At a time when architects and designers were producing “modern” designs no matter the cost, Percy Erskine Nobbs stood by his belief that new buildings should look like they had always been there, remodeling many Montreal landmarks with intelligence and style.
Born in Scotland in 1875, Nobbs graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s degree in Arts. At just 28 years of age – having traveled Europe and won accolades and awards for his work as an architect– Nobbs was invited to take up the Macdonald Chair of Architecture at McGill.
Convinced that the best way to teach and remain relevant was through practice, Nobbs lobbied for permission to practice architecture while teaching. Nobbs’ designs – mainly in the “Arts and Crafts” style - were more focused on the orientation and placement of windows than the aesthetics of the building, and many mansions he designed, using traditional materials such as wood, wrought iron and stone, are Canadian heritage buildings today.
Partnered with George Taylor Hyde, who graduated from McGill with a BSc in Architecture in 1899, Nobbs designed and remodeled many McGill university buildings, including the McGill University Union (now the McCord Museum) the University Club on Mansfield, the Drummond Medical Building and the New Birks Building, as well as the Macdonald Engineering building subsequent to a catastrophic fire. The two also designed the master plan for the University of Alberta.
Nobbs, who served in the first World War and attained the rank of major, was also a talented artist and sculptor who created many war memorials in bronze, marble and stained glass. He was also an accomplished athlete, and surprised many when he took home a silver medal in fencing for Canada in the 1908 Olympics. Nobbs was also a writer; his books include one on design, another on salmon fishing and one on fencing tactics.
A lifelong outdoorsman and fisherman, Nobbs created the Atlantic Salmon Federation which today is still an active and important organization which funds research for salmon conservation and habits. In 1952 he earned the Outdoor Life Conservation award as the man who contributed most to the conservation of wildlife that year.