- A Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles
Ten years after the first edition appeared, Parks Canada historians Shannon Ricketts, Leslie Maitland, and Jacqueline Hucker have revised their Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles. In its small, paperback format it more closely resembles the diverse architectural guidebooks on the market, many of which are based around walking or driving tours of specific cities, than armchair architectural/historical tomes like Harold Kalman's A History of Canadian Architecture. Yet it sets itself an ambitious task: to describe and illustrate four centuries of building in Canada. [End Page 206]
The writing throughout is very good: it is clear and as free of jargon as humanly possible, making the guide useful for a wide range of general and academic readers. For those who don't know an oculus from an ogee, there is a sensible glossary, together with a good bibliography and index. The book is divided into three sections, on the seventeenth to eighteenth, the nineteenth, and the twentieth centuries, the last including a brief overview of past and current buildings of Aboriginal peoples. I especially liked the essays that begin the sections, as they provide a succinct overview, with historical and cultural context, for the architectural trends and styles to follow. And there is a numbing number of styles to read about, with the Gothic Revival, for instance, split further into four subsets.
A reader might reasonably ask, 'Where are the buildings like this in my town?' Unfortunately there is no boxed list of, say, exemplars of the High Victorian Gothic Revival Style in cities across the country. Describing the spread of Quebec traditional building across the west with the fur traders, the text notes that 'some of the best surviving examples ... are to be found in western Canada,' but it doesn't say where they are. Several examples of each architectural style are illustrated, but in many it can be hard to track from the text to the photos and back in order to be able to learn what the style of an unfamiliar building might be.
In my opinion, the book's deficiency is a graphic one. It is printed on book, rather than coated, paper, making even the good photos less clear than they could have been. And there are too many muddy pictures, including particularly grainy snapshots of the University of Toronto's University College and the Arctic Research Laboratory that should never have been printed at all. The book's rigid design constrains the presentation of the material, so that in some cases captions are awkwardly located vis-à-vis the illustrations. Perhaps a more graphic treatment of the illustrative matter, or the use of annotated perspective drawings like Lester Walker's in American Shelter, would have made it more instructive for its audience.
The book is strongest in delineating the styles of institutional and commercial, rather than domestic, buildings. Hardest to find are the Edwardian-era neighbourhoods of Canadian cities, especially from Winnipeg west to the Pacific. The builders' styles that emerged mostly from Georgian roots and ended up lining myriad tree-shaded streets during that fabled boom-time are not illustrated, although the period revival styles that appeared in the 1920s and 19 30s are well described. Nor do the authors acknowledge the tremendous impact of pre-First World War Los Angeles domestic architecture - the Pasadena or California bungalows, the Craftsman style - on the streetcar suburbs of western cities such as Vancouver and Victoria. In fact, the Craftsman style itself doesn't get a mention; instead, its stylistic characteristics seem to be divided between the Arts and Crafts and the 'Rustic' styles.
These shortcomings aside, the book makes a heroic effort at describing [End Page 207] Canada's diverse architecture in a compact format. But I believe the text deserves a further repackaging to bridge the remaining gap between architectural essay and guidebook, perhaps using the new Canadian Register of Historic Places as a link. Ongoing funding for the Department of Canadian Heritage's Historic Places Initiative, which includes the register, may help end the...