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Samuel Maclure: West Coast Architect

As a young man, architect Samuel Maclure was thought to be an impetuous and fun-loving artist, having scandalized the upper-class society of Victoria B.C. in 1889 by eloping with artist Daisy Simpson to Vancouver where they were married.  Although this love for artistic re-creation never left him, he refined his ways and became accepted by the upper class.  He was viewed as an impeccably dressed gentleman, who sported a goatee, wore a three-piece suit, and who took a kindly interest in the welfare of others.

A 1908 edition of the Canadian Architect and Builder has a long essay on the design of a house by Maclure that was built in 1904.  The article includes both Maclure Family House/Maison de la famille Maclureexterior and interior photographs as well as architectural plans.  The house is praised for - among other things - its panelling and beams of Douglas Fir, its large picturesque window looking out at the Strait of Juan De Fuca and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, and its cladding in cedar shingles.  As the magazine declared, it had a "dignity of style", an "air of home comfort and restfulness", a "well-balanced scheme", and a "quiet sumptuousness, combined with straightforward utility that gives the impression of a house that is to be lived in for generations."  Located at 1598 Rockland Avenue in Victoria, the "Alexis Martin" house - though as yet not a designated heritage building - brought international acclaim to the already locally popular Maclure, and properly secured his place in the annals of founding British Columbia architects.
But where had Maclure come from?

Born in New Westminster, B.C. in 1860, Maclure lived his childhood years in Matsqui.  He developed a talent for drawing and painting, and after finishing high school, worked at a number of jobs in order to save up enough money to go to art school.  In 1884-1885, he attended the Spring Garden Art School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  This formal education, along with inspiration from the grand and ornamented buildings of Philadelphia, was to provide the inspiration he needed to apply his artistic skills to architecture upon graduation.

He returned to New Westminster in 1886 and, working with a young builder named Charles Henry Clow, taught himself the profession of architecture.  With Clow, he designed a number of houses in the Queen Anne style, a quintessential late Victorian style of architecture noted for its use of asymmetrical designs, use of shingles, and large gables.  Two of Maclure's houses - built in 1887 and known as the Maria Keary Cottage 1 and Cottage 2  - still survive and are now historic places.  In 1891, Maclure partnered with an experienced English architect by the name of Richard P. Sharp, and from him he learned much about the new Arts and Crafts style of architecture. 

The Arts and Crafts movement was one that was originally inspired by English artists such as William Morris who wanted to have houses that would be simultaneously functional and aesthetically pleasing, while blending well into their natural surroundings.  In practice, very few artists actually lived in these houses, as they quickly became the domain of the rich.

Maclure and his wife returned to Victoria in 1892, and it appeared that they wereAlexis Martin House / Maison Alexis Martin - Canadian Architect and Builder Magazine soon able to fit well into both the artistic and upper class worlds.  Maclure acquired an office in a building called The Five Sisters, and worked alongside four other more established architects, among them F.M. Rattenbury and Thomas Sorby.  He was commissioned to design a commercial block known as the Temple Building (1893).  This building, considered a rare example of his work in non-residential architecture and an early breakthrough for his career, is now a provincially designated heritage site and a national historic place. 

In 1899, the Canadian Architect and Builder had a photograph of the interior of Maclure's second family home - a simple Arts and Crafts bungalow built in 1898 - is in this magazine as well as the American publication entitled Beautiful Homes of America.   The following year, Maclure partnered with a young man named Cecil Croker Fox, and opened up an office in Vancouver.  With Fox, Maclure entered into the most productive and acclaimed periods of his architectural career.

Maclure and Fox were commissioned to design numerous Arts and Crafts and Tudor Revival homes for upper class neighbourhoods such as Victoria's Oak Bay and Shaughnessy in Vancouver.  Adding to Maclure's popularity was his interest in landscape design, and particularly the design of residential gardens and their relationship to the civic beauty of a city. In Victoria, many houses display Maclure's work to great effect (see Victoria Heritage Foundation for more details), and in both Victoria and Vancouver some are designated properties that include: The Cecil Roberts House (1904, Arts and Crafts), Beaconsfield Inn (1908, Tudor Revival), 825 Foul Bay Road (1912, Arts and Crafts), and Nichol House (1912, Arts and Crafts/Tudor Revival).

Hatley Castle- BC Archives/Chateau Hatley - les archives de la C.-B. Maclure landed his most ambitious project in 1908, when he was commissioned to design a massive Gothic Revival estate house and surrounding park for James Dunsmuir, former B.C. premier and then Lieutenant Governor and considered one the most affluent  people in Canada.  The castle and the grounds - called Hatley Castle and Park - are now a federally recognized heritage site.

The integration of architecture and landscape are key understanding Maclure's approach to life and work, and he felt artistic beauty should be combined with civic duty.  Thus we find he was a co-founder of the Island Arts and Crafts Society (1909), was a judge for an architectural competition for the new University of British Columbia (1912), and provided advice to the Butchart family on landscape designs for their gardens and helped redesign and enlarge the Butchart family House between 1911 and 1925 (now Butchart Gardens, a national historic site and world-renowned garden near Victoria).

After 1912, with an economic recession and the outbreak of world war, Maclure's business shrank, and his Vancouver office closed when his partner Cecil Fox died in the war.  The office re-opened in 1920 under the direction of another co-architect, Ross Lort.  Maclure busied himself with projects mostly in the Victoria area during the 1920s (but one commission took him to Toronto's Rosedale in Fairacres Mansion - City of Burnaby/Residence Fairacres - Ville de Burnaby1921), and two of his last projects are outstanding examples of his later work.  These included the 1926 Arts and Crafts house in Sidney as a summer residence for the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, W.C. Nichol , and, in 1927, a small Arts and Crafts cottage in Oak Bay, Victoria.

Samuel Maclure died in 1929.  He will be remembered for his domestic architectural work which combines old world charm with the brooding elegance of the west coast, and the aesthetic beauty of his houses contributes to our national architectural heritage. 


Printed References:

Bingham, Janet.  Samuel Maclure Architect.  Horsdal and Schubart: Ganges, B.C., 1985.

Luxton, Donald, ed. Building the West: The Early Architects of British Columbia.  Talon Books: Vancouver, 2007, pp. 149-155.

Segger, Martin.  The Buildings of Samuel Maclure: In Search of Appropriate Form.  Sono Nis Press: Victoria, 1986.

Archival References:

Samuel Maclure Collection, University of Victoria http://library.uvic.ca/site/spcoll/guides/sc075.html

Maclure Architectural Drawings Database http://triton.library.uvic.ca/arch/recordlist.php

Essential Electronic References:

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950

University of Victoria and the Maltwood Arts Gallery and Museum, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Victoria, B.C.
http://center.uvic.ca/arts-crafts/home.html and http://center.uvic.ca/arts-crafts/maclure/architecture.html and http://center.uvic.ca/arts-crafts/maclure/gardens.html

Vancouver Heritage Foundation http://www.vancouverheritagefoundation.org/

Victoria Heritage Foundation, Main Page

Victoria Heritage Foundation, Victoria's Residential Neighbourhoods

Heritage Oak Bay http://www.heritageoakbay.ca/index.html

Canadian Architect and Builder http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/cab/ 

Volume 12 (1899) , Issue 3, plate 8
Volume 12 (1899) , Issue 2 plate 5
Volume 12 (1899) , Issue 3 Page 50
Volume 22 (1908) , Issue 3, p. 12-15

Other Electronic References: