Reviews / Comptes rendus - Leslie Maitland, The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Leslie Maitland, The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture

Annmarie Adams
McGill University
Maitland, Leslie. The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture. Ottawa: Minister of the Environment 1990. 303 pp., 136 ills. Paper $19.95, ISBN 0-660-13599-X. (Disponible enfrançaissous le titre Le style néo-Queen Anne dans l'architecture au Canada. Paper $19.95, ISBN 0-660-92969-4.)

1 In 1876, a paper on the Queen Anne style of architecture was read to a group of British architects. As the lecturer finished, according to decorators Agnes and Rhoda Garrett, an irate professor asked the speaker where one might find examples of the so-called style, "with a sneer in the pronunciation of the last word which it is not possible to express by any form of print." Toronto, Charlottetown, or Kamloops might have satisfied the professor's curiosity, according to Leslie Maitland's The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture, although he probably expected directions to Chelsea or South Kensington.

2 The professor's hesitation to call Queen Anne buildings a style was typical of the period; architects practicing in that mode often found themselves under fierce attack from their colleagues. As Maitland notes, the buildings had little to do with Queen Anne, the seventeenth-century British monarch. Rather, the architects of the large brick houses of the late nineteenth century — with crisp white window frames, turrets, porches, and rambling, open plans — actually combined aspects of many other styles, particularly motifs from the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movements. It was this absence of stylistic "purity" to which the professor, and many others, objected.

3 Maitland's The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture is a significant contribution to the scholarship on this international movement. Although there are relatively few studies of Queen Anne buildings, the two major works are both deservedly classics in the field of architectural history. Mark Girouard's Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement 1860-1900 (1977) and The Shingle Style and the Stick Style (1955; revised ed., 1971) by Vincent Scully were both, at the time of their publication, innovative interpretations of Queen Anne architecture in England and the United States respectively. Both scholars included brief chapters on buildings in the other's country; neither author mentions the pervasiveness of the style in Canada.

4 Both the strength and the weakness of Maitland's book are in its breadth. Like other publications on architecture produced by the Architectural History Division (formerly the Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings) of the Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada, the mandate of the book is the documentation of an architectural style across the entire country. As a result, the bulk of the book comprises 136 black and white illustrations with brief descriptions of buildings roughly related by style. The advantage, obviously, is that the book includes buildings from coast to coast. The unfortunate result is that the analysis is limited to brief descriptions of the buildings.

5 The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture begins with concise essays on the development of the style in England and the United States, followed by an introduction to the Canadian version of Queen Anne. The English and American sections are drawn largely from Girouard and Scully, contributing relatively little to a new understanding of the style; they serve, however, to set the social and historical contexts for the Canadian analysis. While this Canadian section includes several new ideas and poses valid questions for analysis, it is far too cursory.

6 Based on a thorough reading of two popular architectural journals, Construction and Canadian Architect and Builder, Maitland perceptively notes how the Queen Anne style was adapted to Canada. Regional characteristics were expressed in the use of different materials and the Canadian plan was more compact, making the buildings easier to heat in winter. Because Canadian families employed fewer domestic servants, architects eliminated the extensive servants' wings commonly found in English Queen Anne houses. In a two-page section on the cultural meanings of the style in Canada, Maitland alludes, tantalizingly, to the imperialistic overtones of Queen Anne architecture, noting that "traditional, indigenous differences in architecture from one Dominion or colony to another [were] underplayed, in favour of an imperial image." Such questions will hopefully lead to more cross-cultural studies of this international style.

7 Maitland's commentary on Queen Anne buildings in Canada is ordered by building type; the section on domestic architecture — houses were, by far, the style's most common manifestation — is subdivided by region, followed by essays on apartment, recreational, institutional, and commercial buildings. These essays, although clearly written, bear the enormous responsibility of commentary on the subsequent photos; at times they read like lists rather than thematic essays.

8 The field of architectural history has gone through enormous changes in the last 20 years; before the revolutionary work of the 1970s (pioneered by historians like Girouard), architectural historians most often explained buildings in terms of style, as a succession of observable patterns in the way things looked, following the sequence established by art history. Since then, buildings have been seen by most historians as enterprises very different than paintings and sculpture, with complex relationships to economics, class, and social structures. As a result, most architectural historians are far less dependent on the facades of buildings, but rather analyse the contexts and plans of buildings for keys to their social significance. While the decision in 1990 to base a book on an isolated style is old-fashioned, in this sense, it is much harder to understand why the photographs show only the buildings' front elevations. The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture documents 116 Canadian buildings. Only one floor plan appears in the whole book and very few of the photos show the buildings' contexts.

9 Similarly, the section on interiors includes photographs of architectural details — fireplaces and stairways — rather than documenting the novel spatial relationships between rooms realized in these houses. Significant connections to class, the history of family life, and the position of women in these houses have thus been neglected by the focus of die illustrations on the front elevations of buildings.

10 The battle over whether Queen Anne buildings actually constituted a style, as recounted in the beginning of this review, is long over; hopefully the publication of The Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture will inspire others to look beyond style and national boundaries in an interpretation of nineteenth-century architecture.