Sunday, May 5, 2013

General meeting of the new Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada - May 4 2013

Thanks to Parkwood Estates in Oshawa Ontario for providing the space for the newly incorporated DSWAC to hold their information meeting yesterday. Kudos too to Evan Oxland for securing this very appropriate venue as well as chairing the event (as Dr. Carlan Stants was unable to attend) and then showing us around the grounds of the stately home of Samuel McLauchlin (founder of General Motors of Canada) 

The emphasis of the meeting dealt mostly with the upcoming Stone Festival to be held in Alton Ontario on the last weekend in June 2013. Eric Landman gave a comprehensive report on most of the festival plans to date, which included references to the main moongate feature, engineering requirements, festival workshops, camping, various sponsors for stone and beer and tools, as well as giving us dates for festival pre-builds which will be the two weekends prior to the actual  festival. (contact Eric at to let us know if you can help out on either of those dates)

The tour round the sunken garden after the meeting was of particular interest. The dry stone retaining walls were a treat to see, as I had only read about them in an essay about the 'Arts and Crafts Movement in Canada' which Evan had written and submitted for posting on our Dry Stone Walling Across Canada website some years ago. 

Most of the historic walls at Parkdale were obviously done by stone masons, not wallers. The builder stones in the walls were made of squared granite field stone, found locally, with copes being large slabs of limestone bedded in cement.  Every stone was skillfully tooled and shaped . While the stonework was all very impressive, and it is true that I am always delighted to discover any 'historic' dry stone walls here in Canada, I found the sunken garden had an unsettled feeling to it due to the prevailing 'showiness' of this particular style of dry stone walling.  It was interesting however to see how well the walls were 'standing up' over time considering the fact that many of the stones were face bedded (shiners) and there was little or no batter (inward lean) to the walls. 

I wonder how much longer these walls will be able hold back the dense rows of encroaching garden shrubs and trees, which were all presumably part of the original Dunington-Grub garden design

Below are some relevant excerpts from Evan's article which can be found in its entirety at dry-stone-walls-the-arts-and-crafts-movement on the Dry Stone Walling Across Canada website.

"Howard Grubb, born in Lincolnshire was a key player in the designed landscapes of turn of the century Canada. He joined Thomas Mawson’s famous practise in Lancaster after studying Landscape Architecture at Cornell University. Within a few years, Mawson notes in his autobiography, Grubb was running his office in London and overseeing his designs for the gardens at The Peace Palace at The Hague.

In December of 1910, Mawson introduced Grubb to Lorie Alfreda Dunington at her address to the ArchitecturalAssociation on garden design, the first woman to do so in a male dominated world. Lorie’s pedigree was equally as impressive as Howard’s, having graduated from Swanley College and trained under Selfe Leonard, a collaborator and co-writer with Gertrude Jekyll. They married quickly, hyphenated their name to make it the mouthful it is, and moved to the Dominion of Canada where Mawson had already been making inroads in town planning and civic design with royal invitations and illustrious commissions taking him from sea to sea. They set up their practise in Toronto, along with a plant nursery, and quickly became socialites and the leading practitioners of landscape architecture in Canada. 

These “Canadian” designers chose to use dry stone walls of significant substance for both enclosure and as terraces. At Samuel McLaughlin’s lavish Parkwood estate (1918-1926) in Oshawa Dunington-Grubb designed dry stone walls were another prominent feature. The use of square cut local glacial till, a colourful mix of granites, limestones, sandstones, schist, diorite, basalt, among many others, spoke to a sense of locality. This sunken garden had Italianate marbles, benches, and a central pavilion, but the terrace gave it that sense of enclosure that spurs the feeling of seclusion and utter privacy of a room cut off from the world. These dry stone walls were used in the same manner as many popular English Edwardian gardens did, the creation of separate garden rooms signifies these dry stone walls as accompanying the shift of contemporaneous English garden design to Canada.

Dry stone walls were incorporated in early 20th century designed Canadian landscapes, but seem to have fallen out of favour with the rise of modernist design, only to find themselves rediscovered with the most recent North American renaissance of dry stonewalling. However, this makes any vestigial dry stone wall, particularly those designed at Parkwood, heritage structures that deserved to be conserved as they are both of significant beauty and historic import. The dry stone walls at Parkwood are not just landscape features, but are pieces of architecture that emulate the strong links in patronage, pedigree, and design heritage from early twentieth century England."