Friends of the Cawthra Bush
Greater Mississauga Area
Pages of Special Interest;
Other Table of Contents;
scanned copy. Done on a non-word processor, called a typewriter, I believe.
Some of the spelling is original, even if it appears wrong. The name Elliott
has one t, even though it is often seen in this text with two tt's. The
figures are left out at his time but as this is a City document a copy
is in the Central library, in the Canadiana Reading Room 615-3524 - code
By Ken Phipps, LACAC student, September 1989
William Lyon Somerville was born in 1887. He died seventy-eight years later, on April 14, 1965, having been, among other things, a Royal Canadian Academy of Art 'Academician', a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architecture, a Fellow and President of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, a President of the Ontario Association of Architects, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, and a prolific writer for Canadian Homes and Gardens magazine.
He was born in Hamilton and educated there and in New York, where he practised architecture before World War 1. He started practising in Ontario in 1919.
Among his projects were the Mills Memorial Library, the student residences and other buildings of McMaster University, Hamilton, which he designed "with the intention of reproducing the quiet dignity of the famous English universities of Oxford and Cambridge ... in what is commonly called Tudor or Collegiate Gothic" . For this work McMaster eventually (thirty years after the fact) awarded him an honourary doctor of laws degree .
During his career he was a consultant for the Rainbow Bridge and designed the Peace Tower and the bridge's Canadian Plaza at Niagara Falls. He assisted with the restoration of Fort Henry in Kingston, Fort George at Niagara-On-The-Lake and Fort Erie. He also designed hospitals such as the Ontario Hospital at St Thomas, St Joseph's Hospital in Brantford and Pembroke General Hospital. He was the consulting architect on University Hospital in Edmonton, the architect for additions to St Michael's Hospital in Toronto, the Calgary Geneva Hospital and St Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton. He also designed the Lion Monument which was sculpted by Francis Loring and Florence Wyle and originally located at the east entrance of the QEW (opened in 1939 by Queen Elizabeth) until in 1974 the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced it would be demolished because the highway had been widened and a stream of protesting letters prompted Premier William Davis to have the lion moved to the lakefront instead .
By 1926 he had designed the Cawthra-Elliott estate. He had also won a medal from the American Society of Beaux Arts. As well, he had won the National Americanization Housing competition in New York in 1914 and the Model City Housing Competition in Montreal in 1920. His was among seven nominated designs for the Canadian National War Memorial at Ottawa in association with the sculptor Francis Loring; and in 1924 he had won the National Shakespearean Memorial Theatre Competition in London, England .
In the mid-1920's he was among a group of Toronto architects which met every day at lunch in the Diet Kitchen restaurant on Bloor Street. Out of these meetings came a movement entitled "The Diet Kitchen School of Architecture". A committee of which William Somerville was a member approached the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) to suggest the mounting of a pan-Canadian exhibition of architecture and the allied arts; the committee convinced the Board of Directors and in February 1927 Architecture and the Allied Arts attracted over 29000 visitors over its two-week showing period. The Diet Kitchen School's intention was to "stimulate awareness of the high standards of Canadian design and craftsmanship and encourage cooperation in the various branches of the arts. In essence, a distinctive style for Canadian artistic designs was being fostered" .
WL Somerville was also, as mentioned earlier, a prolific writer for Canadian Homes and Gardens, and around the time he designed Cawthra-Lotten he was writing about the Canadian architectural identity. In August 1926 he pointed out that climatic conditions, which vary widely in the United States and so constitute an important factor in determining what architectural style is most suitable for that country, vary little in Canada and so are unimportant when considering what sort of house is most appropriate for this country; much more important in arriving at such a determination here are our living conditions, sources of material and cultural backgrounds, which vary widely. At this point Somerville felt that since homes seemed to be getting smaller a Canadian style needed to be pinpointed to keep this gradual change under control. He noticed that the parlour had disappeared, occasional help, had nearly replaced servants, the upstairs sitting room was nearly gone, and even the validity of the dining room's existence was being questioned. He believed Canadians had reached the 'cottage stage'. He put aside the French Farmhouses of Quebec (distinctive of Lower Canada), the Colonial or early British Canadian house, the early Victorian brick houses of Ontario (distinctive of Upper Canada), and even the plaster and pine lath gabled cottages distinguished by doorways and latticework which made the best use of limited means. He put aside all of these, deciding to deal with rather than ignore the unfortunate lack of skilled mechanics then available in the Canadian building trade (and so avoid the embarrassment of having an elegantly-designed Georgian horribly maimed in its production by Canadian ignorance or incompetence), to cater to the culturally simple Canadian " ... with his informal ways and his wife's confessed weakness for the pictures of the 'Group of Seven"' and to finally conclude that the perfect Canadian house must descend directly from the cottages of England--with their neutral rather than architectural style, the opportunity they offer for craftsmanship, the great variety of design among them, and , most importantly, their "utter lack of pretence" .
Somerville wrote about Canadians as though he wasn't one, and this attitude as well as the opinions he freely expressed would have appealed to Grace Cawthra-Elliott. In January 1927 he pushed house consumers to build their own houses, trusting entirely in their hand-picked reliable architects, rather than to simply buy houses 'off the rack'. He suggested it is true that "a home expresses the personality, culture and social standing of its makers in spite of everything they can do to prevent it"  and intimated that the owners of the home quite naturally and unavoidably express those same things--the unavoidable conclusion being, of course, that if you want to know for sure you look good, you have to dress yourself. He seems to have been interested at this point in promoting individual architectural plans for the needs of individuals. He demonstrated what a perfect pick of an architect he would be for any concerned home-builder by showing off his knowledge of design and materials.
By May he was writing again about the blanket architectural style and specifically its application to the city house. He wrote that the city house must be in harmony with its neighbours in order to look its best. He said assumed heavy constant traffic makes it desirable to have as few rooms as possible near the front of the house and the street, and that to provide for garden space at the rear the house must be kept as close as possible to the street. He proposed that the new formal city home be not original, different or primitive, but rather a free interpretation of English traditions to meet modern requirements .
By June 1927 WL Somerville, recently elected President of the Ontario Association of Architects, was writing that the city house, unlike the suburban, is not forced to show its 'welcoming smile' to the street, and that therefore a more restrained, reserved appearance is suitable, the natural choice being the formal 18th century Georgian. He wrote about its simple elegance and the necessity of a garden which coordinated with the design; he said the effect of the garden he would consider perfect would be that of an outdoor living room .
In July he warned house consumers to beware of fads, and in August he wrote that they were in the midst of the walnut and gumwood era; "the Spanish influence of Hollywood and Florida is happily dying out without doing too much damage .... Why should we copy the freakish styles of the moving picture scenario artists, or be carried away by the bizarre extremes of our more temperamental cousins?"  Obviously he was a traditionalist of the permanent opinion that the best in architectural design had been expressed as well as it ever would be a hundred years before he began his practice. He encouraged experimentation with colour and texture but not quite quietly insisted that any changes in the permanent architectural aesthetic be no more than cosmetic.
W.L Somerville believed in himself
and in the value of the English architectural heritage. He was proud and
wanted the architectural heritage he'd adopted to occupy the most important
position it could in the landscape of the future. He also believed that
in architectural design consumers get what they pay for . He himself
probably did not undercharge. He had definite ideas about how to apply
traditional English designs to modern projects, and these ideas, along
with the attitudes and opinions his articles show he possessed, made him
the perfect architect for Grace Cawthra-Elliott.
THE ARCHITECT - List of Figures;
1. W.L. Somerville, as shown in the March 1936 Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, president at the time - p. 88
2. Somerville posing with others of the Diet Kitchen School in 1927, as reprinted in the autumn 1982 Canadian Society of Decorative Arts Bulletin - p. 89
3. Somerville's August 1930 conceptions of how houses facing in different directions should be differently constructed. Here, his plan for a house facing north - p. 90
4. His plan for a house facing south - p. 91
5. His plan for a house facing east or west - p. 92
6. Somerville's own home, truly his as he designed it--July 1928 - p. 93
7. Some of his work on St. Michael's Hospital. Here, the entrance - p. 94
8. St. Michael's Chapel as well as Somerville's plans for hospital rooms, the chapel itself and the entrance lobby - p. 95
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