The Lunenburg Bump & Other Peculiarities

Travel would be rather dull if every place exhibited the same appearance, atmosphere and attitude.  Nova Scotia had, at one time, a large variety of regional differences in its architecture.  It still does; but not the salad bar variety that it once had.  In 1859, a travel writer named Frederick Cozzens astutely observed Nova Scotia this way:

As I have said before in other words, the province is nothing more than a piece of patchwork, intersected with pretty boundary lines, so that every nation is stitched in and quilted in spots, without any harmony, or coherence, or general design.

Certainly Cozzens was observing more than just architecture; he was also talking about people, language and religion but to zero-in on the built environment and contemplate the richness that was, is a worthwhile exercise.  The days of regional influences and traditions associated with our built environment have certainly ebbed but it is important to recognize and celebrate such vernacular because there is always a risk that those who become too familiar with their own community’s distinct attributes undervalue them and unwittingly foster their decline.

While attempting to document every minute local tradition is not the goal of this article, I will name a few just in the hopes of whetting as many appetites as possible and perhaps encouraging people to explore what is or was distinct about disparate corners of Nova Scotia.

Lunenburg is obviously a great place to start with its British – German origins.   Many structures in Old Lunenburg front right on the street and thereby contribute to the unique atmosphere of the town.  The bright paint colors that so often encourage photos of the townscape are nothing new but carry on the long tradition that was noted as early as 1830 when one visitor likened the vivid assortment to the colorful little Dutch toys he used to play with as a child.  This contrasts starkly to the Musquodoboit valley where there once existed a prosaic panorama of red structures to the exclusion of all other colors with the intermittent exception of white.

Cape Sable Island’s hipped gables, Truro’s spoke brackets, East Hants County’s corner boards designed to simulate stone, Pictou’s real stone buildings built by Scottish masons, company houses in Cape Breton, Yarmouth’s infatuation with hedges and belvederes, Amherst’s red stone, and shiplap siding in various locales all speak to a rich tapestry of architectural diversity within the province.

Returning to the south shore, that odd but lovable “Lunenburg bump”, is a great example of how a very local expression of vernacular architecture is well-documented, celebrated and even marketed in such a way that locals and visitors alike feel as though they’re in a special place.

What makes your community unique?  Identify it. Hold on to it.  If it’s lost, get it back.

Posted by Joe Aug 08, 2014 Posted in Architectural History, Built Heritage Comments Off

The Endangered Belt Course

The colored band or belt course has all but disappeared in Atlantic Canada.  Historically marked by fancy butt shingles and sometimes flaring out like a skirt, the delineated mid-section of many heritage homes was usually painted a different color than the rest of the house body.

Certainly, the belt course still exists on many houses but its presence is greatly diminished by a monotone color treatment that blends it with the rest of the house body.  It is the disappearance of that traditional color emphasis that I am lamenting; and it is that authentic detail that, in most cases, is gone.  In fact, even the notion of painting the belt course a contrasting color or complementary hue has largely vanished.

The purpose of the belt course as an architectural device was to break up a perceived monotony caused by two or more stories of repeated clapboard (or shingles) all the same color.  It may not sound overly monotonous today, but the late Victorian house fashion that saw the belt course become popular was enamored with surface details and points of interest.  Variety reigned.  It was not enough to just have the first and second stories broken up with textured shingles; different paint color really was the icing on the cake.  Additional colored belts would sometimes even break up the second storey or gable end.

The plight of the flared version of the belt course, in particular, has been the most tragic.  More than suffering a fate of monotone blending, it has been the victim of complete removal where vinyl siding is installed.  These applications are unable to conform to any atypical substrates, and so instead of simply laying the offensive membrane over top (to be removed by more sensible future owners), installers remove the flare altogether.

Admittedly, it is a rare moment of snobbish satisfaction when a curious turn down a rural road or an urban side street reveals that one of these Victorian homes is inhabited by owners with a correct understanding of how a belt course should be distinguished.  If you happen to see one of these endangered specimens, enjoy it.  If you happen to own one, you know what to do.

Posted by Joe Apr 16, 2013 Posted in Architectural History, Atlantic Canada Comments Off

Historic Paint Colors of Nova Scotia

The dawn of the ready-mixed paint industry in Nova Scotia (1875-1900) saw roughly one dozen major paint companies introduce their products here.  Initially represented by local agents and then by hardware stores and journeymen painters, manufacturers made great inroads into the well-entrenched tradition of locally mixed paints.  By 1900, it is estimated that approximately two-thirds of all paint sold in the province was of the ready-mixed or canned variety.  For house paint color consulting, the advent of the ready-mixed paint era is very convenient.  Here’s why.

Large multi-national paint manufacturers produced huge amounts of promotional material.  Because of the sheer volume cranked out by the marketing arms of these companies, many valuable pieces have survived.  Color card samples as well as placement, pairing and treatment suggestions all exist for companies that sought to advance their product through mass marketing.

Vineberg & Fulton has documented when ready-mixed paint was introduced in different corners of Nova Scotia and specifically which manufacturers were actively selling in individual communities.  This information has been cross-referenced with surviving marketing ephemera to identify historically accurate colors that would have been available in a specific time and place.

It is essentially now possible to go “back in time.”  Suppose a home owner living in Amherst in 1898 is considering what color scheme he will use for his nearly finished cottage home.  The color palette available to him in 1898 is now available to Amherst residents today.  The opportunity for authenticity is exciting to those who admire historic homes.

Colors though are only half the equation.  The placement of colors is equally as important.  Components such as shutters, windows, and verandah ceilings each had colors with which they were traditionally associated.  Decorative shingles, belt courses, pilasters, verandah posts, eave brackets and many other architectural details all demand specific treatments apart from the color of the house body.

“Harmony of colors” was an important decorating concept espoused by some journeymen painters in Nova Scotia by 1895 and likely earlier.  It produced such vivid results that small town newspapers frequently printed news briefs on the striking results with comments like, “Many houses and places of business are being brightened up with paint of ‘various and sundry’ hues.”

Local color traditions may also play a role in identifying historically appropriate colors.  Yarmouth and Lunenburg, for example, can boast of individual characteristics, as can areas that claim predominantly Scottish or Acadian backgrounds.  Although Nova Scotia was to some extent influenced by color traditions external to our province (and increasingly so with the introduction of ready-mixed paints) this corner of the world was culturally significant in terms of its paint history.  Travel writers visiting our province throughout the 1800s provide confirmation of this fact.  At least one nineteenth century American paint manufacturer even marketed a color it called “Nova Scotia stone.”

For information on authentic colors and paint treatments from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, as well as colors that predate the ready-mixed paint era, contact Vineberg & Fulton directly.

Posted by Joe Mar 03, 2012 Posted in Architectural History, Publications & Research 3 Comments