When Thaddeus Holownia and John Leroux began working together to document the history of Mount Allison’s architecture, they had no idea how big the project would turn out to be.
The result of their efforts is A Vision in Wood and Stone: The Architecture of Mount Allison University, a 240-page book that recounts the fascinating tale of the University’s first 175 years in words and pictures.
Holownia, a visual artist and head of the Department of Fine Arts, says the University is fortunate to have an extensive collection of archival photos.
“The oldest is a daguerreotype of the first academic building in the 1840s,” he says. “The beginnings of photography and the beginnings of Mount Allison share the same year — 1839 — so to even find someone here making daguerreotypes and then to have it saved for all these years, it is an extraordinary historical artifact.”
Holownia supplemented the archival photos with images from his personal collection, as well as new photographs he shot over the past year.
Leroux, a noted architectural historian, architect, and writer, has collaborated with Holownia in the past.
“As an architectural historian I have become deeply enamoured with the Mount Allison campus,” he says. “It really is one of the finest in Canada.”
Leroux says some of the most beautiful buildings built in New Brunswick in the past 100 years are at Mount Allison.
“One of the most significant buildings in the province is the Mount Allison chapel,” he says. “It is exquisite. It is nearly a perfect building.”
Leroux says the more he learned about Mount Allison’s architectural history, the more intrigued he became.
“It is very different from the majority of Canadian campuses. On most there is an accretion of buildings, but at Mount Allison it is essentially the third campus on the site. It has been a constant reinvention of itself,” he says. “Campbell Hall, for instance, is the fifth Mount Allison building on that site. I can’t think of another building site in New Brunswick that has had five significant buildings on it.”
Fire was behind many of the early losses — the first three academy buildings on the Campbell Hall site, for instance, burned down.
“Mount Allison’s is a story of constant change rather than simply addition. The whole story of how it took these sometimes very awful events and turned them into something positive speaks to the University’s resilience. They wouldn’t let tragedy keep them down,” Leroux says. “I thought this would be a much smaller project when it started, but it is mammoth and it deserves to be. You can tell at Mount Allison that the place mattered.”
While the University’s social and cultural history has been told in John G. Reid’s Mount Allison University: A History, Holownia says this is the first time anyone has penned a comprehensive piece on Mount Allison’s architecture.
“There is a big story there to be told,” he says. “We went from a wooden campus to a stone campus and there has been a lot of amazing architectural work, culminating with this incredible showpiece building that we are so lucky and fortunate to have. People had the vision not to just build a square box, but something that is important architecturally.”
The book was supported by a grant from ArtsNB.
Photo caption: New Brunswick architectural historian John Leroux, and Fine Arts professor Thaddeus Holownia