A BIG BUILDING ERA

SOME PRACTICAL EVIDENCES OF CANADA’S DEVELOPMENT IN MODERN STRUCTURES ERECTED DURING THE PAST YEAR

JOHN HOLT April 1 1912

A BIG BUILDING ERA

SOME PRACTICAL EVIDENCES OF CANADA’S DEVELOPMENT IN MODERN STRUCTURES ERECTED DURING THE PAST YEAR

JOHN HOLT April 1 1912

A BIG BUILDING ERA

SOME PRACTICAL EVIDENCES OF CANADA’S DEVELOPMENT IN MODERN STRUCTURES ERECTED DURING THE PAST YEAR

JOHN HOLT

It has been said that the moral fibre of its citizenship constitutes the essential element of a nation’s wealth. Vitally important as that is, the value and necessity of material resources should not be despised. A nation to be truly great must have wealth, commerce, buildings, railways and bridges. In previous articles in this magazine Canadian railway development and bridgemaking have been treated; this month the Big Building activities of the past year in the Dominion are reviewed. While the period Was marked by some inactivity the records are such as to impress the reader that these are days of Big Building in Canada.

THERE was no boom in building last year. At most it was an “off” year. What with elections and one thing and another a good many enterprises were held up for a while and a lot of the Big Building which justly should have fallen to the share of 1911 was held up also to swell the coming totals of 1912.

Yet in this year of slackness there was an average increase of over 30 per cent, in the amounts spent on building throughout the Dominion. And the total came to double, or nearly so, the amounts spent in 1909. Pretty good, considering. But these are days of Big Building in

Canada, literally, figuratively and every other way. In all 1911 was a good, sound, normal year and the fact that it was not a violent record breaker must not be held to its discredit. As one building authority says of the figures: “They reflect a condition which for general and consistent progress stands without parallel in the building records of the country.”

Big Building nowadays, record breaking or otherwise, means also big buildings. In this respect as well 1911 was a good, sound, conservative year. It escaped giving Toronto the tallest office building in the Empire, as did 1910, or of breaking

this record with a still taller one as will 1912, but it accomplished some pretty imposing buildings nevertheless. Moreover it has done the heavy spade work for very many others which will fall to the credit of 1912.

In the last three or four years big buildings have become commonplace in Canada. Even a “so-so” year like 1911 sees so many new buildings erected that it is impossible to keep track of them. What’s more, it is difficult to keep track of them mentally as well as in fact —one’s ideas have to be constantly under revision; what was a big building the year before last will make a noise like a mere barn when compared with the erections of the year after next.

You remember how your city used to glow with pride when it got a new seven storey business block, or a public library

or a fine big railroad depot, The local papers ran special pages illustrated by architects’ drawings and halftone cuts, and news of your acquisition echoed from Halifax to Es* quimalt. But now you .hardly glance at your brand new skyscrapers. Perhaps you mildly ejaculate “ W h y,” there’s the Blank Building finished. 1 wonder what their office rents are.” This is significant.

In Big Buildings the figures for 1911 show Canada’s four principal cities running a pretty close race in development, with Toronto leading by a length or so. During 1911 there were building permits issued in Toronto to the extent of $24,374,539, while the figures for the other three cities are: Montreal, $15,715,859; Winnipeg, $17,5550,400, and Vancouver, including North Vancouver, $18,425,110.

Figures like these represent a good deal of bricks and mortar, or, as we are learning to say, “steel and terra-cotta.” Vancouver and Winnipeg take seventh and eighth positions in record of progress of all the cities on the American Continent. Toronto has only New York, Cleveland and Chicago.

While the big cities are thus keeping within a few millions of one another it is from the smaller places that the real big figures come; big in proportion, that is to say, if not large in actual amount.. Some of these western towns fairly take one’s breath away. Medicine Hat has an increase in its building permits qf 261 per cent, while many others, such as Calgary, Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon have increases running from 90 per cent, to 130 per cent. It is a pity that figures are not available from some of the still smaller places—the new towns with histories hardly going back more than two or three years. Undoubtedly a very big percentage of Canada’s big building is being done in such places and they are acquiring big buildings which, though they may be only

galvanized iron grain elevators, have quite as much cause to be proud of themselves as the cities’ skyscrapers.

It is chiefly in the east that the slackness of the building last year has made itself felt. In general the percentage increases are small in the eastern towns and in several cases there are actual decreases, Peterborough, for instance, has fallen off as much as 33 per cent.

However, between them 31 Canadian cities have spent, in round numbers, $130,000,000 during the past year. This is certainly Big Building for an “off”

season.

It is the Big Biddings rather than -the Big Building which appeal most to our imaginations. To the average man it is the big office blocks, universities, churches, factores, and so on, which are the outward and visible signs of this outpouring of good hard money rather than the square miles of comfortable dwellings and small

stores which the bulk of the total goes to create. It is only when he sees his business district soaring skyward that a man feels that his town is really beginning to get a move on.

About three years ago the West began

to compete with the East in point of actual size of its, buildings.

Montreal and Toronto soon will have nothingon Winnipeg and Vancouver in this respect; indeed, even now it is more in the number of their big buildings than in their size that the older cities are in the lead.

Take one of last years’ western achievements as an example— the bignew depot of the G.T.P. and C.N.R. at Winnipeg. In point of size this really magnificent building is equal to anything similar in Canada; except perhaps the big C.P.R; terminal at Montreal, thp enlargement of which, by-theby, cameV under last year’s building achievements.

From the somewhat squat, square nature of the architecture it is difficult to

realize the full height and size of this new station. One would hardly think, for instance, that it was half the height of the Traders Bank in Toronto, yet it measures 100 feet from floor to dome of the great central rotunda and contains some 250,000 feet of floor space.

The new Saskatchewan Parliament Building at Regina is the only other western achievement of the year which ranks with the above. Both architecturally and in size it equals the legislative buildings of any of the other provinces. Very shortly Regina will have another big building in the $275,000 Methodist College which was started last year and which again will be supplemented by a $150,000 women’s building.

The most noticeable feature of the yeai both east and west has heen the increasi in the number of big office buildings; noi twenty-storey record breakers, but good substantial eight to ten-storey edifices Indeed last year may be said to have seer

the acceptance of the “quarter of a million dollar” building as a sort of standard. Other years have seen these buildings going up experimentally so to speak, but the number built during quiet 1911 shows that a crop of such buildings is now to be accepted as part of the normal state of things.

The Kent Buiding, one of Toronto’s 1911 productions, is a good example of this standard type and it indicates how bigare the big buildings which 1911 has seen. Even the greatest cities of the old world hardly have so fine a standard. Such a building contains some 1,500 to 2,000 tons of steel and perhaps a couple of

million bricks, yet the record of 1911 indicates that the business section of every considerable Canadian town will, in a few years, consist very largely of blocks of this type. The Toronto General Trust Building and the new Toronto building of the Standard Bank are further illustrations of what is meant by this “standard.” Vancouver, perhaps, built the greatest number of these blocks in proportion to her size. The “single tax” in that city, which exempts buildings from taxation, has proved an enormous stimulus to improvement and during 1911 Vancouver acquired a dozen or more of what can properly be called Big Buildings of which the Canada Life and Holden ¿Buildings are good examples.

The biggest office buildings of the year fell to the share of Montreal in the new headquarters of the Dominion Express Co. and the Transportation Building at the corner of St. James and St. Francois Xavier Streets. The former contains several new features which are interesting, such as an all night elevator service and ice-water laid on to every office from a central refrigerating plant. These show how the standard is improving in these office blocks. There is a growing demand for greater luxury and more and more con-

venience.

The new home of the Sterling Bank at Winnipeg is another western Big Building which should be mentioned, though 1911 has not seen it actually completed. Calgary, too, built five or six fine blocks costing from $160,000 to $250,000 apiece.

The huge Roman Catholic Cathedral at Haileybury is one of the nearest approaches to a record that 1911 has made. It has been

nearly two years abuilding and was formally opened last Christmas Eve. It has capacity for upwards of 2,00*0 people and is one of the biggest churches in Canada. Considering its situation on the very fringe of northern civilization—in a six year old mining camp—it establishes a real record in Big Buildings. St. Paul’s Church in Toronto is the only other ecclesiastical building of the year in Ontario which can claim a similar place among Big Buildings.

By a few months 1911 misses the real building record of many years. This is the new General Hospital in Toronto which extends over the whole of an exceptionally large city block. The exterior of the hospital is now practically entirely complete, and indeed one section is quite finished and in actual use, but it will be well on in this year before the whole ten acres of buildings will all be in working order.

Another feature of 1911 has been the great growth in the number of apartment houses; in every big city there were as many or more big apartment houses built as oig office buildings. Here again the year has seen the acceptance of a standard, though naturally there are more departures from the big type in apartment houses than in office blocks. The accompanying illustration of an apartment built last year in Vancouver is an excellent example of the accepted standard. It is impossible to obtain exact figures, but an architect who specializes in such buildings estimates that between seventy-five and a hundred were erected last year throughout the Dominion. Further, lie gave an opinion that this number might easily be doubled during this year.

The year 1911 also saw a great improvement in the standard of private residences. The biggest was the fine house built for Mr. J. C. Eaton of Toronto. This will be eclipsed, in point of size, this year by the house which is being rapidly completed for Sir Henry Pellatt, There was the same slackness, however, in residential building as in other classes, except, of course, in the production of the smaller type of dwllings. Naturally every year brings its due crop of these, as nearly as

possible in proportion to the increase of population.

And in reviewing the past year yet another fact becomes apparent. If it is made evident that the accepted average standard is increasing in size it is also increasing very much in beauty.Our Big Buildings are becoming beautiful buildings worthy to take place beside any in the florid.

Look, for instance, at the picture of the Toronto General Trust Building^ It is merely a business structure in a ,business street, yet' one need only compare it with the similar buildings of ten or five, or even three years ago to see how taste has improved. ... ^

With residences it is just the sapièc A few years ago our rich men did not feél that they had their money’s worth iMKeir architects did not cram as much pretentious ornament on their houses as possible. Now we are getting big houses such as that of Mr. Eaton—quietly dignified, large without heaviness—as beautiful, except for the glamor of age, as the mansions of old England.

Our public Big Buildings—art galleries, libraries, city halls and so on—have been on a pretty high architectural level for some years past. In these therefore the improvement is not so marked; it is evident chiefly in little matters, more attention to detail in the surroundings of the buildings, smoother lawns, better flower beds. The action last year of some of the railroad companies in beginning to encourage the creation of gardens round their depots and the general beautifying of their properties is but a manifestation of a very widespread and rapidly growing feeling.

Boom years and slack years we are building à great deal bigger, and better, than we know. We are building better, if that is possible, than we expect of ourselves—and very much better than outsiders expect of us. A quotation from Kipling will show the truth of this. It was written in the dim past of 1908 ; today you may multiply the Englishman’s astonishment by four at least.

“I had the good fortune to see the cities through the eyes of an Englishman out for the first time. ‘Have you been to the Bank?’ he cried. T’ve never seen anything like it. . . . It’s wonderful. . . . Marble pillars, acres of mosaic, steel

grilles—might be a cathedral.’ ‘I shouldn’t worry over a bank that pays its depositors,’ I replied soothingly. There are several like it in Ottawa and Toronto.

. . . They’ve given up painting their lodges with vermilion hereabouts.’ ‘Yes, but what I mean is, have you seen the equipment of their schools and colleges— desks, libraries and lavatories? It is miles ahead of anything we have and—no one ever told me.’ ‘What was the good of telling? You wouldn’t have believed. There is a building in one of the cities on the lines of the Sheldonian but better, and if you go as far as Winnipeg you’ll see the finest hotel in all the world.’

“ ‘Nonsense,’ he said, ‘You’re pulling my leg. Winnipeg’s a prairie town.’ ”

Catch a newly arrived Englishman and show him some of the new buildings in your city. If you tell him that 1911 was not much of a Big Buiding year, that it accomplished comparatively little in the way of Big Buildings he will certainly accuse you of leg pulling. But it is true nevertheless. This year we are going to do very much better.

And this is no idle boast. Already this spring Canadians in all parts of the Dominion have seen evidences of a building boom. Following a year of normal activity the period of 1912 promises to be a record one, both in point of the number and the cost of new structures. In the larger cities, particularly in the east, the season opened early ; in fact, operations were continued throughout the winter in many parts. The result is that the advent of spring will witness a building year well advanced and giving promise of eclipsing all previous records.

The meaning of it all is that Canada has struck its pace. It is all a marked evidence of steady and substantial expansion. The country is building for the future. Beyond question the conditions will continue. With the rapid settlement of the west a great stimulus has been given

the development of that section, while the east, still the industrial centre of the country, must keep pace with the demands of the whole dominion. As the west grows so must the east, and the process will make for a greater Canada.

What is the dominant note for the future? In what respect will big building most impress itself on the life and progress of the country? It, will be in industrial expansion. To meet the larger demands of a growing country the east must increase its manufactured output ; to do so, it must also enlarge its factories. Never was the outlook in manufacturing better. And with the rearing of ta1'' chimneys and the throb of industry will come all other things to be desired—busy workmen, thrifty homes, fine cities and a prosperous country.