Picturesque (1810 - 1950)
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Picturesque in Britain------
Royal Circle Bath___Buckingham
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
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.
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.
for more examples of European Classical
and Gothic revivals see http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/Classrevivals.htm
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Drawing of Castle Frank
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.
By High Park ON
The Robinson-Adamson House, also known as the
Grange, was built as a summer house for John Beverly Robinson
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.
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
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.
Niagara-on-the Lake Ontario
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
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
The house is made of local stone with refined
stone window surrounds and oversized
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Extra Reading and Films
Blumenson, John. Ontario
Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms.
Cruickshank, Tom, and John de Visser,
Toronto Houses,Toronto: Firefly Books,
Cruickshank, Tom, and John de Visser,
Ontario Houses,Toronto: Firefly Books,
Fortin, Lyette., Learning, John,Our
Architectural Ancestry, Ottawa, Haig and Haig
Publishing Co., 1986
Three essays on the Picturesque of Canada,
Ottawa, Parks Canada, 1984
and Anthony Adamson. The
Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada.
Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.
Years in Canada.
London: Henry Colborn, New Burlington Street,
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.
- 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
"His Majesty was all powerful and
all knowing. But he wasn't quite all there."
Pride and Prejudice,
Sense and Sensability,