Ross & Macdonald

Ross & Macdonald, one of the largest and most prolific architectural offices in Canada prior to WWII, was founded as Ross & MacFarlane in Montréal in September 1904 by George Allen Ross (b at Montréal 1879; d there 1946) and David Huron MacFarlane (b at Montréal 1875; d at St. Hilaire, Que 1950). Like many aspiring Canadian architects of the era, both men went to the US for formal training, attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Based on the influential French École des Beaux-Arts academic tradition, MIT's program stressed rational, hierarchical design informed by historical - usually classical - architectural precedents.

In late 1912 MacFarlane withdrew from the firm and was replaced as partner by the former head draftsman, Robert Henry Macdonald (b at Melbourne, Australia 1875; d at Montréal 1942). Both Macdonald and Ross had previously worked in large American offices, which they adopted as a model for their own business operations. As a result, Ross & Macdonald employed a sizeable staff for maximum production, specialized in executing large commercial and industrial buildings, and often invested in their own speculative projects.

The firm's plans for the Château Laurier Hotel and adjacent Union Station (both constructed 1909-12) established its reputation for competence and design on par with American offices competing in Canada. These 2 Ottawa buildings for the Grand Trunk Railway were followed by the château-style Fort Garry Hotel (Winnipeg, 1910-14) and the Macdonald Hotel (Edmonton, 1912-14). Ross & Macdonald also collaborated with architects Hugh Jones and John Lyle in the imposing Roman classical design for Toronto's UNION STATION (1913-27).

During the nation-wide economic surge of the 1920s, notable buildings produced by Ross & Macdonald in Montréal included the Mount Royal Hotel (1920-22), the Château Apartments (1924-26) and the Dominion Square Building (1928-30), an impressive commercial-office complex with an indoor mall. The firm was also responsible for the Montréal Eaton's department store (1925-27, 1930-31), and, in Toronto, the Eaton's store on College Street (1928-30), the Royal York Hotel (1928-31) and Maple Leaf Gardens (1931). Later projects included the Holt-Renfrew store, Montréal (1936-37), and the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa (1941).

During the 1920s, as the firm reached its apogee, designing hotels, apartment buildings, stores, and other commercial buildings, its work was reported widely in the architectural journals of the period, and also in commercial applications (e.g., plans of the 1922 Mount Royal Hotel published by the American group, United Hotels of America). It is also notable that the firm was one of the few in Canada that achieved prominence in several cities - Montréal, Toronto, Edmonton. The Royal York Hotel, for example (a joint venture with Toronto architects SPROATT AND ROLPH), was at the time the tallest structure in the British Empire, and it remains one of the most prominent landmarks in Toronto.

The firm was also responsible for a large number of housing projects, including the large-scale reconstruction in Halifax following the HALIFAX EXPLOSION in 1917. Working with noted Scottish architect and urban planner Thomas ADAMS (1871-1940), then working for the federal government as a planning adviser to the COMMISSION OF CONSERVATION (established in Canada in 1909), Ross & Macdonald designed several different housing prototypes. Safety concerns dictated the choice of materials for the houses - concrete block, which gave rise to the eventual name of the district, Hydrostone.

Sometimes criticized for their vast production and conservative approach, Ross & Macdonald are nevertheless recognized as having made major architectural contributions to Montréal's spectacular urban growth before the Great Depression, as well as creating numerous attractive landmark buildings across the nation.

After Macdonald's death, the firm became Ross & Ross, Architects when John Kenneth Ross joined his father as partner. Following George Allen Ross's demise in 1946, the office continued as Ross, Patterson, Townsend & Heughan. The Ross & Macdonald Archive housed at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, documents over 600 projects dating from 1908 to 1970, by which time the firm existed under the name of Ross, Fish, Duschenes & Barrett.

Recent trends in architectural history have seen Ross & Macdonald's work reassessed. Instead of focusing only on the stylistic character of the firm's work, scholars such as Jacques Lachapelle have argued for a more complex assessment of Ross & Macdonald's work, one in which the complexity of function of their buildings (as in the case of the Dominion Square Building, Montreal, 1928-30) exemplified the evolving urban character of 20th-century cities such as Montréal.

In recent years a number of their projects have undergone renovations. Most notable among these is MAPLE LEAF GARDENS (constructed in 1931), the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A joint venture between Ryerson University and Loblaw sees a combination of uses in the old building - a ground-storey grocery store of 85 000 square feet, underground parking, basketball and volleyball courts, and a dedicated hockey rink on the upper floor. Joint architects are (for Loblaw) Turner Fleischer and (for Ryerson) Brisbin Brook Beynon.