St. Andrew Street - The Architects’ Laneway

  • History   Friday, January 14, 2022   Hayden Bulbrook
The Registry Office with the Perth County Court House in the Background.

The Registry Office with the Perth County Court House in the Background.

In December 2021, the Perth County Council voted to demolish this historic Registry Office, and, fortunately as I write this, the City of Stratford has announced that it will meet with the county this month to discuss viable alternatives. Meantime, here I am presenting some of the historical and architectural significance of this gorgeous little gem on St. Andrew Street. 

The Perth County Registry Office was designed by prominent local architect T.J. Hepburn and constructed in 1910. On this street alone, Hepburn designed the original part of the Stratford Public Library in 1903 and undertook extensive renovations of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in 1899.

Hepburn designed the building to complement the existing Perth County Court House (1885) and Stratford Jail (1886) that were designed by London, Ontario architect George F. Durand. As the Stratford-Perth ACO stated, “when completed the addition of the building created a unified street scape from Huron Street to the jail thus creating a significant landscape along St. Andrew Street.” Demolition of the Registry Office would effectively erase this unified streetscape. 

The similarities between the Registry Office and these buildings – especially the Court House – are evident in Hepburn’s use of buff brick with rusticated brown stone as well as in the red painted detailing including the stamped metal ornamentation above the entry and in the gable that is designed to replicate the use of terra cotta on the Court House.

Brown coloured stone is applied to the windowsills and lintels, as well as through stringcourses along the base and heads of the windows, along the eaves of the front gable, and as a plinth course along the building’s base. Even more significant, is application of this stone in a rusticated door surround. The words “REGISTRY OFFICE” are inscribed in stone above the entry door. The stone detail and colour closely resemble the Credit Valley stone used on the Court House. Similarly, there is a frieze board with prominent brackets. 

2-over-2 wood sash windows with divided transom lights flank the St. Andrew Street entry and are also located on the side elevations of the building.

Finally, we see Hepburn embraced concrete. Externally this is most notable in the stone-faced concrete block that is applied to the foundation that was building on sloped land. Stone-faced concrete block fell out of fashion by c. 1930 but in the early 1900s it was lauded as a material cheaper and more durable than stone – and it was fireproof!

Hepburn, who was born in Stratford in 1861, received architectural training under his father, Alexander Hepburn, and worked as his assistant from 1880 to 1897. In March 1891, while still employed under his father, he was among the first architects “from western Ontario to join the new Ontario Association of Architects.” T.J.’s father, Alexander, provided designs for approximately 80 buildings in Stratford, including additions and renovations, while T.J. provided designs for approximately 16.

The Registry Office was later used as the Stratford-Perth Archives from 1981 to 2014. Of provincial significance, the Stratford-Perth Archives was Ontario’s second county archives. The building is thusly associated with Jim Anderson who, in 1972, was hired to process the first collections that would eventually form the Stratford-Perth Archives and became the first Archivist-Administrator of the archives. He retired in 1991 and died in 1994. Without a doubt, this building matters a great deal to this city and I imagine if Jim were around he’d agree!

What has helped prevent an immediate demolition of the Registry Office? Well, its location within Stratford’s sole heritage conservation district which gives it Part IV designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. Designation affords it protection since it is Stratford City Council that would have to accept or reject a demolition application if one were received from the property owner – in this case, Perth County. While we think about how to adaptively reuse this building, perhaps we should broaden the conversation consider on creating more heritage conservation districts in our city so that we can grow and prosper in a manner that protects our beautiful heritage buildings and architects’ laneways, alleyways, and promenades.