Stratford Times - October 2021
Despite Stratford’s industrial prowess that exceeded St Mary’s and once rivalled nearby Berlin (today’s Kitchener), Stratford was and still remains a modest sized city. With modest size comes relatively modest architecture, which generally fits into the mould of typical Canadian architecture that is often modest and conservative in nature and design.
Nonetheless, architecturally designed houses do exist within Stratford’s built fabric with the Beaux-Arts style mansion at 210 Water Street, built for furniture magnate George McLagan, as perhaps the most striking example. And while many neighbourhoods feature vernacular Ontario cottages, front-gabled workers’ houses, and some early 20th century Craftsman-inspired bungalows - buildings that are worthy of attention in their own right - others have representative examples of elevated architectural styles that were in vogue at their time of construction. It is with this idea that I turn to Hamlet Ward.
One of Stratford’s five wards, its historic part is perched on a hillier part of the city with historic houses enclosed by Worsley Street to the north, Erie Street to the east, West Gore to the south and John Street South to the west. In particular, we shall bring our attention to 146 Church Street and 220 Cambria Street, two fabulous houses designed by local architect David Gunn Baxter.
Architect David Gunn Baxter was the son of chief dispatcher of the Grand Trunk Railway, Joseph Baxter. David Gunn Baxter was noted as “a clever young man” whose roots in design started as a boy. His career began in June 1892 after training under Stratford’s Joseph Kilburn (known for the Ontario Street Baptist Church, 1888-89 - demolished). His portfolio contained a number of local buildings including what is now the Avon Theatre (1897-98, now substantially altered), the Myers Block (1893) on the north corner of Downie and Brunswick, and a chapel and school room for the Loretto Convent (1893, demolished) at Waterloo and Grange streets.
146 Church Street was built in 1894 for dry goods merchant J.A. Duggan whose business occupied a massive space at 55-67 Downie Street. This house was designed predominantly in the Queen Anne style, which is most evident in its cross gables. Though clad mostly in deep red brick, the brickwork lacks patterning. Instead, the design is focused on classical elements. These influences are present in the spindlework in the gable as well as patterned wood shingles and porch columns. Brick corbeling does support the conical roof of the tower.
The Richardsonian Romanesque style, named after prominent American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, is also present, and it is worth noting that the two styles have overlapping characteristics. This style is especially noticeable with the rough faced stonework on the ground floor level of the tower and the round stone arches around the entry.
Interestingly, as the older photo shows, there was once a verandah along the northeast of the front facade. The lighter, cleaner brick also shows this. Though refined of some of its original detailing, such as the bargeboard along the gables, this building pops out at the street level.
220 Cambria was built in 1893 for Thomas Trow, a conveyancer and by 1911 the director of Dominion Life Insurance Company. Built with Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque influences, it is perhaps an even more striking example of the latter style than 146 Church. It features a two-tiered porch with the Richardsonian elements most present in the rounded brick arch on the ground floor and the 3 rounded brick arches above. Patterned brickwork is evident on either side of the ground floor arch. Stone is also used throughout for sills and lintels, banding, and more. A single shed dormer is centred above the mid-point of the arches. Segmentally arched windows match the brick arches above them. A domed roof covers the tower, and finials project from the roof peaks.
Like 146 Church, 220 Cambria is striking from street level. It is dense and strong, as is common with Richardsonian Romanesque designs. In 1986 it was designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.
Unfortunately, poor health plagued Baxter four years into his career and by January 22, 1898 he had succumbed to tuberculosis. Even as Stratford boomed in the first decade of the 1900s, the Beacon obviously still found these two houses noteworthy and remarked that they were part of “a few of Stratford’s fine residences.”
These two houses, alongside a streetscape of other historical homes, mature trees, and garden landscapes, bring a distinct character to the historic part of Stratford’s Hamlet Ward. It is no surprised that heritage-minded individuals from both within the Ward and outside have an interest in establishing a Heritage Conservation District here under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. For more information on this grassroots initiative, I encourage everyone to check out https://www.hamletwardhcd.com/
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