of protection… “just a little”, “just a block or so”.  The usual wheeze is to quietly acquire a number of buildings on the edge of the district, allow them to run down and then argue that they aren’t worth saving and never should have been included in the district.  Will the City stand up to this?  Oh, I would so like to think so, but based on my experience, I think not.  All a developer has to do is claim that the City is unfairly standing in the way of someone making a whacking return on investment, and the heritage folk are trampled in the rush to compromise.

Thus, our irreplacable heritage assets are continually eroded away.

The Bray Report acknowledges this in Recommendation 8:

“It is recommended that the City initiate a parallel process to that of the current study to address issues of cultural heritage resource management. The proposed process should have a mandate to establish robust cultural heritage programs with sufficient capacity to address the current Provincial heritage policies and the resultant increased workload.”

Note the word, “robust”.  I wonder how that survived to make it into the final report?

The Bray Report is worth reading and contains some splendid photographs.  The City has posted it so you can read it  at http://www.cityofkingston.ca/pdf/culture/heritage/SydenhamHeritageArea_FinalReport.pdf

Being my cheeky self, though, I will comment that we could have saved the Heritage Committee a good deal of time and money.  Should Sydenham Ward be an heritage district?  Yep.  Now someone please get busy and figure out how we can finally protect our limestone identity, before it becomes more appropriate to call ourselves ‘the concrete jungle’.

 

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Kingston Conservateur, Alex Gabov, lands mission of a lifetime.

agvOne of our local savants, Alex Gabov, Adjunct Professor at Queen’s, will be part of the team documenting and restoring one of the earliest ritual sites in the world, the “deer stones” in central Mongolia.  The bronze age carvings were made by nomads between 3000 and 700 BC.  The stones have been badly damaged by weather, time and vandalism. 

The Mongolian government plans to save and restore them.

Alex has considerable expertise about stone monuments, but he has always made himself available to colleagues in the Kingston area to consult on a wide range of conservation challenges from cracking leather to rising damp.  His passion for defending Canadian material culture is legendary in our community.

Needless to say, we are all no-end pleased to hear that Alex has landed the trip of a lifetime and the chance to be part of a really distinguished international team. 

For more about the trip, see “Monumental Effort”, Kingston Whig-Standard, July 27, 2009.

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A Woodstock lady, with her pug, circa 1888

KirtonPhoto

This cabinet photograph taken by George Kirton of Woodstock, Ontario, surfaced down in Michigan.  Nothing keeps the ego a reasonable size like being confronted with a face from long ago, now without a name.  So shall it be for most of us, one day.

The photograph is damaged, probably from exposure to humidity, but we can see that the lady wears the soft, feathered bonnet supposed to resemble the hats in Rembrandt paintings.  These were introduced to the fashionable in the early 1880’s  and lasted only until about 1888 in Canada.  This photograph could be as early as 1882, but is much more likely to be 1887-8. 

Pugs were very popular dogs in Ontario in the 19th century.  Although they were frequently the choice of young families, they also had the reputation of being good companions for single ladies.   Lord Frederick Hamilton (1856-1928), remembering the 1880’s later in life, wrote:

“One ought never to be astonished at misplaced affections I have seen old ladies lavish a wealth of tenderness on fat, asthmatical and wholly repellent pugs.”  (The Vanished Pomps of Yesterday)

However, this bright little pug is certainly not fat and wheezy.

Lord Frederick Hamilton, who disliked pugs,  is credited with introducing the sport of skiing to Canada — but that is another story.

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Where is a Les Callan when you need him?

A Saskatchewan soldier under fire awaits his chance to vote.

A Saskatchewan soldier under fire awaits his chance to vote.

Once upon a time, Canadians were able to find humour in war.  Nothing could demonstrate better how much the world has changed in sixty years then the astonishment which greets me today when I show the young the wonderful cartoons of the late Les Callan (1905-1986).

“I don’t understand the drawing,” said one young woman, “But I can see it is supposed to be funny.  But it must have offended a lot of soldiers.”

The cartoons did not offend our soldiers, who were glad to find coping techniques to help them survive the unspeakable, which was Western Europe in 1944-45.  Mr. Callan was with our artillery, including the men I knew from Lennox and Addington county, during the invasion called  D-Day which began on June 6th, 1944.     He remained with them during the advance through France and Belgium.  Life for the soldiers was usually pretty nasty and often a nightmare, but they were able to find comedy and continued to laugh at certain episodes fifty years later — like the time that a French farmer begged them for help.  From his hysteria, they thought that the Gestapo were in his parlour, but it turned out that a cow was stuck on the farmhouse staircase.  A light moment during dark days.

On June 15th, 1944, the Province of Saskatchewan had an election.  Every effort was made to bring in the votes from the men serving in Europe.  The RCA had, by then, just reached the Leopold Canal, where they met very forceful resistence from seasoned German troops.    The above cartoon was Mr. Callan’s report.

Our troops are enduring horror and danger at present in Afghanistan, but I see no evidence that there is any humour to lighten the load.   In fact, I suspect that it is politically incorrect to laugh about any aspect of the present conflict, which is a pity.

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