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Building Styles

Picturesque (1810 - 1950)

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Origins --- --- Picturesque Architecture

Picturesque in Britain------ Royal Circle Bath___Buckingham Palace

Picturesque in Ontario --- Napanee--- Castle Frank Toronto--- Colborne Lodge - Toronto-- Cobourg-- Merrickville
Gananoque---- Holland Landing---- Brockville---- Simcoe- -- Dundas



Neo-Classical style was a direct result of the War of 1812. Many Upper Canadians returning from the war with the United States were second or third generation Loyalists who had inherited land and means from their forefathers. Once the conflict had passed, they had the money and the time to expand their holdings and indulge their architectural whims. Pattern books of Classical detailing were available from England, and from these they took door and window ornaments and styles to help them design their new abodes.

Neo-Classical Architecture

Both residential and commercial buildings were constructed on the traditional Georgian plan, but they had a new gaiety and light-heartedness. Detailing became more refined, delicate, and elegant. This style is known also as the Adams style, after the Scottish architect Robert Adams, or the Federal Style in the United States and other regions.

Neo-Classical in Britain

In Britain, as in most European countries, the economic and social status of a person was based on ownership and profitable use of land. With the peaceful prosperity of the 18th century, landowners grew in power and in status, and they subsequently wanted to announce their blossoming affluence by adorning their houses with details reflecting their taste and culture, the culture derived both from reading and from touring the remote and therefore superior regions of Europe.

Like all tourists, the 18th century landowner with a growing fortune, wanted to bring back tokens from foreign lands. Large qualntities of liquid assets often get poured into artifacts which will, hopefully, retain their value as time renders them

increasingly distinctive. The 18th century craze for things Classical was infused with the rediscovered cities of Pompei and Herculaneum, largely intact cities of wealthy landowners from the late Classical era. These cities, built in the over-refined style of the later, and crumbling, Greek empire thus became the standard for architectural decoration. When books revealing the mathematical precision of the Classical designers were discovered, this helped to bolster the idea that the Greeks had education as well as style, reinforcing the value of the style itself. The sturdy windows and strong structural elements of the georgian style were replaced with delicate fluting, carvings, cornices and bas releifs in the new preferred style.

Click Hotpoints for descriptions of terms in both text and images.

for more examples of European Classical and Gothic revivals see http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/Classrevivals.htm

Bath Royal Circle

The Royal Circle in Bath, shown here by John Wood the elder, is a circle of town houses around a circular park. The façades of the buildings have a continuous Palladian rhythm. The golden white sandstone, a local material, is used to great effect on the three tiered regularized frontage. A great many pattern books for craftsmen were produced during the eighteenth century. These had details such as this that could be applied to surfaces on interior or exterior walls.


Bath Crescent frieze Metope echinus fluting frieze architrave metope

Buckingham Palace (1825-1835) John Nash

Buckingham Palace was started in 1703, but the large renovations and enlargements that make up the building that we know today were designed by John Nash and Edward Blore.

The placement of the building and the surrounding urban countryside are an important part of 18th and 19th century British design. The setting is Romantic. Unlike the neatly cropped hedges and geometric forms of the Versailles gardens designed by le Notre, here the palace sits next to a river with landscaping that is remarkably rural for a downtown setting.

Buckingham Palace

Picturesque in Upper Canada

Neo-Classical in Ontario was very different from the later Classical Revival which followed the Greek and Roman styles deliberately and systematically. The Neo-Classical was more an application of classical detailing as a form of decoration.

Neo-Classical houses often replaced Georgian houses that had been destroyed during the War of 1812. The new style was a conscious attempt to escape from the past and build a brighter, more refined and elegant future.



The MacPherson House in Napanee was built before 1830 and stayed in the MacPherson family for over 70 years. It is a beautifully kept building and well worth a visit.

This house, like many others, is just on the cusp of Neo- Classical, and has often been called Georgian. The layout and the symmetry are definitely Georgian, but the detailing is light, delicate and more Neo- Classical. The wood paneling and the glazing are both much more Neo-Classical than Georgian.

Neo - Classical in Napanee

MacPherson House, Napanee Ontario

Castle Frank Toronto (1796-1829)

This was the summer home of John Graves Simcoe, the lieutenant governor of Canada.

More of a log cabin than a castle, this summer retreat along the banks of the Don River was the opitomy of the picturesque. The shape of the building is that of a Greek Temple, most particularly the Treasury at Delphi. The portico consisted of four giant logs, bark intact. The 'cella' was 30' by 50'. Sadly, it burned down in 1829.

Neo-Classical Door Detail

Drawing of Castle Frank

Colborne Lodge, Toronto 1836

This was the home of the founders of High Park, John and Jemima Howard

Colborne Lodge is located at the south end of the park, just north of The Queensway. The museum is open for public visits on weekends year-round

windows are still 12-over-12 sash windows, but the mullions are much finer than in the Georgian examples. The small portico has been replaced by a large balconied portico that is extended from a pedimented frontispiece.

While there are generally quoins on a Georgian building, they are often brick and help to square the corners. The quoins on this building are decorative and made from finely cut ashlar. A simple stone band separates the first from the second floor. Double chimneys prove the building is not a modern copy of the older style.

Gothic Revival Cottage

By High Park ON


The Robinson-Adamson House, also known as the Grange, was built as a summer house for John Beverly Robinson in 1833.

There is almost more glass than wall on the front façade with the large windows and their ornate fenestration. The side lights, transom, and windows all have decorative Neo-Classical moulding There is also a Neoclassical frieze under the quite large cornice. The roof is a low cedar shingle hip with two dormers.


Regency Cottage Erindale Frieze Transom Dormer

Erindale Ontario


The semi-elliptical fan transom set above a paneled door with glazed sidelights is the hallmark of the Neo-Classical design. Elegantly fluted white pilasters with simple bases and capitals form the frame. The door is painted a dramatically contrasting black. A simple iron grille over the sidelights may have been added later.

Doors of this era were more likely to have door knobs (the earlier Georgian doors rarely did) but they weren't a necessity.

The trim on this door is much lighter than earlier Georgian doors, the glazing is delicate, and the keystone illustrates a Baroque tendency found only in Niagara and a few other regions.




Neo-Classical Doorway Pediment Frontispeice Quoining Chimney Sash Column

Niagara-on-the Lake Ontario


The colonnaded half-round portico is one of the truly wonderful elements of the Neo-Classical style. On this house the frontispiece on its own is somewhat plain despite the pediment and the cornice; the portico is definitely the focal point of the façade. The doorway is a Classical design with a half-round arch and spandrels.

The windows are 12-over-12 sash with green shutters. The second floor are 8-over-12. A cornice band completes the design.

Many Neo-Classical buildings were built of brick. On Neo-Classical buildings, detailing is always white.

Neo-Classical in Cobourg

Cobourg Ontario


This large country estate is built in the Georgian style but has distinct Neo-Classical detailing. Once again a semi-elliptical fanlight with side lights frames a door that is found within a pedimented portico. The portico is not grand as in the Classical Revival style, but is light and elegant, decorating the door rather than making a civic statement. The vocabulary is the same, but the effect is totally different from the Classical Revival.

The house is made of local stone with refined stone window surrounds and oversized stone quoins.

picturesque in Merrickville

Merrickville Ontario


This beautifully restored Neo-Classical building in Gananoque shows the elements of Neo-Classical exterior detailing without the symmetrical floorplan. The colours are black and white.

The window and door lintels on the first floor are decorated with slightly pedimented frames. The hip roof is unusual for this type of a building, as is the second storey balcony. Both could have been added at a later date.

The sash windows have also been updated.

Neo - Classical in Gananoque

Gananoque Ontario

Holland Landing

This is a beautiful Neo-Classical doorway on a basically Georgian brick building. It was built for the lawyer Henrey Blackstone in 1851.

The building is brick with a six-panel door made of unpainted wood. A careful look at the placement of the lock and door handle show that they were certainly added many years after the house was built.

Over the door is a half-round lunette. On either side are fluted Doric columns with large abacuses but very small echini. The door is simple, but still refined and elegant. The columns are heavy, but the overall appearance is Neo-Classical rather than Georgian.

Neo-Classical Doorway Lunette Doric Column Abacus Round Headed Arch

Holland Landing Ontario


The George Malloch House, built in 1840, is not symmetrical but still maintains Classic proportions. One of the major differences between the Georgian and the Neo-Classical styles is the quantity of window space on the façade. In a Georgian building the windows would be much smaller as would the window panes.

The portico is also a wonderful example of Neo-Classicism, even though it somewhat hides the fanlight and door details. This is not a "temple front" as found in the Classical Revival style, but a wonderful off-center portico. It may have been added later. Ionic pillars hold up the pediment and the tympanum is finely decorated. Window shutters of the same colour add balance. They would probably have been shut in the winter against inclement weather.

Neo-Classical Townhouse

Brockville Ontario


Here is another building that could be either Georgian or Neo-Classical from a distance. It is made from local stone that is well cut and carefully placed. Notice how well the voussoirs are placed around the arch of the door.

The front door is definitely Neo-Classical with the elliptical fanlight and side lights. The keystone and elliptical cornice over the door are also Classical in design. The sash windows have simple jack arches and heavy stone sills.


Brockville Ontario


Once again, this looks, at first, like a Georgian house: the symmetrical, central hall layout, the sash windows, and the twin chimneys. On second look, you can see that the amount of the façade taken up by windows is quite large, and the second floor central window is particularly generous.

Finally, the front door and portico are much too ornate for a Georgian home. The transom and side lights have small glass panes. The portico is a temple-front design but with pilasters instead of columns holding up a pediment and architrave. The porch may have been added later.

Neo-Classical in Simcoe

Simcoe Ontario

Kerby House 1835

The beauty of the Neo-Classical style can be seen in the detailing of the doors and windows. This detail shows the quality of craftsmanship that was available at the time.

It is interesting to note that all of this is done by hand with no electrical power either for cutting or lighting. Now that we have power tools, comfortable work places, and excellent lighting, this detailing can't be found.


voussoir Fanlight Lintel

McKinlay House 1848

The central hall plan and symmetrical windows on this house are certainly Georgian in design. The recessed portico, central gable, and elliptical arch with lancet windows places this squarely within the realm of Neo-Classical The portico has four Doric columns complete with entasis. The sash windows have elegant shutters and decorative Jack arches. The roof has three sets of paired chimneys, decorated with banding. The history of this house and its owners is very well presented in from West Flamborough's storied past.




Neo-Classical Extra Reading and Films


Blumenson, John. Ontario Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms. 1978

Cruickshank, Tom, and John de Visser, Old Toronto Houses,Toronto: Firefly Books, 2003.

Cruickshank, Tom, and John de Visser, Old Ontario Houses,Toronto: Firefly Books, 2000.

Fortin, Lyette., Learning, John,Our Architectural Ancestry, Ottawa, Haig and Haig Publishing Co., 1986

Gilpin, W., Three essays on the Picturesque of Canada, Ottawa, Parks Canada, 1984

MacRae, Marion, and Anthony Adamson. The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.

MacTaggart, John. Three Years in Canada. London: Henry Colborn, New Burlington Street, 1829.

Wright, Janet. Architecture of the Picturesque in Canada. Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1984.

Zorzini, Heather, Picturesque in Canada, Suite 101.com, 2009


For information on Neo-Classical architecture in specific areas within Ontario there are some very good books listed under the About page.


Shenandoe - Jimmy Stewart
(This is an American movie, but it illustrates the hardships of living in a rural setting, trying to build a homestead, in times of war).

The Madness of King George 1994

"His Majesty was all powerful and all knowing. But he wasn't quite all there."

Persuasion, (1995) (2007)

Pride and Prejudice, (1995) (2005)

Sense and Sensability, (1995) (2008)



Agraffe Transom reveal Quoins Shutter railing Chimney Keystone Transom Balcony Pediment Sash Shutter Veranda Chimney Transom Shutter Sash Arch Transom Sash Windows Voussoirs Band Flat Arch Door Surround Shutters Chimney Stairs Sash Window Shutters Veranda Sash Quoins Roof sash Transom Shutters Cornice