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The Arts and Crafts Movement in Victoria, B.C.

   

Architecture in Victoria 1880-1920

The Late 19th century experienced a movement in architectural styles against traditional high Victorian architecture to one that "advocated vernacular expression, the' honest' and natural use of materials and fine craftsmanship instead of mass produced parts" (Kerr, pg. 6). The Arts and Crafts Movement, which this became to be known, had its roots in England and had a great influence on architecture in North America between 1880-1920.

The Arts and Crafts architectural styles were being driven by British architects such as C.F.A. Voysey and Edwin Lutyens. The houses of the Arts and Crafts Movement were "wonderfully informal and unpretentious, sophisticated in a very subtle way" and designs suggested handcraftsmanship and a "harmony with the setting" (Maitland, pg. 164).

The writings of William Morris and John Ruskin which were widely publicized in North America, advocated for the Arts and Crafts Movement's beliefs in the use of nationally indigenous architectural styles and materials. Architecture was to compliment the environment, be simple and functional and of the best quality.

The leading two architects of the late 19th century and early 20th century in Victoria were Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure. Whereas Rattenbury established himself as the foremost designer of institutions, Maclure become the foremost architect of residential homes. Maclure's early years in Victoria exemplify his deep connections to the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The area of Rockland in Victoria in particular contains numerous examples of the Arts and Crafts homes that were built in the time around the turn of the century. The Rockland area was developed in the early 1880's from a 500 acre Douglas Estate called "Fairfield Farm". The intention of this subdivision was to develop a prestigious neighbourhood (Segger, 1996).

Samuel Maclure had many commissions in the Rockland area and many of his Arts and Crafts homes still remain to this day. Two types of Arts and Crafts styles are particularly evident in the Rockland area. These include the sloping hillside slope and the chalet house style (Segger, Industrial..., 1989, pg. 11a).

A pure shingle-style chalet house
A "pure" shingle-style chalet house

Samuel Maclure (1860-1929) was born of Scottish Immigrants in New Westminster, British Columbia. From his early years, Maclure showed an interest in art and attended the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia from 1884-85. While at the institute, Maclure developed an interest in architecture and in the late 1880's returned to New Westmister and joined a local architectural practice. In 1892, he moved to Victoria and opened a practice of his own.

For nearly 20 years, Maclure dominated residential architecture in Victoria. He is said to have been "probably the most notable of Victoria's architects for both the quality and originality of the work that stemmed from a 40 year practice in British Columbia" (Segger, Victoria..., 1979, pg. 340).

Within 10 years of establishing his own practice, Maclure had become the most successful domestic architect the area. Although he was successful throughout British Columbia and Washington State, most of his commissions were in Victoria.

Maclure was enchanted by the Arts and Crafts Movement and developed his own architectural styles based on that philosophy. His designs were "sensibly conceived, harmonious structures" (Bingham, pg. 7). His earlier works in Victoria remain truest to the Arts and Crafts styles. Maclure houses had many trademarks which made them distinct. These included broad hipped roofs with flaring eaves, frequent use of stone and distinctive picture windows, always facing a view. Interior features included an oak or fir-pannelled central hall and extremely high quality handcrafted detailing.

In his early years, Maclure developed the "Maclure bungalow" style which were sturdy one story buildings, wood-framed and surfaced in shingles. These houses were "practical, handsome and inexpensive" (Eaton, pg. 3). In these years where Maclure aligned himself with the Arts and Crafts Movement, his houses show evidence of the architect struggling to find "an architectural form expressive of the environment and its population" (Segger, 1986, pg. 79). He did develop a style which was distinctly Arts and Crafts and distinctly his own.

In keeping with the Arts and Crafts tradition, Maclure believed in the individual and custom designing each home. No two homes of Maclure are said to be the same. Although clients often requested homes that resembled his existing work, Maclure refused to comply because he believed that each house must be unique to the needs of each client (Bingham, pg. 58).

In designing these original homes, Maclure worked closely with the wives of the household. The society wife was considered the "arbiter of taste" and Maclure had a natural ability and sensitivity to establish congenial working relationships with these women (Segger, 1996).

Maclure kept apprised about the current Arts and Crafts styles by subscribing to several prominent architectural journals which featured the latest works of Arts and Crafts architects such as Voysey, Baillie-Scott and Lutyens. Voysey, in particular, had a great impact on Maclure's designs. Maclure adopted many of Voysey's trademarks such as the use of half-timber and open galleried central halls.

By 1903, the Voysey influence was quite evident in Maclure's work by the transformation of Maclure's earlier colonial bungalows to ones with larger roofs, more simplified forms and vestigial buttresses. By 1912, "Maclure was not adverse to producing residences which must be almost literal interpretations of the Voysey manner" (Segger,1996).

Maclure was also fascinated by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright with whom he corresponded (Bingham, pg. 5). Wright's influences on Maclure are evident in the floating roof planes and rigid geometric handling of timber in many of his designs.

A Maclure Chalet Style Arts & Crafts House
A Maclure Chalet-Style Arts & Crafts House

Maclure's involvement in the Arts and Crafts Movement was not restricted to architecture. In 1890, Maclure had begun giving watercolour painting lessons which enabled him to socialize with the best of Victoria's society. He took this opportunity to give lectures on the Arts and Crafts philosophies and writings of such proponents of the movement as William Morris.

In 1909, Maclure became one of the founding members of the Vancouver Island Arts and Crafts Society. As the cream of society, it greatly influenced the tastes and styles of the families on the island (Segger, Industrial..., 1979, pg. 17).

Maclure reached the high point in his career between the years 1900 and 1914. During this time, he popularized the English half-timber home which is now a unique characteristic style of Victoria (Segger, 1996). Many of Maclure's designs were published in prestigious international journals such as the Craftsman, The Studio and Country Life.

Although Maclure moved away from the Arts and Crafts style in his later years, the impact of his Arts and Crafts designs on Victoria were substantial. He developed a style which now typifies residences in Victoria in the time of the turn of the century and, "if today, the city has a reputation as the most English place in Canada, it is due in no small measure to the half timber idiom which [Samuel Maclure] popularized" (Eaton, pg. 5).

 
 
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