As Canada is a land of vast dimensions and difficult terrain, uniting the country physically has always posed enormous problems. Military, economic, and political needs have made the establishment of workable systems of communication and transportation high among the country's priorities. Water travel enabled the fur trade to develop as Canada's first industry. But the great rivers, which innumerable Europeans commented on as a distinctive (and sublime) attribute of North America, also constituted a formidable challenge because of their "irresistible weight and velocity … tearing through and overpowering the obstacles opposed to their course." Eventually it was a railroad that consolidated the nation, uniting it from sea to sea. Some of the many structures and buildings devised to meet the country's varied transportation needs in the nineteenth century—by water, road and rail—are outlined here.
Surrealism advocated the primacy of the subconscious in an attempt to correct what it viewed as an overemphasis on man's rationalism. To achieve this aim, the principles of automatic writing and painting were explored, psychoanalytic theory was studied and the Romantic notion that love, the most irrational of emotions, championed all became an important tenet of the movement.
Surrealist painters were no longer content to portray the world as the rational mind saw it. Instead, they created dream worlds, some of which were abstract, others depicted with photographic realism. In the context of these paintings anything was possible. Familiar objects need not have logical connections nor conform to the laws of gravity or proportion. In addition, fantasy objects were created by the use of the double or composite image and traditional spatial concepts were altered. These dream paintings were more than a visual record of an individual artist's subconscious: they were a declaration of the validity and importance of man's irrational nature.
In the nineteenth century the town post office was considered highly visible evidence of the progress of civilization generally and of national development specifically. Postal service in Canada depended upon interprovincial and international economic co-operation, and it improved as means of transportation advanced. The well designed post office symbolized this progress and demonstrated sophisticated architectural taste as well. The design of postal buildings that would lend prestige to the Canadian government could not be left to chance: less than fifteen years after Confederation it became one of the chief functions of the Dominion Architect.
In Ontario Towns, Douglas Richardson has shown that the post offices of Thomas Fuller (1823–98), Canada's Chief Architect from 1881 to 1897, were the most distinctive examples of this building type. He points to the "family resemblance" among them and, at the same time, to the unique character of each one, suited to its townscape.
In the course of their work, architectural historians draw on research material from a variety of disciplines. In the case of La Ville de Québec, 1800–1850: un inventaire de cartes et plans, that discipline is urban history. Four historians—Edward Dahl, Hélène Espesset, Marc Lafrance and Thiery Ruddell—have patiently catalogued hundreds of maps and plans depicting Quebec City between 1800 and 1850. For the first time in Canada, an attempt has been made to make public a systematic catalogue of the wealth of Quebec maps and plans that belong to the National Map Collection of the Public Archives of Canada. For those of us in the field of Quebec studies who have searched through archival labyrinths in pursuit of relevant cartographic material, this recent publication comes as a welcome relief.
Ontario Towns like Rural Ontario (Toronto: 1969) is most easily categorized as a book of photographs. But unlike many of the recent studies of Canada or its architecture which present a body of plates loosely strung together by a descriptive or hyperbolic text, Ralph Greenhill's photographs for Ontario Towns and the text by Greenhill, Douglas Richardson and Ken Macpherson present a consistent image. It is an image of the wide range of vernacular building in Ontario—churches, public, commercial and residential buildings, and town planning—such has not been available before for Ontario or any other province.
Many an architectural photographer or historian is able to grasp the immediately interesting element in a given building. The important factor in a study of this type is the avoidance of the all-inclusive approach—the weak link in the historian's temperament—in favour of the spare, rational grouping such as characterizes Ontario Towns. There is no doubt that the book may lack the comprehensive detail demanded by students, and similarly questions may be raised as to why certain buildings of importance were left out. However, it would be hard if not impossible to find a building or a plate that did not carry its full weight in the evocation of the character of the Ontario town.