Georgian Architecture in Muskoka

Books on architectural conservation like Mark Fram’s “Well Preserved” show you how Muskoka’s built heritage can be categorized by appearance. Elements such as materials, colour, dimension, profile, massing, balance, proportion, and workmanship create an architectural character. When the features of a building add up to something that is distinct, it can be recognizable as a style and that style is often named. The most important elements of a style are the window styles and placement, the exterior trim work, and the materials of construction. Room sizes and ceiling heights usually share a commonality with other structures built in the same era, rather than being peculiar to a style.

This is because the technological developments that came with the Industrial Era provided greater ability to create structural strength, so ceiling heights could become higher, making all styles of homes/cottages taller, as the century progressed.

Almost all style names come from the homes and cottages created for the wealthy as these were the buildings most written about and emulated. In the 19th century, having what was considered to be “modern”was very much in vogue and new styles came about every twenty years or so, creating great eclecticism in the architecture of that period. Although there can never be a straightforward method to classify all buildings, each style has enough similarity that it can be generally described and named.

Many designs are “between styles”as architects and owners put their unique touch on building instructions from the style books available at the time, combining one or more styles.

Building styles were influenced by the city or country which the owner/architect called home, especially those that were built for the affluent on Muskoka’s lakes, as the Architect was usually from the owner’s home town.

Many of the early architects never even saw the site that they were designing for. Their clients would put their mark on Muskoka by designing a cottage which represented their heritage and their economic status, using mostly materials indigenous to the area, supplemented by materials of choice shipped in by rail.

Styles were chosen not only for esthetic reasons, but also for philosophical, economic and political reasons. Georgian architecture across Ontario is a good example of this.

Many British Immigrants arrived in Ontario in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The first were the British who left the 13 colonies after the American Revolution in order to find a place in British North America where they could openly demonstrate their loyalty to the Crown.

They were called the United Empire Loyalists and were a major influence in Ontario remaining English. A second group of British Immigrants arrived in Ontario after the War of 1812. Some of these newcomers to Ontario headed north when Muskoka and Haliburton were opened to settlement.

It was not until the first wave of prosperity, associated with the export of timber around the 1820’s, that there were sufficient funds for those who immigrated to Ontario to be financially able to express themselves through the architecture of their homes. As they became more prosperous they chose designs that reflected that prosperity. Being predominantly Loyalists, they expressed their ties to England through the styles they chose to build, which were usually Georgian.

It was typical for settlers to a new area to bring the building techniques and the house types that matched what they had been familiar with. Loyalists chose a Georgian style which represented tradition, elegance and celebrated their ties to England.

Having fought for their political belief of the importance of maintaining connection to England, it was extremely important for them to visually remain “English” in all that they did. Georgian architecture was the perfect style to enable them to do this through the design of their homes and use of style books from England.

Georgian architecture, named for Kings George 1-1V who ruled from 1714-1830, originated from the English Palladian and Scottish Georgian styles and was easily demonstrated to local trades through readily available style books. Georgian structures were mainly box-like and symmetrical with classic Renaissance proportions. Five bay fronts with two windows on each side of a central doorway were most characteristic of this style. Two storey Georgians were the most common, however they were also sometimes built as one or three storey buildings as well.

Double hung windows of twelve small panes over twelve small panes were traditional. Sometimes a Palladian window was centred in the second storey.

Not all Ontario Georgian homes and cottages adhered rigidly to this strict window arrangement. Some towns were known for their asymmetrical Georgian homes in which there was one window flanking a doorway with two windows on the other side. What was common to all Georgian style building was an uncluttered structure based on rules of symmetry, proportion and balance.

Examples of this style built for a more prosperous client might have the ornamentation of dentil molding and more elaborate trim work over the doorways, but it would remain, compared to other styles, a basically austere and classic structure.

The classic lines of Georgian architecture can be seen in some of both early residential and early hotel/lodge design across Muskoka. However, because of the period of greatest development in Muskoka, Georgian architecture was quickly dominated by Victorian architecture. It is for this reason that we in Muskoka should care for the few Georgian structures we are fortunate to have and recognize the important political history they represent to English culture in Ontario.

Thelma Jarvis Sales Representative

Port Carling: (705) 765-6855
Bracebridge: (705) 645 5257
Cell: (705) 644-3554
Fax: (705) 645-1238

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