The History of the Saskatchewan Association of Architects

In the early 20th century the prairies were in the midst of a great transformation with waves of farm settlers, businessmen and the railway of the rising new west. From a combined population of just over 100,000 at the turn of the century Alberta and Saskatchewan grew to support well over a million people by the time the First World war cut off immigration. This burgeoning population growth meant the spread of fenced farm land and the dotting of the prairies with many urban centres. Every five to eight miles along the rapidly spreading railway network a new town blossomed. Obviously each of these centres required the amenities of civilization if they were to prosper. Modern office buildings, apartments, churches, homes, and the layout of thousands of speculative subdivisions promised almost endless work for architects.

The men (and they appear to be exclusively men in these early days) who designed the bulk of Saskatchewan's first buildings had many common characteristics. It appears that they came in two distinct groups, the first largely to Regina prior to 1906 and the second to Saskatoon between 1908 and 1913.

The Regina group came for many reasons. Several, such as W.M. Dodd and S.J. Tripp, came west as builders. Tripp represented an eastern manufacturer of milling machines and designed small flour mills. He eventually included residential dwellings and some apartment blocks in his folio.

William Swan and Frank H. Portnal, both English immigrants, were a part of the homesteading wave. When the difficulty and immediate penury of the homestead lifestyle became apparent both headed into Regina and worked for large architectural firms. Portnall initially took a position as local agent for Darling and Pearson, an eastern Canadian firm. The brilliant prospects of the west soon lured him into private practice and in 1909 he joined F. Chapman Clemesha, another English designer, in a fruitful partnership.

J.H. Puntin, another English architect, came west as an agent of the same Darling and Pearson firm and just as quickly abandoned them to start an independent architectural practice.

The new provincial administration also needed architects and they induced several to come to the new province. Two Provincial Architects, Harold Dawson and Maurice Sharon arrived about 1907. Sharon went into private practice early and in 1911 he persuaded his erstwhile master Neil Darrach of St. Thomas, Ontario, to come west and join him in partnership.

Edgar M. Storey, a well established Ontario architect, appears to have been one of the few architects who emigrated to Saskatchewan to practise his profession. He settled in Regina by 1906 and found the rush of business so great that he brought his son, Stanley, and another Ontario acquaintance, William Gilbert Van Egmond, out to Saskatchewan to deal with all the work. This group eventually formed "Storey Van Egmond", one of the leading architectural firms of the province.

Like their reasons for coming to Saskatchewan, these early architects had a wide range of previous training and experience. The most common training was an apprenticeship under an established architect. E.J. Gilbert learned his profession under the watchful eye of Maurice Sharon in Regina. Sharon in his turn gained his skills under Neil Darrach in St. Thomas, Ontario. Later, as more colleges and universities instituted architectural programs, architects obtained more formal training.

The International Correspondence School, or ICS, was also an avenue of entry into the architectural profession in Saskatchewan. Van Egmond carted around a set of the ICS books on architecture for years and constantly referred to them.

Accurate renderers and draughtsmen were assured of work in the boom times and several architects had work extensive artistic training. Richard Bunyard, later the leading architect in Moose Jaw, was a student of F.H. Varley, one of the founding members of the Group of Seven.

Despite their vast difference in origins and training, these architects formed the core for a design profession that provided pioneer Saskatchewan with substantial buildings designed to modern standards.

While the opportunities were splendid, Saskatchewan architects faced a serious problem. The great pressure of rapid development and the lack of any professional standard allowed anyone who wished, to call himself an "architect".

Until the recession of 1906-08, there was little that could be done; every architect, real and imagined, had more than enough work to keep him busy. However, as credit tightened and the frantic building boom slowed, the professional architects in the province moved to protect their work, their professional reputation and the province's buildings. In late December, 1908 the Regina Association of Architects began to investigate the possibilities of provincial legislation governing architects. Not quite a year later a draft bill was prepared and on July 1, 1912 the Saskatchewan Architect's Act was promulgated. The act provided for the examination and registration of all persons acting as architects within the province. The Act effectively put the profession in control of its product and protected clients from self-proclaimed experts.

During the course of the Act's preparation, the Saskatchewan boom was renewed and from 1909 to 1913 it reached new heights of financial frenzy.. The city of Saskatoon was the focus of this renewal of activity. The number of building permits doubled every year during this period and in 1912 almost $8 million worth of construction was under way. This new boom spawned a second wave of architectural immigrants, most of whom settled in Saskatchewan.

This new group of architects was markedly different from the first. While most were also of Anglo-Saxon origin, they came to Saskatchewan specifically to practise their profession. Their training was generally, more specific to the profession though a significant number had engineering backgrounds. F.J. O'Leary, whose father had been the Brown and Vallance agent at the University of Saskatchewan, was an engineering graduate of McGill. Norman Thompson, the designer of St. John's Anglican Cathedral and the YWCA, arrived in Saskatoon as part of the engineering team for the Grand Trunk Pacific Engineering staff. R.M. Thompson, a Saskatoon Architect specializing in monolithic concrete structures, reinforced the idea that the increasing use of steel and concrete as structural materials in Saskatchewan buildings required more engineering skills.

The less varied background of the second group of architects entering the province was perhaps a reflection of the significance of the impending provincial legislation.

By 1912 there were almost 100 architects practising in the province. The legislation governing the profession called for the formation of an association to govern architects and their activities. In January the formal steps establishing the Saskatchewan Association of architects were taken.

The new group held their first convention in Regina in October 1912. The Association executive consisted of three architects from Regina, including F.C. Clemesha as president, three from Saskatoon with W.W. LaChance as vice-president and R. Bunyard from Moose Jaw. At the convention, two new members were elected to the governing committee: A.L.Creighton of Prince Albert and A.L. Favell of North Battleford. This careful balancing of metropolitan sensibilities was capped by a decision to have the next convention in Saskatoon.

The convention served as the formal announcement of the professional practise requirements of the Architect's Act, though President Clemesha notes in his opening address the "the underlying idea (of the Act) is not to exclude but to welcome membership." In addition to a general business meeting where the membership agreed to affiliate with the University of Saskatchewan, three papers were presented reflecting current architectural thought in Saskatchewan. W.W. LaChance called for a uniform set of Architectural symbols to ensure all plans would be easier to interpret. A.L. Favell criticized the deplorable state of town and city planning in Western Canada and stated his belief that a great opportunity to make prairie cities better places to live was being lost. Finally A.J. Rowley, in his paper "Cyclone Lessons", described the extent of the damage to Regina in the recent cyclone and pointed out the comparative strength of different construction materials and methods. After a tour of the new Legislative buildings and a banquet at the King's Hotel the convention broke up in the early morning hours.

A year later the building boom collapsed. Many architects packed their bags and moved further west or south to the United States in search of work. Some went back to Ontario to re-establish earlier practices. In 1914 the declaration of war further diminished the ranks of the provincial association as probably well over half of the practising architects in the province closed up shop and went to war. Despite these challenges the profession survived. After the war the return of many of the same architects revived the association and the prosperity of the 1920's ensured the survival of the profession.

 

 


 

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Saskatchewan Association of Architects

200 - 642 Broadway Ave.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
S7N 1A9

Phone: 306-242-0733
Fax: 306-664-2598