E. & W. S. Maxwell | The Canadian Encyclopedia


E. & W. S. Maxwell

Founded by Edward and William Sutherland Maxwell, E. & W.S. Maxwell was one of Canada's largest and most influential architectural firms.

Edward Maxwell began his practice in Montréal in 1882 where he had apprenticed with Alexander Francis Dunlop, a prominent Montréal architect who had been one of the original 28 architects appointed as Associates of the Royal Canadian Academy by the Marquess of Lorne in 1880. Edward's training shaped his particular style, which came to dominate the architectural landscape of Montréal, where he started his practice by designing wealthy patrons’ homes, civic centres and churches. His Richardson-inspired paired houses became a common feature in the central neighbourhoods of Montréal, at a time when traditional row houses were going out of fashion. This style found a counterpart in his brother's practice in 1900 when the firm took up its first ambitious project, an addition to Windsor station for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Montréal, which was completed in 1889 and substantially expanded in 190003 as well as 191013.

Bruce Price, the American architect responsible for Windsor Station, designed it in a Romanesque Revival style, but the Canadian architects re-articulated the structure to bear some of the more recognizable châteaucharacteristics that came to set the tone for local architecture in Montréal. At the time, the company had briefly employed Boston architect George C. Shattuck. In fact some of the drawings for the Merchants Bank of Canada, the C.R. Hosmer house in Montreal, L.J. Forget house in Senneville, and William Van Horne house in St. Andrews carry the signatures of both Maxwell and Shattuck. However, in 1902 he was replaced by William, also trained in Boston in the office of Winslow and Wetherell. Significantly, William Maxwell's experience with Winslow and Wetherell informed his specialization in commercial and hotel architecture. He added an aspect of classical composition and detailing to Edward's romantic vocabulary, a dominant characteristic of their joint practice. The partnership proved to be productive as they continued to build their reputation both locally and nationally. After Edward's death in 1923, the firm took on a new partner, New Brunswick-born Gordon MacLeod Pitts; until William's retirement in 1939 the firm produced projects as Maxwell and Pitts. The company spanned four partnerships between 1890 and 1951 and became a training ground for over 50 draftsmen and at least 19 trainees who went on to open independent practices later in life, including John Smith Archibald, David Robertson Brown, Charles Saxe, David Huron MacFarlane, William John Carmichael, Daniel John Crighton, Charles Alexander Mitchell, and Kenneth Guscotte Rea, among numerous others.

Edward and William Maxwell were often praised for the outstanding quality of their craftsmanship. This was due in part to both the wealth of their many clients and their connections with the arts and crafts community in Canada. Among their close friends were Maurice Cullen, George Hill, Clarence Gagnon, William Hope and George Horne Russell. William in particular belonged to a number of art organizations, including the Pen and Pencil Club, the Canadian Handicrafts Guild and the Arts Club. Like their American mentors, the Maxwells worked closely with their artists, often providing furnishings and interior design for their projects. The firm's Strathcona monument in Montréal's Dominion square, designed with Hill, is an example of the kind of sculptor-architect collaboration characteristic of William Maxwell.

Similarly, William and Edward had long standing relationships with many of their clientele. Some of the first clients obtained by the firm remained its financial backbone for decades. Provided with certain standing with the city's merchants and the Board of Trade, as well as the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the firm did exceptionally well at the turn of the century in Montreal.

Important Projects

J.T. Davis House, Montréal

Commissioned in 1909 by James Thomas Davis, this imposing house was meant to reflect the powerful position of Davis, a contractor responsible for many of the canals, piers and bridges in the area. An Elizabethan Tudor-styled structure of red brick with a sandstone base, the house is located on Rue Drummond. Mixing Edwardian and classical styles, the building is a perfect example of the combined formal and compositional skills of the two brothers: the flexible, slightly off-centre design features Dutch dormer windows, high gables, tall chimneys and steep roofs. The structure is supported by concealed steel and concrete framing. In 1955, McGill University purchased the Davis House from Mrs. Davis, the widow of James T. Davis, who died in 1928. It is now the home of the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy.

Saskatchewan Legislative Building

Since completion in 1913, the Saskatchewan Legislative Building and grounds have housed the executive and legislative offices of the province. During this time, the Legislative Building has been associated with every political figure, piece of legislation and administrative decision related to the governance of the province and has emerged as the most recognized symbol of government in Saskatchewan. Acknowledged as one of the finest examples of Edwardian Classicism in Canada, the building features a Tyndall Stone façade punctuated by large windows, raised entryways, double-order Doric columns and extensive ornamental stonework. The most distinguishing element of the exterior is the central dome. Featuring a colonnaded cupola and square drum base with an extended cut corner motif, the dome reflects the architecture of English public buildings.

Church of the Messiah, Montréal

Perhaps the most successful church design by the two brothers, the property at the northwest corner of Sherbrooke and Simpson Streets was purchased by the congregation in 1905 in order to relocate their church to the popular square mile area in Montréal. It was completed in 1908. Tudor Gothic in inspiration, the key decorative element was the series of stained glass windows designed in England by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts. The Maxwell brothers themselves donated the middle window in the northern aisle. Its inscription read and the house that is built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnifical.The church hall and offices survived a devastating fire on 26 May 1987, after which the church was rebuilt near Vendôme metro, incorporating salvaged stained glass panels and stone engravings.

Château Frontenac, Québec City

Erected in seven stages between 1892 and 1993, the hotel overlooks the St. Lawrence River in the Québec’s historic district. It was the first of a series of Château-style hotels built by Canadian railway companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to encourage tourists to travel on their railways. Many of the architectural designs were executed by Edward and William Maxwell. A prototype for the Château-style railway hotels that followed, the structure remains the purest expression of the Château style among the group. Its fortress-like design, derived from the châteaux of France's Loire Valley and enhanced by its dramatic cliff-top location, expressed the prevailing romantic view of Québec as a French medieval city. The hotel's eclectic design reflected popular taste in Victorian architecture. Construction began in 189293 for the Canadian Pacific Railway, designed by architect Bruce Price. It was expanded upon in 1908-09 to designs by W.S. Painter, in 192024 to designs by Edward and W.S. Maxwell, and in the 1990s by the Arcop Group.It was designated a historic site in 1981. The site is evidence of the irregular, often bewildering array of styles employed by the two brothers in their collaborative practice.

Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal

In 1910, the Maxwells competed for the design of a new art gallery in Montréal, meant to replace the original gallery on Phillips Square that had been designed in 1879 by John W. Hopkins (18251905) and enlarged in 189293 following the designs of Andrew T. Taylor. Three local architectural firms took part in the competition: Browne and Vallance, Edward and W.S. Maxwell, and Nobbs and Hyde. The Maxwell brothers won the competition easily due to their strong social standing in the arts. Regardless of some deviation from the original drawings showing incompleteness in form and the substitution of brick with marble, the 1912 building shows a grand conception. It is evident that the art gallery was largely the work of William Maxwell, especially in the disposition of its elements in the plan and their expression in its façade, and the refinement of its details all resulting from his knowledge of classical ideals and the skilled use of marble and bronze. The new museum was reviewed by Thomas W. Ludlow in Architectural Record in 1915.