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    United States
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Architecture of Canada

Canadian Architecture - Totem Pole in Vancouver's Stanley Park
First Nation's Totem Pole

Early Canadian architecture was based on the land and the resources available to the First Nations people (American Indians or Native Americans). Due to this early architecture, which is almost entirely domestic (house) architecture, early construction varies from region to region. For example in the great plains (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) the tipi was the most common form of house, which is a number of wooden poles meeting at the top to form an up-side-down cone covered with animal hide. In the southeast wigwams (similar to tipis in structure, but different in shape) and log houses were common and in the north igloos, made of ice and snow, were the houses.

With the arrival of the Europeans in the 1600s (but not in substantial numbers until the 1700s), this architecture was forever altered. For the most part, the styles reflected the settlers (French, English, etc.) in combination of what materials were locally available.

Canadian Architecture - French Architecture in Terrebonne
Colonian French

This began with what could be considered Gothic architecture, although it was only built in the form of homes and a limited number of churches. This style dominated the 1600s and 1700s, especially in Quebec; the style (for houses) was simple in nature and functional in use, with steep slanting roofs to prevent snow build-up. The churches in this style though are much more impressive and Notre Dame in Montreal is still the country's signature church and one of the continent's most impressive early architectural achievements. Most of these churches are found in Quebec, most notably in Montreal and Quebec City.

This time also saw battles between the English (primarily in modern day United States and in the Canadian Maritimes provinces) and the French, based in Quebec. This led to the construction of walled cities and fortresses. Quebec City still has its walls surrounding the upper town and the Fortress of Louisburg (near Sydney, Nova Scotia) is one of the best fortresses in the country (it has been renovated).

Canadian Architecture - Halifax's Colonian Architecture
Halifax's Colonial Clock

The few English settlers in the country during the 1700s (generally based in the Maritimes provinces and Newfoundland) favored the Georgian style, although they altered this from the English definition. Although more common in the United States, this style can be found in the Maritime Provinces and generally consists of Baroque-inspired buildings of red brick and white trim. Many of the houses built during this time were actually built in Boston or New York (in the United States) then were shipped north, most commonly to the city of Halifax. Like the French, the English built forts and among the best is the one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, although the English Hudson Bay Company built many frontier forts in modern day Ontario at the time.

After the American Revolution in the late 1700s, many English loyalists fled to Canada (primarily the Maritimes provinces and to Ontario) and continued the Georgian style as a statement of loyalty to Britain; a style the Americans were not rejecting due to the Revolutionary War. Perhaps the best example of this style is the Campbell House (1822) in Toronto.

Canadian Architecture - Parliament
Parliament in Ottawa

However numerous other styles from Europe also arrived during the 1800s, most particularly the "neo" styles, including the most visible today, the Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival style. Most churches took this style, but so did many government buildings. St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto (1845-1848) and later the Parliament Building (1850s; renovated and expanded since) in Ottawa were both built in this style.

The 1800s were also a time when westward expansion to the Pacific Ocean was a goal of the ethnic European people. As the railroad and people settled further and further west small homes were built in the prairies, not unlike the homes and churches of the early settlers. As this expansion continued most houses were small and simple in form and function and the churches tended to remain loyal to the European style.

Canadian Architecture - Banff Springs Hotel
Banff Springs Hotel

Due to this westward expansion though, a new style also emerged called the Chateau or Railroad Gothic style. As the railroad companies built to the west they also built massive hotels so their train guests would have housing along the journey. This massive and ornate hotels defined this style and are best represented by the Banff Springs Hotel (Banff, Alberta), the Chateau Lake Louise (in Alberta), and the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia.

Canadian Architecture - Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum

With the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, new building technology, techniques, and materials were developed or perfected, giving architecture more flexibility. This led to modern architecture, which consists heavily of concrete and glass. Although these materials arrived earlier, the style didn't truly arrive until the late 1800s and early 1900s with the development of the skyscraper and the rapid upward growth of cities, beginning with the U.S. cities of Chicago and New York, then quickly spreading to Canada. Today every large city is riddled with buildings in this style, most particularly Toronto and Vancouver, although every major city from Halifax to Yellowknife has buildings of this type.

During the modern age, Quebec built numerous structures in this style as well, but also tried to incorporate these new materials into more cultural and historic designs. This is best represented by the Place Ville-Marie (1962), designed by architect I.M. Pei.

In more recent years post-modernism has dominated Canada. Toronto developed rapidly in the 1980s to the present so received many buildings in this style, including the Mississauga Civic Centre (1987; Mississauga is a suburb of Toronto), the CN Tower (Canada's National Tower), and the Royal Ontario Museum.

This page was last updated: March, 2013