Chapter 1

by D.M.R. Bentley


Nothing reveals so much about an area and its civilization as the buildings that people construct for shelter, economic support, defense, and worship. Not only is a region’s range of resources, its environmental conditions, and the level of society’s development within it revealed, but also much about the history, ethnic origin and composition, and even ways of thinking of the inhabitants of the region.
Allen G. Noble, Wood, Brick, and Stone: the North American Settlement Landscape (1984), 1:1

[W]hatever else it may be Canadian poetry is and always has been a record of life in the new circumstances of a northern plantation.
A.J.M. Smith, “Introduction,” The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English and French (1960), xxiv

The cumulative logic of building (ground- foundation- structure- ornament) … plays … a decisive role in organizing discourse in our culture.
– Mark Wigley, The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt (1993), 100

“Where is here?”1 Both in the terms of its asking and in the speaker that it implies, Northrop Frye’s famous question in the “Conclusion“ to the Literary History of Canada (1965) assumes the existence of a human body and intelligence in a place, a somewhere – here – inhabited by a someone – the speaker or writer – capable of asking where he or she is. More than this, Frye’s question assumes the existence of other embodied and emplaced intelligences that are capable and, indeed, desirous of questing and abstract speculation about their location and identity, an activity that, as a large and growing body of research and analysis in the cognitive sciences has amply demonstrated, involves processes of thought that are not merely rational but imagistic, synthetical, adaptive, projective, constructive, and, in a word, imaginative.2 This collection of essays is about the imaginative and critical work of literary texts that reflect and reflect upon Canada’s architectural structures and built environments and, by so doing, potentially alter perceptions of those structures and environments. More specifically, it is a study of the built and written expressions of embodiment and emplacement by men and women of British and British-colonial origin and extraction in Canada from the late eighteenth century to the present – an exploration of English-Canadian “dwelling” in Martin Heidegger’s rich sense of that word as signifying a structure, a condition, and a linguistic relationship with location that involves “the activities of cultivation and construction,” “[b]uilding ... thinking,” and “[p]oetic creation” (Poetry, Language, Thought 148, 160-61, 215).

     Almost needless to say, Heidegger is not the only thinker who has pondered the affinities between architectural, cognitive, and poetic construction. As Ellen Eva Frank has shown in Literary Architecture: Essays Toward a Tradition (1979), “the habit of compar[ing] between architecture and literature ... extend[s] from Plato to Samuel Beckett” and arises from the widespread sense of an “equivalence” between the two arts (1, 7). Frank focuses primarily on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English and European literature (Walter Pater, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Marcel Proust, and Henry James), but examples of “literary architecture” abound in other periods and literatures. In Michael Drayton’s address “To the Reader” in his Poems (1619), the “six interwoven” lines and “couplet ... base” of the ottava rima stanza (abababcc5) are said to “resembl[e] the Pillar which in Architecture is called the Tuscan, whose shaft is of six Diameters, and Bases of two”(4). In “Lycidas” (1645), John Milton credits his friend Edward King with the ability to “build the lofty rhyme” (11; emphasis added), and in the Preface to the 1814 edition of The Excursion William Wordsworth conceives the poem as having “the same kind of relation” to his “philosophical poem … to be entitled The Recluse” as “the ante-chapel ... to the body of a gothic church” and likens his previously published “minor Pieces” to the “little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, ordinarily included in such edifices” (5: 2). In The Waste Land (1922), T.S. Eliot treats verbal and architectural “fragments” as homologous reflections of a civilization in ruins (429), and in The Place of Writing (1989), Seamus Heaney describes the ottava rima stanzas of W.B. Yeats’s “My Descendants” as “a redoubt” and a “fortified space within rooms of ... powerfully vaulted stanzas” that “recalls Milton’s figure of the poet as one who builds the lofty rhyme and ... Yeats’s own stated desire to make ... [his famous] tower a permanent symbol of his poetic work, ‘plainly visible to the passer-by’” (29, 35). (The Italian word stanza, it may be recalled, means “room” or “standing, stopping place” and is related to the French and English “stance” [OED].)

     Architects and theorists of architecture have also been drawn to what Frank calls the “connection of correspondence or equivalence between ... architecture and literature” (7). The phrase “poetry of architecture” has been common in architectural discourse since at least the end of the eighteenth century when John Soane (1753-1837) used it to describe the “‘pictorial breaks of light and shade’” in the internal and external elements of a building (qtd. in Daniel Adamson 212). In The Poetry of Architecture (1840), the phrase furnished John Ruskin (1819-1900) with a powerful rhetorical tool with which to analyze the relationship between vernacular building types, natural scenery, and national character. (Later, in The Stones of Venice [1851, 1853], Ruskin would again approach architecture through literature to argue, for example, that repetition is detrimental to all “great art, whether expressing itself in words, colours, or stones” [7: 174].) By the beginning of the twentieth century, the notion of architecture as a language, a trope that had been a staple of architecture theory and criticism since Vetruvius, had lost much of its analytical appeal, but it lingers markedly in Le Corbusier’s insistence on poetic effects and “poetic emotion” as defining qualities of true architecture in Vers une architecture (1923; trans. 1927) (see especially 199-223), and it can still be discerned in statements by architects such as Michael Stacey (1958- ) and Peter Zumthor (1943- ), the former in his admission that, for him, “architecture is more akin to the creation of a work of literature than of reductive problem solving” (2) and the latter in his perception that, although buildings are not “poetic,” they possess “subtle qualities” that, like the “unexpected truth” of poetry “permit us to understand something that we were never able to understand in quite this way before” (19-20). In Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, and Construction (1977), Christopher Alexander and his Zen-inspired colleagues go so far as to suggest that through a process of “compression” designers can produce the kind of “density” and “illumination” associated with the suggestiveness of poetic symbolism and, indeed, create “buildings which are poems” (x-xi, xli-xliv). In his highly influential “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance” (1983), Kenneth Frampton (1930- ) argues that architecture must espouse “a place-conscious poetic – a form of filtration compounded out of an interaction between culture and nature, between art and light” (27), a response to Modernism that, as Steven A. Moore (1945- ) recognizes in Technology and Place: Sustainable Development and the Blueprint Farm (2001), allows “tectonic” and “poetic” to be used almost interchangeably in discussions of the “origins of construction” (25). The Norwegian architect Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk (1958- ) has described one of his buildings, a small summer house at Risør, as “an architectural short story” and the Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura (1952- ) has identified the “final goal” of each of his works as “to be anonymous and serene in relation to time; in other words, to become poetry” (qtd. in Heneghan, “Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk” 189 and “Souto Moura Arquitectos” 356). Clearly, the sense of an “equivalence” between architecture and literature continues to play a significant part in the practice as well as the theory and criticism of architecture.

     Nor has this sense of an “equivalence” between architecture and literature been absent from Canadian thinking and practice. In an essay on “Style” (circa 1890), Canada’s finest nineteenth-century poet, Archibald Lampman (1861-99), sees “the verse” of Sophocles and “the prose of Plato” as “translat[ions]” of “the style of … the Parthenon” and the style of Strasbourg Cathedral as “translated … into the verse of the Song of Roland and the prose of … [Dante’s] Vita Nuova (Essays and Reviews 75, and see Chapter 7: Northern Reflections). To Percy Erskine Nobbs (1875-1964), the influential director of the Department of Architecture at McGill University from 1903 to 1910 and himself an accomplished and influential architect, the “analogy” between “the methods of literary expression and those of the discovery of form” in architecture are especially clear in “major works of design” where “[t]he plan is the plot,” its “structural development” the “creat[ion] of dramatic situations,” and “a like mood is engendered in the hearer of … [a] tale and the spectator of … [a] building” (qtd. in Crossman 131-32). In an early notebook of Canada’s finest Modern poet, A.M. Klein (1909-72), sonnets are compared to “self-contained cottages” in “Poetry’s suburbia” (qtd. in Golfman 1:62) and in the “Photostory” that British Columbia’s most prominent experimental poet, Earle Birney (1904-95), contributed to the B.C. Centennial number of the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada Journal poems are shaped to reflect the structure and ornamentation of the buildings upon which they reflect (see Chapter 12: “The Music of Rhyme …”). True to the playfulness of the postmodern mode in which he was Canada’s foremost literary practitioner, bp Nichol (1944-88) writes in Book 5 of The Martyrology (1972-92) of “reflecting in reflection” that “metaphorically the page is a window” and concluding “it’s not / i try writing on the glass & / the ink won’t hold / ideas” (Chain 1, np). Yet despite this disclaimer, Nichol writes elsewhere in the same volume of the “stories of … houses” as “impossible narratives,” describes the grave markers in a cemetery near Toronto as “early Ontario concrete poems,” and conceives of images as existing “within the stone walls of poetry’s cottages” and of poems themselves as “megalithic structures” (Chains 1 and 3, npp). “And then there’s poets who are artists / And work on their poems / As if they’re cutting gyproc!” exclaims Eirin Mouré (1955- ) in Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (2001): “They put stanza against stanza, as if building a wall, / see if it’s even, and tear it down if it isn’t!…” (93).

      Although such explicit figurations of the “equivalence” between architecture and literature are illustratively useful, they are but a small part of the present study, which is ultimately more concerned with the more subtle ways in which architecture and literature are related, not merely to each other but to the development in and through dwelling of British North America and, thence, the “community of communities” (Wynn 408) that is post-Confederation Canada. The Hegelian idea of history as a dialectical progression towards freedom that is driven and guided by a supremely rational world spirit (weltgeist) is surely as dubious as the notion that human existence is irrational, amoral, absurd, and answerable only by nihilism. Despite beliefs and some evidence to the contrary neither the course of history nor the development of a community is determined by a tutelary spirit or by human irrationality, but by versions and manifestations of both, and much else besides, including a desire to belong, a yearning for love and hope, and a need for the sense of continuity with the past and the future that adds significance and purpose to the present. As a result of the combination of history and geography that is unique to Canada, such universally human characteristics have resulted here in a distinctive community whose myriad faces include the architectural and literary expressions of dwelling whose composition and characteristics are the subject-matter of this study.


If there is a work that can be said to stand at the beginning of the continuity of British-Canadian poetic dwelling, it is Thomas Cary’s Abram’s Plains (1789), a topographical poem 3 published at Quebec on the thirtieth anniversary of the battle from which it takes its title by a man who had by then been resident in Lower Canada for some fifteen years and who would remain there until (indeed, after) his death in 1823. Echoing the opening lines of John Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s epic of nation-building (“Arms and the Man I sing” [1]), Cary begins his poem by situating himself in the landscape adjacent to Quebec City and then identifying himself as both a poet and a thinker with a “vital dwelling in [the] language” (Agamben Coming Community 82) and the tradition that have come with him:

Thy Plains, O Abram! And thy pleasing views,
Where, hid in shades, I sit and court the muse,
Grateful I sing. For there, from care and noise
Oft have I fled to taste thy silent joys:
There, lost in thought, my musing passion fed,
Or held blest converse with the learned dead.

Loco-descriptive passages such as this are of course common in the topographical tradition to which Abram’s Plains belongs, but somewhat unusual is Cary’s continuing emphasis on the body, its well-being, its movements, its sensations, its orientation, its posture, and, finally, its naturalization:

Else, like a steed, unbroke to bit or rein,
Courting fair health, I drive across the plain;
The balmy breeze of Zephyrus inhale,
Or bare my breast to the bleak northern gale.
Oft, on the green sod lolling as I lay,
Heedless, the grazing herds around me stray:
Close by my side shy songsters fearless hop,
And shyer squirrels the young verdure crop:
All take me for some native of the wood,
Or else some senseless block thrown from the flood.

After this expression of “rapport” with the animate and inanimate components of his Canadian environment (Heidegger Poetry, Language, Thought 157), Cary embarks on a survey of the flora, fauna, topographical features, and commercial potential of Upper and Lower Canada (see also: i), beginning with Lake Superior and ending near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Abram’s Plains thus becomes both a commemoration of the battle that delivered Lower Canada into British hands on September 13, 1759 and an inventory of Canada’s present state and future prospects for its English-Canadian inhabitants by one of their fellow citizens.4 In its expressions of vitality, exuberance, contentment, wonderment, elation, pride, tranquility, and repose – in short, its expression of almost every emotion but the “depression” that Heidegger associates with “the loss of rapport with things” (157) – it is also the poem of a being who is unmistakably at home in the Canadian environment, a poetic statement and enactment of belonging and dwelling that leaves no doubt as to the presence of a British psychophysical self in Lower Canada. “‘[E]very description is ... a culturally creative act’,” writes Michel de Certeau (quoting Iurii Mikhailovich Lotman and Boris Andreevich Ouspenski), and “the body in movement, gesticulating, taking its pleasure, is what ... organizes a here in relation to an abroad, a ‘familiarity’ in relation to a ‘foreignness’” (80, 86-87).

     Even as he employs a survey mode that requires him to assume an aerial perspective and resort to geometrical forms to describe the Canadian landscape,5 Cary retains a strong emphasis on the bodily and cognitive presence of an imaginative being in a particular place. Thus a description of the likely effect of the sight and sound of Niagara Falls (see also: i) (“’Twixt awe and pleasure, rapt in wild suspense, / Giddy, the gazer yields up ev’ry sense”)6 is followed by a personal account of a comparable experience (“So have I felt when Handel’s heavenly strains / Choral, announce the great Messiah reigns: / Caught up by sound, I leave my earthly part, / And into something more than mortal start”); a survey of the scenery to the northeast of Quebec City registers its built and natural elements as imminent and desirable rather than merely seen (“Thy beauties, Beauport, open on mine eyes, / There fertile fields and breezy lawns arise ... Beyond the vales, still stretching on my view, / Hills, behind hills, my aching eyes pursue”); and the “comprehensive view” of the “varied landscape,” governing principles, and seasonal transitions that are afforded by the height of Cape Diamond is made possible by a combination of poetic inspiration, intellectual volition, physical effort, and the solicited co-operation of the promontory itself (“Led by the muse, whilst here my course I shape, / Let me steep Di’mond, mount thy rocky cape ...”) (34-39, 420-21, 424-25, 480-81). Both in its abundance of local references and, more profoundly, in its representation of its author’s movements and sensations, Abram’s Plains is an enactment of situatedness and belonging that speaks to the British inhabitants of Lower Canada for whom it was written of their successful accommodation to and in a new environment. “Tales of Europeans lost in snow” and the timorousness of “London fops … / Who fear … to face the air” are the stuff of scorn and derision in Lower Canada, Cary asserts near the end of the poem; “Here ... Unaw’d, the fair [inhabitants] brave frosts and driving snows” (563-67).

     Not surprisingly, the passages in Abram’s Plains in which poetry approaches architecture and, in so doing, becomes architext are among the most revealing of Cary’s views of the state of civilization in Lower Canada. Early in the poem, he provides an overview of the Great Lakes as “mighty urns” emptying their waters into the St. Lawrence (see Chapter 8: Viewing Platforms). He then launches into a celebration of Lower Canada’s agricultural progress and the prolonged “peace” on which it has depended. In doing so, he assumes and endorses the four stages theory of social development7 whereby the cultivation of the land (agriculture) is regarded as the necessary condition for cultivation in the moral, intellectual, spiritual, social and political spheres (culture) and, thus, for the replacement of “rude” savagery and barbarism to civilized refinement and prosperity:

How blest the task, to tame the savage soil,
And, from the waters, bid the woods recoil!
But oh! a task of more exalted kind,
To arts of peace, to tame the savage mind;
The thirst of blood, in human breasts, to shame,
To wrest, from barb’rous vice, fair virtue’s name;
Bid tomahawks to ploughshares yield the sway,
And skalping-knives to pruning hooks give way;
In Circe’s glass bid moderation reign,
And moral virtues humanize the plain!

The Loyalists who in the ensuing lines have found “shelter ... from the storm of civil broils” in Lower Canada and now “Call ... a new patrimony into birth” “from the unclog’d responsive earth” (64-67) are therefore agents of both agriculture and civilization whose cultivation of the land, and presumably, “construction” of an actual “shelter” are analogous to the “poetic taking” – and making – “of measure”8 that is occurring throughout Abram’s Plains. So, too, are the Royal Engineers whose “far-projected quay” and retaining walls below Quebec City permit “commerce [to gain] a footing” and put Cary in mind of Moses’s “command [of the] floods” of the Red Sea (100-07). Only by “humaniz[ing] his environment” is Man “no longer merely in general, but also in particular and in detail, actually aware of himself and at home in his environment,” argues G.W.F. Hegel at one point in his Aesthetics, and at another: when a poet writes “as one at home” and “where others are at home” so “we are too, for there we contemplate truth, the spirit living and possessing itself in its world …” (1:256, 2:1048).

     When Cary turns his attention to particular architectural structures later in Abram’s Plains, the resulting architexts are not poetry of the primal order that Heidegger describes as “tak[ing] the measure for architecture, the structure of dwelling” (Poetry, Language, Thought 227; emphasis added), but they do reveal Cary to be a poet who gauges the cultural as well as the physical dimensions of buildings (and, it needs to be said, in a manner that must be highly uncongenial to French Canadians as well as to those who do not share Cary’s Conservative views). Given that Cary subscribes to the picturesque aesthetic of “Order in Variety” (Pope 195)9 and, as seen earlier, presents himself at the outset of the poem as someone who has fled the “care and noise” of the town and achieved a state of peaceful co-existence with non-human nature, it is almost to be expected that he will register rural buildings as existing in harmony with their natural surroundings – first, “shining villas” (that is, country houses of “some size and elegance” [OED 1]) “peep[ing] through crowded trees,” then “lonely cots aris[ing], / Where unkind soils, thrifty, hard yield supplies,” and, finally, “The villa of fair Dorchester (that is, the Chateau Saint-Louis [1692-1700], the residence in 1789 of Lord Dorchester, who was then governor-in-chief of British North America) – on the “breeze-inviting plains” to the west of Quebec (277, 362-63, 485, 490). (“The situation [of the Chateau Saint-Louis] is very high,” Elizabeth Simcoe would observe a few years later, and it “commands a most noble prospect down the River” [42].) Of whatever scale and function within the social and political hierarchy, the substantial houses of Lower Canada seem to Cary to exist in a symbiotic relationship with nature that will coax “supplies” from even “unkind soils” and ensure the prosperity and well-being of Lower Canada’s inhabitants.

     Cary’s description of the Chateau-Saint-Louis is worth quoting in full to show how it associates Dorchester not only with the “breeze” whose health-giving properties the poet had himself “court[ed]” at the beginning of the poem, but also with the middle-class values of domesticity and moderation that undergird the poet’s judgements throughout the poem10:

There, stretching to the right, with oblique eye,
The villa of fair Dorchester I spy;
Where, from parade and crowds, she [the muse] chearful flies,
The false, by royalty, taught to despise:
There, tranquil, tastes the tender sweets of life
That in the mother center and the wife:
There simple treads the breeze-inviting plains,
And all the glare of equipage disdains.

Located well away “from parade and crowds” and “to the right” both morally and physically, the Chateau-Saint-Louis is depicted by Cary as a realm of such peace and order as befits the good government of Lower Canada: each of the four couplets devoted to it begins with either “There” or “Where”; two of these – the central ones – end in colons; and four of the eight lines are slowed by two caesuras each. Moreover, as the description proceeds pauses and rhythmical irregularities gradually diminish to be replaced by the unbroken regularity of the three final lines, where the trochaic lilt of three key words – “mother,” “center,” and “simple” – helps to reinforce Cary’s point that Dorchester’s home is the “high centre” (Benedict Anderson 25) from which the values that he sees as crucial to Lower Canadian society flow downwards and outwards. In his description of “The villa of fair Dorchester” Cary reveals an intuitive if not conscious understanding of the consonance between the “orderly” structure of the decasyllabic couplet and non-poetic forms of intellectual, social, and physical order such as the “ordered” “elements of architecture” (Van Brunt 526), a consonance that, as will be seen, recurs frequently in Canadian architexts of the Georgian period (1751-1820) and later. He also reveals an understanding of what James S. Ackerman in The Villa: Form and Ideology in Country Houses identifies as the raison d’être of the villa per se: “it exists ... to provide a counterbalance to urban values.... [V]illa ideology is rooted in the contrast between country and city, in that the virtues and the delights of one are presented as the antitheses of the vices and virtues of the other” (9, 12). Of course, the culture of the summer cottage would not arrive in Canada until the late nineteenth century, but when it did the ground had already been well prepared for it by the urban/rural contrast that Cary does not so much observe as imagine on the basis of a continuity that stretches back, as Ackerman, Raymond Williams,11 and numerous others have observed, to the literature as well as the architecture of post-Hadrianic Rome.

     Behind Cary’s placement of the “mother” and “wife” at the centre and apex of his “comprehensive view” of Lower Canada (492), as behind his conviction that its progress and prosperity are dependent on the rational exploitation of its God-given natural resources, lies a post-Enlightenment Protestantism that almost inevitably leads him to disparage the beliefs and practices of the province’s Roman Catholics. Thus the Hôpital-Général (see also: i) (1710-12), although a “kind shelter ... / When fevers burn or shivering agues freeze,” is run by nuns whose vow of chastity “Thwart[s] the impulse of great nature’s law,” and other manifestations of Catholicism appear unconnected to or imposed upon the landscape: a “church ..., / Great less’ner of the little of the poor,” “just peep[s] o’er the pointed shore” and a roadside “cross” beside which “the peasant humbly bows, / Persuaded wood and marble hear his vows,” is “erected by the highway” and “supply’d” with the “implements” of the “[P]assion” (372-73, 378, 364-71).12 There can be little doubt that Cary regarded Catholicism as a relic of feudalism that was as certain as the trebuchet to succumb to the forces of progress. By the same token, he viewed with approval the Huron community of Lorette, a village consisting of a church and “some forty or fifty square houses” (Sanson 17) “built in the French manner” (Kalm 437):

... further left, as I incline my eyes,
Thy cottages, Lorette, to view arise;
Here, of the copper-tribes, an half tam’d race,
As villagers take up their resting place;
Here fix’d, their houshold gods lay peaceful down,
To learn the manners of the polish’d town.

“[F]urther left, as I incline my eyes, / Thy cottages ... to view arise”: even as he notes approvingly the progress of the Lorette Hurons from nomadic savagery towards civilized “polish,” Cary deploys the moral perspective whereby “left” and “below” are inferior to “right” and “above” but, given the opportunity and desire, capable of elevation and betterment or, in the terminology of the time, improvement. And even as he employs the insistently self-centered terminology of left and right, below and above, near and far, he simultaneously confirms his active presence, his emplacement, his dwelling, in Quebec and its environs and affirms the close affinity between poetry and building that resides in the capacity of both to create location by parsing and partitioning – taking the measure – of space.

     The final architextual section of Abram’s Plains is a virtual tour of Quebec itself by Cary’s muse that mentions but does not name the “cross-crown’d spires” of Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Jesuit Church, the Ursuline Convent (see also:i), and the Seminary and concentrates especially on the city’s fortifications (see also: i and ii) and defenses, which, though also unnamed, loom as large in poetic emphasis as they did both physically and tactically for the region until well into the nineteenth century. Characterizing his muse in a lengthy conceit (454-69) as neither a “foe” intent on filling Quebec’s streets with “blood” nor a “spy” intent on “drawing ... [a] secret plan” of the town, but as a “curious” observer of its “extended works,” he arms her with a pen plucked from Pope’s “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” (249) and aligns her with heroism in good causes:

Her only weapon is a grey-goose quill:
With that her peaceful parallels she draws,
Or if she fights, perhaps some Trojan’s cause;
Or else some hero’s of renowned Rome,
E’er sunk to slav’ry, Caesar seal’d her doom.

By virtue of the several meanings of “parallels” – comparisons or correspondences between things, lines of script or print on a page, and trenches that serve as lines of communication between different parts of a siege works – thinking, writing, and building are once again conceived as analogous activities that, in this instance, are closely allied to the support and preservation of morally defensible civilizations. If it is true, as Heidegger argues, that a recognition of the interconnectedness of poetry and architecture is a pre-requisite for dwelling, then Thomas Cary’s Abram’s Plains is conceptually as well as thematically a proclamation that Canada is a home place.


Not all writing in and about Canada during the post-Conquest period displays the feeling of at-homeness that permeates Abram’s Plains. A stark contrast to Cary’s poem and attitudes is provided by Quebec Hill; or, Canadian Scenery. A Poem. In Two Parts, which was written by one J. Mackay during and following a sojourn in Lower Canada in the mid-eighteen nineties and published in England in 1797. Divided “Summer” and “Winter” so as to emphasize the debilitating extremes of the Canadian, Mackay’s poem begins by bestowing lavish praise on the scenery of Lower Canada but soon embarks on a stream of disparaging comments that leads with increasing predictability to the admission that introduces its concluding verse paragraphs:

Now, having sung Canadian woods and vales,
Its Summer’s heat, and Winter’s frigid gales,
Let me remark, as climates I compare,
And manners note, ’tis Britain I prefer.
(2: 183-86)

En route to this admission, Mackay emerges as a relentless moralist with a disposition for seeing the dark side of human nature and the fallen world. “The native scenes” around “Quebec’s aspiring heights,” “Engage the mind, and charm the gazing eye” but “’Mong the sublime, the physical displays” of Canada “the human, sunk in folly, strays,” “ev’ry grove” of the “wilds” conceals “a hidden foe,” and “Niagara’s renowned Falls” are notable both for their “dreadful grandeur” and for their destructive power, a quality that reminds Mackay of “passion” and “excess” (1:2-4, 47-48, 64-65, 95-122). The evidences of cultivation and agricultural prosperity around Montreal and Quebec – “fertile grounds,” “burnish’d” and “blanchant cot[tages],”13 the “scatter’d huts” and large “villa[s]” of Lorette – gladden Mackay’s heart, but even here he warns that “airy views deceive” and “rich ... verdure,” when “examine[d] more near,” reveals “crabs for apples,” “greedy locusts” (that is, grasshoppers), and “the harvest-choaking tare” of Matthew 13: 24-30 (1: 149, 152, 218, 287-98). For Cary, Canada was a visual field through which he moved with confidence and pleasure. For Mackay it was a deceptive and perturbing place rife with moral dangers both beneath its superficial appearances and in its manifest presences and absences, most notably the all-too evident “spire” of the Catholic church above every “rural village” and the lamentable lack of even one Protestant church in Quebec (1: 241-64, 156n). “[H]ere, neglected droops the human mind, / Or, bred in error, scrupulously blind,” he observes at one point, and at another (the avoidance of repetition is not his strong point): “here, the [papal] mist commences to dispell / By slow degrees; its progress who can tell?” (1: 155-56, 259-60).

     Nor are the sights of Lower Canada merely morally perturbing to Mackay. Casting his “gazing eye” to the north of the St. Lawrence, he sees “lofty hills” or “mountains” whose dimensions and proximity are difficult to gauge because of the bizarre effects of reflection and refraction in northern latitudes that Thomas James had recorded early in the previous century in his Dangerous Voyage ... in ... Intended Discovery of a North West Passage ... (1633)14:

Unveil’d, the mountains show their lofty heads,
Which form a contrast to the humble meads:
Save, that, from far, the intervening space,
Th’ unequal swellings of their sides deface;
That, richly cloth’d, in colours of the air,
Increas’d in size, and more remote appear.
(1: 319-24)

What Mackay is registering in this passage especially is a “disturbance” of his preconception of the relationship between distance and size that – to borrow the terms of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception – generates or reinforces in the “perceiving subject” a sense of “queer[ness]” and loss of “anchorage” in the “perceptual field” (see 243-311). Not surprisingly, Mackay immediately follows his attempt to explain the deceptive spectacle of the mountains by confessing that his “muse [is] averse on vent’rous wing to soar” and “With pleasure settles on the rural bow’r” (1:325-26): having experienced, recorded, and attempted to rationalize a problem of height and depth perception thrown up by the Canadian wilderness, he quickly retreats to a more familiar and knowable realm of “flocks,” “lambkins,” “reapers,” and “curling clouds” (1: 327-30), there, in Merleau-Ponty’s terms again, to re-establish his “initial anchorage” in the “perceptual field” of Lower Canada (291-93).15 Whereas Abram’s Plains gives the impression of a body consistently “gear[ed] ... into” or “to” the Lower Canadian environment, Quebec Hill leaves the impression of a being to whom that environment was a bizarre disconcerting series of mirages and chimeras to which he had little, if any, desire to reorient himself.

     This becomes even more apparent in the “Winter” part of Quebec Hill as Mackay looks around him with “unseason’d eyes” (2: 49) and observes atmospheric and meteorological effects that are by turns painful, surprising, and alarming to him. For example, when there is snow on the ground and “the sky is ... unclouded ... the organs of sight ... are much impaired” by the combination of direct and “reflected” sunlight and when the sun is obscured by a “tempest” the wind whips up the snow “in circling eddies [that] rise / And meet the torrents of the skies!” (2: 49-62, and n), thus, in the first instance, threatening damage to an important component of the human body and, in the second, confronting the observer with a phenomenon – rising snow – that violates expectations and probabilities and, in the words of the Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger (1932- ), produces a “sense of [dis]equilibrium” and “an effect of alienation” (61). Confirmation that human beings were not meant to live in the Canadian environment comes to Mackay when he observes that the country’s “piercing frosts” and “northern winds” (2: 21, 81) have the capability not only to drain its inhabitants of vital energy and to transform anyone caught without shelter into a “frozen corse” (2: 63-72, 109-24), but even to penetrate the walls of houses:

Nor in the fields alone the cold prevails,
Nor only there pervade the frigid gales;
The shelter’d domes confess their searching breath.
The shiv’ring stranger sees with new surprize,
As in the morn his chamber he surveys,
That fields of ice the solid mass pervade,
And on the wall like pendant charts are spread.
(2: 125-32)

An observation similar to this appears in James’s Dangerous Voyage,16 but Mackay’s lines probably derive from the statement of the Swedish traveller Pieter (Peter) Kalm (1716-79) in his Travels Into North America (1753-61; trans. 1770-71) that in Quebec “[t]hey reckon the north-east wind the most piercing of all.... Many of the best people ... assured me, that this wind, when it is very violent in winter, pierces through walls of a moderate thickness, so that the whole wall on the inside of the house is covered with snow, or a thick hoar frost; and that a candle placed near a thinner wall is almost blown out by the wind which continually comes through” (432). No wonder Mackay preferred and returned to Britain: a country in which all appearances are deceptive, where atmospheric and meteorological phenomena destabilize such fundamental categories as height and depth, down and up, outside and inside, was for him no fit place to dwell, no “possible habitat” (Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology 291).


Much more akin to Cary than to Mackay in his ability and willingness to habituate himself to Canada was Cornwall Bayley (1784-1807), a young graduate of Cambridge University who arrived in Lower Canada in the Summer of 1804 and returned to England in the Fall of 1806. (He was suffering from tuberculosis and may have come to Canada in the hope of benefitting from the supposed health-giving properties of the winter. He died in England in November 1807.) During his two-year stay in Canada, Bayley married Helen Eliza Jones, the daughter of a Montreal doctor, and composed Canada. A Descriptive Poem. Written at Quebec, 1805. With Satires–Imitations–and Sonnets, a slim volume of poems published in Quebec in the spring of 1806. Most interested though he was in such topics as the origin of the Native peoples and the perfidy of the American and French revolutionists, Bayley nevertheless comments repeatedly in the course of Canada on the architectural structures and built environments in and around Montreal and Quebec, noticing, for example, the Jesuit Seminary and Hôpital-Général in Quebec, and recording with considerable prosodic finesse the way in which the smoke from a “cottage chimney ... / Shrinks from the cold, and, as it issues, curls” (467-68 and n, 469-84, 311-12). To Mackay’s eyes, the bright light and cold winds of a Canadian winter were dangerous and disturbing. In Bayley’s view, “the biting North” is the “Parent of health and pleasure” that “invigorate[s]” the “frame,” “Brace[s] every nerve,” puts a “flush in every cheek,” and creates beautiful sights that stimulate the imagination:

Then in one tractless scene resplendent glow
Hills, vales, and rivers of unending snow;
The mountain torrents by the frosts control
Arrested pause, – and, freezing as they roll,
In gothic shapes and frozen structures rise,
Which playful Fancy oft may realize!

Behind Bayley’s obvious enjoyment of the scenery, forms, and sense of well-being created by the cold lies an engagement with the Canadian environment that answers to Merleau-Ponty’s conception of a body “gear[ed] into” or “to” its location. Despite or perhaps because of his illness, Bayley seems to have been especially willing and able to feel physically and cognitively at home in Canada.

     This is not to say that he was immune to the disconcerting aspects of some of the spectacles that he encountered in Lower Canada. At the beginning of the poem, he draws on Edgar’s putative description of the view from Dover Cliffs in King Lear to convey a sense of the vertiginous height of Cape Diamond and follows a description of the variety and extent of the scenery visible from the promontory (see also: i and ii) by remarking on his “wearied eyes” (1-28). These are primarily devices for gaining the reader’s attention and sympathy, however, and they also serve as ways and means of (a) emphasizing the poet’s bodily presence in Lower Canada through his psychophysiological responses to its most famous site/sight and (b) introducing the psychological premises upon which the poem is predicated – namely, the premise, derived from Samuel Johnson’s comments on Edgar’s speech in the 1765 edition of Shakespeare’s Plays, that “attention to minute objects” is a way in which human reason counteracts the effects of vertigo and the premise, traceable to Hartlean Associationism, that the poetic “imagination” is a function of the mind’s continuous creation of “one successive chain” of thought (1n, 29-34).17 The immediate result of the first of these premises is an enumeration of objects in Quebec’s built environment – “The glittering spire – the rampart’s massy tower, / The cannon frowning on opposing power; / The tide-resisting wharf – The busy shore – / The bulky vessel – and the crowded store” (13-16) – that mimics the rapid movement of the observer’s eyes from object to object and, in the process, assembles a series of images of Quebec that emphasizes the religious, military, and commercial aspects of its culture. Once again, the impression is of a body “geared into” or “to” its immediate environment through a succession of responses that are both cognitive and physical.

     Evidence that Bayley regarded his second premise – that poetry is a product of the mind’s creation of a chain of thought – as a compositional principle could be adduced from almost any passage in Canada, but one is of particular interest here for its references to a specific agricultural landscape and several architectural structures. Prefaced by a brief description of “autumn” as a season especially conducive to “Fancy,” and “Contemplation,” it begins by focusing on the Île Sainte-Hélène below Montreal, where William Grant owned a farm:

... ere the autumn’s last luxuriant smile
Fades on the prospect – let me trace the isle
Which, Grant, thy hand industrious has embrac’d
With mix’d protub’rance and assiduous taste;
Or let me stray where Montrèal’s mountain heighth
Displays un-number’d beauties to the sight;
And there recline on yon romantic cave
Where widow’d love has rais’d a husband’s grave.
Wide round me lie in one exhaustless view
Landscapes which fancy scarcely can pursue:
The plenteous farm – the field – the buzy mill,
La-Prarie’s spire; the azure distant hill;
The winding river, where alternate smile,
The rocky shed18 – the intervening isle;
Whilst at my feet the sun’s last tranquil ray
On Montrèal’s summits beams departing day!

The most obvious aspect of this passage is its obedience to picturesque conventions. The “prospect” or “view” is pleasing to the eye because it contains the elements found in pictures of the sort painted by Claude Lorraine and his followers: a “winding river,” a variety of natural and built forms, a foreground, middle ground, and background that each contain interesting or colourful objects. A little less obvious perhaps is the way in which the passage accords special attention and praise to additions to the landscape that have rendered it more visually appealing (“picturesque”) and emotionally resonant (“romantic”) – initially to the “mix’d protub’rance” on Grant’s farm (and, thus, Grant’s “hard industrious ... and assiduous taste”) and subsequently to the prominent grave marker erected in accordance with his wishes by Simon MacTavish’s widow in the grounds of his (unfinished) Palladian or neoclassical mansion on Mount Royal, a highly visible act of mourning that not only bespoke his widow’s affection, but also pointed towards the fur-trader’s mercantile success, social ascent, and continuing influence.19 For Bayley, as for almost everyone else who wrote in and about pre-Confederation Canada, the presence in the landscape of thriving farms, substantial monuments, and impressive architectural structures was more than a sign of the colony’s economic progress: it was evidence of the established presence of British taste, sensibility, refinement, and, in a word, civilization.


By the time Bayley wrote and published Canada in 1805-06 – that is, over forty years after the Treaty of Paris (1763) had formally ceded New France to Great Britain – architectural and monumental evidences of British civilization were becoming increasingly conspicuous in Quebec and Montreal. Between 1799 and 1803 both places saw the erection of substantial testaments to the establishment of “the British judicial system” in the province in the form of Palladian courthouses that were designed by British Army engineers to accommodate the “British practice of involving citizens in judicial proceedings – both as spectators and as participants – in surroundings familiar to them” (Carter 7, and see Giroux 78 and Kalman 1: 185-86).20 In 1804, another stone building designed by British army engineers,21 the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity in Quebec was consecrated, and praised by Joseph Bouchette as “perhaps the handsomest modern edifice in the city” for its “chaste and correct ” “style of architecture” and the “neat and unostentatious elegance” of its sparingly decorated “interior” (1: 245). Modelled on St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London and with elements drawn from the Colliseum and Pantheon in Rome,22 the Church of the Holy Trinity was “the first purpose-built Anglican cathedral outside the British Isles” and quickly furnished a precedent for “other Anglican churches ... built in Lower Canada,” including Christ Church, Montreal,23 an “express[ion] ... in stone” of the financial and social ascendancy of the city’s Anglo-Scottish merchants that was begun in 1805 but not completed until 1821 (Kalman 1: 189, 191). In August 1805, the foundation for a Union Hall (or Hotel) in the Palladian style with a “handsome” “ornamental portico and steps” was laid in Quebec (Lambert 1:52, and see Bentley, Mnemographia 1: 108, 116). Within months of the Battle of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805) a monument to Lord Nelson in the form of a neoclassical column was commissioned for Montreal (see Shipley 23-24, and Bentley, Mnemographia 1: 43-44). After the completion of the Church of the Holy Trinity, its principal architect, Captain William Robe (1765-1826) of the Royal Artillery, again drew on the Pantheon and neoclassical sources to design a circular, domed Market (1806-07) for Quebec’s Upper Town (see Robe 57and Chapter 6: the Centre in the Square). “The gradual steps by which societ[ies] advance ... may be traced, with tolerable accuracy, in the improvement of their buildings,” observed the Church of Scotland minister in Quebec, Andrew Spark, in the August 17, 1805 issue of Cary’s Quebec Mercury, “[a]nd ... several Edifices ... lately erected in the province, and several works of public utility which have been undertaken and executed, indicate a degree of public spirit highly auspicious to the state of the country, and ... seem to promise a rapid progress of colonial Improvement” from “rude[ness] and barbarism” to “wealth” and “refinement” (262).24

     Fifty years later, on Queen Victoria’s birthday in 1855, S.S. MacDonnell would make much the same point during “the ceremony of laying the corner-stone of the County Court House” at Sandwich, Canada West:

The erection of halls of Justice and Gaols [is] a distinctive characteristic of a high state of civilization: by their establishment it [is] understood that the great body of the people surrender ... to the intelligence of the community all their moral and physical rights in the adjustment of disputes or aggression; and the knowledge that justice [is] always at hand and prompt in its action, induce[s] a feeling of security which it would be impossible to realize under the individual system – a system which existed among barbarians. (“Laying the Corner Stone”)

“Why people will spend large sums of money on great buildings opens up a wide ... field of thought,” the mayor of Toronto, John Shaw, told his listeners at the opening of his city’s new neo-Gothic municipal buildings on September 18, 1899. “It may, however, be roughly answered that great buildings symbolize a people’s deeds and aspirations. It has justly been said that wherever a nation had a conscience and a mind, it recorded the evidence of its being in the highest products of this greatest of all the arts. Where no such monuments are to be found, the mental and moral natures of the people have not been above the faculties of brutes” (512). Not until the twentieth century did “great buildings” and literary expression cease going hand in hand as the “recorded evidence,” not merely of enlightenment and progress in Canada, but also of the very “being” – and being here – of Canadians of European extraction.

     Once the cultural significance of the introduction of Palladian, neoclassical, and subsequently other “modern” styles of architecture to Canada has been recognized, it becomes easier to understand why the architectural structures of pre-Conquest Lower Canada were either disparaged, regarded as quaint, or passed over without comment by most British residents and visitors. Contemplating Quebec’s dismal record of fire prevention and control25 in Quebec, the unfinished and, until recently, unpublished long poem that he wrote sometime after returning to England in 1806, Robe accuses the city’s builders and planners of “Dim-sighted prejudice” and a failure to heed “th’ experience of successive years” in continuing to repair “old houses,” to construct faulty “chimney flues,”and to “tolerate” streets “encumber’d all summer long” (1:93-106). (Robe knew whereof he spoke: the combination of poor chimneys and wooden houses had resulted during the previous century in several devastating fires in Montreal and Trois-Rivières as well as Quebec [see Moogk 50-56 and Ruddel 225-38].) To S.J. Hollingsworth, who visited Lower Canada briefly in the mid-seventeen eighties, the houses in Quebec were “devoid of that symmetry and convenience which distinguishes the new buildings of London and Edinburgh” (201)26 and to the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who travelled through the Canadas in the summer and fall of 1804, the contrast between the “delicious scenery” surrounding Quebec and “the deformity and oddity of the city” and its “ramparts” invited comparison to “a hog in armour upon a bed of roses” (Letters 1: 79). In his Travels through Canada, and the United States of North America in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808 (1810), the English traveller John Lambert (floruit 1775-1816) mixed his praise of the new buildings of Quebec and Montreal with negative comments on the “old houses” of Lower Canada, which are by turns “very badly painted,” “ponderous masses of stone, erected with very little taste and less judgment,” and – in the rural areas – never more than “what Dr. Johnson distinguishes by the name of huts” (that is, “dwelling[s] with only one floor”) (1:317, 1:516, 1:152). “Montreal improves with great rapidity, and will soon have some very pretty streets,” observed another English traveller, John Howison (1797-1859), in his Sketches of Upper Canada, Domestic, Local, and Characteristic (1821); “[i]ts suburbs and outskirts are embellished by numerous villas, built in the English style” (6). Three years later, in Five Years’ Residence in the Canadas: Including a Tour through Part of the United States of America in 1823 (1824), yet another visitor from England, Edward Allen Talbot (1801-1839) went further to suggest that “the untravelled inhabitants of Montreal would still consider their ancient buildings as models of architecture, had not ... more elegant structures arisen, ‘To shame the meanness of their humble sheds’” (1: 75-76). Architectural structures and a built environment that are now considered a priceless heritage were regarded by progressivists especially as relics of a culture that was both backward and foreign. Wolfe had delivered New France into British hands on the Plains of Abraham, but it would be the task of architects, engineers, and writers, working alongside administrators, churchmen, and educators, to bring “English style” to Canada and thus transform it into a modern and recognizably British North America.

     This attitude also helps to explain the almost complete lack of regret even among conservative residents and visitors at the absence of ancient buildings in Lower Canada. “The Antiquarian here may search in vain / For walls erected in Severus’ reign; / Or lofty tow’rs that their declension show, / Or cities built some thousand years ago,” intoned Mackay; “For arts and antiques visit Eastern ground, / Here, Nature simple and sublime is found” (and, alas, fails lamentably to exert an elevating influence on the province’s inhabitants) (1: 41-48). Perhaps in response to Mackay, Bayley precedes a defence of the moral state of Lower Canada (“What tho’ no brothels here with riot sound, / ... no taverns blaze around,” and so on), by forestalling “Antiquarian” regret: “What tho’ no marble busts, no gothic tow’rs, / No pillars glowing with Corinthian flowers ... Here ... awaken Envy’s pain ...?”

These are not themes that charm the peaceful muse;
More pleas’d the scenes of order’d rest she views;
More pleas’d she roves thro’ yonder cloister’d roof
With youthful science, and instructive proof;
More pleas’d she strays where yonder female band,
In vestal robes around the altar stand!

In a poem composed in the summer of 1802 no less a figure than John Strachan (1778-1867), who was then running a small school in Kingston, Upper Canada, also roundly rejected Mackay’s reasoning and affirmed the importance of knowledge (“science”) and education:

What tho’ no columns, busts, or crumbling fanes
Exalt the pensive soul to classic strains...

*           *           *

Here simple nature nobler thoughts inspires
And views of grandeur banish low desires.
Attend, your country calls. Delay no more
To plant instruction on Ontario’s shore....

*           *           *

At Kingston, bards may glow with Milton’s fire,
Or seek a calmer bliss from Dryden’s lyre;
A Bacon, too, may grace some future age,
Or Newton reading nature’s inmost page.
Hail mighty Science! Hail the fruitful cause
Of Commerce, order, liberty, and laws....


The similarity between Strachan’s and Bayley’s lines probably stems from the fact that they were close friends,27 but it also reflects the vision of British North America’s past, present, and future that would shape Canada’s development in the decades prior to Confederation and, indeed, for many years afterwards. Cary may not have known either Bayley or Strachan or their poems but there is a continuity born of committed emplacement, of “fastening ... on to ... [the Canadian] environment” (Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology 311-12), that links them to one another and to their chosen location(s).

     Between the composition of “Verses ... 1802 ... ” and his death in 1867, Strachan would help to “plant instruction” and advance the cause of British “Commerce, order, liberty and laws” in the Canadas through the foundation of several educational institutions, including McGill University (1821), the University of Trinity College (1827), and Upper Canada College (1829). As Archdeacon of York (1829-39), he put in place much of the intellectual and physical architecture of the Church of England in what became Ontario. Even the house that Strachan had built on Front Street West in Toronto in 1818 – a “capacious” residence of “Georgian design” with “extensive and very complete appurtenances,” including a central pediment, columned portico, and symmetrical wings (Scadding, Toronto of Old 26, and see Kalman 1: 155-56) – reflected his commitment to “plant[ing]” British conservative institutions in Canada in order to ensure its orderly progress and prosperity. Few, if any, men or women who have made Canada their home exemplify more fully than Strachan Heidegger’s contention that “[b]uilding ... thinking,” and “[p]oetic creation” are related aspects of “dwelling.” Distasteful as some of his beliefs, actions, creations were to people who did not share his political convictions, he was an extraordinary embodiment of “cultivation and construction” in all the senses of those two words that are pertinent to the present study as it moves forward to examine some of the ways in which various forms of shelter, from log shanties to stone mansions, have figured in Canadian architexts from the late eighteenth century to the present.


These preliminary remarks would not be complete without explicit comment on two important matters of a political and ideological nature that will always lie in the background of the present study and, in places, loom large in its foreground. The first concerns the study’s use of Heidegger, a thinker whom few students of twentieth-century philosophy, politics, and literary and architectural theory can fail to know since the publication of Victor Farias’s Heidegger et la nazism (1987; trans. 1989) remained from the early nineteen thirties to his death in 1976 a member of the National Socialist party. For many writers, this close and apparently unrepentant association with Nazism tarnishes all of Heidegger’s work, not least the pieces in Poetry, Language, Thought (1971) and elsewhere in which, by extolling the close connection to the land of rural architecture and, most (in)famously, “a farmhouse in the Black Forest” (160), he appears to be endorsing the concept of the German homeland (Heimat) (see Wigley 110 and Leach 88-89). The decision to draw here upon Heidegger’s insights into architecture, poetry, and dwelling was made in full knowledge of the so-called “Heidegger controversy” or “scandal,” and in the conviction that, so long as the political implications of such concepts as situatedness and place-creation are kept firmly in view, they offer some of the best available means of coming to grips with the relationships between and among architecture, literature, and their physical, cultural, and, indeed, political contexts.28 The decision to draw upon Heidegger was also made on the grounds that his meditations on building and writing in relation to place are invaluably complementary to the ideas of Merleau-Ponty, and in the belief that there is a crucial distinction to be made between appropriating some of a thinker’s insights and endorsing his or her political programme – that an insight can be a tool without being a synecdoche.29

     The second matter that requires explicit comment concerns the relationship between the architectural and literary creations of Canadians of European origin and the ethos and practices of imperialism as they pertained to colonized peoples. In Deconstructing the Kimbell, Michael Benedikt draws upon Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology and Stanley Tigerman’s The Architecture of Exile to make a point that seems especially pertinent to post-Conquest Quebec:

... architecture began/begins not with the construction of a shelter per se, nor the conscious creation of sacred places, but with the transposition and preservation of certain patterns of shelter-making across different and inappropriate contexts – climatic, topographic, cultural – constituting, as Derrida would put it, a primary writing on/of the landscape. In this deep way, architecture is always “against” its context, foreign to where it is, an im-position; a shifted, brought, re-deployed thing, still bearing the traces of exile and encampment. (49-50)

No matter how naturalized English-Canadian works of architecture and literature may be or seem, they are constituted by forms and styles that were “im-pos[ed]” and “re-deployed” in a place other than their place of origin – a place, moreover, already inhabited by earlier arrivals whose modes of shelter and expression were regarded by the relative newcomers as inferior and, therefore, marginalized. Nor was this phenomenon and this attitude confined to the pre-Confederation period, when, as has been seen, architects, engineers, and writers were among those to whom it fell to transform New France and other portions of what was to become Canada into a British domain. “Canada, Eldest Daughter of the Empire, is the Empire’s completest type,” enthused William Douw Lighthall (1857-1954) in the Introduction to his Songs of the Great Dominion (1889): “as the number, the extent and the lavish wealth of her Provinces, each not less than some empire of Europe rises in our minds,” “we sons of her think” that “She is Imperial in herself” (xxi-xxii). Echoes of Lighthall’s analysis can be heard in the rhetoric of western development after the turn of the century and in the rhetoric of northern development after the Second World War, when little more than sentimental lip service was usually paid to the cultures, let alone the material and linguistic creations, of Canada’s Native peoples. Because its focus is primarily on the relationship between the architecture and the literature of English Canada, the present study touches only occasionally on the effects of British and Canadian imperialisms on the Native peoples and the Quebeçois. This should not be regarded as evidence of either ignorance or indifference, however, but, rather, as an acknowledgment of the existence of a field of study that lies largely outside the author’s sphere of competence.

A Note on Citations and Dates

To reduce parenthetical clutter and to identify as precisely as possible the sources of quotations, page references have been given in roman type and line references for poems in italics. Thus “Van Brunt 526” refers to the page of Henry Van Brunt’s “Architecture among the Poets” from which the given quotation is taken and “Abram’s Plains 1” refers to the first line of Thomas Cary’s poem.

     To assist the reader in establishing the temporal context of works of architecture and literature, the dates of construction are given in parentheses for the former and the dates of publication in a book by their author for the latter (except when first publication in a newspaper of periodical is especially significant). In the case of William Robe’s Market, for example, “1806-07” indicates that it was built during those years, and in the case of Archibald Lampman’s “Heat” 1888 indicates that it was first published in a volume by Lampman in that year. A “w.” before the date given for a literary work indicates that its date of composition can be reliably attributed to that date.


  1. Northrop Frye, “Conclusion” 826. [back]
  2. The relevant literature is vast and often extremely technical, but a sense of the findings and theorizings upon which the above statement is based can be gleaned from Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: the Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, Mark Turner, The Literary Mind, Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, and George Lakoff and Mark Turner, More than Cool Reason: a Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Other theorists and practitioners in the cognitive sciences whose work on the psychological and linguistic ramifications of bodily orientation and visual perception have helped to shape this component of the present study are Mary Thomas Crane, Shaun Gallagher, Tony Jackson, Alan Richardson, and Ellen Spolsky. [back]
  3. A topographical poem is one in which (to quote Samuel Johnson’s famous definition of “local poetry”) “the fundamental subject is some particular landscape … poetically described, with the addition of such embellishments as may be supplied by historical retrospection and incidental meditation” (77). In addition to these three elements, topographical poems are characterized by a “controlling moral vision” and an “attempt to project … stability into the future” (Foster 403, 402, and see my Mimic Fires: Accounts of Early Long Poems on Canada 26). [back]
  4. In Place and Politics: the Geographical Mediation of State and Society, the cultural geographer John Agnew suggests three qualities through which the phenomenon of place relates to politics, all of which are as pertinent to Canadian literature and architecture: (1) “location” (the “objective” physical structures that constitute a given place); (2) “locale” (“the settings in which social relations are constituted in it); and (3) “sense of place” (the subjective experience of it) (28). Agnew defines “place” itself as a “geographical area encompassing the settings for social interaction as defined by social and economic processes,” a category in which he includes political, corporate, and similar activities. [back]
  5. Since Cary relied heavily on Jonathan Carver’s Travels for his information about Upper Canada (see the Explanatory Notes in my edition of Abram’s Plains) it is also likely that he based his spatial sense of the Great Lakes as “mighty urns” (19) on Carver’s controversial map of the area of his travels. [back]
  6. See my Mimic Fires 30-31, 60-63, 81-82, 101-03, and 242-45 and Mnemographia Canadensis: Essays on Memory, Community, and Environment in Canada 1: 77-92 for discussions of the perception, depiction, and description of Niagara Falls and other natural and man-made phenomena through the eighteenth-century aesthetic of the sublime and its nineteenth-century continuations. [back]
  7. See Mimic Fires 31-35, 44-47, and elsewhere and Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 53-57, 64, 134-44 and elsewhere for discussions of the presence and ramifications of the four stages theory in Canadian literature and culture. [back]
  8. The homology between poetic and physical construction extends to the application of the mathematical and geometrical terminology of “measure” and “numbers” to rhythm and metre in eighteenth-century and earlier literary discourse and to the frequently remarked “‘frame’ effect” of metre (I.A. Richards 145, and see Mimic Fires 19, 30, and elsewhere). In his Preface to Abram’s Plains, Cary remarks on the “beauties” of James Thomson’s “numbers” and the mere “correctness of numbers” that characterizes much rhymed poetry (1-2). [back]
  9. For discussions of the picturesque aesthetic and its presence in early Canadian poetry, see Mimic Fires 34-35, 47-48, 115-16, and elsewhere and Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 77-92. [back]
  10. See especially Cary’s endorsement of “life’s happy middle scene ... Beneath the blaze of mad ambition’s fire, / Yet above want, where all our joys expire (570-79). [back]
  11. See Williams’ The Country and the City 73-81 and elsewhere. [back]
  12. Cary’s description of road-side shrines may be indebted to Peter (Pieter) Kalm’s Travels Into North America 398: “[t]hese crosses ... are very much adorned, and they put up about them all the instruments which they think the Jews employed in crucifying our Saviour, such as a hammer, tongs, nails, a flask of vinegar, and perhaps many more than were really made use of. A figure of the cock, which crowed when St. Peter denied our Lord, is commonly put at the top of the cross.” See also Thomas Anburey, Travels through the Interior Parts of America (1789) 1: 101-03. [back]
  13. Both “burnish’d” and “blanchant” are attempts to register the fact that during the late eighteenth century white-wash (lait de chaux) was much used on the exterior of stone as well as wood houses in Quebec. See Kalm 1: 397, Peter N. Moogk, Building a House in New France 43 and Anburey, Travels 1:69. [back]
  14. See Dangerous Voyage 77-78 and the Explanatory Notes to Quebec Hill 1: 317-24 in the Canadian Poetry Press edition of the poem. In his chapter on “Ice and Light” in Arctic Dreams 204-51, Barry Lopez provides a fascinating discussion of tricks and changes of perception in northern latitudes. [back]
  15. Merleau-Ponty’s remarks here and in the ensuing paragraphs are drawn from his analysis of experiments and philosophical discussions relating to the way in which humans orient themselves in the world and respond to disorienting perceptual fields. “Queer” and elsewhere “bizarre” are Collin Smith’s translations of Merleau-Pontys “étrange” and “geared onto” and ”to” ”the world” are translations of ”est en prise sur le monde,” ”prise mon corps sur le monde,” and “cette prise due sujet sur son monde” that bring with them echoes of ”engrenage” (geared-into) and ”éngrené” (meshed) (see Phenomenology 289-311). [back]
  16. See Dangerous Voyage 72-73 and the Explanatory Notes to Quebec Hill 2: 127-32 in the Canadian Poetry Press edition of the poem. In “Evelyn, B.C., 1949,” the British Columbia poet Harold Rhenish (1958- ) envisages his mother as having been more startled in her girlhood by the sound of a “birch tree / … explod[ing] … / with the cold” during the night than by “inch”- thick “frost / on the newspaper / of the walls” of the log cabin in which she slept (13-14). [back]
  17. The presence of numerous descriptions of heightened psychophysical experiences such as vertigo in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writing about Canada (for other examples, see Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 125-39, 141-42) suggest that such experiences were used by writers to represent the country as a place where unusual and, in some instances, novel and even unique experiences were unfolding, bringing with them a new sense of the individual’s relationship with the world. It is notable that when he describes the view from above of Quebec’s Lower Town and port in American Notes for General Circulation (1842), Charles Dickens uses a series of similes whose effect is to domesticate and prettify the results of optical minification: the riggings of ships are “like spiders’ webs,” the “casks and barrels on their decks” are like “toys,” and the “busy marines” are like “so many puppets” (2:202-03). [back]
  18. “A ridge of high ground dividing two valleys or tracts of lower country; a ‘divide’” (OED) . [back]
  19. In his Travels through Canada, and the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808 (1816), John Lambert describes the mansion as “[a] large handsome stone building ... at the foot of the mountain, in a very conspicuous situation,” adding that “[g]ardens and orchards have been laid out, and considerable improvements made, which add much to the beauty of the spot” (2:68, and see above and Chapter 15: Literature, Architecture, Community for “handsome” as a term of approbation for Georgian buildings). He also records that MacTavish was “buried in a tomb a short distance from his house on the side of the mountain, in the midst of a thick shrubbery” and that a “monumental pillar is erected over the vault, and may be seen a long way off.” In Sketches of Lower Canada, Historical and Descriptive (1817), Joseph Sansom describes MacTavish’s house as “large ..., with wings, of hewn stone” (195) and in The British Dominions in North America (1831), Joseph Bouchette described it as being “in a style of much elegance,” adding that had its owner lived “to superintend the completion” of the “improvements” to his property that he had planned “the place would have been made an ornament to the island” (1: 232). [back]
  20. In view of the accomodative aspect of these courthouses, it is notable that Lambert describes the one in Montreal as “spacious” as well as “neat ..., and an ornament to the town” (1:521). [back]
  21. In “Early Courthouses of Quebec,” André Giroux observes that “Lieutenant William Hall drew up the plans for the court house in Quebec City” because “[a]t the time ... professional architects were scarce” and “military engineers ... received some training in architecture” (78). He considers it likely that the Montreal Courthouse was also designed by a military engineer. [back]
  22. See Moogk 50-56 and David T. Ruddel 225-38. [back]
  23. The original Christ Church Cathedral on Notre Dame Street West was destroyed by fire in 1856. This image depicts the later Cathedral, erected in 1856-9 to replace its predecessor, which Lambert describes as “a large substantial stone-building, built with little taste” (1:520). [back]
  24. Lambert’s observation that the Union Hotel was “built by a subscription raised among the principal merchants and inhabitants of Quebec” (1:24) helps to explain Spark’s reference to “public spirit.” [back]
  25. In Three Centuries of Architecture in Quebec, John Bland quotes a statement by Robe that indicates the way in which imitation was combined with modification in the design and construction of the Cathedral: “The general dimensions … were taken from St. Martin-in-the-Fields but the state of materials and workmanship in Canada made a plain design necessary. The east and west ends are ornamented with pilasters of the Ionic [order] according to Palladio and supporting a modillion cornice and pediment but without a frieze; this idea was taken from the Pantheon in Rome” (qtd. 83). [back]
  26. Elizabeth Simcoe describes the inn in Quebec City’s Upper Town at which she and her husband, John Graves Simcoe, stayed in the mid-eighteen nineties as “old-fashioned” and “resembl[ing] [her] idea of a Flemish house” (38). She regarded the streets of Lower Town as “narrow and gloomy” and the Upper Town as “more airy and pleasant though the houses in general are less” (48). [back]
  27. See my Introduction to Canada xlii-xliii for the evidence that Bayley and Strachan knew one another. Either independently or after discussion, both men may have been responding to Kalm’s lengthy analysis of the origins and culture of the North American Indians: “[t]he Europeans have never been able to find any characters, much less writings, or books, among the Indians, who have inhabited North-America since time immemorial, and seem to be all of one nation, and speak the same language. These Indians have therefore lived in the greatest ignorance and darkness, during some centuries, and are totally unacquainted with the state of their country before the arrival of the Europeans, and all their knowledge of it consists in vague traditions, and mere fables.... The Indians have ever been as ignorant of architecture and manual labour as of science and writing. In vain does one seek for well built towns and houses, artificial fortifications, high towers and pillars and such like, among them, which the old world can shew, from the most ancient times. Their dwelling-places are wretched huts of bark, exposed on all sides to wind, and rain. All their masonry-work consists in placing a few grey rock-stones on the ground, round their fire-place, to prevent the firebrands from spreading too far in their hut, or rather to mark out the space intended for the fire-place in it. Travellers do not enjoy a tenth part of the pleasure in traversing these countries, which they must receive from their journies through our old countries, where they, almost every day, meet with some vestige or other of antiquity: now an antient celebrated town presents itself to view; here the remains of an old castle; there a field where, many centuries ago, the most powerful, and the most skilful generals, and the greatest kings fought a bloody battle; now the native spot and residence of some great or learned man. In such places the mind is delighted in various ways, and represents all past occurrences in living colours to itself. We can enjoy none of these pleasures in America. The history of the country can be traced no further, than from the arrival of the Europeans; for every thing that happened before that period, is more like a fiction or a dream, than anything that really happened. In later times there have, however, been found a few marks of antiquity, from which it may be conjectured, that North-America was formerly inhabited by a nation more versed in science, and more civilized, than that which the Europeans found on their arrival here; or that a great military expedition was undertaken to this continent, from these known parts of the world” (418-19, and see also 419-22). As will have been observed, Mackay’s remarks on the absence of sights of materials of antiquarian interest in Lower Canada is little more than a verse rendition of portions of this passage. For a later (and post-Romantic) view of the absence of ancient buildings and ruins in North America, see Lucubrations of Humphrey Ravelin, Esq. where, after observing that “not a vestige of antiquity … no gigantic structure of infant religion” or the like is to be seen in the landscape, the author remarks that “all is fresh,… new,… redolent” and, “to the eye of romance,… coarsely material, flat, tame, and uninteresting,” adding that “[t]he existence of the Indian tribes is become to Americans what the shattered column, the broken arch, and the falling cloister are to the old world” (323-24). Lucubrations of Humphrey Ravelin, Esq. (1823) has been attributed to George Proctor (circa 1775-1842), but it may well be by the Quebec-born and raised poet and engineer George Longmore (1793-1842), whose work is briefly discussed in Chapter 8: Viewing Platforms. [back]
  28. Genius Loci: towards a Phenomenology of Architecture by Christian Norberg-Schulz was first published (in Italian) several years before the Heidegger scandal broke and remains the most extended application of the ideas of Poetry, Language, Thought and, to a lesser extent, Being and Time (1926; trans. 1962), to architecture. Norberg-Schulz’s Preface and first chapter (“Place?”) contain succinct and valuable discussions of the key ideas, especially the concept of dwelling, in Heidegger’s later essays. See also Norberg-Schulz’s earlier Existence, Space and Architecture and his subsequent The Concept of Dwelling: on the Way to Figurative Architecture. [back]
  29. A different but related matter is the retroactive designation of certain architectural and artistic styles as Nazi or Fascist because they were favored by totalitarian leaders and regimes, a conspicuous case in point being neoclassicism. In 1946, the philosopher and erstwhile architect Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) reportedly identified Canada House (1829), the neoclassical building in Trafalgar Square that the Canadian government purchased in 1923, with the “bombast” of Hitler and Mussolini, adding that it “showed that they were one in spirit with us” (that is, the British) (qtd. in Britton 47). The fact that “the forms of neo-classicism only too readily embodied the mythology ... of Nazism ... [and] Communism” can be grounds for discomfort (St John Wilson 63), but this should not make every use of them suspect. There is a real distinction to be made between the unintended and unpredictable subsequent associations of a form or style and, for example, the “fasces ... [that] join maple leaves and flowers” on the Drummond Medical Building (1929) in Montreal and, in Sandra Cohen-Rose’s words, “reflect the political climate of Quebec” at the time when there was much sympathy in certain quarters of the province for Fascism and even Nazism (13). [back]


Works Cited