Foundations of Construction: Reputation for excellence began with a Castle

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“One of Kingston’s historical treasurers, McIntosh Castle was one of the first projects designed by architect John Power, built in 1852.” © Susanna McLeod 2023 

By Susanna McLeod

Special to Ontario Construction News

The shipper promised his family a castle in the mid-1800s, and he was determined to follow through. Architect John Power was hired to design the unique home, customized to fit on a modest triangular-shaped lot with view of Lake Ontario. Power and his builders worked their magic, producing a small but charming castle. One of John Power’s first contracts in Kingston, Ontario, the regal McIntosh Castle was the start of a prolific architectural career.

Emigrating from Devon, England to Canada West in 1846, John Power first established himself as a contractor in Kingston. The thirty-year-old was well-equipped in construction techniques, most likely trained by his father—Joseph Power was a prominent master builder and architect in England. Sailing to Ontario along with members of Horsey family architects gave John Power immediate connections. As well, Power brought his wife, Charlotte Clegg, and their three children. (The family grew to 10 children in Kingston.)

Four years after arrival, Power changed his profession, placing newspaper advertisements promoting his services as architect and building surveyor. Acquainted with many in the industry, Power had no trouble attracting architectural customers, starting with businessman Donald McIntosh. Imagining a villa resembling a castle, Power and McIntosh planned a spacious living space… with no square rooms.

The Gothic Revival design was “built on an L-shaped plan with an octagonal tower set in its corner,” noted “Old Sydenham Heritage Area Conservation District,” City of Kingston, 2011.

“The ends of the wings are bays with three planes,” and “at the back, each wing has an offset gable and a double brick chimney with applied gable trim.” Completing the design, ornamental bargeboards are “topped with large wooden finials and pendants, which are repeated to mark the edges of the bays.” A tall lantern was constructed on the roof, facing Lake Ontario.

“The most important aspect showing Power’s knowledge of medieval architecture was the use of irregular coarse stonework,” wrote Jennifer McKendry in Limelight, Newsletter of Kingston Historical Society, March 2017. The shipping and warehousing business took a steep downturn and Power’s client ran out of funds before the castle was fully complete. Built in 1852, McIntosh sold the unfinished home to Joseph Doyle in 1857. It was sold again in the 1880s to Reverend James Brock, and to other owners later.

Power’s new clients appreciated his use of rusticated stone with decorative horizontal bands, the heavy tapered stone forming arches, and pronounced keystone. The original tower was two storeys in height, and “a later owner added a third storey and crenellations to the entrance tower to reinforce the castle-like appearance,” added McKendry. At the back of the home, a larger kitchen extension was given privacy by a high stone wall.

At the castle’s front, the view of the lakeshore was only a short distance away, and to the west, City Park provided serene landscapes. Less calming perhaps was the Frontenac County Court House and jail, designed by Edward Horsey and built in 1857. Construction included an area for hanging those found guilty at trial. In that era, hangings were a public spectacle, drawing crowds that included children. (Fortunately, there were only a handful of hangings at Kingston.) From the third floor of McIntosh Castle, residents may have observed the gruesome executions, if so inclined.

Requests poured in for the reserved and respected Power. Church repairs, such as the roof for St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in 1853, new steeple and tower for Picton’s Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1861, additions and rebuilds to many more. He designed Napanee’s Lennox & Addington Court House, and drew up plans for single and row homes across the region. With a reputation for excellence, Power also served industrial and commercial clients throughout the 1860s through to the late 1870s.

On the death of City Architect William Coverdale in 1865, Kingston officials appointed John Power to the prominent post. The job came with “an annual salary of $80 and assigned the supervision of all buildings on city property,” said McKendry. “The salary was raised to $100 in 1870 and could be increased for extraordinary demands on his services.” A large share of Power’s time was spent on repairs and upgrades, plus projects at Fort Henry and Royal Military College.

In 1873, Power partnered with his son Joseph Power (1848-1925) to establish Power & Son Architects. The younger Power was a certified civil engineer and architect, and participated in Ontario Association of Architects and Architectural Institute of Canada. In about 1880, another son, Thomas Power, joined the family firm to apply his fine draughtsman skills.

Unwell for several years in the late 1870s, John Power took to his bed only a few days before he died in 1882. Updated and modernized over the decades, McIntosh Castle remains one of Kingston’s architectural treasures and a reminder of John Power’s versatile talents.

© 2023 Susanna McLeod. McLeod is a Kingston-based freelance writer who specializes in Canadian History.

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