Canadian Architecture


Canadian Architecture, buildings and building practices of the inhabitants of what is now known as Canada, from prehistoric times to the present. Canadians and their forebears on the land have devised varied and often ingenious architecture in response to some of the most daunting climatic conditions on Earth, including extreme cold. Key characteristics of this architecture include the use of building technology to further human comfort, an openness to styles and building ideas borrowed from other peoples, and a desire to express shared values and the people’s relationship to their often inhospitable northern land.

From early European settlements of the 1600s until the late 19th century, Canadian architecture reflected the building styles fashionable in France and Great Britain. In the 20th century American architecture has been the dominant outside influence on Canadian architecture.



At the time of European arrival in about 1600, five major groups of indigenous peoples inhabited the vast land area that became Canada. Each group had developed building forms suited to their environment. European colonization of Canada began in the east. France became the dominant power in the region following the founding of a trading post on the site of Québec in 1608. In 1759 the British captured Québec, ending French rule.


First Nations

Canada’s original inhabitants are known as the First Nations. At the time of European arrival, about 40 nations were scattered across Canada. Many of them lived along the coasts, where they could fish. These nations can be classified into five major groups according to their languages.

In the far north the Inuit perfected construction of the domed snow house, or igloo. (The word igloo comes from the Inuit iglu, meaning “house.”) An outstanding example of human ingenuity, the igloo held in heat, because snow provides good insulation, and protected against wind. Igloos varied in detail but all were round and built of blocks of snow. The walls curved inward toward the top to form a snow vault (arched ceiling). A tunnel entrance had a bend, or cold trap, to preserve heat, and a small hole near the top of the igloo provided ventilation. In spring the melting dome was removed and replaced with a covering of animal skins to form a between-season dwelling called a qarmaq. In summer the Inuit moved to portable tents of seal or caribou hides.

The tipi (also spelled tepee) was the dwelling unit of the peoples of the southern plains, now southern Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Prepared and built by women, the tipi featured a frame of about 20 wooden poles that were arranged in a circle or oblong and met at the top. Animal skins covered the frame to form a cone shape. A central fire heated the tipi in cold weather, and smoke escaped through a hole at the top. The entrance faced east, away from the west wind. Space inside the tipi was allocated according to social status and custom. For example, the belongings of the tipi owner were often placed on the west side. Easily assembled and taken down, the tipi was ideally suited to a nomadic way of life dependent on hunting bison.

Various groups inhabited the forested lands to the east of the plains. The Iroquois lived in the Saint Lawrence River Valley and near Lakes Ontario and Erie, with the Algonquians living to the north and east. The Iroquois lived together in long, narrow buildings called longhouses. A longhouse was constructed of saplings that were bent and then bound at the top to form a barrel vault (ceiling in the shape of a half cylinder). The structure was then covered with bark. Iroquois longhouses featured a number of hearths placed down the middle of the floor, with smoke holes on top to permit smoke to escape. As many as 16 families and eight fires might occupy a single longhouse.

The wigwam was an Algonquian structure. It had a conical or dome-shaped framework that was 4 to 5 m (12 to 15 ft) in diameter and was covered with bark, skins, or reeds. The sweat lodge, a specific form of wigwam, contained hot stones that were splashed with water to produce steam. Small in size, the sweat lodge was used for therapeutic or ritual healing. Sweat lodges are found today in some areas of Canada as a result of renewed interest in First Nations’ customs and spirituality.

The peoples who lived in the temperate rain forests along the west coast of Canada constructed long rectangular houses covered with cedar planks. Many of these plank houses were magnificently carved and painted, and they featured totem poles in front that served as family crests. Several families might live in one plank house. The indigenous people of this region included the Coast Salish, Kwakiutl, Nootka, Nuxalk, Haida, Tsimshian, Gitksan, and Nishka. The Salishan-speaking population of the western interior, now British Columbia, constructed pit houses for warmth. These were log-framed structures built over a living space dug into the ground, about 1 m (3 ft) deep and 6 to 12 m (21 to 40 ft) in diameter. Grass, pine needles, cedar bark, and excavated earth covered the roof. A hole in the side of the roof or on the top of the roof, reached by ladder, provided an entrance.


New France

The first Europeans to settle in Canada were fur traders. French traders established the first year-round European settlement in Canada in Acadia (now Nova Scotia) in 1605, and three years later they founded a trading post called Québec on the St. Lawrence River. Montréal was founded by French missionaries in 1642 on the Île-de-Montréal (Montréal Island) in the St. Lawrence, although that settlement later prospered as a fur-trading center. Most of the early buildings in New France were simple structures of wood or sawn timber frames filled in with stones and mortar. An exception was the second Habitation, a fortified trading post of stone built in Québec from 1624 to 1626. The building had corner towers, high walls, and a steep roof like those found in France at that time. Walls and a moat surrounded it.

By the 1750s New France had evolved an identifiable landscape and architecture modeled on French customs but adapted to local conditions in its forms and building materials. Québec City boasted numerous institutional buildings constructed in four units around an open, square courtyard, such as the Hôpital-Général, built about 1710. Walls were of mortared stone rubble, two or three stories high, with arched windows and a sloped roof of ferblanc (tin tiles) broken by dormers. The houses of the rich, such as the Chậteau de Vaudreuil (1723-1726) in Montréal, emulated those of Paris. These designs featured a high central block, two wings extending from that block, and a gated courtyard in front. The houses were embellished with details based on classical architecture, including columns, pilasters (columns attached to walls), and pediments (triangular forms) over doorways and windows.

A fire in Montréal in 1721 led to a building ordinance in 1727 that encouraged fire-resistant construction. As a result, residents of Montréal and other towns built houses of stone, with fireplaces and chimneys set in outside walls after 1727. Right-angled interior walls extended through the roof to serve as firebreaks. The earliest churches, such as Nôtre-Dame-des-Victoires in Place-Royale (1688) in Québec City, had floor plans in the shape of a traditional Latin cross and a bell tower at the front. The sober exteriors of gray stone hid beautiful interior chapels and naves decorated with gilded wood, painted plaster, and gracefully curved ironwork.

In the countryside, simple houses of wood or stone stretched along the banks of the St. Lawrence. Their low walls, which were covered with stucco or wooden planks, and their steep roofs recalled far-off France. Well-to-do seigneurs (landowners) lived in manor houses next to a church and rectory, all modeled on those of the towns. A surviving example, the Mauvide-Genest Manor (1734-1752) on the Île d’Orléans, an island in the St. Lawrence near Québec City, has been turned into a museum. The frontiers of the French colony were protected by impressive stone forts such as Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island (now part of Nova Scotia), which was built from 1719 to 1745 and was reconstructed as a historic site in the 1960s.


British North America

The British took control of New France in 1763 as a result of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The shift to British rule slowly changed the architectural landscape. The British expelled the French from Acadia, renamed it Nova Scotia, and settled it with American colonists who brought their own forms of architecture with them. For example, a two-story house built in 1766 (enlarged 1781) in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, greatly resembled colonial houses in New England. Built for Simeon Perkins, who came from Connecticut, it had an exterior of white clapboard (narrow, overlapping wooden boards), green shutters for the windows, and dormer windows on a pitched roof. This American influence increased in Canada after 1783 with the arrival of British loyalists who were fleeing the newly established United States.

The British governing elite in Canada, by contrast, began to construct government buildings and houses modeled on the neoclassical style popular in England. Province House (1811-1819), the home of the Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax, has the regular, symmetrical features and the classical details of that style, including a Greek temple facade on the front of the building. The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (1800-1804) in Québec City features a rectangular plan and prominent steeple like that of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, England. British military planners laid out new towns, such as Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) on a grid plan with long, straight, evenly spaced streets that met at right angles. Toronto, first named York, was founded in 1793 on Lake Ontario and served as the capital of the new British colony of Upper Canada (now Ontario).

As the 19th century progressed, immigrants brought new architectural ideas to Canada, often from Great Britain, sometimes from France or the United States. In 1823 Irish American architect James O’Donnell designed Montréal’s Notre Dame basilica (completed 1829) in the newly fashionable Gothic Revival style, with pointed arches and an ornate interior. It could seat 9,000 people and was the largest church on the North American continent at that time. Most public buildings were neoclassical in style, with porticoes (columned porches), domes, and pediments. Notable buildings in Canada in the neoclassical style include McGill College (1839; now the Arts Building at McGill University) in Montréal, designed by John Ostell, and the Bank of Montréal (1845-1848), designed by John Wells.

By 1850 tastes had begun to change. Architects designed houses and public buildings in a medley of types and styles, from picturesque cottages with pleasing vistas, decorative windows, and verandas to villas in the Italianate style with flat roofs, windows that were rounded at the top, and tall towers. Perhaps the strongest influence on Canadian architecture in the mid-1800s was the Gothic Revival style of England. English writers such as A. W. N. Pugin and John Ruskin urged a return to English architectural styles of the late Middle Ages (1200s to about 1500). They hoped thereby to restore a moral and religious dimension to architecture. English-born architect Frank Wills designed Christ Church Cathedral (1845-1853) in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in the Gothic Revival style to resemble a church in Norfolk, England. The stone church has a central nave with two side aisles, a high central steeple, and a large stained glass window on its east end. A well-known English architect, William Butterfield, collaborated in the design. University College (1856-1859), part of the University of Toronto designed by Frederic W. Cumberland, displays a mixture of medieval revival styles—Gothic and Romanesque—and resembles in style and shape the University Museum in Oxford, England, which was based on Ruskin’s ideas.

A permanent settlement had been established at Ottawa in 1800, and in 1857 the town became the capital of the British Province of Canada, constituted of Ontario and Québec. In 1859 construction began in Ottawa on Parliament buildings, which followed the ideas of Ruskin and Pugin. (Pugin had designed the interior and exterior decoration for Britain’s Houses of Parliament, which were begun in 1836.) The three Canadian Parliament buildings have rough stone walls and steep roofs that were covered first in slate and later in copper. This complex in the Gothic Revival style consists of a large Centre Block, designed by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, and two smaller blocks, the East and West blocks, both designed by Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver. (The Centre Block burned in 1916 and was replaced by a similar structure.) In front, the buildings face a lawn and at the back they make a picturesque scene of pinnacles (pointed ornaments), gables (triangular wall faces at roof level), and spires high above the Ottawa River. The architecture of the Parliament buildings quickly came to symbolize the new country, which was expanding from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.



Modern Canada came into being on July 1, 1867, through the Confederation of Québec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Confederation made them a single country, with its capital in Ottawa. The original provinces were soon joined by Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Newfoundland entered the Confederation in 1949.

Completion in 1886 of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which stretched from Montréal to the new city of Vancouver in British Columbia, brought nationwide prosperity to Canada. Montréal and Toronto became large industrial cities. Settlers from Europe flooded the western plains, pushing the First Nations peoples onto reserves and creating new cities such as Winnipeg in Manitoba and Calgary in Alberta. Vancouver grew as the most important port on Canada’s west coast.


Nationhood and New Opportunities

Confederation had an immediate effect on architecture. The new national government embarked on a building campaign that included post offices, courthouses, armories, and other public buildings. The Office of the Chief Architect, a branch of the federal Department of Public Works, designed many of these public buildings using elements taken from the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Such buildings include the Royal Military College of Canada (1876-1878) in Kingston, Ontario, and the Langevin Building (1883-1889) in Ottawa. The idea of a picturesque national architecture soon took hold. One trademark of it was the use of picturesque details, such as the round corner towers popular in the so-called Scottish baronial manner and the turrets (small projecting towers) of French châteaux (castles). Another trademark was the use of a steep roofline covered in oxidized copper, which is green. In time this fashion created a unified architectural landscape in Ottawa and a strong federal image outside Ottawa. The style continues to influence buildings today, as seen in the United States Embassy (2000) in Ottawa, designed by the American firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The building resembles the silhouette of the Parliament’s Centre Block.

The opportunities for building in the new nation attracted many architects from other countries to Canada. New York architect Bruce Price and the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White led a wave of influence from the United States. Price designed Windsor Station (1886-1889), a railroad station in downtown Montréal with massive stonework and rounded arches characteristic of the Romanesque revival that had become popular around that time. McKim, Mead, and White designed impressive buildings in the neoclassical style for the Bank of Montréal in Montréal (1901-1905) and in Winnipeg (1910-1913).

Canadian architects responded to the new building opportunities and the arrival of Americans by traveling, studying, and then rapidly incorporating new construction techniques, such as steel frameworks and reinforced concrete, into their work. In Toronto, architect Edmund Burke designed the Robert Simpson Store (1895), Canada’s first building with an interior steel frame and exterior curtain (non-loadbearing) walls. The rise of banks with nationwide branches, railways that built hotels and stations along their routes, and department store chains led to prosperity for Canadian architectural firms. Darling and Pearson of Toronto designed a number of banks, including the ten-story Union Bank (1904) in Winnipeg, which was western Canada’s first skyscraper, and the Canadian Bank of Commerce (1910-1912), also in Winnipeg. Another Toronto firm, Burke, Horwood and White, designed stores for the Hudson’s Bay Company, a major merchandising enterprise, including a Vancouver branch (1913) encrusted with terra cotta decoration.

By 1914 Canadian architects had achieved success and security unknown a generation before. Architects had organized professional associations, such as the Province of Québec Association of Architects, and a number of Canadian universities had begun to teach architecture: the University of Toronto in 1889, McGill University in Montréal in 1896, and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1913.


Revival Styles

Canadian architecture in the 50 years after the 1867 Confederation was strongly influenced by design techniques and styles that looked to past architecture for ideas and inspiration. During the 1870s the Second Empire style began to replace the Gothic style of the Parliament buildings. The style of the Second Empire, which originated in France during the reign of Napoleon III, featured details from the French Renaissance and mansard roofs, which had two slopes (a gentle and then a steep slope) on each of their four sides. Links to French culture made this style particularly popular in the province of Québec, for example in the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale, 1878) in Québec City by E. E. Taché and the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) in Montréal by Henry Maurice Perrault. Built in 1875, the Hôtel de Ville was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1926.

In the mid-1880s a fashion for American architecture brought the style of Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson north. Known as Richardsonian Romanesque, the style featured massive blocks of rough-hewn stone, large arched entrances, and arched windows. Richard Waite, an architect based in Buffalo, New York, borrowed the style for the Ontario Legislative Building (1886) in Toronto, a massive stone building with corner towers and a triple-arched entrance with three large arched windows on the story above. Toronto architect E. J. Lennox closely modeled the Toronto City Hall (1887-1889) on Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse (1885-1888) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Richardsonian Romanesque was also a popular style for commercial and residential buildings, such as the Gooderham House (1889-1892) in Toronto by David Roberts. By 1895 the style had been superseded in city residential neighborhoods by the pointed gables, red brick, and shingled roofs of the Queen Anne revival.

Some architects saw revival styles in Canadian architecture in a context of nationalism and imperialism. At McGill University, architecture professor Percy Nobbs encouraged a national architecture based on Canadian, French, and British historical models. He found good examples in Canada’s fanciful railway hotels loosely based on French châteaux. These hotels included Chateau Frontenac (1892-1893) in Québec City by Bruce Price, Chateau Laurier (1908-1912) in Ottawa by Ross and MacFarlane, and Banff Springs Hotel (1911-1914, addition 1925-1932) in the Canadian Rockies by W. S. Painter and J. W. Orrock. Other architects, in contrast, admired the rigorous design and planning principles taught at the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris. Although the school trained architects in revival styles, it stressed accurate use of the proportions and details of the originals. Among Canadian architects trained in these principles were Edward and William Maxwell in Montréal, who designed the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (1911), and John Lyle in Toronto, who designed that city’s Union Station (1914). In designing the stone facade and high dome of the Saskatchewan Legislature Building (1908-1912) in Regina, the Maxwell brothers combined French, British, and American architectural ideas into a unified whole.

Many architects avoided debates about style and based their architecture on conventional formulas. On university campuses a style dubbed collegiate Gothic became dominant. Examples include Hart House (1911-1919) at the University of Toronto, designed by the firm of Sproatt and Rolph, and the University of Saskatchewan (1910-1912) in Saskatoon, designed by Brown and Vallance. Gothic was also popular for neighborhood churches, except in Catholic Québec, where Romanesque models were preferred. The Romanesque reflected French fashions, and the Gothic Revival had become associated with English Protestants. During the 1920s the houses of wealthy Canadians presented a bucolic scene of half-timbered gables (derived from medieval English buildings), Georgian parapets (low walls along roofs), and Spanish colonial terraces. In Montréal especially, houses featured steep roofs and stone walls in a revival of early French Canadian architecture.



Basic principles of modern architecture—including functional arrangement of forms, technological innovation, and a manufacturing-based construction industry—were in place in Canada by the early 1900s. Many skyscrapers incorporated the ideas of Chicago School architects in expressing a building’s underlying steel framework through narrow piers (vertical structures) between windows on the exterior. Examples include the Electric Chambers (1913) in Winnipeg and the Birks Building (1912-1913) in Vancouver. The use of steel for the long spans of the Québec Bridge (1900-1917) and of concrete in enormous grain elevators demonstrated the potential of modern engineering. Many western prairie towns in Canada had banks built of prefabricated wooden parts, while mail-order houses supplied building parts for houses and commercial buildings in all parts of Canada, especially in the rapidly developing west.

Another feature of modern architecture was its simplicity and lack of decoration. Early signs of this simplicity appear in the work of Toronto architect Eden Smith. Although his Saint Thomas’s Church (1896) in Toronto has the shape of a Gothic parish church, it has little decoration apart from the textures of its materials—brick, stone, and polished wood. His Studio Building (1913) in Toronto features large, factory-type windows set in plain brick walls. Smith’s emphasis on plain materials and surfaces places him in the Arts and Crafts movement that originated in England in the late 1800s. In Ottawa, Francis Sullivan designed a series of houses that imitated those of his teacher, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright—for example, the E. P. Connors House (1914-1915). In Victoria, Samuel Maclure gained success with houses set in rugged landscapes and featuring natural materials, double-height living spaces, and cross-shaped floor plans—for example, his Biggerstaff-Wilson House (1905-1906).


Art Deco

The first echoes of European modernism reverberated in Canada in the 1920s. Art deco, a sleek, geometrical style popularized at a 1925 exposition in Paris, influenced the design of skyscrapers in Canada as elsewhere. Prominent examples of Canadian Art Deco include the Aldred Building (1929-1931) in Montréal by E. I. Barrott and the Marine Building (1929-1930) in Vancouver by McCarter and Nairne. The art deco Toronto Stock Exchange (1936-1937) by George and Moorhouse with S. H. Maw, now the Design Exchange, features a flat facade and a decorative pattern of tall, narrow windows. Montréal architect Ernest Cormier designed his own home (1930) in the art deco style. Composed of two blocky masses, the Cormier house is built of reinforced concrete and faced with granite, with elegant flat relief sculptures as decoration. By the 1930s the streamlined aspects of industrial design, a style often called moderne, had become popular, especially for commercial buildings such as movie theatres. Rule, Wynn and Rule, one of the leading architectural firms in western Canada, designed the Varscona Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, in the moderne style. Art deco and moderne also influenced architects working with more traditional forms. A series of elegant bank interiors by Beaux-Arts architect John Lyle displays an extremely simplified, stripped-down classicism, as for example his Bank of Nova Scotia (1929) in Calgary. In Vancouver the firm of Sharp and Thompson (with Adrian Gilbert Scott) combined Romanesque detail and planning with a moderne concrete structure for Saint James’ Anglican Church (1935-1937).

The leading Canadian architect of the 1920s and 1930s was Paris-trained Ernest Cormier. Seaplane hangers (1928) designed by Cormier in Montréal, with their thin exterior shells of concrete, reflect his education as an engineer, while the Supreme Court of Canada (1938-1946) in Ottawa demonstrates his skill with handling rich materials (stone and marble) and traditional forms that reflect the Parliament buildings nearby. At the Université de Montréal (1924-1950), Cormier combined engineering and art to produce a masterpiece of planning and design. Its nontraditional design—a symmetrical complex of right-angled projecting wings with a central tower—symbolized the increasingly modern nature of Québec society.

Another architectural innovator was Belgian monk Dom Paul Bellot, who came to Canada in the mid-1930s. His work on the dome and the massive concrete vaults of Saint Joseph’s Oratory (1937) in Montréal combines old forms and new engineering techniques. He based this building for Roman Catholic worship on a modern interpretation of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. His follower Adrien Dufresne used brick in a similar combination of old and new in the Église Saint-Thérese-de-Lisieux (1936) in Beauport, Québec.


Functionalism and the International Style

World War II (1939-1945) curtailed most building activity in Canada not related to the war effort. After the war, leading designers turned to functionalism: a belief that a building’s structure should clearly express its function or purpose. These architects made use of boxy shapes, large sheets of glass, and flat, unadorned building surfaces—design features associated with a widely followed architectural trend known as the International Style. Québec architect Robert Blatter and Montréal architects Henri Labelle and Marcel Parizeau had explored features of the style before the war. After the war, the International Style was encouraged in university architecture departments: by John Bland at McGill University in Québec, by Eric Arthur at the University of Toronto, and by John “Jack” Russell at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Examples of buildings in the International Style include the Vancouver Vocational Institute (1948-1949) by the Vancouver firm of Sharp & Thompson, Berwick, Pratt; the Elizabeth Dafoe Library (1950) in Winnipeg by the Winnipeg firm of Green, Blankstein and Russell; and the National Printing Bureau’s plant (1949-1957) in Hull by Cormier. In the 1950s many modern buildings appeared in Canada, including Ottawa City Hall (1958) by Rother, Bland and Trudeau; the Ortho Pharmaceutical Plant (1955-1956) in Toronto by John B. Parkin Associates; and the Vancouver Public Library (1956-1957) by Semmens and Simpson.


Regionalism and Expressionism

The repetitive, uniform quality of mainstream modernism led some Canadian architects, as early as 1953, to search for a regionally based architecture that reflected local conditions of geography and climate. The lozenge-shaped B. C. Electric Building (1955-1957) in Vancouver by Thompson, Berwick and Pratt and the works of Ron Thom reflect the emergence of a regionalist sensibility rooted in modernism yet sensitive to the building’s site in choice of materials, shape, landscaping, and color. Thom’s plan for Massey College (1960-1963) at the University of Toronto arranged brick and limestone buildings around a traditional campus quadrangle. The materials were chosen for their ability to age gracefully, and they integrate crafts such as ceramics, woodwork, and silverwork in their surface finish. Thom’s buildings for Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, reflect the glacial topography of the land on which they stand.

The regionalist sensibility, especially the responsiveness to environment, reached a high point in the work of Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson. His modernist houses, such as the Gordon Smith house (1965) in Vancouver and imaginatively sited university buildings, brought him worldwide attention. Erickson’s design for Simon Fraser University (1963-1965) in Burnaby, British Columbia, included a quadrangle with a reflecting pool at its center. Openings on the ground floor of buildings surrounding the quadrangle frame views of the nearby mountains. His Museum of Anthropology (1973-1976) in Vancouver took as its starting point the post-and-beam forms of west coast Kwakiutl villages.

In Toronto, Finnish architect Viljo Revell won an international competition to design a new city hall. The success of his two curved towers of reinforced concrete and glass for the Toronto City Hall (1961-1965) introduced a wave of expressionist architecture—architecture with complex and unusual, often curvilinear, shapes. Expressionist churches include Montréal architect Roger D’Astous’s Notre-Dame-des-Champs (1962-1963) in Repentigny, Québec, and Alberta architect Etienne Gaboury’s Église du Précieux Sang (1967-1968) in Saint Boniface, Manitoba. Gaboury’s design features a spiraling double helix of wooden beams. Edmonton architect Douglas Cardinal incorporated geology in his curved buildings. Fossils are embedded in the limestone exterior of Cardinal’s Canadian Museum of Civilisation (1983-1989) in Hull, Québec, and the building’s shape echoes the landscape of the late Ice Age, when the first humans arrived in Canada.


Urban Projects

A high point of Canadian modernism was reached with the planning and design of the Montréal International Exposition in 1967 (Expo ‘67), for which several islands in the St. Lawrence became a showpiece of innovation. Expo ‘67 included a monumental geodesic dome of interlocking metal parts that served as the American pavilion and was designed by American inventor R. Buckminster Fuller; a prefabricated housing project of stacked concrete modules, known as Habitat 67, designed by Israeli-born Moshe Safdie; a tentlike German pavilion covered in fabric; and a series of large-scale exhibition buildings. Montréal was transformed for Expo ‘67 by the construction of a subway system with many spectacular stations and by a series of large downtown complexes linked by underground concourses. Place Bonaventure (1964-1967), for example, by architect R. T. Affleck, is a multipurpose retail, hotel, and residential complex in downtown Montréal. Toronto’s core experienced similar development. It included the Toronto Dominion Centre (1964-1968), a glass-walled skyscraper designed by German-born American architect Mies van der Rohe, and Commerce Court (1968-1972), a high-rise office building designed by the American firm I. M. Pei and Associates.

Improving technology and the rigorous, northern Canadian climate encouraged the construction of large, climate-controlled, multifunctional megastructures. Toronto-based architect John Andrews explored the idea of connected structures in his design for Scarborough College (1966), a branch of the University of Toronto. The Toronto firm of Craig, Zeidler and Strong designed commercial, health-care, and performing arts centers, starting with McMaster University Health Sciences Centre (1969) in Hamilton, Ontario. In the 1970s Canadian architects and engineers became world leaders in designing large-scale urban structures, such as Andrews’s CN Tower (1975) in Toronto, a broadcasting tower with an observation deck, and Maurice Sunderland’s West Edmonton Mall (1981-1986) in Edmonton, one of the world’s largest shopping malls. They also developed works of technical ingenuity, such as the SkyDome (now known as Rogers Centre) in Toronto by Robbie, Young and Wright Architects, the first stadium with a fully retractable roof, and mixed-use complexes with retail and office space, such as the Eaton Centre (1973-1981) in Toronto by the Zeidler Roberts Partnership.



By 1970 architects in Canada and elsewhere had begun to search for alternatives to modern planning, which was replacing old neighborhoods with impersonal high-rises and highways. American-born writer Jane Jacobs, who lived in Toronto, encouraged an urban complexity in which housing and commerce coexisted side by side. American architect Robert Venturi advocated an architecture open to historical references, ornament, and allusions to popular culture. Venturi’s ideas led to the architectural movement known as postmodernism.

As cities took steps to protect historic neighborhoods, a range of new approaches appeared in architecture. Architects Ray Affleck and Julia Gersowitz placed a new building behind the facades of older buildings at the Maison Alcan (1980-1983) in Montréal. The Sinclair Centre (1983-1986), by Vancouver-based architects Richard Henriquez and Toby Russell Buckwell and Partners, turned four historic buildings in downtown Vancouver into a shopping center. Toronto architect Barton Myers, with Rick Wilkin, designed the Citadel Theatre (1975), a large regional theater complex in Edmonton with five performance spaces. The Toronto firm of A. J. Diamond and Donald Schmitt Architects designed user-friendly spaces with a warm palette of brick and stone, such as the Earth Sciences Centre (1989) at the University of Toronto. The firm of Jones and Kirkland employed a modernized image of a Greek temple facade in the Mississauga City Hall (1982) in suburban Toronto. Safdie created a striking if controversial monument in downtown Vancouver with his Vancouver Public Library (1991). The library’s design is derived from the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. In Montréal, architects Peter Rose and Phyllis Lambert, in association with Erol Argun, used local limestone to create the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1985-1989), a museum and study center that is wrapped around a historic monument, the Shaughnessy House of 1874.

Recent Canadian architecture expresses the imaginative viewpoints of its many practicing architects, balancing two distinct yet not necessarily incompatible approaches. One approach conveys the search for an architecture with roots deep in Canada’s social and physical particularities. East coast architect Brian McKay Lyons designs houses and public buildings with features that resemble those of the ordinary sheds, barns, and dwellings of Nova Scotia. Vancouver-based Richard Henriquez created an inventive addition to the Trent University campus with his Environmental Sciences Centre (1990-1991) that has links to the university’s landscape in its design. John and Patricia Patkau, who work in Vancouver, have won international attention for their ability to integrate modern construction techniques and materials with complex and unusual spaces and shapes that respond to human needs, as in their design for Seabird Island School (1990-1991) in Agassiz, British Columbia.

The second recurring approach in contemporary Canadian architecture is a heightened sensitivity to urban conditions. For the National Archives of Canada, Winnipeg architect Ron Keenberg created a glass-walled temple with a stainless steel superstructure for storing archives. This Preservation Centre (1997), located in Gatineau, Québec, was built from standard industrial materials. In Kitchener, Ontario, the Toronto firm Kuwabara, Payne, McKenna and Blumberg Architects used familiar Canadian architectural forms for a new City Hall (1988-1994) inserted into a dying urban core. Montréal architect Dan Hanganu combined past and present by excavating a corner of Old Montréal and reconstructing this corner in a new form in the Pointe à Callière project (1994), a museum of Montréal’s archaeology and history. The architect used the excavation’s revelations and other information about the site’s history in determining the shapes and their interplay for his new design.

Younger Canadian firms give evidence of an emerging new sensibility. For example, in Montréal the firm of Saucier & Perotte created an archive and viewing space for film and video, the Cinématheque Québécoise (1997), in which the viewer encounters images in motion at every turn. The Toronto-based firm of Stephen Teeple Architects Inc. made use of multiple textures—stone, wood, and steel—as well as light, water, and landscape in its design for the York University Welcome Centre (2000). The young architects working on these projects employ modern materials, computer technology, and fragmented geometry in pursuit of an ennobling public architecture. Their strong visual sensibility will likely continue to shape architecture in Canada for some time to come.



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