Architectural and urban history enhanced by digitization
The Early Canadian Periodicals project, accessible through Early Canadiana Online, recently completed a set of 1,500 landmark publications documenting the early history of professional architecture, urban planning, and municipal governance in Canada. These lavishly-illustrated journals emerged between the 1880s and the 1910s and served as mouthpieces for the early architectural and design profession. Subject matter includes town planning and spatial organization, aesthetics (visual variety and coherence, civic grandeur, historical styles), technical and scientific innovations in construction, municipal management, public policy, and social reform.
Between 1881 and 1921, Canada's urban population soared from 1.1 to 4.3 million, lastingly changing the social makeup and character of the Canadian city. The development and dissemination of iron, steel, and reinforced concrete also reshaped the urban environment and led to the growth of a professionalized architectural class.
The flagship Canadian Architect and Builder (CAB) documents this emergence and transformation of architecture "from a skill rooted in the artistic traditions of Western Europe to a profession dependent on the techniques of science and the managerial theories of modern business." CAB presented the views of Canada's architectural profession as it organized into an accredited body with formal education and training.
Canadian architecture was awash with European stylistic and American technical influences, and architects combined and adapted these influences to uniquely Canadian needs. This can be seen in the debate between the "practical school" championed by the Canadian Engineer and the aesthetics-oriented "City Beautiful" movement, which advocated wide boulevards, lush parks, and grand civic architecture as souces of pride and comfort:
Architecture, as a decorative art, is seen by all men at all times, and its silent influence, consciously or unconsciously, affects the minds of the cultured and uncultured. The beautiful gives us pleasure; the ugly pain, and we cannot escape the ugly buildings which disfigure our streets. (CAB, XII, 2, Feb. 1899)
Urban reformers began agitating for social change to meet the needs of the new urban environment. The Municipal World and Canadian Municipal Journal served as platforms for the science of municipal government and tireless advocates of reform, determined to tackle overcrowding, poverty, disease, and other ills typical of a socially stratified city:
The dwellings in which those live who cannot get away from their homes the whole year long, really decide whether any city is to be healthy, moral, and progressive. The common people are in the great majority; their proper accommodation is the greatest problem. (CMJ VII, 6)
By the 1910s, these attacks on City Beautiful and its priorities were gaining ground, as the shortage of decent housing came to be regarded as Canada's most pressing social problem.