Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
For us time is space and even when we desire to have an experience of time our preference is for the remembrance of things past rather than the search for lost time.(Ansell-Pearson 2002: 162)
In late-nineteenth-century Canada, fire was a given. Buildings were being constructed as quickly as possible as a result of the newly established dominion's aspirations to develop, grow and modernise. As a result of this speed of construction, these buildings were haphazardly planned and composed of the most readily available – and also highly flammable – materials. In an 1887 address to the Royal Society of Canada, Quebecois architect Charles Baillairgé identified the frequency of the devastating fires occurring in Canada at the time as a phenomenon that marked Confederation-era Canadian architecture as distinct from that of its colonial past. These fires, he stated, ‘are waxing more numerous than of old, due to the increasing consumption of light and resinous woods in the construction of buildings of all kinds’. Baillairgé went on to point out that in France ‘where oak and other hard grained woods, as elm and the like, are almost exclusively employed or have been for years, a disastrous fire is of the rarest occurrence’ (Baillairgé 1887: 1). Canada, deeply engrossed in physical, cultural and governmental nation-building activities in the late nineteenth century, faced a threat that was by this point in time minimal in its ‘mother countries’ – and this threat required the ingenuity and industry of its own architects to respond to it.
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