OLD ARCHITECTURE OF QUEBEC

Ramsay Traquair's recording and measuring historical buildings in and around the province of Quebec resulted in his seminal book The Old Architecture of Quebec: A Study of the Buildings Erected in New France from the Earliest Explorers to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century (Macmillan Company), finally published in 1947 with 179 b/w illustrations. It was dedicated to the memory of his long-time collaborator, Gordon Antoine Neilson, who passed away five years earlier. For this comprehensive work, Traquair received an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University of Montreal in 1948, an accolade rarely seen exchanged between two universities and their professors. The publication remains a fundamental work on the subject and has been republished in facsimile in Autumn of 1996 by the McGill School of Architecture on the occasion of the School's 100th and the University's 175th anniversary. Two reviews of the book are reproduced below.

A. "Quebec Architecture In the Old Tradition"
Review by William Colgate, Toronto Globe and Mail, Saturday, June 28, 1947, p.40.
The Old Architecture of Quebec. By Ramsay Traquair; Macmillan, $10.

Nothing, except probably its language, so distinguishes the Province of Quebec from the rest of the Dominion as its architecture. Its buildings, both domestic and religious, bear the impress of an alien form. But happily its utility and significance as structural design does not reside in its strangeness, but rather in its suitability for the environment and the climate in which it was employed. As such it is quite indigenous as any type of structure regarded as essentially Canadian.

Apart from articles in the press and the circulation of pamphlets and monographs by the universities, the buildings of French Canada have had little attention from the student and historian. Valuable as such information is as source material, it has been quite inadequate to meet the need for a comprehensive and authoritative work on the subject. With the publication of The Old Architecture of Quebec, by Ramsay Traquair, we now have compiled for convenient study and reference the development of building design and construction from the habitations of Champlain and de Monts in the early seventeenth century to the end of French influence in the Eighteen Fifties.

As teacher of architecture for many years at McGill University, and as a practitioner and historian of distinction, Mr. Traquair has come well equipped to his task. And no volume dealing with the early buildings of Lower Canada approaches it in exactness and completeness of information. Clear halftone illustrations and measured line drawings, in minute detail, show the various buildings and interiors discussed, the manner of their construction, their materials, their decoration and the tradition by which they were inspired.

Of the fullness with which the period has been covered the chapter heads afford some indication: The Early Religious Houses, the Oldest Dwelling Houses, the Quebec Cottage, Manors, Presbyteries, Vacation Houses and Mills, Town and Public Buildings, Internal Woodwork, the Churches, Woodcarving, Woodcarving After the Eighteenth Century, and so on. Appended is a list of the wood-sculptors and architects, with biographical notes, with those of recorded painters of the time. The book, moreover, is carefully documented with textual references and bibliography.

Contrary to common belief, skilled artisans of early Quebec were fairly numerous. In a religious procession at Sillery in June, 1648 torches were carried by no less than 12 trades, thus disposing of the legend that the seventeenth century French settlers were a rude peasantry, building their wooden houses with no better tools than an axe and a sheath-knife. "From the first these settlers included men of education. Hebert, the first habitant, was an apothecary and carried out experiments in naturalizing trees."

To the first habitation at Port Royal, restored by the Dominion Government in 1939, Mr. Traquair refers in words of doubtful meaning: "The present buildings, of course, have no historic authority, but they probably look like the original habitation of de Monts." Now, it may be asked, if the present buildings as reconstructed (a more exact definition, by the way) lack historic warrant, how can they logically be assumed to resemble the original construction? A reading of The Reconstruction of the Port Royal Habitation of 1605-13, by C. W. Jefferys [Can. Hist. Rev., 1939] who was historical consultant on the project, would have set the author on firm ground. Whatever importance this point may have in its relation to the first building in no way effects the validity of the book, which now takes its place beside the author's The Old Silver of Quebec as a most useful, instructive and authoritative work on a subject hitherto little known. I earnestly wish that the manner in which the survey is presented merited similar high praise.


B. The Old Architecture of Quebec: A Study of the Buildings Erected in New France from the Earliest Explorers to the Middle of the nineteenth century.
By Ramsay Traquair.
Published by MacMillan Co. of Canada Limited, 70 Bond Street, Toronto. Price $10.00.
Review by A. S. Mathers, JRAIC 24, No.9, Sept. 1947, p.335.

This year of grace 1947 has been marked by two important events in Canada. First, we all became Canadians legally and second we have been presented with the first important book on Canadian Architecture ever published. This is The Old Architecture of Quebec by Prof. Ramsay Traquair. There have of course been other publications on Canadian Architecture such as the two paper-backed publications of the Historic Monuments Commission of Quebec on the Old Manor House and the Island of Orleans and the pamphlets on Old Ontario Houses published by the University Press of Toronto.

Prof. Ramsay Traquair's book however is in an entirely different category being printed on fine paper, handsomely bound and obviously intended to become a permanent addition to public and private libraries.

No one living knows the buildings of Quebec as does Prof. Traquair and few are as familiar with the historical, social and economic conditions which produced the distinctive style in which they are built.

The book is profusely illustrated with photographs and measured drawings which have been carefully chosen to clearly show the reader the form and details of the buildings. The text which they accompany is written in that easy and simple style of English prose which is seldom encountered to-day but which delights the reader who appreciates the art of composing simple English words in an orderly and harmonic design.

Prof. Traquair has treated his subject both chronologically and typically, devoting separate chapters to different types of buildings and three chapters to woodwork and carving. He has paid great attention to those small details such as door locks and hinges which lift even the simplest building out of the ordinary. Four pages of beautiful drawings of wrought iron fittings and hardware attest to this interest.

The book is a fitting monument to Prof. Traquair's life-long interest in the old architecture of his province and to his indefatigable labours in recording it before it is too late. As Prof. Traquair has shown by his book there exists in Quebec a tradition of architecture which is as beautiful as any to be found elsewhere in the New World. Most travellers in Quebec retain a memory of white walled and steep roofed cottages and tall silver spires in the flat countryside, perhaps a little dingy, quaint and foreign to their eyes. Few have inquired beyond this first impression and so have missed the glories of Renaissance pulpits and altars in the churches or the charming panelled rooms and graceful furnishings in the houses. Prof. Traquair has drawn the curtain aside and has revealed New France, as it was in the days when from Quebec culture and civilization was spread from Gaspé to New Orleans.

 

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