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Yanks have done a good job preserving cultural identity

Fisherman's shed Motif#1 has been magnet for artists and photographers at Rockport, MA for generations. Donald McClure photo

One of the great joys in visiting New England is to revel in the feeling of unity that preserving the Greek Revival architecture brings to the towns and villages throughout the region.  You never have a doubt that you are in New England because street scapes reflect the cosy warmth of New England historical architecture.

Traditional sign post greets visitors to the tiny shops of Bearskin Neck which once held a fort during war of 1812. Donald McClure photo

The value of keeping renewals and new buildings in the style which reflects the values, hopes and dreams of the founders, supports the uniqueness of the region and this in turn is often returned in higher property values and enhanced love of community.

It is this “uniqueness” that appeals to tourists — something apart and different — an intangible asset which  transports visitors to another time and place — something they can no longer find in their own communities.

Recently Judy and I once again walked the streets of the bustling Boston suburb of Rockport in Cape Ann Massachusetts.   Even through the area is only an hour from  Boston it still retains its early New England charm and fascination.

The so-called Neoclassic Greek Revival architecture was imported by 17th century settlers from England, eager to retain some of the charm and nostalgia of former communities.  Combine simple lines, snugly built to weather the cold blasts of Atlantic coast winters, add the warmth of interior chimneys, and tight shutters to bar the cold, and  steep eves to dump the snow — these buildings were ideally suited for the conditions of the region.

In Rockport we found the familiar touches we discovered 35 years ago.  The Motif #1 Fishing shed (“Stage” in Newfoundland) built in 1884 is still front and centre in the Harbour and poses annually for many cameras.  The tiny shops still cluster along the Bear Skin Neck (captured by the Brits in War of 1812). Works of art are everywhere   and the smell of rich sea food permeates the street.

But something had changed.  The imposing Haskins building had disappeared.  In its place and occupying the same space today is the beautiful new Shalin Liu Performance Centre, finished last year — but looking like it was built in the mid-19th century.

The town has its new state of the art hall, without sacrificing its wonderful New England ambience. The new building actually compliments the street scape of Rockport with the functionality and intimacy of  a world class hall.
Basically it is a concrete shell, combined with carefully  chosen woods to provide a warm appearance and excellent sound reproduction.   Behind the stage is a large glass wall which takes advantage of the magnificent water view by providing patrons with a dramatic backdrop of the sun setting over the sea during a recital.

The result provides an ambience someone described as the same feeling as a church — with the same sense of comfort and sanctity.

I only  bring this up because many in our community were sorrowed and dismayed this year when they viewed the beautiful architectural details of one of our own heritage churches  spilling out on the pavement as the building lay mortally wounded and exposed like a beached whale.

What is the point?  Only this. If we want to hold onto our remaining architectural uniqueness as a community,  we must be prepared to fight harder to retain those special building blocks which created us in the first place.  We must encourage people to use sensitivity and care when they endeavour to change our cultural inventory. We should press developers and builders to preserve our  Loyalist/Quaker identity,

Much of the architecture left to us by other generations is a treasure.  We cannot save everything, but we must be sure we have made an effort to find practical  ways to keep what we have. It’s what helps make us a special destination.

New Shalin Liu Performance Centre in Rockport completed last year compliments the early New England traditions of the community and resulted in a much expanded season. Donald McClure photo

Filed Under: Donald McClurehome improvementUncategorized

About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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  1. Donald says:

    Thank you for your comments Louisa. The east coast of both Canada and the United States is a treasure house of architectural beauty and makes this part of North America a particularly ideal destination for tourism. Too many of our communities today have sacrificed tumultuous growth at the expense of better planning and preservation. Hopefully part of our heritage for future generations will be to leave behind a land that combines both beauty and functionality. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

  2. Louisa says:

    Your point is well made by showing us the beauty of this one place, and how it’s history and ‘feel’ is preserved – clearly visitors and residents much appreciate it. Who could not? This looks like a beautiful place to visit. Maybe some day I will get there. Reminds me of some of the places I’ve seen along our Canadian coast, which I’ve been to so many times for it’s nostalgia, beauty, history, and proximity to the salty blue Atlantic.

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