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Domestic Gems

October 15, 2008 – March 15, 2009

Yates Street, St. Catharines

Yate Street, St. Catharines

A.E. Nicholson

A.E. Nicholson

R.I. Macbeth

Robert Macbeth

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Yate Street - St. Catharines


Yate Street - St. Catharines

This exhibition celebrates the influence of two prominent St. Catharines Architects, Arthur Edwin Nicholson (1881-1945) and Robert Ian Macbeth (1891-1978), on the built landscape of the Niagara Peninsula. Whether working together as the firm of Nicholson and Macbeth (circa 1918 to 1930) or independently, these two men were responsible for much of the region’s best architecture.

The exhibition was developed by the Niagara Society of Architects and includes many drawings, models and photographs of the important buildings designed by Macbeth and Nicholson.

The Niagara Society of Architects chose to highlight Nicholson and Macbeth’s residential work, because so many of their admired homes grace communities throughout the Niagara Peninsula. These homes, more than their still notable public buildings, illustrate their mastery of styles, which included their Arts and Crafts and Neo-Tudor, to their less well-known Spanish Eclectic, Colonial, Classical and Modern. The houses were typically well built, richly detailed, delightful in composition, and skilfully sited. Still eminently liveable today, the houses are also a testament to the craftsmen that built them, and to the owners that have sensitively upgraded them to meet contemporary needs.

Nicholson and Macbeth produced a vast body of custom residential work. Records of the successor firm of Baker and Elmes, Architects (now part of Quartek Group Inc.), include over seventy-five houses, of which fifty were reviewed for the exhibition, and thirty-two were photographed. Due to the destruction and loss of records, there are many other houses which may have been designed by Nicholson and/or Macbeth - one of the ongoing questions about the built environment in the Niagara area. Most of the houses included in the exhibition are located in the Niagara Peninsula - including St.Catharines, Port Dalhousie, along the shores of Lake Ontario, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queenston, Fonthill, Welland, Port Colborne, and on the north shore of Lake Erie. The exhibition contained models, original drawings and photographs. Contemporary photographs, by Les Andrew, show the houses in their current condition: most are meticulously maintained.

Arthur Edwin Nicholson 1881-1945

Arthur Nicholson was born in Buffalo, New York, on June 22, 1881, the eldest son of Edwin and Alice Nicholson. His father was a prominent builder and contractor, with a planning mill and lumberyard at the corner of George and Edmund Streets in St.Catharines. After attending public schools in St.Catharines,  Arthur decided to adopt the profession of architecture, and was articled to the firm of Gordon & Helliwell in Toronto. He was  admitted to membership in the Ontario Association of Architects in April 1905.

Subsequently, he set up a partnership with his father in St.Catharines. This firm was known as Edwin C. Nicholson & Son. During this time he worked on several projects, including: Colonel W. Leonard residence, 75 Yates Street (1913), a large brick, stucco and half-timber residence which was demolished in 1938 and the seven-acre estate subdivided, the Band Stand, Montebello Park (1905), which was copied from a band stand in Buffalo, New York.  The Old Grandstand for the Henley Regatta course Judge Campbell house on Church Street which was demolished for the construction of the new Federal Building.

This partnership was dissolved in October 1912, and Arthur started his own firm, which moved to 15 Queen Street, on the second floor of the Standard Block. As business grew, he moved his office to 46 Queen Street, a small one-storey stucco office next to the YMCA, from which the practice was continued until Nicholson’s death in 1945.

One of his first projects was the Maple Leaf Milling Company grain elevator, built in 1913, on the pier in Port Colborne. Other projects included:

nsaInner_bulletAlbert Fitfield residence on Ontario Street.

nsaInner_bulletThe south gate entrance to Victoria Lawn Cemetery on Queenston Street     Welland

nsaInner_bulletVale Manufacturing Company at Lock 2 of the old Welland Canal.

Nicholson made several study trips to England and Scotland. Sometime in 1918-1919 he formed a partnership with Robert I. Macbeth, which continued until 1930. Evidence suggests that some financial hardship, not uncommon during the early depression years, accompanied this. After the dissolution of Nicholson and Macbeth, he continued to practice as Arthur E.Nicholson. He was the consulting architect for McKinnon Industries (later General Motors), and Thompson Products (later TRW).

Arthur Edwin Nicholson died on February 2, 1945. Unfortunately his drawings were destroyed after his death, so there is very little drawing evidence of his later work.

Robert Ian Macbeth 1891-1978

Robert Ian Macbeth was born on March 15, 1891 in Inverness, Scotland. His father, Robert John Macbeth, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, was a very well known and           respected architect, practising in the north of Scotland. He designed many churches and other large buildings. His son, Robert apprenticed with him and worked on Andrew Carnegie’s Skibo Castle at Dornoch, County Sunderland. Upon the sudden death of his father in 1912, Robert, then in his late teens, completed the castle.

Prior to his death, Robert John Macbeth had won an international competition for the Scottish National Memorial to King Edward VII, to be built at Holyrood, in Edinburgh. Given the death of the senior Macbeth and the young age of Robert Ian, the project was awarded to another architect.

In May 1914, Robert, together with his mother, brothers Ronald and Stewart, and his sister Margaret, emigrated to Canada, buying a farm on Erion Road in Louth township. The family farmed for several years and Robert apprenticed himself to Arthur Edwin Nicholson, then one of the leading architects in the Niagara Peninsula. The firm remained in Nicholson’s Queen Street offices until the partnership was dissolved. Macbeth set up his own practice in 1930 in the sunroom at the rear of his residence at 104 Queen Street.

Macbeth found business administering the work of American architects who were building large summer homes along the north shore of Lake Erie, for their wealthy clients. This ultimately led to getting work directly from American clients. Many of the large white   colonial summer houses can still be seen along the Lake Erie shore road. The firm designed many outstanding buildings, one of which is the St.Catharines City Hall, built in 1937. With a sense of humour, he apparently did not reveal the use of marble for the front staircase, anticipating that the city fathers would delete it to save money. In 1941 Macbeth was made a Fellow of the Ontario  Association of Architects.

During the war, Macbeth was heavily involved in the construction and administration of wartime housing throughout Ontario. After the war, he created a short lived partnership with Wilson Salter and Arthur B. Scott, known as Macbeth, Salter and Scott. In 1949 the firm of Macbeth and Williams was formed and  continued until 1964, when it became Macbeth, Williams, Woodruff & Hadaway. Robert Macbeth retired in 1964 and was made an honorary member of the Ontario Association of Architects in 1978, dying in March of that year.


® Image: View of Fort George, Oil on canvass, C. Kreighoff 1823