What does architecture reveal about history and power?

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Architectural works are not mere buildings. They are also works of art and cultural symbols, reflecting the history of a country and the different influences it has undergone. This is particularly striking in many Canadian cities which offer a variety of architectural styles.

I The influence of European colonisation

During the colonial period (1492-1867) and until the beginning of the 20th century, most buildings in Canadian cities imitated the styles and designs developed in Europe and in the colonial empires. European architecture was particularly popular among the Canadian elite of the time: they were of European origin and could afford to have special houses or places built.

These styles, mostly named after the monarchs who reigned over Britain during these periods, left a mark on Canadian architecture. In Toronto, for example, the oldest buildings show various styles: Georgian (1714-1830), Victorian (mid-to-late 19th century) or Edwardian (1901-1910s).


a belltower: un clocher (a bell: une cloche)

In Montreal, the influence of the two waves of colonisation (by the French and the British) can be seen through the church architecture: the city of a hundred belltowers is famous for its numerous Catholic and Protestant or Anglican churches and cathedrals.

In all Canadian cities, Victorian styles of architecture dominated from the mid-19th century up to World War I.

II Canadian styles

1 The château or châteauesque style

The “château style” is the first architectural style to be considered typically Canadian. It is a blend of the Gothic Revival style and of that of the castles of the Loire Valley in France. This form of architecture was promoted by the Canadian railway companies which built grand railway hotels across the country.

This style is seen as distinctly Canadian and not just a simple imitation of European architecture since it is a specific mix of French and English designs and the achievement of the Canadian railways. Most “château style” railway hotels were built between the end of the 19th century and the 1930s.

2 A Canadian interpretation

After World War I, when Canadian nationalism became stronger, the city planners and architects wanted to find unique Canadian styles, which had to be different from that of Europe but also distinct from that of the neighbouring United States. That is why they mostly turned away from Art Deco when it became popular in the USA and returned to the Middle Ages for inspiration.


steel: acier concrete: béton

The revival of the neo-Gothic style in Canada adapted to the requirements of more modern buildings. That is why, when the central part of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa burnt down in 1916, it was rebuilt in a similar Gothic style but with modern materials (steel and concrete) and a contemporary and functional approach. When Canada asserted its own identity, Canadian architecture became a new and special interpretation of past styles.

III International style and the effect of globalisation

After World War II, Canadian architecture opened to more global ideas. Many important projects of the period were designed by top foreign architects while, at the same time, famous Canadian architects worked abroad. This International style period coincided with an important building boom in the country.

World-famous modernist architects like German-American Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed major works in Canada: for example the Toronto-Dominion Centre, with its six towers covered in bronze-tinted glass and black painted steel. International style skyscrapers now dominate the skylines of many Canadian cities, especially Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Toronto. This shows Canada is now a leading country in a global world.