aMUSE: Lost Architecture

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A photo of the aMUSE pop-up exhibit on St. Catharines architecture at the Niagara Artists Centre. The artifacts were only present for one evening, but the remaining photographs, maps, blue prints, and more, remain on display until October 28.

The Last aMUSE of 2016

Our final aMUSE pop-up exhibition of 2016 focused on the lost and remaining 19th century architectural gems from St. Catharines. The exhibit brings together photographs, maps, fire insurance plans, blue prints, and historic objects that together tell the history of architecture and heritage buildings and properties in the city.

While the artifacts were only in the room for the evening – it is a one-night-only pop-up museum experience, after all – the remaining photographs and other print material remains on display at the Niagara Artists Centre until Friday, October 28.

We’d like to thank the uber-talented Marcus Schwan of Fox Trail for providing us with amazing live tunes all evening.

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Marcus Schwan of Fox Trail singin’ some sweet tunes.

We’d also like to thank Stephen, Natasha, and all the super helpful staff at the Niagara Artists Centre for hosting the exhibit. Thank you so much for your support of local heritage!

Lost Architecture in St. Catharines 

This past aMUSE was one of the most powerful pop-up exhibits we’ve had in the last 4 years. Perhaps it has something to do with how people connect to the built heritage around them, but our staff and I spent most of the evening conversing with visitors who grew continually upset about the city’s treatment and destruction of heritage properties from 1950 to 1980. Their reactions spanned from shock to disappointment to shame and to anger.

And I’m glad that they had such emotional reactions to the objects and photos of our lost heritage. One visitor explained that she was angry because there is no real reason that those heritage buildings had to be destroyed. Another was angry because there seemed to be no system in place that determined how or why buildings would be saved or torn down.

And it isn’t difficult to find examples of buildings in which we, as a community, deeply regret their destruction.

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James McSloy’s residence, ‘Suncroft’, demolished in 1971.
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The Carnegie Library, demolished 1977.
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The Prendergast Block located on St. Paul Street, demolished in 1949.

These are only a few of the selection of lost heritage buildings on display at the Niagara Artists Centre. And while we mourn them, we also hope that they act as a reminder of the importance of heritage properties, and how easy it is to treat them as ‘disposable’ when they stand in the way of progress.

The exhibit is actually built around a couple of quotes from a paper entitled “Our Great Age of Destruction” written by local historian and heritage advocate Robert Taylor in 1984. A fiery condemnation of the city’s treatment of heritage properties, Taylor explains:

Through the wholesale demolition of local landmarks, the sense of place and of community identity has declined. Our architectural heritage acts as a reminder of where and what “here” is. It is a non-renewable resources, as important as unpolluted air and water. Unfortunately, St. Cathairnes has ravaged its inheritance of beautiful and historically significant buildings, and sacrificed much of its special identity…

…Our demolition epoch is as much a part of our history as is the great era of canal-building. The demolition companies have played nearly as great a role in changing our environment as did the original Welland Canal Company.

If you find yourself energized by Taylor’s words, then I would suggest you visit the exhibit before it closes. You will be glad to participate in sharing our community’s built and architectural identity.

Artifacts that Appeared on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at aMUSE: Public Spaces, at the Niagara Artists Centre

Unfortunately, we were only able to display objects from the collection for the evening of October 15, but there is a companion guide to the exhibit available at NAC, and we are happy to include a photo-list of the objects that appeared on October 15 below:

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Balustrade, Lincoln County Courthouse
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Cornerstone, Central Public School
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Window Pediment, Welland House Hotel
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Model of 6 Geneva Street
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Stone, Riordon Paper Mill
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Cell Door Lock, Lincoln County Jail
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Weathervane, Robertson School
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Brick, Mack Training School for Nurses

Adrian Petry is a public historian and public programmer at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre and curated this aMUSE pop-up exhibition. 

aMUSE: Public Spaces – Architecture is on display at the Niagara Artists Centre, 354 St Paul St, St. Catharines, until October 28. 

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