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Globe and Mail: Guelph's Petrie Building
Dave LeBlanc | March 5, 2018

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After decades of neglect, the rebirth of a Guelph heritage building

From Issue No. 267 | April 1, 2018

Before Restoration
The Petrie Building, with its unique stamped-zinc façade, after restoration.

The Petrie Building, with its unique stamped-zinc façade, after restoration. 

"Every person that walks up or down Wyndham St. cannot fail to admire the handsome new building," wrote the Guelph Mercury in 1882. Designed by "our own townsman," Mr. John Day, the newspaper declared the slender, four-storey building to be "one of the finest in the Dominion."

An original etching of the building. TYRCATHLEN PARTNERS 

Financed by pharmacist Alexander BainPetrie (1842-1921), the building was also one of the Dominion's most unique: Using a system developed in the booming U.S. Midwest, the highly ornamented, stamped-zinc façade was mail-ordered from Ohio firm Bakewell& Mullins. It arrived in sections and was hammered into place. Local tinsmiths added their own bits and bobs and then it was "painted and then treated with a coated sand when it was tacky to give it the imitation of a brownstone," says Kirk Roberts, a man who has put a great deal of thought into Petrie'sbuilding for the last few years. "So it was a really rapid way to build a building that looked like stone."

However, by 2014, the Petrie Building no longer looked like stone. With a naked metal façade riddled with rust, a pestle absent from the gigantic ornamental mortar on top, boarded windows on three floors and a greasy spoon operating on the main floor, it took its shameful place on National Trust for Canada's "Top 10 Most Endangered Places" list. Add that those three floors had been unheated and unoccupied for decades – the second since the 1920s, the third since 1906 and the interiors of the fourth having never been constructed – and it was "becoming a victim of demolition by neglect."

Thankfully, Mr. Roberts and his wife/business partner, Peregrine Wood, were ready for another restoration challenge in early 2015. After getting their hands dirty on a Queen Anne home, an 1847 boarding house and an old Gooderham & Wortsgrainery with their Tyrcathlen Partners (which they'd created after a job transfer brought the couple from Toronto), the Petrie didn't seem so daunting. And, quite serendipitously, as they conducted online research from their living room couch, they realized that they were sitting in the same stone house A.B. Petrie himself had lived in a hundred years ago: "Small towns," Mr. Roberts says with a chuckle.


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