Archive for March, 2011


Lately, I’ve been reading about early Ontarian architecture, and have been ‘collecting’ houses with my camera whenever I am out and about in our local region. One of the earliest styles to emerge in Upper Canada was the Georgian, which arrived with immigrants from Britain and the United Empire Loyalists at the end of the 18th century. It enjoyed considerable popularity well into the 19th century. Georgian architecture is noted for symmetrical facades with limited ornamentation. As the 19th century progressed, Georgian designs were interpreted with neo-classical elements and a generally lighter treatment.

The house shown above is beautifully situated on the St. Lawrence river. It features the typical central doorway, nicely accented with a fanlight, and the twelve-over-twelve paned windows evenly spaced across the facade. The neo-classically inspired porch was probably added at a later date. The windows of the end wall are balanced, two over two, and a small half-moon window allows light and perhaps ventilation into the attic. The two heavy chimneys are typical of the style, but they are unusually placed. The chimneys would normally be placed at either end of the roof.


This second house is located near the first and is similar in construction. The two houses perhaps shared an architect. Here, you can see the simple doorway with fanlight and side pilasters. The cornice molding that decorates the roof line is an unusual element. The massive size of this house can be seen in this view of the side, below. Rather than a central half-moon window, two quarter-round windows are featured.


This smaller, but exquisitely detailed home stands a bit farther west along the St. Lawrence river. The neo-classical doorway features an elliptical fanlight that stretches over both the door and the side lights. The prominence of the central entrance, and its delicate and intricate detailing are departures from classical Georgian design.


Vernacular interpretations of the style and building materials abound. This semi-detached unit, like the house above, shows the more typical chimney placement. I don’t know if this house was built as two units or was divided into two at a later date.


The house illustrated below has lost one of its chimneys and a porch has been added, but its Georgian features are still conspicuous.


The Georgian style was adapted to a small story-and-a-half vernacular cottage that was repeated often in the region and many examples can be found. A story-and-a-half format was common because taxes were assessed according to the number of floors, so the half-story maximized space without accruing the penalty of additional taxes connected with a second story.





It’s not clear whether the last house, above, was built in 1846, by George Shaver, or a few years later in 1862 by the Ellis family. In any case, it is recorded that the house served as a mail stop for the stage on its way to Spencerville in 1898 and the Ellis family ran a general grocery store from their home. The house remained in the Ellis family until 1918. Notable features include the five-paned square transom over the door and the three-paned sidelights.

This final example was built with straight coursed stone and a recessed centred front door with sidelights. It was probably built after 1861 by the Huchcroft family, and was owned by the Huchcrofts into the 1930s.

For more about historical Ontario house styles, visit Willow Books.


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We’ve had some nice, sunny days lately, but it’s sure been cold. The temperature has rarely made it above 0°C during the day and has been dropping down to -10°C or colder at night. But today, finally, we are being treated to some warmth. The temperature has crept up to 8°C and even though the pond is still dressed in a straight-jacket of ice, for the rest of us, it’s sweater weather! What a treat, to leave the winter coat hanging in the closet.


I took Mousie’s blanket off before she went out this morning. When I checked on her in the afternoon, she was relaxing in the sun, delighted, no doubt, with the warmth.


The trees don’t wait for warm weather. They know it’s spring. The pussywillows have been out for a while. For the garden, though, it is a different story. It is still too early to expect much. However, I took a walk around the yard to see what was showing signs of life.


I was pleased to see that the little Corkscrew Hazel has lots of buds. I set a sheet of paper behind a branch so that the buds would be visible in this photo. I purchased the plant at the end of the garden season last year. The poor thing had been passed over again and again while all it’s buddies were carried off to new homes. It looked pretty sad before I finally bought it, marked down to less than half price. I wasn’t sure it would make it through the winter, but apparently it took heart in its new home and is looking great.


A few bulbs are just beginning to poke through the soil. These are daffodils.


Among the first plants to bloom here are the hellebores. They’re sometimes called Christmas Roses. They don’t bloom in the middle of winter this far north, but they are still commendably early. Sure enough, I found a sturdy shoot when I removed a covering of dead leaves.


Here’s another hellebore. This one is even further along.


Primulas are pretty early too. This plant already has a whorl of leaves coming along. One of the best finds of the day was the catnip plants! They already have little heads of leaves and it won’t be too long before the cat army can enjoy a fresh spring treat!


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Over the past week and a half, I have regularly spotted Hooded Merganser pairs (Lophodytes cucullatus) on our small river. They are handsome little ducks, and readily identified as the male has a brilliant white patch on the back of his head. The female is quite different from the male, but equally interesting, with her grey face accented by a bushy rufus-brown crest. You can get an idea as to the size of these mergansers in the photograph below, in which a pair are swimming beside much larger Canada Geese.


Hooded Mergansers are secretive nesters, preferring secluded woodland stream locations. The female builds her nest in the cavity of a tree or occasionally, in a rock crevice or root hollow. The nest is constructed of dead weeds, roots and leaves, and lined with feathers and down. The pair bond lasts only for a few weeks, and once the female begins incubating her eggs, the male abandons her.

Hooded Merganser numbers, unlike those of many other bird species, have been on the rise in recent decades. The reason for this is not clear, but related factors may include the greater availability of manmade nest boxes and provincial guidelines that require tree harvesters on Crown land to retain a set minimum of cavity trees.


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For my birthday, which was back in December, Seabrooke gifted me with an I.O.U. for a visit to Wheeler’s Pancake House and Sugar Camp, near Lanark. We’ve been waiting for the maple syrup season to get underway, and last Friday, we were finally able to get together for our outing. It was a beautiful sunny day, but cold! We arrived just in time for lunch and were happy to get settled at a table to enjoy the view through the window.


We had pancakes and beans. Everything was delicious, and the light, fluffy pancakes were wonderful with Wheeler’s own maple syrup. After eating, we visited the exhibits in the Maple Museum. Here is Seabrooke, posing with old-time evaporation kettles. There were impressive collections of maple-syrup related items such as these syrup pots.


We said hello to the highland cattle and the sheep. On weekends, there are horse-drawn sleigh rides. We were sorry to miss the horses.


There is a selection of trails that you can follow through the 730 acres of maple bush, but it was a cold enough day that we settled for the shortest hike, just enough to get a feel for the forest and see the sap collection system.


Many, many trees are tapped. Rather than the traditional method of collecting sap in buckets, the trees are hooked into a maze of blue pipes that carry the sap back to a central collection point. A vacuum pump keeps the sap moving. On the day we visited, though, it was so cold that everything was frozen.


On our way back to the parking lot, we stopped at the children’s playground. It was a quiet day and the playground wasn’t busy, so we each had a turn on the zipline. Wheeeeee! Next to the pancakes, that was our favorite part of the visit! Maybe we’ll return for another lunch and hike when the weather warms up.



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Canada Geese

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Another early spring migrant has returned to Ontario. I spotted my first Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) of the new season on Wednesday. Killdeer, as their scientific name indicates, are quite vociferous and you often hear them before you see them. In fact, seeing them can be problematic.


With their cryptic coloration, Killdeer can be very hard to spot. It makes taking a photograph challenging when you have to first pick out the subject from the background before you release the shutter.


There’s a good reason for their disguise, of course. Killdeer nest on the ground, often in the open, and their patterned feather coat helps to protect them. Killdeer are also famous for their “broken wing” display, which is used to distract predators and lead them away from the nest. Here he is:


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Today is David Suzuki’s 75th birthday. It is impossible to think of another Canadian who has worked so tirelessly on educating the public about the world of nature and the need to mitigate our impact on the planet. Suzuki says that he takes solace in knowing that he can look his grandchildren in the eye and tell them “I did my best.”

Given the performance of the current government at international climate action meetings and on other environmental issues, it’s hard to imagine what these politicians could say to their grandchildren. Perhaps “I had the chance to help change things, but I turned my back on your future.” Perhaps if you are an egomaniac, grandchildren don’t matter.

You can sign a card for Dr. Suzuki at The Nature of Things website.

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The vernal equinox, marking the official beginning of spring, happened yesterday, Sunday at 7:21 P.M. EDT. In the northern hemisphere, the point when the hours of day and night, as recorded by the sunrise and sunset, are equal occurs a couple of days earlier. On March 18th, the sun rose at 7:10 AM and set at 7:12 PM for a total of 12 hours, 2 minutes and 5 seconds of sunlight.

The first day of spring here was snowy. The weekend was pleasant and sunny, if a bit chilly, and the ground was mostly free of snow. But by mid-morning today, the landscape was back to white. It doesn’t matter though. This minor setback will soon be history and it takes more than a dusting of snow to discourage the newly arrived migrants.


On the weekend, I tracked down one of the Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) that I could hear singing from the hedgerow. He flitted about the shrubbery in an avoidance tactic but I finally managed to catch him in a photograph.

This morning, Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) joined the Red-winged blackbirds and Starlings at the feeder. Their voices joined those of Blue Jays and Cardinals and Robins, producing a grand cacophony of spring song.


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Prescott Harbour Lighthouse


Ice Fishing


Old Ferry Wharf


Riverside Yarrow

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It seems that every day brings another new taste of spring. Last night, when I went out to attend to the horses just at sunset, I heard the first American Woodcock calling! The nasal “peent! peent!” of the male as he begins his display is unmistakable.

It’s not just us humans who have been glad to greet spring. In the afternoon, I found the little boys lying together, soaking up some rays, quietly enjoying the warm afternoon.


Louis and Teddy rarely lie down outside, but they seemed to have agreed that it was an excellent day to lie back and relax and celebrate the return of pleasant days.


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