I had never heard of clinker bricks until I visited my cousin in Edmonton this summer. She showed me a church that is partially constructed of clinker bricks. What are clinker bricks, you ask?
When fired in early brick kilns, the surface of bricks that were too close to the fire changed into volcanic textures and darker, often purplish colors. Typically they were discarded but around 1900, these bricks were discovered to be usable and distinctive in architectural detailing, adding a charming earthy quality to buildings. The hardened residue of coal fires is called clinker, thus these mutant bricks found a name. In Europe, it is spelled klinker.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton was built in 1913 using the distinctive clinker brick adding a rich tapestry to the Gothic design. Rather than the usual conformity of bricks, each clinker brick is unique, its shape and colour determined by its nearness to the fire. This church, celebrating its first century this year, aptly demonstrates the techniques used in combining ordinary smooth bricks with fused irregular clinkers.
Once the charm of clinker bricks was recognized, it was often used on the stylish homes of the exceedingly wealthy. Edmonton still has a few upscale houses that were built using clinkers.
Brick Italianate House, Ninga, MB
My summer travels took me to places I’d never been before, like Ninga, Manitoba. Not ninja, Ninga, apparently the Chippewa word for mother.
This lonesome seemingly deserted buff brick house caught my attention and I took one picture of it, the one above. So everything I say is based on seeing this one elevation.
The roofline is the foremost Italianate feature. Its low pitch hip jousted by the sweet angles of the matching gables evokes a smooth and gentle, almost erotic rhythm against the prairie sky. It sings!
The under-eave colour appears to have been reddish brown, which would have contrasted richly with the pale buff brick and feel right at home under the milky brown of the shingles. The pairs of tall windows under the gables have simple brick headers. The bricks overall are laid in common running bond.
The main floor conveys several elements of Italianate style such as bay windows It appears to have two of them but closer inspection reveals the one on the left of brick construction is incorporated into the body of the house and features the main entrance. The one on the right is a wooden addition, a back porch painted in trim colour. The bays are connected by a narrow but elegant verandah.
Oh, the verandah: the brackets are a contrasting green to the reddish trim. The low pitch of the roof in sighing reverence to the roofline above and the trio of turned squared-away pillars doing their important work slowly succumb to the creep of the foliage, already obscuring the stairs and entwining the bench against the wall. Although the house remains in reasonably good appearance, the straggling strands of long-dead Christmas lights and the invading overgrowth herald its tomorrow, its future tangled in the vines and vicissitudes that encroach on its presence, that threaten its being. Only the prairie wind can determine how apt this all is.
This is number four in the series on Carberry’s historic Main Street.
The Murphy Block, so named because it was owned and/or occupied by two of the area’s most prominent and successful businessmen: the Murphy Brothers, Gabriel B. and William George, was built by merchant Joseph R. Thompson in 1886. One of Carberry’s oldest business facilities, the Murphy Block stands as an excellent example of early prairie commercial buildings. Built of brick with a rubble-stone foundation, its practical two-storey rectangular design with a flat roof and recessed front entrance made for a solid, attractive and serviceable location.
Meshing splendidly with neighbouring buildings, the block still sports something close to its original first floor facade. The simple wood and glass storefront offers large display windows with transoms, double doors with early hardware and a separate second floor entrance. Older pictures of Carberry’s Main Street reveal that behind the ugly cladding you see today on the second floor of the Murphy Block may still remain two beautifully arched windows and some fine corbelling along the cornice.
Pa Tuckett remembers that during the time W.G. operated his department store in the Murphy Block, there was a young woman named Edithina working as a cashier in the store. Pa recalls how pretty she was and that he was sweet on her but every time he asked her out, she refused. Pa never knew why.
The site also served as a hardware store run by Richard Wilkie and Errol Berry and, more recently, a fabric store called BP Fabrics. Today, though not an actual store, the two front windows are packed with someone’s interesting personal collection of antiques and collectibles.
Here’s part three of our jaunt back in time on Carberry’s Main Street.
Modest, sturdy and practical, one-storey brick buildings sprang up in most growing Manitoba towns, supporting a variety of commercial and social uses. Built in the 1890s as two separate long narrow buildings, Carberry has an excellent example of utilitarian town building. The business roles of the two buildings changed frequently until they were merged in the mid-1950s and became the Royal Canadian Legion, a hub of social interaction in the little town. Pa Tuckett has fond memories of “bending a few with the old boys” at the Legion.
Though primarily functional, this little one-storey has a few elements of interest. The buildings are both wider than usual, have flat roofs, brick walls and stone and brick foundations. A shallow pilaster indicates the original border between the two spaces. Their interiors are deep and open and now connected with a partial opening in the separating wall.
In this picture from Carberry’s early days, the Legion is the second building in. It had lovely brick corbelling along the cornice and well-defined indented entrances. It’s possible some of that brickwork still exists behind the blue cladding above the entrance.
Today the little buildings, now united behind a single facade, sport the bright red Royal Canadian Legion signage and the Canadian flag flying above. My picture doesn’t do it justice. It inspires a disproportionate amount of awe for its size. Nestled between the Charlie Sear Building and the Murphy Block (the next post in this series), perhaps its role bringing continuity to the heritage ambience of the street accounts for some of that.
Brick Commercial Buildings, Elizabeth Avenue, Baldur, MB
Baldur is a little community on Hwy #23 in southern Manitoba named after the son of Odin, a major deity in Scandinavian mythology. Baldur personified the nobler qualities of human nature. Known for his beauty, Baldur was also the god of innocence and the summer sun. A few years ago I took some pictures of two fine examples of early prairie commercial buildings that still stand on Baldur’s main drag. The above picture shows the contextual view of the two tan brick buildings.
Now Kay’s Place, the smaller, more modest brick building was built in 1910 and sports fine brick detailing on the second floor. The corbelling under the cornice and the broad fanned arch with datestone highlight the roofline. The three bay façade has inset windows with rough limestone sills and regular pilasters to offer movement. It is a shame the ground floor façade is such a mess. What wonders once lurked, perhaps still do, beneath the poor cladding? In this case, half a building is better than none.
The Fowler Block, the larger commercial building, was built in 1899 by Alex Fowler from a design by Brandon architect W. H. Shillinglaw. Fowler arrived in Baldur in 1891 to operate the new facility for the Manitoba Elevator Company of which his father was president. Fowler purchased the local saddlery business of C.W. Watson in 1895 and by 1899 had commenced construction of this building. The saddlery business occupied the smaller of the two retail spaces on the main floor with various merchants renting the other space. In 1904 Alex became Baldur’s postmaster and for the next 31 years the town post office was located in the Fowler Block. The structure remained in the Fowler family until 1978.
The Fowler Block is an excellent example of the type of commercial block commonly constructed in southern Manitoba between 1890 and 1920. The design is straightforward and attractive with vertical brick pilasters separating the stores. The second storey windows feature segmental arches with rough limestone keystones and a limestone belt course running below. The most eye-catching features are the rich double rows of corbelling along the cornice and the fanned brick arch with the datestone, similar to the other commercial building. A rather amazing feature of the Fowler Block is the integrity of the original façade, which hasn’t been trashed with inappropriate signage or colour, other than the vertical cladding above the windows. The brickwork on both buildings is standard running bond.
The exterior ground floor is original, attractive and well maintained, featuring indented entrances with opposing sidelights and carved entry surrounds. Existing signage is appropriate in size and content and does not detract from the overall beauty of the building to any large degree. Fortunately, the interior retains many original features including decorative pressed-tin ceiling panels. The overall condition is excellent which bespeaks the fine originality of the design and the presence it has in this small town.
American Foursquare House, Baldur, MB
American Foursquare was popular from the late 1800s until about 1930, combining elements from other architectural styles to dress up its simplicity. Many of the same elements Frank Lloyd Wright used can be found on American Foursquares. Sometimes called prairie box style, the houses were a simple box shape, two storeys with each floor having a four-room floor plan (thus the name), a low-pitched hipped roof with a large central dormer and deep overhang. This buff brick example may once have had a wide porch. The dormer is visual feast, elaborately decorated with delicate bargeboard and the bull’s-eye window behind. Decorative features are the overbuilt corners, the small belt course of raised brick between the floors, the carved elegant brackets under the wide eaves. The style was practical in several ways: the houses fit nicely into small city lots and their simplicity meant they could be sold as mail order house kits by Sears and Eatons. The metal roof cresting tops this lovely well-maintained house. Though the colour scheme and materials of the front porch do not complement the rest of the house, the place overcomes this minor glom and presents a solid and stately elegance, a quiet history of service to generations.