Chapter 2
Logs to Riches: Architectural Form and Narrative in the Nineteenth Century

by D.M.R. Bentley


Great progress has been made in every section of Nova Scotia, during the last half century, in all that makes life comfortable and agreeable. The little, rude log-house of two, or at best three apartments, has passed away, to make place for the snug white cottage of at least six or seven rooms, besides the kitchen, or the fine stately two-story house, with ten, twelve, or more apartments. Barns and outhouses have improved in a corresponding manner.... [G]rist-mills, ... [s]aw-mills, carding-mills, dyeing-mills, foundries, and factories, have increased proportionately.
    Churches and school-houses of an improved style have sprung up in every settlement....

– William Murray, “The Progress of Nova Scotia, with a Brief View of Its Resources, Natural and Industrial” (1869), 719

Such is noo our new Dominion,
    Rais’d as by some wizard’s wand;
Happy hame o’ kindred union,
    Labor’s peacefu’ “Promised Land.”
Whaur the settler rear’d his shanty,
    Stately mansions rise instead;
Herds are seen, an’ fields o’ plenty
    Whaur the wild-beasts used tae tread.

– Andrew Learmont Spedon, “The Dominion of Canada – Our Hame. A Halloween Poem” (1870), 30


A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819 (1820) is John Strachan’s most extensive and detailed extolment of the merits of the region in which he had resided for two decades. Published in Aberdeen and attributed to Strachan’s brother James, it consists of an account of a journey to Canada from Scotland followed by a series of answers to questions such as “How is the land cleared?” and “What is the state of religion?” In its final pages, a series of enticing and practical observations and appendices casts considerable doubt on their author’s claim that the work was not intended “to promote Emigration” but merely “to point out the superior advantages which CANADA offers to those who are determined to leave the British Islands for the continent of America” (v). Writing in the wake of the resounding but by no means inevitable defeat of the Americans in the War of 1812, Strachan recognized the need to populate Upper Canada with loyal British subjects, and to this end sought both to discredit negative perceptions of the province (such as its “reputation for fevers and agues ... savageness and cold”)1 and to emphasize – indeed, exaggerate – its positive attributes (including its “excellent water communication” and its “salubrious” climate) (182-83, 42). With hard work and good habits, he argues, emigrants to Upper Canada can “‘look forward to ease and independence’” in a “tranquil” realm securely within the British Empire, almost untroubled by Native peoples, and entirely free of the game laws that would impede settlers from shooting “every [deer] they meet” (58, 184, 181).

    From an architextual perspective, the most engaging aspect of A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819 is Strachan’s account of the creation of a “new settlement” and the construction of a “log-house” (80, 82). After completing the “first business” of “cutt[ing] down the woods” and setting fire to the resulting piles of “brush and trees” (a sight that Strachan regards as a “brilliant spectacle” of “powerful interest” because it constitutes the first stage of “reducing a wilderness into a fruitful country” [75-76]),2 the settler is ready to begin the process of cultivation and construction:

As soon as he gets a little Indian corn and a few potatoes in the ground, he endeavours to put up a log-house: accordingly, he chooses a spot most convenient for his residence, and cuts down trees of a suitable size for his cabin. These he cuts into lengths; the most common dimensions of the first building are 18 feet long by 16 broad; and it is so built as to become the kitchen of a superior house to be erected in the front, when the settler has enlarged his clearing, and got a little forward in the world. After cutting a sufficient number of logs, his neighbours assemble, and raise the building for him, by laying the logs in a rectangular figure, with the ends notched, so as to interlock with one another, by which means the whole are secured and braced together. The spaces for the door and windows are then cut through; and towards the winter, the interstices, or openings between the logs are chinked, that is, filled with pieces of wood, and mudded, or daubed with plaister of common mud. It is covered with bark; and, where mills are distant, or the newness of the country makes it difficult to get out to the roads which lead to them, the floor is likewise covered with bark. The chimney is then built spacious, with a few stones for the back, to prevent the fire communicating with the logs, which nevertheless it often does; and log-houses are frequently burnt. Seldom any accident happens, and the smallness of their value renders the loss inconsiderable. When time and circumstances admit, and saw-mills are accessible, a frame-house is built, and covered neatly with boards, planed and painted. (82-83)

Here as elsewhere in A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819, Strachan purposefully minimizes the difficulties and hardships of settler life (to assemble some three dozen eighteen- and sixteen-foot logs must have been no easy task), but this propagandistic aspect of his description is of less interest and import here than two of its other components.

    The first of these is the architectural form, building materials, and construction technique that Strachan describes, for these indicate that the type of structure that he had in mind was the “log pen house” that consisted of “one or two square or rectangular rooms with a loft of the same floor area above” and a chimney on one side (rather than in the middle, as is the case with “German” or “continental” log houses [Noble 45]). Log pen houses were “the most common” and most “widely distributed in eastern North America” from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards because they were favoured by the “Scotch-Irish,” the most “numerically superior” of the ethnic groups on the “westward-moving frontier” (Noble 45 and see Rempel, “History” 237). Usually constructed of “[g]reen or unseasoned wood” that was relatively “eas[y] to work with an axe and adze,” and rarely employing “logs longer than twenty-four feet ... because of their weight and the problem of natural taper,” log pen houses were “modest in dimensions” and “generally erected by two or more men” (Noble 110).3 A variety of notching techniques were used to secure the logs, “[t]he simplest type, usually employed with round logs, ... [being] the scoop-shaped saddle-notch,” and “[m]aterials for chinking [also] varied, but “widely [and] commonly included wooden shakes, stones, mud, grass and straw, and moss” (Noble 110-11). When John Howison provided a description of a log house two years later in Sketches of Upper Canada, Domestic, Local, and Characteristic (1821) he was probably echoing Strachan as well as drawing upon direct observation:

The usual dimensions of a [log] house are eighteen feet by sixteen. The roof is covered with bark or shingles, and the floor with rough hewn planks, the interstices between the logs that compose the walls being filled with pieces of wood and clay. Stones are used for the back of the fire-place, and a hollow core of coarse basket-work does the office of a chimney. (248)

Howison adds that, even if “labourers have been paid for erecting it,” the “cost of a habitation of this kind will not exceed £12 “but as almost every person can have much of the work done gratis, the expense will not perhaps amount to more than £5 or £6.”

    Some two years before the appearance of A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819, the log house put in its first appearance in Canadian poetry in Talbot Road: A Poem, which was first published in two instalments in The Niagara Spectator in July and August 1818. Now known to be by Adam Hood Burwell (1790-1849), the poem was signed “Erieus,” a pseudonym that refers to the area on the north shore of Lake Erie in which Burwell was born (at Fort Erie), lived (in the Talbot Settlement), and – to judge by his later statement that he was “nursed by [Erie’s] wilds and solitudes [and] / Grew like the plants that flourish on [Erie’s] shore (Poems 72) – considered himself fortunate to have been nurtured and, indeed, “implanted” (Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology 330). A paean the Settlement’s founder, Colonel Thomas Talbot (1771-1853), and a celebration of its rise to commercial prosperity and its triumph over the adversities of the War of 1812,4 Talbot Road contains references to several dwellings, the first three of which are surely log structures: (1) the “lone cabin ..., / Remote from man, amidst a tow’ring wood” where Talbot’s “Great scheme ... first from his mind spontaneous flow’d”; (2) the cabin “on the banks of Kettle Creek” from whose “hearth ascended [the] hallowed smoke” of the first settler; and (3) the cabin built by the poem’s typical “Woodman” after he has felled, piled, and burned the trees in a process of creative destruction that Burwell links by allusion to the six days of creation in Genesis 1 (“So roar’d, from day to day, the ... constant stroke, / So evening clos’d, and so the morning broke”):

   Then rose the cabin rude, of humblest form,
To shield from rain, and guard against the storm;
Logs pil’d on logs, ’till closing overhead –
And rough-hewn planks, to make a homely floor,
A paper window, and a blanket door.5
Such dwellings, first, the hardy settlers made –
What could they more? – necessity forbade.
(19-24, 111-20, 227-34)

En route to the Talbot Settlement, as they pitched “the nightly tent ... [of] coarse design” in “rude encampment[s]” where “ample boughs, wide arching, ... suppl[ied] / The place of roof” (169-72), the early settlers had resembled nomads (and thus people at the lowest of the four stages of social development; see Chapter 1: Preliminary). Now that they have cleared some land and built a more permanent dwelling, however “rude,” they have embarked on the agricultural stage of development that provides the stability and leisure necessary for the emergence of advanced societies and commercial prosperity. The “fairer prospects” that Burwell’s “hardy settlers” envisage as they build their “first” houses are the financial rewards that they will reap from landscapes that cultivation has made more beautiful. Symbolically, the “cabin door” by which his typical “Woodman” later sits with his “wife and sons,” watching the “flaming log-heaps,” enjoying his “long accustom’d evening smoke,” and “talk[ing] of times gone by, and times to come, / And ... / New schemes for future happiness” is both a threshold between outside and inside and, like the cabin itself, a marker on the road to prosperity. More than these things, it is a place where the settler can enjoy one of the experiences that are fundamental to dwelling – the “experience of being-within an outside” (Agamben Coming Community 68).6

    Although Burwell, Strachan, and Howison do not specify the type of wood used in the construction of log houses in Upper Canada, this is likely to have been either oak or pine, the former being “more durable” and the latter “more easily workable” (Noble 110). No doubt availability was as decisive a factor in the choice of logs as it was in the choice of materials for chinking, which varied by locale and region: Burwell is silent on the subject, but Strachan specifies “pieces of wood” and “plaister of common mud” and Howison “pieces of wood and clay.” In Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 1828 (1829), Basil Hall gives “mud and moss” (1:292) and in Historical and Descriptive Sketches of the Maritime Colonies of British America (1828) (60) and British North America (1832) John MacGregor gives “moss or clay” (2:558).7 Joseph Howe’s description of the construction of a log house in his unfinished and posthumously published long poem Acadia (written circa 1833-34) testifies to regional variations arising from availability of materials:

Then rose the Log House by the water side,
Its seams by moss and sea weed well supplied,
Its roof with bark o’erspread – its humble door
Hung on a twisted withe – the earth its floor,
With stones and harden’d clay its chimney form’d,
Its spacious hearth by hissing green wood warmed....8

More extreme variations of materials occurred around the turn of the century in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, where logs were often unavailable, scarce (and, therefore, expensive), or available only in lengths and widths that were insufficient for horizontal construction. “In parkland or forest-margin regions” log houses were thus built “in much the same manner as ... [in] early Ontario ... although ... usually roofed with sod or thatch” (Kalman 2: 502),9 but elsewhere walls were constructed of “horizontal shiplap” or “scrap lumber,” sod laid horizontally in strips, thin “logs placed vertically in a trench,” or other materials such as tarpaper and “sun-dried adobe bricks” (see Kalman 2: 500-04). Yet further variations were introduced by such groups as the Ukrainians whose buildings, though also “built of materials that could be taken from the land, bore a strong resemblance to the buildings” of the country from which the settlers came (Kalman 2: 509). As Graeme Wynn observes of the Galician immigrants to the prairies around the beginning of the twentieth century, their “thatched houses and barns ... [were] replicas of traditional, fondly remembered Ukrainian structures” (401). It is of precisely these immigrants that the narrator of The Stone Diaries (1993) by Carol Shields (1935-2003) writes when describing the countryside around Winnipeg as seen by the novel’s protagonist, a stone carver named Cuyler Goodwill, in July 1905: the road “takes him across flat, low-lying fields, marshy in spots, infertile, scrubby, the horizon suffocatingly low, pressing down on the roofs of rough barns and houses. A number of Galician families have settled lately in the area, building their squat windowless cottages which the women plaster over with a mixture of mud and straw. At one time he would have looked at such houses and imagined nothing but misery within. Now he knew better” (36).

    The second component of Strachan’s description that is of considerable interest is its passing but telling reference to the interim nature of a loghouse: “it is so built as to become the kitchen of a superior house to be erected in the front, when the settler has enlarged his clearing, and got a little forward in the world.” In his chapters on “Classicism in Upper and Lower Canada” and “The Opening of the West in A History of Canadian Architecture,” Harold Kalman makes the same point but identifies a different re-use for the original structure: “[w]hen the inhabitant of a log house accumulated enough capital to afford the materials and the labour for a new dwelling, he usually built a frame or masonry house and relegated the original one to the role of an outbuilding” (1: 163, and see 2: 504-09 and Rempel 22). Both of these observations and numerous others like them by contemporary commentators and architectural historians alike attest to a process that is succinctly placed on view by John Langton (1808-94) in Early Days in Upper Canada, a series of letters written in 1833 but not published until 1926: “I incline myself to the regular routine; a wigwam for the first week; a shanty till the loghouse is up; and the frame, brick, or stone house half a dozen years hence, when I have a good clearing and can see which will be the best situation” (20). Langton’s account of the architectural manifestations of a settler’s increasing prosperity adds two stages to the progression delineated by Strachan and Burwell: the “wigwam” – a structure consisting of “bark laid upon the skeleton of a rude roof, and open on ... one side” (Galt, Lawrie Todd 3: 179-80) and the “shanty” – a hut “about twelve feet wide by twenty feet long ... [with] just two openings, one for the door and one in the roof to permit the smoke to escape” (Rempel, “History” 7-8).10 However, when Langton runs together “frame, brick, [and] stone,” he obscures distinctions that were and are of crucial importance in the semiotics of Canadian architecture and architexts. Although it too obscures an important distinction – that between “shanty” and log house or “cabin” – and, moreover, fails to mention the high status accorded to stone houses, one of the Reports of Tenant Farmers’ Delegates on the Dominion of Canada as a Field for Settlement (circa 1880) captures distinctions occluded by Lambert when it divides Ontario dwellings into three categories: (1) “the little log hut or ‘shanty,’ simply made of axe squared logs of wood, laid upon each other, and notched at the ends”; (2) the “more airy and stately edifice – a ‘framehouse’ – constructed of uprights, covered on the outside with a double lining of boards”; and (3) the “substantial and more costly” house whose “walls are built of bricks” that is “only adopted by those who are well off” (132).11 “[T]he roofs of frame and brick houses,” the Report observes, “are covered with ‘shingle’ (that is, shakes) rather than with “bark” (Strachan, Howison, Howe). In short, the sequence of tent > wigwam > shanty > log house (or cabin) > frame house > brick house > stone house constitutes an architectural narrative of rising relative prosperity and social status whose taxonomic power was deployed throughout the nineteenth century and beyond12 both by Canadian residents and by visitors to the country.

    Only one architectural structure, a “barn” (304), figures in the “schemes for future happiness” of the Woodman in Talbot Road,13 but when Burwell “summon[s] dark futurity to light” (546) in the closing lines of his poem, he envisages the Talbot Settlement as “A constant chain of cultivated farms” whose “prosperity” is abundantly evident not only in their “rural charms” (“fields of corn,” “meadows,” “orchards,” and “well stor’d gardens”), but also in the impressive houses of their owners:

On every farm a stately mansion stands,
That the surrounding fields at once commands,
Where, oft, the farmer contemplates alone,
The little Eden that he calls his own.

Several years later in Letters from Nova Scotia (1830), Captain William Moorsom saw “an apt illustration of the progress of agriculture” in that province in the buildings visible “along [its] principal roads”:

A hut formed of rough logs, or long, straight trunks, placed one upon the other as they are cut from the forest, has now become the gable-end, or ... the ‘washhouse,’ to a neatly boarded cottage; a little farther on is seen a wooden frame house, of two or three stories, ... full of windows ..., and standing in a well-stocked garden. Ask their owner the history of these buildings, and he will tell you – ‘Fifty years ago my father was living in that log-hut, which he set up when the first clearing was made about this place: we finished the boarded cottage together; and here my father died. I built the frame-house a few years ago, and my son has the cottage, till he can find time to build a house for himself.” (174-75)

Several years later still in Canada: an Essay to Which was Awarded the First Prize by the Paris Exhibition Committee of Canada (1855), John Sheridan Hogan waxed even more eloquent:

Those who have been in the habit of passing early clearings in Upper Canada must have been struck with the cheerless and lonely, even desolate appearance of the first settler’s little log hut….
    Yet there is, happily, a poetry in every man’s nature; and there is no scene in life, how cheerless soever it may seem, where that poetry may not spring up…. That little clearing – for I describe a reality … was … a source of bright and cheering dreams to th[e] lonely settler. He looked at it, and instead of thinking of its littleness, it was the foundation of great hopes of a large farm and rich corn fields to him….
    Seven years afterwards I passed that same settler’s cottage… The little log hut was used as a back kitchen to a neat two story frame house, painted white. A large barn stood by…. A garden, … enclosed in a neat picket fence, fronted the house…. (24-26)

Moorsom and Doyle could scarcely have guessed that they were recording a phenomenon akin to the organic development that the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) recognized on a visit to eastern Karelia during the Second World War: a “forest-settlement architecture” whose houses were characterized by “expand[ability]” and “uniformity”: each had its beginning in “a single modest shell” capable of enlargement and supplementation and all were constructed of wood in a more-or-less natural state and in proportions dictated by local availability (82).

    In pre-Confederation Canada, what proto-ecological concerns there were tended to be subordinated to an endorsement of progress and “improvement.” Howe had misgivings about the “Defac[ing] [of] Acadia’s wild and simple charms” by the “axe profane” but in his poem “Cottage Homes” on farms where “Art and Nature” “together ... reign” are Nova Scotia’s “noblest pride” because they represent the “honest Industry” that has rendered the province productive and picturesque through “daily toil” (809-42, 804-05). The neo-Loyalist William Kirby (1817-1906) extols the beauties and bounty of Canadian nature throughout the twelve cantos of The U.E.: a Tale of Upper Canada (1859) but leaves no room in the Virgilian epic to doubt the importance of “Man and his labours” (2: 54) as key ingredients for prosperity and the refinements that it makes possible. After witnessing the communal erection of an “ample cabin” for a newcomer (“Some hewed the logs; some shaped with nicer eyes; / While some strong-handed raised them up on high, / Notch fitting notch ...”), the poem’s youthful protagonist Ethwald repairs to an early Ontario equivalent of the great Tory houses of the English literary tradition: the “vast ... homestead” of the sprightly old Loyalist, Ranger John, a “plenteous, cleanly, warm Canadian home” (5:43-46, 320) whose construction, contents, and surroundings are emblematic of the sturdy values and unshowy prosperity of its owner and the purity, modesty, and industry of his daughters:

The spacious house of solid timbers made,
With walls snow-white, stood in the leafy shade
Of spreading maples, while expanded round,
Parterres of flowers and verdure clothed the ground.

·         ·         ·

Massive and strong, each household good displayed
The simple truthfulness their minds arrayed.
Well-cushioned chairs of solid oaken wood,
And heavy tables firm and squarely stood;
While female taste, from needle, wheel and loom
With cheerful drapery adorned each room.

·          ·         ·

Upon the table lay with reverent care,
The family bible and the book of prayer....

(5: 287-90, 321-26, 331-32)

In The U.E., as in Acadia and Talbot Road, houses are not merely manifestations of relative prosperity and social status; they are reflections of the condition and values of an existing or ideologically “imagined political community” (Benedict Anderson 16).

     Although it stood very much to one side of the architectural narrative of settlement, the most famous log structure in eighteenth-century Upper Canada – the large log building that Colonel John Graves Simcoe had constructed in 1775-76 on his “200 acre (80-hectare) property on the west bank of the Don River” north of York (Toronto) near “the present intersection of Bloor and Parliament Streets” (Kalman 1: 162) – was also very much a part of an “imagined political community.” “Castle Frank [for Francis, the Simcoes’ son] [is] built on the plan of a Grecian temple,” wrote Elizabeth Simcoe in her diary entry for January 23, 1796, but “totally of wood [,] the Logs squared and so grooved together that in case of decay any log may be taken out.... [L]arge pines make Pillars for the Porticos which are at each end 16 feet high” (Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary 170). In Toronto of Old (1873), Henry Scadding describes the building as “an edifice of considerable dimensions, of an oblong shape,” and recalls that “its walls were composed of a number of rather small, carefully hewn logs of short lengths.... At ... [its] gable end, in the direction of the roadway from the nascent capital, was the principal entrance over which a rather imposing portico was formed by the projection of the whole roof, supported by four upright columns reaching the whole height of the building and consisting of the stems of four good-sized, well-matched pines with their deeply-chapped corrugated bark unremoved” (169-70). As indicated by its rural location and architectural style, Castle Frank had the characteristics, not of a house (home), but of a villa, which is to say, “a building in the country designed for its owner’s enjoyment and relaxation” and thus, like its precursors and probable models of the Palladian revival in eighteenth-century England, the fulfilment of a “fantasy” of country life “in the spirit of Virgil, Horace and Pliny the Younger” (Ackerman 9, 157, and see Scadding Horace [1-6]). Not surprisingly, the longest period of time that any of the Simcoes spent in Castle Frank – some three weeks in the spring of 1796 – was prompted by Francis “not [being] well” and his parents’ belief that “to change the air” would do him good, a conviction entirely consistent with the association of villas and their natural environments with “healthfulness” (Ackerman 14). Because their villa was “yet in an unfinished state,” the Simcoes “divided ... [its] large Room by Sail Cloth, [and] pitched... [a] Tent on the inner part where they slept on wooden beds,” an almost surreal variation of the usual relationship between tent and building. “The Porticos here are delightfully pleasant and the Room cool from its height and the thickness of the logs of which the House is built,” observed Elizabeth Simcoe on April 20; “Francis is much better and busy in planting Currant bushes and Peach Trees” (177, and see 91). When the Simcoes “[t]ook leave” of it on July 20, 1796, Castle Frank was still unfinished (Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary 188). Thereafter, it was “left to deteriorate, and it burned in the 1820’s” (Kalman 1:163). Water colour sketches of it by Elizabeth Simcoe survive, however, and reveal it to have been the Canadian equivalent of the Palladian but relatively small English villas that began to proliferate on “modestly sized nonagricultural plot[s] in the Thames valley within reach of London” in the 1720s (Ackerman 150).


The man who could pass through a country like this [Upper Canada], and occasionally see a new and more commodious habitation, arising by the side of one hastily constructed, and inconvenient, without feeling strong emotions, may be good for an hundred purposes. He might have all that fine feeling which renders men exquisitely alive to self-love, but he knows nothing of the social.

Canadian Letters. Description of a Tour thro’ the Provinces of Lower and Upper Canada, in the Course of the Years
1792 and ’93 (1912), 119

One of the best-known visions of an “imagined political community” in pre-Confederation prose is The Backwoods of Canada (1836), the series of “Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America” that Catharine Parr Traill (1802-99) wrote about her experiences as a settler near Lakefield, Upper Canada in the early eighteen ‘thirties and published some three years after Langton wrote his letters on similar themes. Intent on attracting fellow immigrants to Canada West by assuring “the female part of the emigrant’s family” of the manageability of the proposition (10), Traill depicts “British America” as a society of interdependent independents that combines a spirit of co-operation and a respect for (British) authority with an energizing dose of (American) individualism, ingenuity, and egalitarianism. As she and her husband are travelling up the Otonabee River towards Peterborough, they encounter a tavern that Traill finds an excuse to enter because she feels “a great curiosity to see the interior of a log-house” (65). What she finds in “th[e] rude dwelling” is “no[t] very inviting”:

The walls were rough unhewn logs, filled between the chinks with moss and irregular wedges of wood to keep out the wind and rain. The unplastered roof displayed the rafters, covered with moss and lichens, green, yellow and grey; above which might be seen the shingles, dyed to a fine mahogany-red by the smoke which refused to ascend the wide clay and stone chimney, to curl gracefully above the roof, and seek its exit in the various crannies and apertures with which the roof and the sides of the building abounded. (65-66)

In its violation of the picturesque conventions whose judgmental presence is intimated by the refusal of “the smoke ... to curl gracefully above the roof” and the “rudeness” that later extends to its “earth” floor and “furniture,” the log-house reminds Traill of the “hut … described by the four Russian sailors that were left to winter on the island of Spitzbergen” (66) in Jakob von Staehlin’s Account of the New Northern Archipelago: Lately Discovered by Three Russians in the Seas of Kamtschatka and Anadir (1766; trans. 1774). The gloomy interior of the log-house also discloses two sick emigrants and various animals, including “some pigs,” as well as the reason for its unattractive and primitive condition in the form of the hostess, a woman whose two salient characteristics – “harsh[ness] [and] covetous[ness]” (66) – militate against both the picturesque aesthetic and the spirit of individualism balanced by co-operation that Traill admires, seeks, and, predictably, finds in the “bee” that in due course is arranged for the construction of her own log house.

    Before that occurs, however, she provides an account of the Peterborough area that includes a description of “the ‘squatter’s ground,’” its residents, and a typical shanty that once again makes an implicit link between undesirable traits and unattractive architecture. A few of the residents of “the ‘squatter’s ground’” are simply unfortunate, but most are “indolent,” deficient in “energy and courage,” or “idle and profligate,” and thus deserving of their architectural fate, which elicits from Traill one of the most detailed and precise descriptions of a shanty in early Canadian writing:

    The shanty is a sort of primitive hut14 in Canadian architecture, and is nothing more than a shed built of logs, the chinks between the round edges of the timbers being filled with mud, moss, and bits of wood; the roof is frequently composed of logs split and hollowed with the axe, and placed side by side, so that the edges rest on each other; the concave and convex surfaces being alternately uppermost, every other log forms a channel to carry off the rain and melting snow. The eaves of this building resemble the scalloped edges of a clamp [that is, clam] shell; but rude as this covering is, it effectually answers the purpose of keeping the interior dry; far more so than the roofs formed of bark or boards, through which the rain will find entrance. Sometimes the shanty has a window, sometimes only an open doorway, which admits the light and lets out the smoke. A rude chimney, which is often nothing better than an opening cut in one of the top logs above the hearth, a few boards fastened in a square form, serves as a vent for the smoke; the only precaution against the fire catching the log walls behind the hearth being a few large stones placed in a half circle form, or more commonly a bank of dry earth raised against the wall.
    Nothing can be more comfortless than some of these shanties, reeking with smoke and dirt, the common receptacle for children, pigs, and fowls. (82-83)

Besides assisting the reader to visualize the eaves of a shanty, Traill’s likening of them to the “scalloped edges of a clamp shell” reinforces her claim that the roof is effective, while also suggesting an affinity between the structure that it covers and the receptacle of a primitive life form. Aware that she has judged “the ‘squatter’s ground’” harshly,15 Traill concludes by asserting that “by far the larger proportion of [its shanties are] inhabited by tidy folks,” observing that some of the dwellings possess “two small windows,... a clay chimney regularly built up through the roof, ... rough ... floor[s],” and “similar comforts” to “small log houses,” and noting that “many respectable settlers, with their wives and families” have spent “the first or second year of their settlement” in such better-class shanties (83). As in the William Hogarth Industry and Idleness series of engravings but with a Canadian architectural component, the path of indolence and profligacy leads to a “comfortless” shanty and the path of “energy and courage” leads ultimately to a comfortable house. (Traill’s subsequent comment that while they were awaiting the construction of their own “log-house” she and her husband were fortunate to be able to stay in “the log-house” of her brother, Samuel Strickland [1804-67], rather than in a “rude shanty” is both a statement of her relief and a testament to his relative success as a settler [101].)16

    In Roughing It in the Bush (1852), Susanna Moodie (1803-85) deploys a similarly Hogarthian schema as part of her efforts to deter “refined and accomplished” people like herself from emigrating to Canada and, as part of her strategy for achieving this end, describes logging bees as “noisy, riotous, drunken,” and sometimes violent gatherings that “present the most disgusting picture of ... bush life” (15, 313-14). To Moodie’s sister, by contrast, the house-raising bee that initiates the construction of the Traill log-house near Lakefield is characterized by “the greatest possible harmony” despite “the difference of [social] rank among those that assisted,”17 and the result, though initially dismaying (“an oblong square of logs” with “open spaces between every row of logs” and the “look of a bird-cage”), eventually allows “order” to emerge from “chaos” with the promise of even better things to come (114-15). “We have now got quite comfortably settled, and I shall give you a description of our dwelling,” writes Traill,

What is finished is only part of the original plan; the rest must be added next spring, or fall, as circumstances may suit.
    A nice small sitting-room with a store closet, a kitchen, pantry, and bed-chamber form the ground floor; there is a good upper floor that will make three sleeping rooms.
    “What a nut-shell!” I think I hear you exclaim. So it is at present; but we purpose adding a handsome frame front as soon as we can get boards from the mill, which will give us another parlour, long hall, and good spare bed-room.... When the house is completed, we shall have a verandah in front; and at the south side, which forms an agreeable addition in the summer, being used as a sort of outer room.... The Canadians call these verandahs “stoups.” Few houses, either log or frame, are without them. The pillars look extremely pretty, wreathed with the luxuriant hop-vine, mixed with the scarlet creeper and “morning glory,” the American name for the most splendid of major convolvuluses. These stoups are really a considerable ornament, as they conceal in a great measure the rough logs, and break the barn-like form of the building. (119)

From “clamp shell” to “bird-cage” to “‘nut-shell’” to non-“barn-like form,” Traill’s tropes follow a trajectory of domestication and humanization that mirror the architectural structures and social progression that they are enlisted to describe. The combination of British (originally European) and North American plants on the “stoups” that she admires and her replacement of the English (originally Portuguese) word “verandah” with the term used by “Canadians” are part of a process of accommodation that is at once architectural, linguistic, and psychological. The “dwelling” that Traill describes and envisages is much more than a comfortable, picturesque,18 and expandable log-house: it is the form for a being at home in a country that is in the process of becoming a unique combination of the best of the Old and the New Worlds.

    In The Backwoods of Canada the architectural narrative is put largely at the service of an autobiographical account of the Traills’ progress towards ownership of a “nice house” of their own on a farm near Lakefield, but in Canadian Crusoes: a Tale of the Rice Lake Plains (1852), it is put to fictional and allegorical purposes in a novel for young adults. Modelled, of course, on the work to which its title alludes, Traill’s novel concerns three children, Hector and Catharine, the fourteen-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Québecoise, and Pierre, their fourteen-year-old French-Canadian cousin, who get lost in the wilderness in the Rice Lake area north of Lake Ontario and manage to survive for two years before being re-united with their distraught parents. In the course of their two years away, the three children build a succession of shelters that re-enacts the early stages of the architectural narrative and, with it, the movement from rudeness to refinement that is also implied by the progression from (“rude”) shanty to (“nice”) house in The Backwoods of Canada.

    As darkness approaches during the children’s first day in the wilderness, the intensely domestic and Traill-like Catharine identifies the “large upturned root” of an oak as “‘a nice hut, half made’” and directs the two boys to transform it into a “primitive hut” by “‘lop[ping] off a few pine boughs, and stick[ing] them into the ground, or even lean[ing] them against the roots of …[an] old oak’” (16). In short order, the boughs are cut, sharpened, and driven into the ground “in such a way as to make the upturned oak, with its roots and the earth which adhered to them, form the back part of the hut, which, when completed, … [is] by no means a contemptible shelter” (16-17).19 For the children’s second night, “[a] few boughs cut down and interlaced with … shrubs” provide “shelter,” but by the end of two weeks they have erected “a summer hut, somewhat after the fashion of an Indian wigwam,” a “rude hut of bark and poles,” “which [is] all the shelter that [is] requisite while the weather remain[s] warm” (29, 62-63). “[A]nother hut” or “wigwam,” this time one whose walls are “thatch[ed]” with “large pieces of bark” from a “great … uprooted” “pine,” soon follows at another location, but as the summer wanes Catharine realizes that “‘huts of bark and boughs’” will not do when the cold weather sets in’” (70, 81). “‘[A] good warm shanty’” will have to be built and, as fortune would have it, all have acquired the requisite experience at a shed-building “Bee,” which is duly described in a footnote.20

    As the boys work from “morning till night chopping down trees for house-logs” (a task made implausibly difficult by the fact that the trees are “oaks” and the boys have only one “blunt” axe), Catharine is filled with “lively joy” by the knowledge that they will be “warm and well lodged” in the winter and by the prospect that they will soon “commence housekeeping in good earnest” (88). Since they have no “windows,” the children “hew … out” only a space for a door, the result being a shanty of the sort that has served “hundreds of Irish and Highland emigrants … before and since” and would be “regarded with disdain by the poorest English peasant” (88, 89).21 The description of its construction includes details that vary from those in The Backwoods of Canada:

A pile of stones rudely cemented together with wet clay and ashes against the logs, and a hole cut in the roof, formed the chimney and hearth in this primitive dwelling. The chinks were filled with wedge-shaped pieces of wood, and plastered with clay: the trees, being chiefly oaks and pines, afforded no moss.... The roof was next put on, which consisted of split cedars…. Catharine … swept it all clean, carefully removing all unsightly objects, and strewing it over with fresh cedar twigs, which gave out a pleasant odour, and formed a smooth and not unseemly carpet for the … little dwelling. (88-89)

As they sit by the “gladdening fire” after the shanty’s completion, the children look forward to furnishing it with a host of household items, from “split cedar shelves” and “a set of stout pegs” to a “table,” “stools,” and “bedsteads” (89). In The Backwoods of Canada, it will be recalled, Traill describes the inhabitants of shanties with at least one window as “tidy folks” and distinguishes them from the inhabitants of “shanties” that “reek … with smoke and dirt” and contain “pigs and fowl” as well as “children” (83), the clear implication being that the former are more likely than the latter to ascend the colony’s social/ architectural ladder. In Canadian Crusoes (and thanks in no small measure to Catharine), the children very obviously belong to the stock of “tidy folk” who will achieve personal success and, in the process, assist in the colony’s growth from rudeness to refinement.

    When the children’s “shanty” burns down, they have a further opportunity to show their mettle, this time with the help of a Native girl whom they (unfortunately) name Indiana and enlist in a reciprocal exchange of knowledge that enhances their life in the wilderness and elevates her to a higher rung on the ladder to refinement. In the aftermath of the fire, the four representatives of Canada’s founding races erect a “wigwam” complete, thanks to Indiana, with the storage “pouches or bags” used by Native peoples, but this soon gives way to a “more commodious dwelling” than their shanty: a “little loghouse [that] present[s] a neat and comfortable appearance, both within and without”:

Indiana had woven a handsome mat of bass bark for the floor; Louis and Hector had furnished it with very decent seats and a table, rough, but still very respectably constructed, considering their only tools were a tomahawk, a knife, and wooden wedges for splitting the wood into slabs. These Louis afterwards smoothed with great care and patience.22 Their bedsteads were furnished with thick, soft mats, woven by Indiana and Catharine, from rushes which they cut and dried, but the little squaw herself preferred lying on a mat of deer-skin on the floor before the fire, as she had been accustomed. (174, 176)

“[N]eat and comfortable … handsome … “very decent … rough, but still very respectably constructed … smoothed with great care and patience”: both outside and inside, the new loghouse is the materialization of a young society, that, despite some remnants of roughness and rudeness, has made observable advances towards refinement and polish.23 Not surprisingly, its construction is accompanied by the planting of a field of Indian corn that signifies the society’s development beyond hunting and gathering towards agriculture as a means of subsistence. To modern eyes, the scene is tainted by the racial and cultural prejudices that come darkly to the fore with the word “squaw,” but these should not be allowed to overshadow either Traill’s sympathetic recognition of the plight of the Native peoples at numerous points in Canadian Crusoes and The Backwoods of Canada or her repeated suggestion in both works that the Native peoples have much to teach Europeans settlers about living in Canada.

    Seldom is that sympathy more evident than in the description near the end of Canadian Crusoes of the “wide-spreading town” (Peterborough) that now exists on a “spot over which the Indians roved, free of all control” (209). Like the “towns-people and country settlers,” the narrator views the various features of the town – its “market-place,” “imposing” bridge, four churches, “post-office,” “neat white cottages” and, above all (both literally and symbolically), its neoclassical Court House (“the seat of justice for the district) – “with pride and satisfaction” (209-10). “[O]nce the favourite site for his hunting lodge,” the town is only visited by “[t]he Indian … to receive his annual government presents” or to trade his “wares” and produce, but when he does it enmeshes him in an economic system that is both exploitative and dispiriting:

…[he] take[s] back such store goods as his intercourse with his white brethren has made him consider necessary to his comforts, to supply wants which have now become indispensable, before undreamed of. He traverses those populous, busy streets, he looks round upon dwellings, and gay clothes, and equipages, and luxuries which he can neither obtain nor imitate; and he feels his spirit lowered – he is no more a people – the tide of intellect has borne him down, and swept his humble wigwam from the earth…. [H]e now dwells, for the most part, in villages, in houses that cannot be moved away at his will or necessity; he has become a tiller of the ground, his hunting expeditions are prescribed within narrow bounds…. (210).

For European settlers the architectural narrative of “primitive hut” to “neat white cottage” that is enacted in part and in small by the children in the wilderness follows a comic movement from chaos and sadness to order and joy, but for the Indians it is at best a tragi-comedy whose consolation lies (and, of course, Traill is utterly sincere in this) in his pride of “being a Christian” and his pleasure at “see[ing] … his children being brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord” (211).24 After some further adventures as the three children prepare to return to their “‘father’s home’” in the town, Canadian Crusoes ends with a strong suggestion that the future holds two marriages (Pierre and Catharine, Hector and Indiana) which will perpetrate the “[p]eace and happiness” that they achieved in their last loghouse and symbolize the racial and cultural harmony at large in the Canadian society of the future.


Few, if any, literary works written later in nineteenth-century Canada make better use of the narrative of domestic architecture than two long poems that reveal the influence of the works of Traill and the Scottish novelist John Galt (1779-1839): The Emigrant (1861) by Alexander McLachlan (1818-96) and Malcolm’s Katie: a Love Story (1884) by Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-87). On their way to the site of the settlement that they will establish in what is now Ontario, the group of Scottish emigrants in McLachlan’s poem sleep in the open “with the cold earth for ... bed, / And the green boughs overhead” like “Gipsies in the greenwood shade, / Hunters in the forest free,” and bandits in a painting by “Salvator” (that is, Salvador Rosa) (3: 77-78, 24-25, 73). When they arrive at the settlement site and begin the process of clearing the land with a ceremonial cutting of the first tree as described by Galt in his two settler novels and in his account of the founding of Guelph (see Lawrie Todd 2: 56-62, Bogle Corbet 3: 37, Autobiography 2: 52-53, and Chapter 4: Rising and Spreading Villages), McLachlan’s emigrants live in a “humble tent ... a temporary thing” “Such as wandering Arabs rear, / In their deserts lone and drear” (4: 9-13). With the establishment of the settlement comes a “little log cabin” whose characteristics and environment are rendered in four nine-line stanzas that are as rectilinear and interlocked as the structure of which they treat. Notched together, as it were, by a strong interstanzaic rhyme that runs through all the stanzas but the last, they are written in a rhythm – a hushed and unhurried tetrameter – that evokes Thomas Moore’s enormously influential “Ballad Stanzas” (1806), which is also set in a “‘lone ... wood’” in what is now Ontario. A juxtaposition of the most architextual of the rectilinenear stanzas of “The Log Cabin” with the first and last stanzas of Moore’s poem illustrates their commonalities of form and tone as well as content (which, among other things, includes references to indigenous as well as imported plants that, in McLachlan’s case, are probably indebted, like much else in the poem, to The Backwoods of Canada)25:

The little log cabin is all alone,
    Its windows are rude, and its walls are bare,
And the wind without has a weary moan;
    Yet peace like an angel is nestling there,
And Hope with her rapt uplifted air,
    Beholds in the distance the eglantine,
And the corn with its silver tassel where
    The hemlock is anchored beside the tall pine,
    And the creeping weed hangs with its long fringing vine.
(5: 19-27)


I knew by the smoke, that so gracefully curl’d
    Above the green elms, that a cottage was near,
And I said, “If there’s peace to be found in the world,
    A heart that was humble might hope for it here!’

.         .         .

“By the shade of yon sumach, whose red berry dips
    “In the gush of the fountain, how sweet to recline,
“And to know that I sigh’d upon innocent lips,
     “Which have never been sigh’d on by any but mine!”


In the verse paragraph that immediately follows the description of the “little log cabin” in The Emigrant, “Rough logs over streams ... [are] laid, / Cabins built and pathways made” as the settlement continues to grow towards the “busy” and, unfortunately corrupted, “mart” that, as will be seen in the next chapter, it will become in the course of half a century (3: 41-42, 151; 1: 11).

    When Malcolm’s Katie opens, its eponymous and diminutive heroine is in tetchy conversation with her fiancé, Max, a young man of as yet unproven ability who resolves to win the respect of her father Malcolm by emulating his pioneering achievements and consequent prosperity. As Max envisages it, the process of clearing and cultivating land is a “‘battle’” in which the signs of glorious victory are

“ ... four walls, perhaps a lowly roof;
“Kine in a peaceful posture; modest fields;
“A man and woman standing hand in hand
“In hale old age, who, looking o’er the land,
“Say: ‘Thank the Lord, it all is mine and thine!’”
(1: 81, 104-08)

That Max’s future father-in-law has long since achieved these goals and the social status to which they provide access (“‘a voice in Council and in Church’”) is evident in his “‘farms’,” his “‘flocks, ... herds’” and, above all, his “great farm house,” a “square shoulder’d and peak roof’d” building whose “stone walls” and “Many windows looking everywhere” are as emblematic of Malcolm – “‘A mighty man, / Self-hewn from rock’” who “lov[es] to sit, grim, grey, and somewhat stern ... Look[ing] out upon his riches” – as are the “solid timbers” and chairs of The U.E. of Ranger John (1:67, 56-63; 3: 1-21). In the “‘dim, dusky woods’” to the west where Max moves to prove himself worthy of Katie his progress towards prosperity and respectability is predictably marked by architectural structures: first a “shant[y] ... / ... amid the blacken’d stumps” of felled and burned trees where he dreams of a house with “snowy walls, deep porches,” and “vines about the door” and then, as the poem concludes, a house that is rugged but spacious enough to accommodate his extended family:

...on [a] slope, as in his happy dreams,
The home of Max with wealth of drooping vines
On the rude walls; and in the trellis’d porch
Sat Katie, smiling o’er the rich, fresh fields;
And by her side sat Malcolm, hale and strong;
Upon his knee a little, smiling child....
(2: 210-11, 247-50; 7: 2-7)

The presence of the words “wealth” and “rich” in these lines leaves little doubt that, should they so desire, Max and Katie will eventually be able to afford a stone house.

    Malcolm’s Katie is very much a product of the intellectual and physical milieu of late nineteenth-century Ontario, but its association of substantial “stone walls” with prosperity and status holds true for most parts of Canada before and since. In pre-Conquest Quebec, observes Peter N. Moogk in Building a House in New France, “[t]he number and size of stone dwellings increased in proportion to the prosperity of the colonists and the stability” of the colony (120). In Calgary, observes Bryan P. Melnyk in Calgary Builds, the “power and affluence” of the city’s “nouveaux riches” in the decades preceding the First World War were reflected in houses whose “[r]ugged, massive qualities” were “achieved largely through the use of local sandstone, brick, and half-timbered motifs” (48). “‘So you’re from Kingston. The prison town. Well, / what’s it like down there, with all those / criminals?” the Saskatchewan poet Lorna Crozier (1948- ) asks Bronwen Wallace (1945-1989) in “Neighbours” (1987), to which Wallace replies with a typically Atwoodian and postmodern disdain of borders and enclosures, that one way “to answer ... [the] question”

is to talk about the geology, history
and architecture of this city, built on rock
and out of it; about whether limestone
just naturally piles itself into forts
and prisons, churches, universities, mansions
for the rich or whether the people who settled
couldn’t see anything else in it
but their need to wall something in
or out.

And here is Princess Juliana after she leaves her palace in Liralove’s capital city of Stjornokh in The Princess and the Whiskerheads: a Fable (2002) by the Toronto novelist Russell Smith (1963- ): “[t]he city no longer began at the sturdy stone gates; it had swelled and drifted into the surrounding plain. Houses, gardens, shops of dull brick. There were hardly any stone houses to be seen; most were made of wooden planks and thatch” (19). Predictably, the palace itself “grip[s] a mountaintop just outside the city” and is “made of ... stone” (albeit “translucent rose-coloured stone”) (3).

    While class and ethnicity doubtless led to variations from and within this pattern – for example, in pre-Confederation Ontario people of Scottish descent exhibited a preference for stone houses and Loyalists favoured frame houses with “walls snow white” (see Kalman 1: 170 and Coffey)26 – three other factors have conspired to make stone the construction material of choice for élites across Canada: (1) its durability bespeaks “solidarity,” permanence and, therefore, dynastic endurance (Melnyk 48); (2) its association with the French and British élites of early Canada and with the grand private and public buildings of Europe have made it appealing to people who wish to proclaim or confirm their high position on the social pyramid; and (3) its identity as a marker of high social status followed east-west patterns of migration in accordance with the diffusion theory of Fred B. Kniffen, meeting little local resistance until the West Coast Modernism of Arthur Erickson began to use treated wood in his houses for the British Columbia élite. With variations based on similar factors, as well as on the scarcity of stone and the availability of clays suitable for brick-making and timbers suitable for painted cladding, similar patterns can be traced in the status and diffusion of brick and frame houses.27

    Of course – and as intimated by Melnyk’s reference to the presence of “half-timbered motifs” among the preferences of the social élite during Calgary’s boom years – basic construction materials were overlaid with numerous socially coded stylistic variations in the architecture parlant of Canadian houses. With few exceptions, the diffusion of even paint colours28 is a top-down process by which a particular house form, style, or decor that has achieved cachet elsewhere (usually England, France, or the United States) is first adopted by the élite and then transmitted downwards to lower echelons of society (see Kniffen). In The Pornographer’s Poem: a Novel (1999), the Vancouver writer Michael Turner (1962- ) simultaneously conveys a sense of the eclecticism of his city’s domestic architecture and of the socio-economic implications of different house styles and, needless to say, sizes:

Our house was part of an oddly shaped block where each side was a different length. The length of our end of the block, which ran along Thirty-third Avenue, was the smallest, enough for three houses. We were in the middle. To the west was a huge Dutch Colonial ... – white with green shutters.... To the east was another huge house, a black-and-white Tudor.... Our house was a lot smaller than the others. I had no idea what “style” it was either, whether it had a name like our neighbours’. And I didn’t much care until Mrs. Smart pointed out to me that the other two houses were representatives of their respective styles. So I went to the library to look it up but couldn’t find anything. It was just a white stucco house with red steps and cedars all around it. I think it was built during the Depression. (45)

The houses built by Ranger John in The U.E., by Malcolm and Max in Malcolm’s Katie, by the Calgary (or Vancouver, or Toronto, or Montreal ...) élites all manifest and reinforce their socio-economic status and that of their family. So, too, do the houses of the residents of the smallest block on Thirty-third Avenue – hence, the dismay of Turner’s narrator and the pathos of his recognition that his family home is small, nondescript, and, perhaps, a product of “the Depression.”


The construction of log houses did not cease with the settlement stage of Canada’s development. Nor did log houses remain narrowly associated either with that stage or with the relatively low standard of living that frequently accompanied it. In western Canada especially, log houses continued to provide early shelter for settlers until well into the twentieth century, and in factitious pioneer villages throughout Canada they continue to retain and reinforce their association with settlement. However, by the end of the nineteenth century the “quest for quaint” (Newton 314, and see 308-12) that flowed from the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and other sources, they were also beginning to draw on their historical and atavistic associations to gain yet another identity as rural vacation homes. So prevalent and accepted has this use of the form become in Europe as well as North America that in their Timber Design and Construction Sourcebook: a Comprehensive Guide to Methods and Practice [trans. 1989] Karl-Heinz Götz and his fellow authors write that “[i]n addition” to “residential housing, especially weekend houses,” “log buildings ... are frequently used for agricultural buildings” (282). In Canada, the log building as “getaway” or “escape” (Mulfinger and Davis 4) achieved its apogee in the Seigniory Club (see also: i, ii) (now the Château Montebello) (see also: i)(1930), a “private fishing lodge” built of “10,000 western cedar logs” on a seigneury that had once belonged to Louis-Joseph Papineau, one of the leaders of the Rebellions of 1837-38 (Kalman 2: 622-32). Now a CPR hotel, the Château Montebello lies within easy walking distance of Papineau’s stone manor house (1847-50) in grounds dotted by the log houses built by members of the Seigniory Club. A more eclectic combination of histories and architectures would be difficult to imagine.

    One of the most striking aspects of poetic treatments of log cabins and houses by Canadian writers is that they almost invariably take the form of medium-length lyrics or lyrical passages in longer poems. (McLachlan’s “The Log Cabin” is a case in point. Others are J.R. Ramsay’s “The Little Frame House at the Foot of the Hill” [1869], which consists of four eight-line stanzas, and Thomas O’Hagan’s “The Old Log-Cottage School” [1899], which consists of five, eight-line stanzas [see Ramsay 79 and O’Hagan 17-19].) Whereas a large “brick” house built in 1888 on extensive “grounds” (2, 36) has been the subject of a long poem – The Victorian House (1951) by Philip Child (1898-1978) (see Chapter 5: Past and Lintel) – smaller (and often more temporary) structures have tended to inspire poems that are commensurate in size (and duration). Not only is this remarkable in itself, but it is also evocative of Ben Jonson’s well-known argument in Timber, or Discoveries that a poet’s choice of literary form is analogous to an architect’s choice of building site and type in that both require a decorous correspondence between the magnitude and purpose of what is to be created. “If a man would build a house,” Jonson writes, “he would first appoint a place to build it in, which he would define within certain bounds; so, in the construction of a poem, the action is aimed at by the poet, which answers place in a building, and that action has his largeness, compass, and proportion” (92-93). From this it follows that “a court or king’s palace” has a parallel in the epic and “a tragedy or a comedy” a parallel in a building that requires less “space,” for in both cases “there is required a certain proportionable greatness, neither too vast nor too minute” (93). Elswhere it has been argued that, just as imperial civilizations such as those of Greece and Rome spawned epics, so cultures such as Canada’s spawn long poems.29 From what has been seen in the present chapter, it would seem that, in Jonson’s words again, there is a “fitness and a necessary proportion” (94) between the medium-length lyric and the wooden structures of the early stages of the architectural narrative of Canadian culture.

Gabrielle Roy, The Tin Flute

As has already been seen, the comic pattern of social development from lower to higher levels of order, cohesion, comfort, and happiness that inspired so many of Canada’s early writers and builders did not and does not accommodate all the events and stories of the past and present. Some of these, like Traill’s empathetic account of an Indian hunter’s response to Peterborough in Canadian Crusoes, answer to the tragicomic pattern of an old order in the process of being replaced by a new one, others conform to ironic patterns of perpetual entrapment, and still others evoke romance patterns of searching and circularity and tragic patterns of the high brought low by hubris, corruption, or error. McLachlan knew this when he concluded his poem by referring to the flock of “quacks,” land “speculators,” “public robbers,” and “cunning politicians” who would descend on “our settlement” (7: 311-18). So did Thomas Cary when, near the end of Abram’s Plains, he used the devastating effect of the Canadian winter on Benedict Arnold and his men in 1776-77 to caution Lower Canada’s military, administrative, and financial élites:
Ye great, ye rich, by heart this lesson learn,
Nor, in the pride of pow’r, the wretched spurn:
Blind fortune’s fickle wheel perpetual whirls,
Those under lifts, those from the top low hurls.

Cary’s resonantly Shakespearean (and Boethian) model is a salutary reminder not only of the dangers of hubris and a lack of social conscience on the part of those in power, but also of the fact that good and bad fortune, prosperity and poverty, are co-existent as well as sequential conditions: stone, brick, and frame houses may replace tents, shanties, and log dwellings but they may also stand beside, and above, them.

    The Tin Flute (Bonheur d’occasion) (1945; trans. 1980) by Gabrielle Roy (1909-83) makes better use than any other novel in French or English of the contrast between the “wretched” dwellings of the working-class suburbs (faubourgs) of Montreal and the “great” and “rich” houses that rise above them on Mount Royal. “[B]eyond [the Notre Dame Viaduct near the train station in St. Henri] ... the town of Westmount climbs in tiers toward the mountain’s ridge in its stiff English luxury.... Here poverty and superfluity will stare tirelessly at each other, as long as Westmount lasts, as long as St. Henri lies at its feet” comments the narrator early in the novel in a passage that concludes with an architectural correlative of the dreams of transcendence and upward-mobility of one of the protagonists: “[b]etween the two [areas of the city] the bell towers soar” (34). For most of the inhabitants of St. Henri, such dreams are unrealizable, and for one, Emmanuel Létourneau, the “abyss” between the sense of “mellow, impregnable calm” that is radiated by the “warm stone houses, Georgian windows,” and English-style gardens of Westmount and his own confused and inquiring thoughts is a source first of “melancholy” and then of the existential alienation of the outsider, a condition that the novel thus associates with the Modern city of sharply differentiated zones and neighbourhoods:

... as he strolled amongst the ... princely mansions his uneasiness increased. It wasn’t resentment or disgust, or even his old embarrassment as a guy from the working-class neighbourhood in this rich part of town. It was an indefinable malaise, nothing more. All the troubles and anguish of the lower town seemed to have stuck to him when he left, and the higher he climbed the more tenaciously they clung to his body. And now it was as if he had no right to enter this citadel of calm and order with the stink of poverty clinging to him like the odour of a sickroom.

·         ·         ·

    Wearied at last by the burden of his thoughts, Emmanuel arrived at the Westmount Lookout. Leaning on the parapet he saw the thousands of lights below.
    He felt an intense distress. It seemed to him that he was alone in the universe, on the edge of the abyss, holding in his hands the most fragile, tenuous of threads, that of the eternal human enigma. Which of the two, wealth or the spirit, should sacrifice itself; which of the two possessed the true power of redemption? (319-20)

Emmanuel chooses love as the solution to his dilemma, but the novel as a whole suggests that this is, at best, a delusive solution: the woman he loves is pregnant with another man’s child, the Second World War is imminent, and as he leaves St. Henri with other soldiers from the suburb he glimpses “a tree in a backyard, its branches tortured among electric wires and clotheslines, its leaves dry and shrivelled before they were fully out” (383). The Tin Flute is indeed Quebec’s first urban and Modern novel (Stratford 385).

    Yet Emmanuel’s perception and conception of St. Henri are not entirely negative. For much of the novel, he views the suburb as “[h]is village in the city,” as a “neighbourhood” that more than any other part of Montreal has “kept its well-defined limits ... its special, narrow, characteristic village life” (284). In a passage that may well owe a debt to Stephen Leacock’s influential celebration of small-town community in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), Emmanuel arrives at the station in St. Henri after a long absence and, aided by the “sights and smells” that he encounters, experiences a powerful feeling of belonging:

    Children were playing hopscotch near the station and their shouting pierced through the whistle of the locomotive.

·         ·         ·

All the windows were open, and the sounds of living, clattering dishes and conversation floated in the air as if the partitions of the world had been abolished and human life was on display in all its warmth and poverty.

·          ·         ·

In the daytime there is the pitiless reality of labour. But at night there is this village life, when chairs are pulled out to the sidewalk or people sit in door-sills and the talk passes from one threshold to the next.
    St. Henri: ant-heap village!

·          ·         ·

He saw St. Henri as he had never seen it, with its complex yet open weave. He liked it all the more, as we like our village after returning from some expedition, simply because everything is still in its familiar place, and everyone says hello! (284-85)

As perceived and conceived in these passages, St. Henri is a “pedestrian Pocket”30 of the sort for which new urbanists such as Peter Calthorpe yearn: a mixed neighbourhood within or beside a suburban megacentre that provides a haven from the anonymity, monotony, and placelessness of modernity. The fact that the woman whom Emmanuel loves, Florentine Lacasse, belongs to the community of St. Henri helps to make his existential choice on the mountain top both plausible and understandable.

    Working-class suburb though it is, St. Henri does not occupy the opposite pole from Westmount in The Tin Flute. That dismal distinction belongs to the (too) appropriately named Workman Street, along one side of which runs a “slum of grey brick ... [that] forms a long wall with identical, equidistant doors and windows,” some with “doors and shutters ... walled up,” others with “windows plugged with rags or oiled paper,” and all carrying “a pitiful appeal to individuality” in the form of a number (97-98). By arranging for Florentine Lacasse’s mother, Rose-Anna, to visit both Workman Street and Westmount, Roy makes the contrast between them painfully clear: in the slum, “children ... play ... on the sidewalk among the litter” “and their “cries of misery come from the depths” of the houses, and “[w]omen, thin and sad,” either stand in “evil-smelling doorways” or stare “aimlessly” out of windows; on the mountain, “the air [is] ... clear and pure” and the “private houses” large and luxurious, two phenomena that Rose-Anna fails to connect even as she recognizes that the children in the Mount Royal hospital in which her young son lies dying are “protected by the crystal air from the smoke, the soot and the foul breath of the factories which h[ang] around the low-lying houses like the breath of a monster straining at its work” (97-98, 217). To Rose-Anna’s mind, the removal of her son from his family and familiar surroundings offsets any benefit to be derived from the “crystal air” of Mount Royal, but, of course, it was precisely that air, coupled with the “commanding prospect over the city” (Bouchette 1: 242), that commended it to McTavish and his predecessors and successors in the Montreal élite (see Chapter 1: Preliminary).

    In Roy’s Montreal, excursions to the country also permit the less lofty to escape from the “breath of [the] monster,” as does one of the most intriguing environments to be found in Canadian writing: the village in the city dump as described to Emmanuel by Alphonse Poirier:

    “I knew a guy,” Alphonse began, “he’d built up a little business at the dump. He picked up all the old pots and pans and he fixed them up and straightened them out and then he sold them....
    “He had a room in town. But there’s thieves on the dump, just like any place else. So this guy built a summer cottage right on the dump, so he could keep an eye on his stuff. Those days there was a whole village in that place, a collection of shacks about the size of a dog kennel. You didn’t need a building permit and you didn’t have to look far for boards.... You’d dig around there and pick whatever you needed, bits of pipe, four sheets of tin for the roof, and you chose a lot where it didn’t stink too bad, right down by the water. You know, there’s people ready to pay a thousand dollars to have a cottage and their Sunday visit down by the river.... You left the city behind you, the city an’ its relief cheques and ...tramps lining up for their bread tickets and all the racket about God knows what, and the street cars goin’ clingety clang and the big cars spoutin’ fumes at you as if you had the plague. An’ you had no more smoke there, nothin’, you were right at home. (307-08)

Consisting of male squatters and located on, if not beyond, the outer margin of society, the dump village is an enclave with its own architecture and amenities, a poor man’s resort whose salient qualities – permanent escape from the noise and “fumes” of the city without cost – render it superior to the temporary escape provided by a city park31 or the expensive and still only temporary escape provided by a summer cottage. After an indeterminate number of years, the dump village is burned to the ground by “‘city health officers’,” ostensibly because “‘some poor devil was found dead all alone in his shack and the rats got at him’” but surely also because of its transgressive violation (a) of the boundary between cleanliness and defilement by which, as Mary Douglas has shown in Purity and Danger, societies seek to “create unity” and “order” in and for them themselves (2-4); and (b) of the contract between a city and its citizens that assumes one of its tangible forms in property and education taxes: “‘my...friend...ended up havin’ a pretty nice life’,” observes Alphonse: “‘[h]e didn’t owe a cent to nobody, he didn’t cost the city a cent. And he was bringin’ up a kid in town, doin’ pretty good by him’”(308).

    The destruction of the dump village proves to be only temporary, however, and when it rises from its ashes it proves to be even more utopian in Alphonse’s eyes than it was before the fire:

... when you’re used to country air you always come back. The guys built that damn village up again. Not one shack less, not one shack more. Just like before. Same chimneys as big as a flowerpot on the roofs. Same pots on the fire inside. And all th[e] thin cats ... came back when the people did, from all the places where they didn’t get fed right – great big fightin’ cats! And maybe you won’t believe it, but flowers started growin’ in front of the shacks. I suppose it was seeds that came on the wind. An’ you can say what you like ... it’s not such a bad life down in that country – an’ it is another country! It’s not the same country at all!... [A]nd...if you...miss people and that other country, why you just go into town and make the rounds of society. You pay a visit to the people of the other country! (308-09)

Both a part of and apart from the modern metropolis, the dump village is an ecological pocket where domestic cats revert to a state of nature and air (or bird)-borne seeds can thrive more successfully than in either the paved streets of St. Henri or the manicured lawns of Westmount.32 Its shacks are not the preliminary and temporary manifestations of civilization as were the tents, shanties, and log houses of earlier eras, but part of a development within that civilization that is both “spontaneous”33 in the sense that it derives from no official plan and deliberate in the sense that it arises from the desire of a group of people to live on the periphery of society in a place and a manner that are distinct but adjacent – “‘another country’” within “‘the other country.’”34

    In this way, the dump village in The Tin Flute anticipates the encampments of the homeless that appeared in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and other Canadian cities in the years immediately surrounding the Millennium. Composed largely of homeless people (and thus to be distinguished from the short-lived protest “squats” of the same period), these encampments usually began as a small group of makeshift shelters on a vacant piece of private property or in an out-of-the way public place; for example, the encampment in Montreal in 2002 comprised six men in make-shift shelters under an overpass; the one in Calgary in 2000 consisted of approximately twenty people who had built huts in a park; and the one that began in Toronto in 1998 and eventually contained more than a hundred people was located near the waterfront on the former site of an iron foundry.35 In each case, the fact that the land was privately owned or a public space provided a legal reason for the eventual eviction of the squatters by owners of the land or municipal authorities, who frequently bolstered the case for dismantling the encampment on the grounds that it constituted a fire or health hazard. By the time the Toronto encampment was evacuated in November 2001, it had attracted a huge amount of media attention both in Canada and the United States and become a cause célèbre for the Toronto Star, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Toronto city councillor Jack Layton and other left-of-centre groups and individuals. It has also been dubbed “Tent City,” a misnomer reminiscent of the “Tent City” that arose at Kent State University in 1977 to protest the university administration’s plan to build a gymnasium annex on a site associated with the Kent State riots of 1970 in which thirteen students were killed. No doubt, the association of Toronto’s “Tent City” with the American social protest movement of three decades earlier did much to solidify support for its residents and antagonism against their evictors (Home Depot), but it also obscured the identity of the encampment as an episode and a site with profoundly significant resonances in the human and architectural history of this country. The shanties and the poor of what became known as “Tent City” should be remembered, less as a continuation of the American protest movement of the ’sixties and ’seventies, than as an eloquent testimonial to the deeply saddening persistence in Canada of the causes and conditions from which the shanties of despair rather than progress are constructed. “Tent City is not a city and we don’t live in tents,” Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall would write in Down to This: Squalor and Splendor in a Big-City Shantytown (2004): “[w]e live[d] in shacks and shanties on the edge of Canada’s largest metropolis where the river meets the lake.... Junk Town would be a better name” (1, and see 11, 15, 18, 24, 65 and elsewhere).


  1. Perhaps echoing Peter Kalm’s observation that, although “[i]ntermitting fevers of all kinds are rare, at Quebec, ... they are very common ... between Lake Erie and Lake Huron” (407), J. Mackay writes of “dread diseases ris[ing] from foetid fens” in Upper Canada and adds that “[i]t is not wonderful that the fever and ague, as well as other maladies, are so prevalent” in the province (1: 87 and n). The fever to which both Kalm and Mackay refer is malaria, which was believed until the late nineteenth-century to be caused by the air in most, low-lying areas. [back]
  2. See Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 77-80 for a discussion of the “brilliant spectacle” of burning trees and brush as an instant of the settler conception of the sublime. [back]
  3. In his account of Prince Edward Island in The British Dominions in North America, Joseph Bouchette draws upon the Historical and Descriptive Sketches of the Maritime Colonies of British America (1828) by John MacGregor (1797-1857) and other works to provide a highly detailed description of the building of “log hut[s]” that are “in imitation of the dwelling of an American backwoodsman,” “constructed in the rudest manner,” and “rugged and uncouth [in] appearance” (2: 175). One such description is given by Martin Doyle in Hints on Emigration to Upper Canada: Especially Addressed to the Lower Classes in Great Britain and Ireland (1831): “Proceed in the following way: – After clearing the underwood, (of which in some places there is but little) with a peculiar kind of hook, like our billhook, except that it has a long handle, gather it into a heap and set fire to it, then cut down as many trees as will answer your purpose; these divide into lengths from 14 to 20 feet, according to the size of your family – square and dress them with an adze as well as you can; then lay three of these pieces thus morticed at the angles, on the ground, and raise corresponding logs over them, fitted into each other by notches previously cut, until your walls are 8 feet in height, building up the second gable at the same time with stones, to prevent danger from the fire, which is to be placed on a flagged portion of the floor next to it; then fasten on your rafters for the roof, which is to be covered with boards lapped over, or if permanence be intended, with short pieces of boards called shingles which are more easily renewed than long pieces – you then cut out a door and window; the crevices in the walls, appearing between the logs, are to be closed up with clay and moss, then floor the house either with smooth boards or rough ones, thrown across sleepers; timber being too abundant, and dryness essential to health and comfort, a clay floor is never used in Canada. An oven will be essential, especially in summer, when the heat would render the operation of baking inside the house very disagreeable, and this is frequently made of clay, and perhaps raised on the stump of a large tree” (60). See also John I. Rempel’s “The History and Development of Early Forms of Building Construction in Ontario” and Building with Wood and Other Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Building in Central Canada, William C. Wonders’, “Log Dwellings in Canadian Folk Architecture,” and Kalman 1: 160-72. Kalman makes the point that, “[a]lthough sizes varied considerably, the basic log house of Upper Canada was often about 16 by 20 feet (4.9 by 6.1 metres), which in 1798 was stipulated in a general regulation as the minimum dimensions for houses,” adding that “[t]wenty feet was also a length of log that was easily obtainable from clearing the property and could be handled by two men” (1: 160). Of course, the ur-description of the construction of a log dwelling house” is the first chapter of the second book of Vitruvius’s De architectura (30 BC): [a]mong the Colchians in Pontus, where there are forests in plenty, they lay down entire trees flat on the ground to the right and the left, leaving between them a space to suit the length of the trees, and then place above these another pair of trees, resting on the ends of the former and at right angles with them.... Then upon these they place sticks of timber, one after the other on the four sides.... The interstices ... are stopped up with chips and mud” (39; and see Chapter 13: A Little North).[back]
  4. See my Introduction to Michael Williams’ edition of Talbot Road xii-xiii for a discussion of the anniversary celebrations of the Talbot Settlement as the possible context of the poem and Chapter 4: Rising and Spreading Villages for a discussion or the poem in relation to other architexts of urban growth. [back]
  5. In “The History and Development of Early Forms of Building,” Rempel records that “[o]ne old pioneer recalled that his grandmother had to use a blanket over the door to ward off wolves” before a door could be installed (17). [back]
  6. The presence of a door on the cabin is indicative of the availability of sawed or milled wood either from a nearby settlement or from the settlement itself. The presence of both saw and grist mills in a settlement was a sign of its viability and prosperity (see my Introduction to Talbot Road xxiv-xxx). [back]
  7. See also note 3, above. [back]
  8. In his Historical and Descriptive Sketches of the Maritime Colonies of British America, MacGregor points to another regional variation of materials in stating that the roof of a “log hut” may be “thatched either with spruce branches or long marine grass that is found washed up along the shores” (60). See also the Glossary in George Cartwright’s A Journal of Transactions and Events, during a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador: Containing Many Interesting Particulars, both of the Country and its Inhabitants, not Hitherto Known (1792) for “Chinsing” with moss, the vacancies between the studs of houses, to keep out the wind and frost (1: x). [back]
  9. Writing during the “Manitoba fever” of the late eighteen eighties and early eighteen seventies when economic depression and cheap land induced many Ontarians to migrate westwards, J.C. Hamilton describes the “cottages” of settlers in western Ontario and Manitoba as “log-built, plastered with mud, and thatched” with prairie grass (29). [back]
  10. The fact that the description from Lawrie Todd; or , the Settlers in the Woods (1830), the first of two emigration novels by John Galt, quoted here is part of his definition of a “shanty,” which he also calls a “hut” and subsequently describes as “a temporary shed formed of the branches of trees” (Autobiography 2: 52) points to the loose and variable way in which the terms “wigwam,” “shanty,” “hut,” and “shed” were used by him and others. It seems clear, however, that the structure that Galt is describing is not a log house and that it corresponds more closely than does a log house to the “primitive hut” of eighteenth-century architectural theory. In The Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Alleghany Mountains (1805), Thaddeus Mason Harris provides a pair of pertinent definitions: “The temporary buildings of the first settlers in the wilds are called Cabins. They are built with unhewn logs, the interstices between which are stopped with rails, calked with moss or straw, and daubed with mud. The roof is covered with a sort of thin staves split out of oak or ash, about four feet long and five inches wide, fastened on by heavy poles being laid upon them. ‘If the logs be hewed; if the interstices be stopped with stone, and neatly plastered; and the roof composed of shingles nicely laid on, it is called a log-house.’ A log-house has glass windows and a chimney; a cabin has commonly no window at all, and only a hole at the top for the smoke to escape. After saw-mills are erected, and boards can be procured, the settlers provide themselves more decent houses, with neat floors and ceiling” (322). Thirty years later in A Tour through North America; Together with a Comprehensive View of the Canadas and United States. As Adapted for Agricultural Emigration (1835), Patrick Shirreff provided a more comprehensive description of the house types, specifically those of “British emigrants” in Lower Canada: “The houses consist of wood, and are log, block, or frame, according to the wealth or taste of the owner. A log house consists of rough logs or unbarked trees, piled above each other, dove-tailed at the corners of the walls, and the intervals betwixt the logs filled up with clay or other materials. A block-house is composed of logs squared so as to class on each other. A frame-house is sawn boards, nailed on a frame, with lath and plaster inside, and corresponds with the wood barracks in Britain. There is another description of [a] frame-house in Upper Canada, which has slender lath on the outside, simply rough-cast with lime and gravel, like stone houses in Britain, with common lath and plaster inside. Houses have pitched roofs, covered with thin pieces of wood, called shingles, resembling and answering the purposes of slate. A shanty differs from a log-house only in wanting a pitch roof, and having bark or hollow trees in place of shingles” (131-32). [back]
  11. Numerous earlier writers make the same or similar distinctions; see, for example, Isaac Fidler (1795-1864), Observations on Professions, Literature, Manners and Emigration, in the United States and Canada, Made during a Residence There in 1832 (1833): “[f]rame houses are constructed of boards of timber nailed to upright frame-works. They are generally boarded both inside and outside. Frame houses have a neat appearance, when well finished and painted white. Shanties and log-houses are erected at small expense; but frame houses, are considerably expensive, often costing from one to three thousand dollars. Brick buildings are rarely seen in remote places” (394). According to the title page of his book, Fidler was “for a short time missionary of Thornhill on Yonge Street near York, Upper Canada.” See also The English Woman in America (1856) 17-18, 21, 40, 182, and elsewhere for the association of wooden houses of all kinds with poverty in the Maritimes (for example, “the Nova-Scotians appear to have expunged the word progress from their vocabulary – still live in shingle houses, in streets without side walks” and, by way of contrast, “[t]he wooden houses have altogether disappeared from the principal streets [of Toronto], and have been replaced by substantial erections of brick and stone” [17, 182]). In Oakville and the Sixteen, Hazel C. Mathews quotes an announcement of the sale of town lots from the 1830s stating that full possession of the lot is “subject to condition of Building a Stone, Brick or Frame House, not less than 24 feet by 18 ... within eighteen months of the date of sale” (36). [back]
  12. A late twentieth-century variant of the narrative appears in Buying on Time (1997), a short-story cycle by the Toronto writer Antanas Sileika (1953- ) in which, following the Second World War, an immigrant family moves into a new development (Weston) on the outskirts of the city and experiences its growth into a suburban “neighbourhood” (217). “It was true that others lived in houses that were already built,” comments the narrator in the second short story, but “we lived in the basement as … [our] house was being built above us.… Before the basement, we had lived in a rented wooden shack on the edge of a farm. Before that there had been the DP camp in Germany …” (27). In subsequent stories, he locates the family’s suburban house between the houses of the inner city and those of a more prosperous suburb: “Not for us the dark houses of the city …, where there were no driveways and the wretchedly small windows left the interiors in perpetual gloom. We had large picture windows in the living rooms ... [U]p on the opposite bank [of the river] the world was more wondrous than ours. The banging and hammering that went on in our suburb was echoed there, but the houses that came up from the mud of Etobicoke were far more magnificent than ours. No little brick boxes rose up there, but wide-slung houses with only one storey that miraculously held three or even four bedrooms. The roofs of these houses were low, with long lines that made the buildings look as if they were wearing berets tugged smartly down over one eye. The garages were big enough for two cars” (59, 75). It almost goes without saying that the houses of the more affluent (and, predictably, higher: see Chapter 1: Preliminary) suburbs are derived from Frank Lloyd Wright’s “prairie house,” which was envisaged as a family homestead linked to the city by cars, telephone, radio and, in due course, television. The model for Wright’s Broadacre City was displayed at the Rockefeller Center in New York in 1935. In another recent work of fiction, South of an Unnamed Creek (1989), by the British Columbia writer Anne Cameron (1938- ) the architectural narrative is rendered in a vibrant description of the early days of Dawson City: “There were log houses, pole houses, and board houses. Canvas walls, canvas roofs, anything that would stop or even slow down the wind and give some semblance of privacy had been used to make shacks, shanties, cabins, hoochies, stores, hotels, and saloons. The hillsides were covered with tents …” (140). [back]
  13. Howison provides both an explanation of the importance of barns in the early agriculture of what is now southwestern Ontario and places them within the larger architectural narrative being examined here: “[i]n Upper Canada grain is always put under cover instead of being made into stacks; and therefore the farmer must build a barn, which at first is usually formed of logs, in the same way as a dwelling-house…. But when he becomes wealthier, and is more at leisure, he may erect a frame-barn, so called because it is covered with boards” (251-52). He also explains the presence of a fine barn beside a poor house as a reflection of the importance of storing grain and sheltering cattle. When two characters in Timothy Findley’s Spadework (2001) describe an old and deserted southwestern Ontario barn as “a cathedral in the wilderness” (276), they capture something of its historical importance as well as its physical appearance. In addition to building a barn, Burwell’s “Woodman” plans “some new land to clear; / Or plant ... an orchard ... / ... with judicious hand a garden full ...” and, eventually, “To buy a farm for each deserving son, / And see him settled” (304-11). [back]
  14. Traill’s use of the term “primitive hut” suggests that she may have had some knowledge of architectural theory, perhaps even with the famous frontispiece of the second edition of Abbé Laugier’s Essai sur l’architecture (1755), which depicts the Muse of Architecture pointing as a source of inspiration to a primitive hut consisting of four trees for corner posts and branches for its cross beams and pitched roof. See John Summerson’s The Classical Language of Architecture 91-92 for the revolutionary nature of Laugier’s conception of columns (rather than walls) as the “‘model … upon which all the magnificences of architecture have been imagined” (91) and Robert Geddes’ “The Forest Edge” for the argument that in Laugier’s engraving the Muse is pointing to the forest edge as “the ideal [location] of man” and as a privileged site in American art, literature, and architecture (3). [back]
  15. Joseph Sansom’s description of the “hut[s]” in the vicinity of Lac St. Pierre on the St. Lawrence above Montreal in Sketches of Lower Canada, Historical and Descriptive (1817) is even more denigrating in his association of what he considers to be undesirable character traits and building forms. To his eyes the “house[s]” of the “Habitants” are “hut[s]” or “[l]og hovels … in which it frequently happens that two or three generations … pig together, preferring the pleasure of ease and fellowship, to all the advantages of independence and exertion” (59). When “necessity absolutely obliges a swarm of them to quit the parent hive,” he adds, “it is not to seek an establishment … for the future settlement of themselves and their children; but to run up another hovel … a few hundred paces distant” (59-60). [back]
  16. Edward Allen Talbot provides a less sanguine version of the architectural narrative in his sketch of “The Life of a Native Canadian” in Five Years’ Residence in the Canadas (1824). “For the first five or six years,” he writes of his typical settler, “the primitive log-hut affords him an asylum, and he seldom manifests much anxiety to multiply its external decorations.… His ‘better half’…, looking forward like himself to days of greater prosperity, is quite reconciled to her present humble condition.… When six or seven years, at most, are [thus] spent … our hero finds himself out of debt; and just as he has firmly established his character for industry, and is in a fair way for realizing an ample fortune, he becomes discontented with his mode of life and resolves to “build himself a mansion more suited to his taste than the ‘wood-built shed.’ For the more speedy and effectual fulfillment of his purpose, he mortgages his farm to some neighbouring merchant, who furnishes him with building materials of every description, and renders him every assistance in his power towards the accomplishment of his magnificent design. The mansion is finished in the most tasteful manner, and suitable furniture is procured: The family remove into it, and, for a year or two, all things go on with tolerable smoothness. Having now a fine house in the midst of a well-cleared farm, our modern Triptolemus turns gentleman; for he does not deem industry any longer necessary for the maintenance of his family: His arm is moreover so completely unnerved by the six preceding years of laborious employment, that he cannot with any personal satisfaction continue his exertions, especially since he has contracted such an exceeding distaste for agricultural pursuits. Husbandry now appears to him a very tedious mode of realizing a fortune; he therefore resolves on turning his attention to some more rapid and, as he thinks, gentlemanly means of becoming opulent. He tries gambling, horse-racing, and a thousand other schemes for effecting his object; and, finding none of them successful, but rather otherwise, he resorts, with the wreck of his property, to the tavern, where he spends his days, and frequently his nights too, engaged with the lowest company, in the most degrading pursuits. His farm is allowed to bring forth weeds in abundance; his stock is neglected, and his family enjoy no portion of his regards. Presently the merchant produces his mortgage, and insists on the payment of his account. The farm is now sold; and, with the balance that remains when all his debts are discharged, the Canadian enters into various speculations, and when he has proved unsuccessful in most of them, and has scarcely a stiver [that is, a Dutch penny] left, he again penetrates the wilderness, and begins the clearing of another farm in the same destitute condition as he was many years before, excepting that he has now a family of half a dozen children to maintain” (2:102, 103-04). In Manitoba and the Great North-West: the Field for Investment; the Home of the Emigrant, Being a Full and Complete History of the Country (1882), John Macoun includes a series of engravings that resemble the positive side of a Hogarthian progress. [back]
  17. In Canada: an Essay to Which Was Awarded the First Prize by the Paris Exhibition Committee of Canada, Hogan goes further, envisaging logging and raising bees as the basis of North American political systems: “[t]he leading spirit of a ‘logging bee,’ and the genius who presides over the construction of a barn, what more natural than that they should be elected, at the annual meeting of the neighbourhood, to oversee the construction of bridges, and to judge of, and inspect, the proper height of fences…. The municipal system is but a small remove from the leader of the ‘logging bee’ being elected builder of the bridge, and … parliament is but a higher class in the same school of practical self-government” (108-09). [back]
  18. In The Villa, James S. Ackerman describes “the vinecovered thatched cottage” as “[t]he optimum architectural realization of picturesqueness” that “embodie[s] all the essential traits” of the aesthetic, these being “the irregular, intricate, and contrasting” and “the appearance of advanced age, neglect and decay” (216). As can be seen from Traill’s descriptions here and elsewhere in The Backwoods of Canada (see, for example, 33-34), she clings to “vinecovered” as a hallmark of the picturesque but discards “the appearance of advanced age, neglect and decay,” the reason being that “advanced age” is not possible in a new settlement and “neglect and decay” are evidences of a lack of industry and prosperity. [back]
  19. Both the shelter and the “natural bower” in which Catharine later serves a meal on “large blocks of water-worn stone [that] form … convenient seats and a natural table”(27) are reminiscent of Laugier’s frontispiece (see note 13, above). [back]
  20. “A Bee is a practical instance of duty to a neighbour.… When any work which requires many hands in the course of performance, as the building of log-houses, barns, or shanties, all the neighbours are summoned, and give their best assistance in the construction” (81n). [back]
  21. “Yet,” she adds, “many a settler’s family have I seen as roughly lodged, while a better house was being prepared for their reception; and many a gentleman’s son has voluntarily submitted to privations as great as these, from the love of novelty and adventure, or to embark on the tempting expectation of realizing money in the lumber trade …” (89). [back]
  22. Traill’s characterization of Louis as a more skilful “carpenter” than Hector (see 28-29, 83, 89, and, especially, 163) and her attribution of Louis’s skills to his French-Canadian ancestry (163) reflect the perception that emigrants from Britain were less capable of building wooden structures than other ethnic groups. “The habitations of the Americans who have settled in the British colonies are practically better constructed than those of any other settlers who have not had the advantage of many years’ residence in the country,” writes N.P. Willis in Canadian Scenery Illustrated. From Drawings by W.H Bartlett (1842); “[b]ut though the house of the English emigrant, from his imperfect knowledge of the use of edge tools, is usually a very clumsy affair, the peculiar neatness and comfort which prevails within doors more than compensate for the want of mechanical skill displayed without” (2:105). “It has been observed,” he adds, that “the virtue of cleanliness is one of those that Englishwomen never forget” (or, in the case of Catharine in Canadian Crusoes appear to inherit). In The Backwoods of Canada, Traill observes that “[t]o understand the use of carpenter’s tools … is no despicable or useless kind of knowledge” in Canada (116). [back]
  23. In their earlier log-house, Hector and Louis had “made a smoother and better table than the first rough one that they put together” and made plans “for putting up a … room to be used as a summer parlour” (162). [back]
  24. Nostalgia of a different sort is found in “The Age of Fashion” (1870), where Andrew Learmont Spedon (1831-84) looks back from a period in love with “innovation” to an earlier time when
    …living in the Forest-Age,
        We lived as hermits do,
    We never thought of fashions, then,
        Nor anything that’s new.
    We lived in shanties made of logs,
        With window and one door,
    The ceiling was a roof of bark,
        And slabs composed the floor.

    The hearth was large, and space so small,
        We scarce could stir about;
    And in the roof there was a hole
        To let the smoke go out.
    We lived on what the land brought forth,
        And knew no daintied fare;
    We spun and made the garbs we wore,
         And they were made to wear.

    The axe has hewn an ample space,
         For everything that’s new;
    And cultured scenes adorn the land
        Where rugged forests grew.
    In stately mansions now we live,
        And feast on dainty things;
    Our very clothes and luxuries
        Are fit for foreign kings

  25. See my Introduction to The Emigrant xxxviii for evidence of the debt of “The Log Cabin” to Traill and the Explanatory Notes in the same edition for details of the debts of the poem as a whole to Traill and Galt. [back]
  26. See also John MacTaggart’s perceptive and oft-quoted observation in Three Years in Canada “honest English farmer[s]” and “Lowland Scotsm[e]n” favour “a plain rectangular house of brick or stone,” Americans and “U.E. Loyalist[s] from the United States” prefer a “larger” neoclassical-style house “chiefly built of wood, and painted white,” and “wild, pushing, Highland m[e]n who had often seen the remotest regions of the North-west” “attempt to be showy and substantial” by building houses of “stone and high roofed” (308-10). Simon MacTavish would belong in MacTaggart’s third category (see Chapter 1: Preliminary), Kirby’s Ranger John in the second, and Crawford’s Malcolm Graeme and Max Gordon in the first. Rempel observes that English immigrants to Canada were the last to “succumb” to the appeal of the log house, a fact that he attributes to its foreignness to the English architectural tradition and aesthetic sensibility and to the foreignness of log construction to “English craftsmen” (“History” 237). [back]
  27. As Kalman observes, the three “foremost houses” built in York (Toronto) in the decade following the War of 1812 – the Grange (circa 1817-18) of D’Arcy Boulton, Jr. (and later Goldwin Smith), The Palace (1818) of John Strachan, and the house (1822) of William Campbell, the Chief Justice of Upper Canada – were “embellished version[s] of the Georgian style” (and thus British and aristocratic in their associations) and constructed primarily of brick made of “local clay and lime from Kingston,” a “favourite material in the young capital” because stone was difficult to obtain in large quantities (1: 153). As only to be expected from the names of the families who built them – Bennett, Burns, Crandall, Cross, and Lougheed are representative – the stone houses of Calgary’s turn-of-the century élite carried British associations (see Melnyk 48-57 and 116-17). [back]
  28. In London, Ontario members of the wealthy Ivey family recently painted their large house in an unusual shade of taupe that almost immediately began to appear on other houses in the surrounding area but, of course, sufficiently distant to avoid obviousness. [back]
  29. See my “Colonial Colonizing: an Introductory Survey of the Canadian Long Poem” 8-11. [back]
  30. In The New American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream, Calthorpe succinctly defines the “Pedestrian Pocket or Transit-Oriented Development” as “a mixed-use community within an average 2,000-foot walking distance of a transit stop and core commercial area that ... mix[es] residential, retail, office, open space, and public uses in a walkable environment, making it convenient for residents and employees to travel by transit, bicycle, foot, or car” (17, 56). See also Doug Kelbaugh, ed. The Pedestrian Pocket Book. [back]
  31. See Frederick Law Olmsted’s Mount Royal, Montreal (1881) for its designer’s conception of Montreal’s central park as “a prophylactic and therapeutic agent of vital value” for “the mass of people” in preventing and counteracting “the harmful influences of ordinary town life” (22). [back]
  32. Earlier in the novel, Roy provides a vivid picture of Montreal’s vanishing natural history: “[i]n other days ... St. Henri’s last houses had stood ... facing waste fields, and an almost limpid, rustic air hung about their simple gables and tiny gardens. From those better days St. Ambroise [Street] now has no more than two or three great trees, their roots still digging in beneath the concrete of the sidewalk. Textile mills, grain elevators and warehouses had risen to face the frame houses, slowly, solidly, walling them in” (28-29). In Cities and Natural Processes, Michael Hough points out that in the forgotten places of the city the landscape of industry, railways, public utilities, vacant lands, urban expressway interchanges, abandoned mining lands and waterfronts there frequently exist a more diverse flora and fauna than in lawns or city parks (6). Observing that [t]he reclamation of ‘derelict areas, or the creation of new development o[n] the citys edge where the native and cultural landscape is replaced by a cultivated one, involves reducing diversity, rather than enhancing it, Hough asks: which are the derelict sites of the city requiring rehabilitation? Those fortuitous and often ecologically diverse landscapes representing urban natural forces at work, or the formalized landscapes created by design?(8). [back]
  33. See Elizabeth Wilson, The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women for “shanty towns” within cities as “spontaneous settlements” as communities whose value and values, not least in combating the “impersonal factors of urban life,” have too often been overlooked (129-30). [back]
  34. In “Playing House: a Brief Account of the Idea of the Shack,” an essay written to accompany a 2002 exhibition of the work of the B.C. photographer and artist Liz Magor that focused on West Coast shacks, Lisa Robertson writes that “[o]ne sojourns, or starts out, rather than settles in a shack” and observes that “[t]ypically the shack reuses or regroups things with humour and frugality” and that “[a] shack describes the relation of the minimum to freedom (175, 176, 178). Robertson’s contextualization of Magor’s shacks is a rich, imaginative, and informed discussion that draws upon and illuminates a variety of sources, including Laugier’s narrative of the emergence of the primitive hut (see 176-77). “If architecture is writing,” she suggests, then “the shack is speech. Like a folk song it stores a vernacular” (179). [back]
  35. The information in this paragraph is drawn from numerous newspaper articles and television reports in the Fall of 2002, when the Toronto encampment was a topic of much discussion and controversy, supplemented by John Bowman’s “Tent City” backgrounder of September 25, 2002.
  36. [back]


Works Cited