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House Page 12

Great Canadian Houses

Oland House (Richardsonian-Romanesque) - Halifax, NS - 1890

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Oland Mansion, Halifax, Nova Scotia - 1890-1891
Orig. Richardsonian-Romanesque
Found - Halifax, NS
A fabulous Canadian example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture is the Oland Mansion in Halifax, Nova Scotia, built in 1890-91, for the Nova Scotia family that founded the famous Oland Brewery, in Dartmouth, in 1867.

Romanesque Architecture - no surprise here - is a revival, in the late 19th century, of the building style that borrowed elements from the early Roman approach to building and flowered between the 9th and 11th centuries in Western and Southern Europe. This was still an age where raping and pillaging was rife, just about everywhere, so strong stone houses - with smallish windows to keep out intruders - were seen as a definite plus if you expected to live to the ripe old age of 40.

Simply put the style featured massive amounts of stone, nicely cut, with great expanses of dressed stone walls with few windows and doors, and minimal decoration. To provide passage through the stonework for doorways the rounded arch was a key architectural element, necessary to support the weight from above.




















 

Basics: Revivals in building style are usually the brainchild of some amateur or professional architect who says to a wealthy client, "Marla, Why don't you show up all your rich friends in Rockcliffe by building something completely different, like maybe a yurt! You know, it'll go wonderfully with those constumes you always wear!"







Richardsonian-Romanesque was the kind of Romanesque style made popular among the wealthy classes of Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1870s, by local architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who also promoted the Stick and the Shingle wood style of architecture for houses. (No use reducing your options by alienating a potential customer just because he hated stone houses.)

Richardson's huge masonry houses captured the grandeur of Roman architecture and appealed to the rich and the super rich because they felt like medieval emperors in their massive mansions. To make the Romanesque look less like a fortress, Richardson refined the style by adding elements from medieval French architecture - he had studied in Paris as a young man - such as towers, and roof, and corner and eave embellishments.

The result was a masonry pile that looked somewhat like a French Chateau - with its rounded towers and steeply hipped roof - but also made it clear, to all that passed here, that no French dandy in silks lived here, but a powerful person of some weight. Like one who could afford to set up a mistress in Paris, London, or New York, so that whenever he travelled, for business n'est ce pas, he could enjoy the comforts of home, abroad. No wonder people envied these homes. They bespoke a quality of life the common Joe could only dream about... (Though in true East Coast Canadian style, if Oland had a mistress the most exotic locale for her would have been across the harbour, in Dartmouth...)

To pick up the facade a bit - often minimally ornamented in Romanesque - decorative stone carving was added under the window sill and on top of the Greek columns.

Rounded towers were all the rage, at the time, in the Queen Anne style of architecture, which was blossoming everywhere in Canadian towns and cities.

But Queen Anne towers could not legitimately sport the glorious gargoyles so common in medieval architecture, to serve as rain spouts.They are only decoration here but they also gave wealthy men, who chose Richardsonian-Romanesque, a chance for revenge. For gargoyle faces they often supplied the architects with pictures of their first and second wives... Or their New York mistress who sent them home with a present...

The Olands have moved out to more sensible housing. As is often the case with these energy gobbling monster homes, a rich developer - you know, the kind who builds your house with fibre board and two by fours on 24 inch centres - with lots of cheap labour available, and money to burn, has decided to move in and is renovating.

Richardsonian-Romanesque - Amherst, NS - 1903

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Another fabulous Canadian example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture built out of local red sandstone in Amherst, Nova Scotia. The massive arched doorway is distinctive of the style, as are the small windows dwarfed by the surrounding mass of masonry.
Richardsonian-Romanesque, Amherst, NS - 1903
Orig. Richardsonian-Romanesque
Found - Amherst, NS

Mansion Anyone?

Who could ever afford to buy such a house?

Actually you can... if you chose to retire or live in a town that progress has passed by, like Amherst, Nova Scotia.

The money-making industries that created the fortunes that built the massive heritage houses in Amherst, are long gone, and have been replaced with very little. So most people with drive have moved down the road to Truro, which is a hopping place. You know, where the Stanfields come from... the underwear manufacturers. They provided the underwear for the people who built Canada. Good thing they made their fortune early. Their business would hardly prosper today, what with Britany and Paris clones all over the place...

But the great mansions remain, and can be picked up for relatively little money, far, far less than buying a similar property in Toronto, or Halifax. Let alone in Vancouver where two by four rat traps with flimsy home renno walls and floors sell routinely for over a million...

Many have been subdivided into rooming houses with 8 or 10 apartments. Others belong to single owners who, either take in boarders - legal and illegal - or close down whole sections or suites of rooms to cut down heating costs.

What single family would want to pay the heating bills for what is really a vast housing complex built before insulation was made a key construction ingredient?

Romanesque (4th-11th Centuries)
(Western & Southern Europe)

Massive fortresslike dressed stone walls.

Few and smallish windows and doors; dark interiors.

Little decoration.

Richardsonian-Romanesque (1870-1895)

Ascribed to Henry Hobson Richardson, American (1838-1886) who, early, studied and worked in Paris, France, later, set up shop in Boston, Mass.

Main features: massive stone walls, dramatic semi-circular arches.

Style modifications based on French and Spanish Romanesque precedents of the 11th century.

Steep, hipped, French chateau roofs, requiring very tall chimneys to clear the peaks, necessary to get a proper draught for the furnace down below.

(This same adaptation was made to funnels on steam ships, which were very short initially - in the 1850s and 60s - surrounded by interfering deck housings and ventilators, resulting in poor engine efficiency. Most had their funnels elongated.above the obstructions, and new liners like the Oceanic 1899, below, and Lusitania 1906, and Titanic 1910, had those distinctive extra tall chimneys for the same reason.)

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House Page 12

Great Canadian Houses

Oland House (Richardsonian-Romanesque) - Halifax, NS - 1890

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Oland Mansion, Halifax, Nova Scotia - 1890-1891
Orig. Richardsonian-Romanesque
Found - Halifax, NS
A fabulous Canadian example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture is the Oland Mansion in Halifax, Nova Scotia, built in 1890-91, for the Nova Scotia family that founded the famous Oland Brewery, in Dartmouth, in 1867.