As some of you may know, over the past six years I’ve been researching and occasionally lecturing at SSAC conferences on Canadian architect Frank Darling (1850–1923) and his ultimate firm, Darling & Pearson. A clear narrative has evolved that outlines his leadership in developing an official “Edwardian” architecture in Toronto and beyond, the firm’s tremendous output of bank designs in the early twentieth century and, more generally, that period’s cultural and imperial context in English Canada.
As a heritage-focussed architect at ERA Architects, I’ve been drawn to Frank Darling because, in many ways, his work is hard to miss: so many buildings in Toronto issued from D&P’s office, and because the buildings are of such high quality they have endured, albeit often with different uses than originally designed for. Sometimes, we assist with restoring or converting them. Additionally, the prodigious output—over 300 known projects across the country—and the types of projects erected for the establishment of the time—the chartered banks, universities, hospitals, and clubs —make Darling & Pearson among the most important and prominent firms ever to practice in Canada.
As part of its mission to uncover and share new tangents in urban history at the vanguard of heritage theory, ERA has collaboratively published or been instrumental in the production of a number of books, such as Concrete Toronto: A Guide to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies, Tower Renewal, and The Ward Uncovered: the Archaeology of Everyday Life.
To add to the growing list, ERA Architects has committed to consolidating this research into the Frank Darling Book Project (FDBP) with the goal of publishing a long-overdue monograph on Frank Darling. Sean Blank has joined the ERA team to gather and corroborate archival information, organize it, and write entries for the catalogue raisonné. He’s building on an earlier layer of biographical research prepared by Evan McMurtry.
Because ERA has expertise in heritage analysis and historical research, and of course knows firsthand the complexities of conceiving and erecting buildings, we’re approaching the FDBP from a practitioner’s perspective: how did Darling’s firm oversee so many projects, some at the vanguard of modern building technology? What were the models and precedents that influenced the designs? Who were the clients and what were their goals? Who and how many worked at the firm, what training did they receive that allowed them to form so many spinoff firms? How did the firm’s serious Edwardian bank architecture transform and anchor both emerging and established places in early-twentieth-century Canada? These questions are informed by our interest in both understanding and navigating the often hidden complexities of architectural production today and at the turn of the last century.
To begin to understand an architect’s oeuvre, it is important to analyse their body of work. For that, we’ve gathered archival and contemporary images of as many built commissions as we’ve been able to locate: thus far we’ve collected photos and/or drawings of 75% of the firm’s portfolio and prepared “posters” or contact sheets of the buildings organized by bank company, building type, and, interestingly for the stor(e)y, by height. Where available, we have collected floor plans and sections and redrawn them to scale for ease of comparison.
This is especially helpful for the many small bank branches: each one unique but some with traceable formal similarities so they can be grouped. Here is a sampling of the temple-fronted bank branches.
The research structure is organized using Robert Hill’s entries on Darling in his indispensable Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800–1950, extracted and tabulated into a spreadsheet sortable by type, year, bank, etc. To that, we’ve added attributable properties found on the national register, bank archives, and other sources. Each project is given a code—for example, Bank001—for ease of retrieval. Each building file contains a folder for photos, a folder for research, and a Word file for building descriptions that will appear in the catalogue raisonné.
Screenshot of Excel spreadsheet of Frank Darling’s projects, sortable by type, year, bank, and other characteristics.
With this blog post, we are announcing to the Canadian architectural historian community that the FDBP is well underway and we welcome your involvement, whether by offering advice on research vectors, sharing photos, reminiscences, drawings—anything that adds insights to the evolving narrative. This is a long-overdue project about an incredibly important Canadian architect, so we’re striving for excellence through collaboration.
Header image: Darling & Pearson, Winnipeg Grain Exchange Building, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1906–07. Photo by David Winterton.