Edward Maxwell was born in Montreal on 31 December 1867, the first son of
Edward John Maxwell, a successful lumber merchant, and Johan MacBean.
He attended the Montreal High School until the age of fourteen when, with a
minimum general education, he began training in the office of Alexander
Francis Dunlop (1843-1923), a prominent Montreal architect who had been one
of the original twenty-eight architects appointed as Associates of the Royal
Canadian Academy by Lord Lorne in 1880. Later Dunlop would be one of the
organizers of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects and a
founding member and first president of the Royal Architectural Institute of
Canada. His concern for architectural education is believed to have led him
to urge Sir William Macdonald to set up the School of Architecture at
McGill, where he is remembered by the A.F. Dunlop Travelling Scholarships.
His best known works, all in Montreal, are the St. James Methodist Church, a
classified monument, although its façade has been almost totally obscured by
later shops; the Hugh Graham house, now part of Maison Alcan; and the
Commercial and Technical High School, now part of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
Dunlop was familiar with the United States. As a boy he had attended
Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and prior to beginning his
practice in Montreal in 1874, he had had some professional experience in
Detroit. Perhaps it was upon Dunlop's suggestion that Edward Maxwell proceeded to Boston about 1886,
presumably into the office of the late H.H. Richardson (1838-86). The Boston City Directory first lists Edward Maxwell as a "draughtsman" in the Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge office at 13 Exchange Place in 1888, while office records indicate his presence when the initials EM appear on drawing lists in 1890.
Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge had been Richardson's chief assistants at the time of his death and had formed a partnership to complete the unfinished projects, which included the Allegheny County Court House, Marshall Field Wholesale Store, Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce Building, the Howard Library, and the J.J. Glessner and B.H. Warder houses.
George Foster Shepley (1860-1903), a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (1882), had worked with Richardson until his death.
Married to Julia Richardson, he was a key figure in forming the partnership
which continued the practice. Charles Hercules Rutan (1851-1914) had been
in Richardson's office since 1869, after 1880 as a chief designer and in
1886 as a partner of Shepley. Charles Allerton Coolidge (1858-1936) was
also a graduate of MIT (1883), when he became an assistant in Richardson's
office, three years prior to becoming a partner in the new firm.
During the time Maxwell was in the office he would have seen the completion
of Richardson's last buildings and the beginning of the new partnership's
own work: the campus plan and first buildings at Leland Stanford
University, the Ames Building and Chamber of Commerce in Boston, and the
Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. One of Edward Maxwell's
scrapbooks given to McGill by his widow contains souvenirs of this time.
Among these are sketch details of the Marshall Field Store, Albany City
Hall, Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce Building, Allegheny Court House, the
Howard Library, and the Warder house. There are sketches of stone capitals,
furniture, and meticulous studies of iron light fixtures and grilles. One
page carries a broad pen and ink signature of H.H. Richardson and a red wax
impression of a seal bearing a cipher composed of HHR.
All of these items serve to show the appreciation of the young Canadian for the work of the man now regarded as one of the greatest of American architects. While most of the other plans and sketches in the scrapbook appear to be from the work of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, there are also some routine studies of the composition of classical buildings and a few rough sketches of Beaux-Arts
prize designs - likely exercises undertaken at the Boston Architectural Club
where, after 1889, Maxwell supplemented his office training with a little
theoretical knowledge of architecture.
The scrapbook and his later work show him to have been a romantic by nature, but aware of the classicism then emerging in American architecture - although without any evident intellectual commitment to it.
Enthusiasm for American architecture was an overwhelming factor in Canada following the post-Civil War prosperity in the United States, a preference shown in new buildings everywhere. Moreover, convenient railway service made it easy for travellers from Canada to see the wonders of Boston, Chicago, and New York and equally easy for American architects to undertake jobs in Montreal and Toronto. The celebrated New York architect Bruce Price was so often in Montreal he is reported to have earned the status of permanent visiting member of the St. James Club.
Prestigious commissions like the Legislative Buildings of Ontario and the Toronto Board of Trade Building had been given to American offices, then widely accepted as uniquely possessing the expertise required. Architects in Ontario and Quebec, alarmed by these events, sought to organize themselves into legally
recognized professions that for public protection and their own interests
could control the right to practise in their areas. The matter was brought
to a crisis in Quebec in 1890 when the president and secretary of the
Montreal Board of Trade, having toured the United States to examine various
Board of Trade Buildings, returned with the opinion that none but American
architects could do the job required. Five American firms would be asked to
participate in a competition, where they would be offered an honorarium to
cover the expenses. Richard Morris Hunt, the dean of American architects,
would be asked to serve as judge. By the time the competition was publicly
announced it had been decided to open it to Canadians but without honoraria.
Enraged, local architects discussed the situation at the meeting when the
Province of Quebec Association of Architects was formed.
The Association's first official act was to request that a Canadian architect be invited to assist Hunt as a judge and that an equal number of Canadian architects be invited to submit schemes under the same conditions offered the Americans. The Board of Trade refused, and the local architects agreed jointly not to compete. Eventually the scheme submitted by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge was selected and Edward Maxwell was named to supervise the erection of the
He thereupon applied for membership in the new association of architects and was accepted in 1891. His new position gave him great publicity. Here was a native Montrealer with the desired American expertise, legally qualified to practise, in charge of building the centrepiece of Montreal commerce. Businessmen and industrialists were intrigued by the skill and availability of this pleasant young man, and a variety of commissions were given him even before the Board of Trade Building was completed.
While his American employers grumbled, Maxwell pointed out that the work of supervision was not being neglected and offered to resign should they be displeased. He was not replaced. When the building was completed he opened an office in the new structure and began to produce work that inevitably resembled that of his former employers. The store Edward Maxwell designed for Henry Birks and Sons on St. Catherine Street in Montreal, using imported stone with Bramante-like compositional rhythms and featuring a rich but economical cornice and a splendid arched entrance, could be taken for a Boston design. Opened or closed, the gate-like iron-studded doors call attention to the treasures within and after nearly a hundred years of exposure still impress the passing crowd. An office building and exchange facility for the Bell Telephone Company of
Canada on Notre Dame Street in Montreal again showed planning skill and
ornamental features learned in Boston,
which also appeared in a building further west on the same street that he designed for the Merchants Bank of Halifax.
While not an important commission among Montreal banks, it was a good beginning as the Halifax bank was soon to emerge as the Royal Bank of Canada. No building shows more clearly what Edward Maxwell had absorbed from Richardson's work than his addition to Windsor Station in Montreal. Originally designed by Bruce Price in the popular Richardsonian manner, Maxwell extended the structure westward along Lagauchetière Street with confidence and style. The idea of repeating the front of Price's original building as a terminal pavilion for a great new façade was a brilliant concept which lost nothing in its development. The whole centre part at ground level was treated as a broad carriage entrance protected by a projecting arcade of five huge low arches. The entrance wall behind and
above the porch was the link between the pavilions and was composed of
eleven bays arcaded in the manner of the original building and later capped
by five gables, which effectively preserved the rhythmic pattern of one over
three by being five over eleven. Maxwell's first major domestic commission in Montreal was a house for Vincent Meredith, general manager and subsequently president and chairman of the Bank of Montreal.
It began when he was supervising the Board of Trade Building. A diary entry for 7 January 1892 notes that Mr. and Mrs. Meredith called about a house. It materialized as a Queen Anne design in red brick with a strong feeling for materials and the crafts. Nothing quite like it had been seen in Montreal. Moreover, the house had an unusual site facing north well below street level yet with a spectacular exposure to sun and view at the rear. He handled these circumstances skilfully and with the help of the younger Olmsted, a familiar collaborator in the office of his former employers, produced a setting of extraordinary naturalness.
In addition to fine shops, offices, and houses, Edward Maxwell's commissions
included factories and warehouses that were handled with dignity, good
materials, and tidy workmanship. There were also churches designed on
simple principles of order, proportion, and truthful expression. The Knox
Church in Montreal had a well-shaped octagonal auditorium placed between a
spacious vestibule and paired stairways at the front and a balancing office
area and single stairway behind. The bearing walls of rough stone with
vaguely Gothic details neatly expressed these volumes. The structure of the
big roof covering the octagon consisted of two pairs of trusses that formed
a square at their intersection to carry a lantern high above the eight
simple roof planes of the octagon. It was a forthright solution unhindered
by stylistic pretensions and could well have been inspired by something he
had seen, for Edward Maxwell was more architect-performer than architect-inventor. His skill lay in clever and appropriate adaptations. Knox Church
has been demolished, but Melville Presbyterian Church in Westmount remains.
Although not a large building, it has a conspicuous, well-proportioned tower
with a good silhouette and pointed openings. It is quite uncontrived and
appears to be just right in the sensible way it was built by good
bricklayers and carpenters. Maxwell's practice grew in scope to include banks, clubs, railway stations, and hotels from St. John's in Newfoundland to Vancouver, British Columbia. At the end of the nineteenth century many Montreal business and financial institutions were expanding and commissioning buildings for their operations across the country - none more than the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.). Stations in cities along the route of Canada's first transcontinental railway were required to be conspicuous architectural statements. This was especially true of the one in Vancouver, which signalled the end of the line from Montreal.
Although designed by Edward Colonna, it was carried out by Maxwell and probably suggested the treatment of the later Ottawa Station.
There were also minor stations in the mountains that were strictly stopping
places for restaurants, but sometimes involved small hotels. The railway
through the mountains provided passengers with a continual series of
spectacular views. At various breathtaking places stops were arranged for
travellers so they could pause to enjoy the scenery and to dine plentifully,
permitting the railway to avoid hauling heavy and uneconomical dining cars
in their mountain trains. The architect designed a good many of these
picturesque stations, providing cheerful warmth or screened porches as the
seasons required, to entertain every class of traveller at railway scale. Edward Maxwell's romantic taste suited the work he had so far been given,
but a new building for the London & Lancashire Life Insurance Company on St.
James Street in the midst of Montreal's financial district required a well-behaved, urbane expression.
The building that resulted is Paris-New York in spirit, of undoubted Beaux-Arts sympathy. It begins a new phase in Edward Maxwell's designs that indicates the hand of his brother, William Sutherland Maxwell. In fact, several of the drawings for the London & Lancashire Life Building bear the initials WSM. William periodically worked for his brother prior to joining him as a partner in 1902. Houses for C.R. Hosmer and Henry Birks in Montreal and the Royal Alexandra Hotel and Station in Winnipeg reflect this new character.
One of Edward Maxwell's scrapbooks contains, among other items, a variety of
carefully drawn floor plans of town houses he had designed.
It was a time of breakaway from the standard Montreal row house plan. Improved
transportation permitted residential areas to spread and to be less dense.
Yet in the most desirable residential districts such as the "Square Mile"
where land was scarce, big terrace houses were still being built in addition
to detached houses with relatively narrow frontages. Maxwell explored
several new forms to meet these new conditions and in doing so appears to
have evolved an arrangement of matched houses facing each other that had
many advantages. In the scrapbooks there are plans for standard terrace
houses which are characteristically deep with relatively narrow fronts. The
entrances either share a space on the façade with the windows of the room
flanking it or occupy the space alone, thus necessitating the elimination of
the usual front room on the entrance floor. The H.A. Allan house on Stanley
Street is an example of the first type, whereas the somewhat later Robert
Mitchell house on Sherbrooke Street is an example of the second. Corner
terrace houses featuring entrances on the side street had obvious planning
advantages and are illustrated by the George Cook house and Dr. Elder's
house, both on Sherbrooke Street in Westmount. There are also detached
houses similar to terrace houses with narrow ends facing the street, most of
which have entrances on the front in the conventional manner represented by
a house for James Crathern on McGregor Street (now avenue Docteur Penfield) or for Edward Clouston on Peel Street. The Thomas E. Hodgson house on
Simpson Street was given a main entrance on the side, however, which
resulted in considerable advantages in planning and in a fine appearance.
Big semi-detached houses show similar variations. The King-Lowden houses on
Sherbrooke Street have their entrances on the front, but the McIntyre-Angus
houses on Peel Street have their entrances on the sides. Yet in the
treatment of the side entrances of the small semi-detached houses on Côte
St. Antoine Road designed for Thomas Samuel, one sees the essence of the
problem of departing from convention. In the case of one house, the angle
of the street is such that the neighboring house is sufficiently set back to
permit the side entrance to be prominently visible, whereas in the case of
the other the side entrance is comparatively hidden and a covered porch has
been designed to extend the entrance way to the front of the house so as to
make it obvious. Where space permits a side entrance to be adequately
visible from the street, the planning rewards can be fully enjoyed. This
appears to have led Maxwell to develop paired houses having common forecourts and conspicuous entrances on their broad courtyard sides. He built two pairs of such houses on Peel Street as a speculative venture. Three were sold and he lived in one himself. Not all of Edward Maxwell's town houses were economically conceived as has been suggested here. The C.R. Hosmer house on Drummond Street, the H.V. Meredith and Henry Birks houses on Pine Avenue, and the Percy Cowans house on Ontario Avenue (now avenue du Musée) were spread out on great sites,
although all a good deal more compactly than they would have been on country
sites. Maxwell obviously enjoyed designing country houses which were angled or
curved to correspond to the shape of the ground they occupied or to capture
a fine view or pleasant exposure. Like all country houses they were
characteristically more open than town houses. Often the barrier function
of the urban front door was performed by distant gates, and the house could
be informally entered from a verandah where several rooms had window doors
with the one opening onto the hall scarcely differentiated from the others.
Country houses for T.G. Shaughnessy in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and James
Crathern in Ste. Agathe were of this type. Some of his big houses were more
formal, being fully opened on a garden side but more discretely closed on
the side facing the entrance driveway. Houses for Hartland MacDougall and
E.A. Whitehead in Dorval and for R.B. Angus and L.J. Forget in Senneville
were of this character.
All of Maxwell's country houses have been analysed by France Gagnon-Pratte, the author of L’architecture et la nature à Québec au dix-neuvième siècle: les villas.
Mrs. Pratte has written a book entitled "The Architecture of Edward and W.S. Maxwell: Turn of the Century Country Houses." Her earlier work concerned houses in the region of Quebec City which were more influenced by British than American taste, although in it she observed the beginning of the romantic feeling stemming from the United States that fully dominated the period the Maxwell country houses were designed. Mrs. Pratte found them all to be picturesque, irregular compositions of exceptional charm in the form of manoirs-châteaux, shingle-style seaside houses, or rustic log buildings. All were set in gardens with ample lawns, many with groups of ancillary buildings creating little
separate worlds. Although invariably built as second houses for families
having impressive, but more constrained residences in town, a considerable
number of these country places grew to be principal residences, as high
municipal taxes and environmental changes made grand town houses obsolete.
While most of the country houses preserve a good deal of the spirit in which
they were built, the smaller ones understandably have been the easiest to
maintain and show the fewest changes. Some of the largest ones have been
reduced in size or pulled down altogether, as was the fate of Pine Bluff,
the big R.B. Angus house in Senneville, and Boisbriant, Edward Clouston's
huge house nearby.
Edward Maxwell had two country places of his own. One was a farm house in
Baie d'Urfé located near Senneville where he had designed a great many
buildings for the Angus and Forget families. The farm was called Maxwelton,
and on it Edward developed a prize herd of Jersy cows, which was a great
satisfaction to him. His other country house, Tillietudlem, was a
delightful retreat by the sea at St. Andrews, where the architect had also
designed a great many houses. Some were like his own, while a few were
exceedingly large establishments, such as Covenhaven designed for Sir
William Van Horne and Link's Crest for Sir Thomas Tait.
Some of Edward Maxwell's work was undertaken in association with George
Cutler Shattuck (1864-1923). Certain of the drawings for the Merchants Bank
of Canada, the C.R. Hosmer house in Montreal, L.J. Forget house in
Senneville, and William Van Horne house in St. Andrews carry the name
Maxwell and Shattuck, Architects. Shattuck had been a colleague during the
last three years Maxwell was in Boston. He was graduated from MIT in 1888
and almost immediately joined the new firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge;
where he appears to have been continuously employed, becoming a partner of
Coolidge after the death of Rutan in 1914.
He nevertheless applied for membership in the PQAA 29 July 1899; and a printed card issued by Edward Maxwell, dated 1 August 1899, announced the formation of the partnership of Maxwell and Shattuck.
One of the account books in the CAC is inscribed "Maxwell & Shattuck Architects August 1st 1899." However, Shattuck appears not to have continued his association with Edward Maxwell after 1902 when William joined the firm; and his talent appears to have been chiefly administrative. He was remembered, for example, as a careful supervisor in the Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge draughting room, one who attended to the business routine of the office.
From the start Edward Maxwell's office was a training place for Canadian architects. Early records list the names of forty-one draughtsmen employed
up to 1901 of whom nineteen appear later as independent professionals
practising in Canada. The list includes John Smith Archibald, David
Robertson Brown, Charles Saxe, David Huron MacFarlane, William John
Carmichael, Daniel John Crighton, Charles Alexander Mitchell, and Kenneth
Guscotte Rea - all became very well known.
While there are no specific records for those employed after 1901, several hundred young men must have worked in the office during the first quarter of this century when the firm was at its busiest. Moreover, for a time W.S. Maxwell conducted a teaching atelier in Montreal in connection with the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design.
Edward Maxwell married Ellen Aitchison in 1896. Miss Aitchison was from
Potsdam, New York, and like Edward was of Scottish descent. They had four
children, Blythe, who succeeded his grandfather in the lumber business;
Jean, Mrs. Kenneth Fleming, who inherited Tillietudlem; Stirling, an
architect who ultimately succeeded his brother in the E.J. Maxwell Lumber
Company; and Elizabeth, Mrs. Montague Yates, who inherited Maxwelton.
Edward was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1903 and an
Academician in 1908. He died in Montreal 14 November 1923 in the midst of
the firm 's extensive work on the Château Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City.