Technical difficulties … please stand by


Harumph!For technical reasons too tedious to go into here, when I moved a previous blog to this site, the photos were left behind.

Horrors! and a bloody nuisance.

So bear with me – I am slowly restoring the photos to the earlier posts.

In the meantime, if what you’re looking for isn’t here, you can look at the earlier blog, which I haven’t deleted:

Gargoyles in the news


trib1ATLANTA: Houses in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward on Kennesaw Avenue are lodged between desireable neighbourhoods that warrant asking prices of $500,000 – and high-crime areas that mean thosehouses remain on the market for months. One such house was highlighted here because of the two gargoyle statues on its front porch. “Crime be damned!” said the article.

BARRE, VERMONT: A new bicycle rack features two gargoyle sculptures at either end of a serpentine metal bar on the town’s Main Street. They were created by local sculptor Chris Miller as part of the Stone Sculpture Legacy Program, which was paid for by the Charles Semprebon Fund. Sempron, a Barre native, left $2 million to the city when he died in 2009, earmarking about half of the money to complete a bike path between Barre City and Barre Town and some of the bequest to promote public art. Semprebon was a cycling enthusiast and Barre is a stone capital, with a history of granite-working. Two other sculpted bike racks have been commissioned: One is a jack-in-the-box on a spring-style bike rack, and the the other is a big-wheeled tricycle that appears to jump from one side of a bike rack to the other. All three are carved from Barre granite.

NOT STRICTLY GARGOYLES: Canadian word-watcher (actually, “word spy”) Paul McFedries flagged “parasite building” as a new phrase that has entered the lexicon. He defines it as “a small building or structure that has been added to an existing, larger building, particularly when the styles of the two structures are noticeably different.” Maybe like the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto?





Orange ya glad?


kingbilly3.webMaybe it’s because “the Eastern world, it is exploding,”and blowing lesser conflicts out of the news, but I don’t remember hearing anything about Orange parades this year.

No news of a parade in Toronto or in Northern Ireland, where “marching season” usually culminates with a walk parade demonstration riot by members of the Orange Order on 12 July to mark William of Orange‘s victory over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

I’m not complaining, mind you. Now that the 12th is safely over and I can’t be accused of being Orange myself (which I’m not!), however, and to nod at least to the historical event, I can post a picture of  a sculpture of King Billy on a building here in Toronto.


It appears on a building in Little Italy that now houses a Starbucks, the Kalendar Cafe and the Movie House Lofts, but began life as the Orange Order Lodge. Built in 1911 by architect George Martel Miller, it was actually the Western District Orange Hall, so called because it was located on College Street in the west end of the city.

As late as the 1950s, Toronto had 10 Orange halls, including the Eastern Orange Hall on Queen Street East.

I don’t know whether any of the other nine locations are extant or whether they have an image of King Billy on them. I noticed this one on the very day my book, Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto, was launched in 2006 – and I knew I’d missed at least one of the city’s architectural faces…




Good-bye, Jilly’s!


Well, the big news in Toronto in the last few days (thanks to Mayor Rob Ford being in hiding rehab), is that the building housing Jilly’s strip club (mentioned a few posts ago) has been sold and Jilly’s will have to vacate the premises.



Strange, but welcome news, is that the new owner does not plan to turn the building into condos — although a Toronto Star editorial expressed doubts.



sunrise-window-webYou can check back to the previous post to find what I know of the history of the building, but this news gives me a chance to include a few more pictures of the terra cotta faces on the building. Per the earlier post, I haven’t been able to find out – yet – any stories behind these faces, but I will take another look into this in the coming days.


Howard Dennison Chapman, RIP

Howard Chapman

Howard Chapman

I read the sad news in yesterday’s Globe and Mail that architect Howard Dennison Chapman died. He was 96.

Chapman was the son of Alfred H. Chapman, the Toronto architect behind the Royal Ontario Museum’s entrance on Queen’s Park, the Princes Gates at the Canadian National Exhibition, the Toronto Hydro Building and others.

Chapman pere also built Toronto’s first Central Reference Library, which Chapman fils restored (with partner Howard Walker) and turned into the Koffler Student Centre of the University of Toronto (which houses the university book store).



Alfred Chapman left no information (that I could find anyway) about who the bearded figure is on the building, and Howard was unable to answer the question when I spoke to him in 2005 while researching Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto.

Among his other works was the “half-round” Riverdale Hospital (with Len Hurst), which was demolished in 2013 after years of opposition.

A web exhibit of some of his work by the City of Toronto archives is still online.

Another view of March: Windy (in Chicago and in Toronto — at Jilly’s strip club)


March “was a lousy month to exist on the South Side of Chicago… March was the final fart of winter.”

So declared the late John Powers in his novel The Last Catholic in America.

John grew up around the block from me on the South Side of Chicago, and the Last Catholic is a book about our neighbourhood.

March is known for wind — the kind needed for kite-flying, as well as the meteorological flatulence Powers described — which is why I chose this terra cotta relief from a building in central Toronto to illustrate it. (More about the building later.)

Powers continued his description of this transitional month: March “would rain on us one day, freeze us the second day, and on the third day blow us off our feet. By the end of the month, we were globs of wind-wracked ice… In March, we would go to school … dressed in fur-lined raincoats, cleated shoes guaranteed not to slide on ice-glazed sidewalks, and bricks in our lunch boxes so we wouldn’t blow away.”


These terra cotta pieces, and others like them, appear on a building that started life in 1893 as an office building known as Dingman’s Hall. Located at the corner of Broadview and Queen Street East, it was built by Archibald Dingman, who had a varied business career — but not as varied as the uses to which this building has been put.

Dingman’s Hall was a meeting place, with rooms rented out to visiting Shriners, Masons and others. Later, the building was known as the Broadview Hotel. It is currently a boarding house — the New Broadview Hotel — but is generally referred to as Jilly’s, the name of the strip club on the first floor.

When Archie Dingman owned the building, he was a partner in the Comfort Soap Company. He was also associated with the Scarboro Electric Railway and a firm that built coaster brakes for bicycles, before moving west to Alberta and getting into the oil industry, according to his obit. He died in 1936, two weeks shy of his 86th birthday.

Most of what I’ve read about Dingman overlooks an unexpected accomplishment: In 1899 (or thereabouts), he somehow crossed paths and teamed up with composer Davenport Kerrison and wrote the lyrics of “The Flag That Bears the Maple Leaf.” Although the song predates by more than 60 years the introduction of the new Canadian flag bearing the maple leaf, it probably referred to the maple leaf insignia worn by Canadian soldiers during the Boer War:

The flag that bears the maple leaf,
Entwined about thy brow shall be,
An emblem that beneath its folds,
No slave shall cry for liberty;

Hurrah, boys, Hurrah!
For Canada, Hurrah!
No harm to her can e’er befall,
No danger great shall us appall,
While our prairies grand and Egypt’s sand,
Tell how our heroes fall…
Tell how our heroes fall.

The Saxon force, the Celtic fire,
Grand heritage that thou dost own,
Make bold the Lion’s brood and strong,
To front and brave the world alone,


On many field of carnage red,
Stern duty’s call thou hast obeyed,
And while they daughters sad-eyed wept,
Thy sturdy sons have hist’ry made,


Should foes again our land assail,
Or traitor’s foot her soil profane,
In serried ranks with iron front
We’ll steadfast stand and not in vain,


The lions of March (part 2)


More of Toronto’s architectural lions to mark the beginning of March…

Unfortunately, I don’t have much any information on the history of the buildings to which these fellows are attached.

I talked to the then-owner of the house that sports these lions, but none of the very detailed information she gave me squared with anything I later looked up. So just enjoy these not-terribly ferocious-looking felines:


This guy has graced this yellow building (which has been a variety of restaurants) for as long as I’ve been in Toronto, in the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood:


Here is a newer cat (judging from the relative newness of the house), in one of Toronto’s tonier ‘hoods:









And finally, the lion I am most curious about. This fellow and his brothers appear on a number of houses in North Toronto. They’re all made of cast stone, so are suffering varying degrees of erosion. But to get an idea of how really small they are, see how they barely register when you view the whole house. Maybe these are cowardly lions?









Tomorrow, some windy architectural sculpture…