19th Century Earthen Architecture of South-Central Ontario

“Fundamentally associated with North America’s arid climate regions, such as those of the Southwestern United States and of Mexico, earthen building materials do not come readily to mind when considering the continent’s humid northern regions, like that of the Great Lakes. Yet, over one dozen earthen buildings dating from the early to mid-nineteenth century, and including examples in both mud brick and shuttered earth, are today dotted across the rapidly urbanizing region of South-central Ontario.

Such structures once numbered over 200 in the region in and around Toronto, Canada. These standing earthen structures are the remarkable remnants of a once a thriving construction phenomenon spanning the first half of the 19th century, from approximately 1810-1860.”

This study was done as an independent research project, my first. As my McGill master’s had been practice-oriented, I had not even the experience of a thesis. This more than made up for that, but without an academic institution, I was alone and needed support. I found it, ironically, through a grant from a UK group, the VAG. So at the time, I was a US citizen living and working in French Canada, travelling by overnight Megabus on long weekends to track down a forgotten architectural phenomenon in English Canada, with bus money from vernacular building enthusiasts in the United Kingdom. Yes, my inquiry felt quite obscure at times, especially as I hit walls that were not the earthen ones I was looking for. What proved more important than the funds was that the VAG’s grant bolstered my morale by assuring me someone, somewhere, had interest in what I was doing.  They also put me in touch with the perfect mentor, Richard Pieper, an NYC architect and Columbia prof, who had uncovered a similar phenomenon in Upstate NY in the 1990s.

I presented the results of my study at the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s Conference, Chicago, 2015; the Earth USA Conference, Santa Fe, 2015 (occurring every two years, this is the largest conference on earthen buildings in North America); and came full circle in 2016 to present at the Vernacular Architecture Group’s Conference in Leicester, UK.

It is still my dream to publish the study in the VAG’s renown journal, Vernacular Architecture. They wanted additional research which I didn’t have time for in 2016 as I was consumed with taking the AREs. Now that I’m a licensed architect, I can read other things besides study materials and aim to get back to it. The journal recently informed me of their continued interested in publishing my work for 2018, which means the rewrite is due next April. Wow, 2018-what a long haul its been. But then I think, yikes-April! I’ve got to get re-started.