January 6, 1996
Interview by Harry Mayerovitch with David Covo
H.M.: Well Campbell, as you are well aware, about a hundred years ago, now being the beginning of January 1996, the School of Architecture at McGill University was founded. And since you and I are among the oldest of the graduates, it was felt that perhaps we might offer some insight and some recollections about the, not perhaps the first days of the school, but very close to it so that future generations will get some notion about the kind of a school it was, the kind of atmosphere which prevailed and therefore undoubtedly, as a result of this information, we would make better men of them, or women, if you would like to be politically correct.
H.M.: Now this is supposed to be an interview of you, not of me.
You mean, I keep quiet!
H.M.: No, well!
I have to cut that one, I’m sorry.
H.M.: So do you offhand or off the bat have any recollections that remain with you that might be interesting? I did notice one thing, some item affecting Ramsay Traquair, who was one of our professors that might be of interest. Would you like to tell us about that?
To start with?
H.M.: Well, at any point in time.
Why not. Well, I happen to have probably the only one because I- that doesn’t matter why, but I was given way back, halfway between now and the time I left McGill, a photograph, a snapshot of Ramsay Traquair, who, one may know or not, was at the time a teacher of the cadet corps bayonet practice on the campus and he appeared for each lesson in his Scottish kilt wielding a very large rifle with a long bayonet on one end and a potato sack on the ground as the victim. And he’s got a vicious face, which you don’t see very well in the pictures, but he does have a moustache, which is quite vicious, and he’s got his bayonet way up in the air just to descend on this poor thing on the ground. Anyway, it’s quite unlike Ramsay Traquair, but he sometimes could look like that.
When Monty Montgomery and I were in Europe later, we drove a little car around, which we called Traq, T-R-A-Q, chiefly because it made a noise exactly like our little Singer automobile when it was a little out of gear.
H.M.: Well that was a fascinating recollection, which of course, was a little remote from Architecture, but it did bring people back to the reality of the time.
A lot of things in the School of Architecture were a little remote from architecture!
H.M.: Well, you had- I think your class started with about ten, nine or ten people?
I would guess it was about ten people who came in. And then of course we graduated five years later.
H.M.: There were six.
H.M.: Still six.
H.M.: Do you recall some of the names?
Yes I do. I could show out some pictures of the six out of the old McGill News if I have it.
H.M.: Oh, good.
Anyway, they were Richard Eve…
H.M.: Oh, Lord, yes.
…who was brought up in England and had a little bit of his English accent left and he was an interesting fellow.
H.M.: His father, I believe was professor of Electrical Engineering.
His father was professor of Physics.
Physics, I think.
And then there was Robert Montgomery, who was an East Townships chap. His father was a doctor out in- oh dear, I can’t pick it out. Sorry about it.
[Showing notebook] And here is Traquair at work with all his implements. And by the way, down here is a photograph, at least a sketching, that includes myself under the table. And the fellows up standing are holding two T-squares, reverse action, and sawing with them on top of the tables, while I am making the noise of the saw [makes sawing noises]
H.M.: That’s going to be an inspiration for today’s students, I’m sure!
There was another time when we set up two or three sections of I-beams, which we had in the classroom for samples, to see what they looked like. And we put them just on the edge of a table, drafting table, so that if the table was shaken a little bit they would crash to the floor and make one terrible noise. Because we knew that Mr. Carless, who was the 2.I.C. of the teaching staff, or 3.I.C., was coming in the door and they were timed to crash just as he appeared, because he was a very nervous person. And then as soon as they crashed, we all looked and said “Oh, that’s too bad. What, that thing? It won’ t matter”. Something of that sort. So that’s how we spent part of our time.
H.M.: I recall, I saw in your diary one example of the great interest that the architectural students took in the landscaping. I think it had something to do with spreading salts on the campus.
Oh, that was the engineering, the engineers out at the…
H.M.: I see. Macdonald?
…time we spent at Macdonald College doing, I can’t remember what. Oh yes, surveying Macdonald College. Anyway, it was a nasty trick because I don’t approve of damaging agriculture or flora, generally. But they sprinkled the lawn in front of the main building with salt saying, very large letters, Science ’31. And as everybody was afraid, the grass died and wasn’t replaced for about three years. Science ’31.
H.M.: Well, it’s obvious that architecture, or the interest in architecture had many facets.
We haven’t spoken about architecture yet, Harry!
H.M.: But I imagine though that there are many interesting things that happened in the school itself that you may perhaps have recalled.
Harry, I’ve just told you three!
H.M.: Well, those were very interesting, obviously interesting things. And some people may regard these as sort of sidelines to the study of architecture.
All right. What do you expect, lectures? There’s one thing about lectures that- Percy Nobbs, who was my favourite staff member, and quite a lot of other people’ s, he used to give his lectures in the lecture room, which faced west across the campus. And in the springtime, the sun was particularly bright and very warm and it was very difficult not to fall asleep, although we enjoyed all his lectures very much. Now you carry on from there. What else have you got?
D.C.: What building were you in at the time?
In the Engineering building at the curve right on the campus drive, on the second floor, was it? Second floor.
H.M.: Yes, in the Engineering building with a lot of Piranesi prints in the hall.
Yes, and a lot of casts in the third floor [unclear] room, which were taken out not very long after.
H.M.: When you graduated, Campbell, did you go off elsewhere before getting to work?
Yes. Bob Montgomery and I were lucky in that we were able to go because of the benefit of, what do they call it, come on.
Scholarships, yeah. So we went to England first and spent a summer there with that car that made a noise like Traq. Now, this is getting silly again.
H.M.: Did you study there or just sketch and so forth?
We studied but not officially at that time. We studied at the architectural, the RIBA library and did a lot of research work there.
Oh no, we worked. Yeah, we worked there. And we traveled then. No, we traveled first before we did the work. We went to Scandinavia, we went to Stockholm by ship and came up the waterways to Stockholm by the sunrise and it was one of the greatest sights I ever saw. I have a drawing of it somewhere. And then we decided instead of going back onward as we had intended to do through Europe southward through Germany and so on, we decided that we better not spend the winter doing that so we came back to London. And in London we studied London.
H.M.: Well then, when you came back, you suggest that you didn’t work for anybody, you actually set up-
Yes, when I- oh came back from Europe to England.
H.M.: Right, after and at that time, you spent some time at the University of London you say?
H.M.: Studying town planning.
That was year two. Oh, no, you see, we’re going- I’m getting confused now. Yes I spent a season, how long it was, I can’t remember how long it was. It was a course. Oh dear.
H.M.: When you came back, what course did your career take?
Sorry, came back to England?
H.M.: When you came back to Canada.
Oh, there were no jobs. I went to Barott and he didn’t have a job. So I went to Ross and Macdonald. And then I went to Fetherstonhaugh and Durnford.
H.M.: What year was that, do you recall?
That was 19- I came back in the summer of 1934.
H.M.: Right. Well, we were still in the- still feeling the effects of the depression then I believe.
Yes, you were. There were no jobs but I got a job first of all for a short time, with, I’ve said it now, I’ve said it once, Ross and Macdonald.
H.M.: Ah yes. As I recall, they did the Dominion Square Building at the time.
They probably were. I don’t remember what I worked on though, sorry.
H.M.: Well, they were the big firm in the town at the time.
They were a busy firm, yes. When I came back from traveling in Europe down as far as Rome- no I didn’t go to Rome. I was damned if I wanted to see Rome. But I saw Florence and loved it and spent as long as I could there. Then I came up North through the Alps and skied a little bit. And on up North to Berlin and I rode up the Rhine on a barge, on a, you know, [unclear]. So then I came back from Europe to England and, what did I do then? I got a job, I can’t remember how soon. I can’t remember his name, not now, not a very good one and not a very good office, but that’s what it was.
D.C.: Where was that, in London?
Yes, in London. He had an office on an eyot, which is a small island in the River Thames.
H.M.: Well, at any rate, when you came back to Canada, you say you did work for Ross and Macdonald for a while. And at a certain point, you presumably developed, set up your own firm. Was that correct? Or you joined somebody else’ s firm.
Oh, I see what you’re talking about. No, I joined Ernest Barott…
H.M.: Ah yes.
First Warren Marshall, who had joined a couple of years previously. And then the following year, Bob Montgomery came back from Europe and he was invited to join the farm. Firm, not farm. And then the following year, I came back and I went to see Mr. Barott and he gave me a job. And we were- the firm was four partners. Incidentally, the year that I finished McGill, I also went into Barott’s office, just as I had done every summer previously. And as I came in the door, he said, “Campbell, I’m sorry, I can’t give you a job this summer”. And nobody had a job that summer. Nobody was getting jobs. So that’s why I had no problem going to Europe. So then the office was four partners, Barott, Marshall, Montgomery and Merrett. Followed a little later by Mr. Barott’s son, who unfortunately didn’t like it. No, I’m not going to enter that now. He went to join another office. We won’t talk about those.
H.M.: No, as long as you stick to your [unclear]. I find it rather significant, Campbell, that you were accepted, as were your associates, accepted into partnership in an important firm right off the bat. I don’t think it would be- not be usual today.
I’m sure not, but we had been in their office every summer for four years, each of us. But the first summer, I was on for two of the- how many holiday months are there? Four, five?
H.M.: Just about.
Well, I was in it for three- a couple of months anyway, and I got no pay. The second summer, I got seven dollars a week. The third summer I got twenty-five dollars a week. That’s what went on and that was fine. We were delighted. Fortunately, each of us was living at home. No, Monty wasn’t. He was living in a fraternity house.
H.M.: The firm got to be quite a large firm at one time, did it not?
Well, we had a lot of nice jobs and we had seventy draughtsmen.
H.M.: Seventy draughtsmen. Well, even today, that would be a large firm, wouldn’ t it? For Canada.
H.M.: So there must have been a great deal of satisfaction working in that set up, as you did have interesting jobs.
H.M.: You had certainly interesting associates.
Well, we had a variety of jobs, too. I was in charge; actually, I didn’t do all the work on, the Montreal Start building, which was fun to do.
H.M.: What hospitals had you worked on?
We’ve worked on the Montreal-
No! Royal Victoria Hospital for years and years and years.
And then Barott and this fellow from Estonia worked on the architectural design. The one from Estonia planned it pretty well. Then Barott died and the fellow from Estonia went to the States and I got the job to run it. And I spent years on it. Alterations like crazy. And then when I retired, Nick Stahl, who was then a partner, this is long after, he took it on. Then the French came into the hospital and said, you know, “French architects, please” . So we didn’ t get any more hospital- well, we did get some alterations, but they did the new work in the last ten, fifteen years.
H.M.: When did you retire, Campbell?
I never remember whether it was ’67 or ’77. It was about twenty years ago, so that would be ’77, wouldn’t it?
D.C.: Did you do any work for the university?
D.C.: Which buildings?
What’s it called now? The one on the right of the Arts Building. It has the administration, doesn’t it?
H.M.: The Administration Building?
Is it now, the Administration Building?
D.C.: Yes it is. It used to be the Biology Building.
No, right tied on to the Arts Building.
D.C.: Dawson Hall.
Dawson Hall it is now, yes. That wasn’t biology!
D.C.: Biology was a separate building.
It was Dawson Hall. And we gutted it, and put a new roof on it. Did we put a new floor on it? No.
H.M.: I think it’s significant that you brought back something from Europe that was in the modern idiom. That’s important.
Well, we knew nothing about it at McGill. I’ve said that somewhere in print. We knew nothing about Europe. We knew the States and the skyscrapers and the names of the architects. And that’s all we knew when we got our degree. Oh, well, that’s a little bit rough, because we had seen pictures like Dudok’s work and that sort of thing. I got Dudok on the brain.
D.C.: What did you discover in Europe that changed so much?
I walked around; I had a bicycle in Holland. I rode around the corner and saw the stock of the town hall- don’t you know the picture of it? It’s a yellow building.
H.M.: Ah! Good for me!
See, I can’t even remember a name!
H.M.: Well, it’s coming to me after many years too, when you talked about the yellow brick, etc.
I rode my bicycle around a corner and there was that building and I thought- I was sold. So I went in, walked up. Asked for Mr.- Now, you see, I can’t remember his name.
Dudok. And he came out of his office to come see me and that was it. He told me I had the freedom of the building all over the place and got somebody in to tell me. And then he told me to come back and show him some drawings and so on, so on, so on. But that was a real-
H.M.: That was a real eye-opener was it?
H.M.: Did you meet any other architects when you were in Europe?
I went into every building and asked for the architect and who he was. And if he wasn’t there, I went to the building manager. I went to somebody in every building I went in. Talked to them about it.
H.M.: Did you meet any of the Swedish architects? There was, if I recall there was Östberg.
Yes, we went to dinner with Östberg. He called us up at our hotel after we’d been in. Monty was with [unclear]. And he spent a morning with us. Drawings and everything else, and buildings that he had done. And we went back to the hotel for dinner and the telephone rang and he asked us to dinner at his house the next day.
H.M.: Well, that’s high living.
That was great because he had a party for us. He had two of his daughters and he had two other Swedish architects, young Swedish architects. And they poured wine into us! We had a hell of a good time. And they were charming, these Swedes.
H.M.: Well that’s exciting.
H.M.: Did you meet people like Tengbom? He did the concert hall.
Never did meet Tengbom.
H.M.: How about Asplund? He did a lot of planning and-
He was too young for us.
He was too young for us. But we certainly knew about him. Unless perhaps- who were we just talking about? Who was the architect we were just talking about at the town hall?
H.M.: Östberg. Ragnar Östberg.
Östberg. He may have been at dinner there because he had a couple of architects. Oh, they couldn’t have been nicer to us.
H.M.: Had you, during that time had you had any exposure to people like Le Corbusier?
Only through books.
H.M.: Only through books.
We never met him. The only architects, well, apart from- I was going to say were the English ones but that’s not true. We met them in several places. Made a point of meeting them.
H.M.: I don’t know whether you came into contact in London with Burnett, Tate and Lorne.
Well, I certainly remember the firm. And who was the- Robertson, who was he with?
H.M.: No, that I don’t know. York and Rob- No, that’s a later firm. But any rate, in London, you were studying essentially. You weren’t working with any of the architectural firms, were you?
Just the one little firm that I got a job with for the last few months on the eyot, E-Y-O-T, an island in the middle of the Thames, that’s where he had his office.
H.M.: Well it sounds romantic enough!
D.C.: How did you get to the office? Was it connected by a bridge or did you go by ferry?
Yes, it was connected by a bridge, but it was private. He owned the little island.
D.C.: Oh he did!
H.M.: That’s the way to live!
D.C.: You said you visited Berlin.
Yes, I spent six months- not six months, one month in Berlin.
D.C.: What year was that? 1932? ’33?
D.C.: And did you meet any architects?
I think ’32. Yes, but you will have to name them if I can’t remember them. Not now. I’ve got notebooks, which I can find it in. This is another thing. If I had scanned through couple of notebooks, I would have been able to answer better than I am doing now.
H.M.: You’re managing extremely well! You have no idea how human all this sounds, you know, it’s really. You know if, you know- Listen, Campbell, if people wanted to look at- watch this video in order to get actual facts of things, they could look it up in any number of books, history books. But that’ s really not the point. The point is for people to get sort of a flavour of the times and the flavour of the kind of people that you were exposed to. And that’ s what’s important. That’s what’s coming through very well.
Good. I’m glad some of it’s being interrupted.
H.M.: No, no.
D.C.: I think the fact that you traveled and worked abroad for three years before coming home-
I was damn lucky!
D.C.: You were lucky.
I have to confess that I didn’t work every minute of every day.
D.C.: But you seized the opportunity as well. And I think that you were able to do that will impress certainly this generation of students tremendously.
Well, I’ve got books and books of- no I haven’t. Not really, that’s exaggerating.
H.M.: When you look back-
I’ve got thousands of notebooks, little ones, big ones, short ones, fat ones. Who was it- who borrowed oh, what’s her name at McGill?
H.M.: Oh yes. Runs the- Who runs the Nobbs Library?
H.M.: Irena. Irena Murray?
No, no, no. She’s now teaching first year or something.
H.M.: Oh, that’s Marie Adams- Annmarie Adams?
That’s right. You sicked me on to her and she took all my books.
H.M.: Well, she was a pretty girl and I thought that you’d be interested.
I never met her until a few months ago at McGill. No but she-
D.C.: Does she still have your notebooks?
D.C.: No, you have them.
I got annoyed. She kept them for quite a long time at one point and I called her up.
D.C.: When you traveled, were you sketching a good part of the time?
D.C.: And was that something that came out of the years at McGill? Was that- the importance of sketching when you travel, was that something that you were taught? That you somehow acquired?
Which that I somehow acquired? Sketching?
D.C.: Yeah the-
Oh, well, I guess I had some talent somewhere!
That’s for sure!
Quebec, Quebec. You can go into my room and see what my talent is.
D.C.: You have some drawings on the wall there?
Yes. I’m all stuffed with them!
H.M.: Do you feel we’ve covered-
D.C.: Oh, I have a question.
H.M.: You have some questions?
D.C.: One of the first students I taught at McGill is now a partner in your firm, Alan Orton.
D.C.: Do you remember Alan?
D.C.: Yeah. Now, I remember him telling me once, because he worked summers I think for you and then joined the firm on graduation. And I remember him telling me once that the building that you did on Mountain Street was one of the first-
On Mountain Street.
D.C.: On Mountain. Across the street from Ogilvy’s.
It was the-
D.C.: Texaco Building. He once described that as one of the first climate-controlled office buildings in the city. It that true?
It could be, I don’t remember that because I didn’t have anything to do with the climate control, I guess!
H.M.: Unless you opened and shut the doors.
D.C.: That building goes back to the late fifties, early sixties?
I have to make a statement that my memory is very poor.
D.C.: Yes, so is mine.
H.M.: Join the club!
I could join it.
D.C.: That makes it unanimous.
The date of that building? I’d have to go back through my mind. We were in the Canada Cement Building before we went in- built that and moved in. I can’ t at the moment remember exactly what year it was.
D.C.: Have you been back recently? The building has changed.
Oh yes, it’s a hotel.
D.C.: It’s been modified, yeah, dramatically.
D.C.: It’s been dramatically modified, eh?
Well, the lobby has. That’s all I’ve seen from the street. But it’s interesting because its fenestration has been made to work. You know, it’s just a row of-
A barrier of windows.
[Flips through sketchbook]
This book seems to be full of England. Somewhere in England, it’s called. That one’s around York; is York. Cathedral in the background. Is this what you want me to say?
D.C.: uh huh.
[Flips page] This is pompous, this is getting conceited!
D.C.: For good reason!
This is Sherborne Abbey. Are you getting them? Is it going to show up?
D.C.: uh huh.
[Flips page] This sketch is en passant. I don’t know what they are. Do you want more of these? You can cut out what you want, obviously. [Flips page] Fountain’s Abbey. [Flips page] Are you going to flip- are you going to turn them or am I?
D.C.: Go ahead.
H.M.: When you look through these things, Campbell, do you recall them particularly? Do you recall the circumstances or do they seem to belong to a different person or a different world or-? Do you recall the connection at all?
No, because they’re on the road, driving around England, studying architecture.
H.M.: Ah, that old thing!
[Flips page] Details.
They are beautiful details!
[Flips page] There. How about that? Michelangelo!
H.M.: In Florence, I suppose, eh?
No! It’s in the Victoria and Albert Museum!
H.M.: There you are! They fool you every time. I didn’t realize that there was one in the Victoria and Albert.
[Flips page] Do you want to see who it is? No. They don’t know.
H.M.: I see you’ve got some human interest in that last one.
[Flips page] Holland. [Flips page] Castle. That’s enough, isn’t it? [Flips page] Belgium, I mean, Brussels. [Flips page] Florence. Those are the ones on the wall. Have you had enough?
D.C.: Keep going. This is nice.
Do you want me to turn it or not?
D.C.: Sure, please.
[Flips page] Florence. The Ponte Vecchio. Now we come to the end.
H.M.: You know, I’m very much taken with that one. It’s a highly disciplined thing, yet very, very simple. Where is that?
Verona! That’s where that bridge is.
H.M.: Beautiful, beautiful sketch. Do you want to lower it so that the light shines on it a little more? Great. That’s a marvelous sketch.
H.M.: That’s a very small sampling of your sketches I might add.
***End of first interview***
H.M.: Well Campbell, in light of our trying to remember what happened a hundred years ago, or a bit less in our case-
H.M.: I wonder whether you would have some thoughts, random or otherwise, about your experiences in the School of Architecture.
Well, you must remember, Harry, as you did inaccurately, that it was a good many years ago. For me, I got out of the school sixty-five years ago. And my memory today doesn’t go back as much as that. However, let’s start thinking about it.
H.M.: You and who else?
I always thought that the school was pretty good to us, albeit, it was a little out of date. We didn’t get much of what was going on elsewhere except right in our little school. But I think the first couple of years were a bit of fun, because at least I had never done anything like that before. Elephant washes, was it on Watman’s-
H.M.: Watman’s Hard-pressed?
Hard-pressed paper. That’s right. But it was fun because we had never done anything like it before and it was certainly different from the school I had been at. You know, you didn’t do those things. However, the last three years changed the impressions a bit, although it still gave us nothing about new architecture, which was flourishing across the big pond in Europe. And a lot of us I think were starting to press our- not to press but to think seriously about trying to get over and look at it. We had better information coming at us, although some of it was absolutely useless, like well, I’m thinking Macdonald College and surveying the farm at Macdonald College. I never used whatever it was in my life after that. And we got through. We didn’t get a lot of things like- we got plumbing, didn’t we?
We were taught plumbing but not electricity.
H.M.: Of course, that was way before my time!
I see. Not electricity, not acoustics, etc. etc. And those were used later. We didn’t actually do them but we told people what we wanted from them. So when we came to graduations, there we were. There were no jobs. I went in to see my old chief, Ernest Barrot, as I used to do every summer, and he looked at me as I came in the door and he said, “Campbell, I’m sorry, I can’t give you a job this year”. And I said pleasantly, I said, “that’s all right, I’m going over to Europe”. And I managed to find support from my father fortunately to get me to Europe. And also, Bob Montgomery, who was my best friend at that time, was going to be able to get to Europe as well. And we went over a couple of weeks apart on the steamers. And we met in London and shortly after, because we were both English born, I mean, born of Englishmen, wanted to see England, which I’d never seen before. And we got a little car and we drove the length and breadth of England and we concentrated on English Gothic churches. We saw them. Every now and then we had to stop and look at something else. And back in London, we spent time at the RIBA, the library, and other places where we could get information and London itself, of course. So there was Europe beckoning us. And in October that year, this was 1931; we took a freighter to Stockholm. And that was the beginning of our tour to Europe. And it was great fun.
Stockholm is a magnificent city and the architecture won us over. We had never seen it before except in photographs. And needless to say, the town hall was our first bait. We were in there altogether I think for about two if not three weeks. Sounds extravagant but it’s true. And the second day we were there, we went to the office of Ragnar Östberg, the architect, and he could not have been more charming and more generous and just took off the whole morning and sat with us and talked. And then he called up the Swedish Cooperators’ Society and asked them please to come around and get us the next day and take us all over Stockholm, their factories and so on. Everywhere we thought of. We didn’t know where to go. And, oh, to go on with Östberg for awhile, two or three days later, we got back to our hotel and found and invitation from him to dinner at his house where he had invited his family, his wife and two daughters, very nice daughters, and he had a young Swedish architect and an architect student all there to even up the sides. We, I remember chiefly that we consumed a great deal of very pleasant Swedish wines during what they call- I can’t remember the name but, our health. Each one, we’d drink to the health of the person opposite them several times around and we were barely able to get up from the table. Neither was Östberg. However, after that, we spent the full month in Stockholm, two weeks at least of it in the Town Hall. And then we decided that instead of going south into Germany, as had been our plan, it was wintertime and we would go back to England.
So we took a train across Sweden to Gothenburg and down after that to Copenhagen, with a ferry [unclear] for Copenhagen. And took off over the- into the- not into- to the North Sea and took ship for Harwich in England to spend the winter in London. It was the worst sea trip I’ve ever had in my life because we saved money coming across Denmark to Copenhagen and had no meals, because we knew that the dinner on the ship was part of the crossing. So we took off after having that Danish dinner in Copenhagen and smack into the worst sea I’ve ever seen. And I lost my dinner and went to bed immediately and I never slept. It was a terrible trip. However, we got back to London and spent most of our time in the RIBA library. And we found out an awful lot we had never heard of before because they had everything in the way of books. And we had Christmas in London and then about beginning of February, off to the Continent. And we had our first flight in British Airways- what do they call them, seaplanes? I can’t remember the name now. And landed shortly in Paris and Paris was Paris for a while. And we saw quite a lot of it. My friend Monty then wanted to go across to Germany and I thought I’d go down to Italy and he moved on then back to England for a while and got back by that autumn. And I went on down and saw a little bit of Italy, which didn’t please me very much. It was fine stuff. Florence was a great place; I liked that.
Then we went north to Verona and Venice- I did, I’m sorry Monty had gone on. And up into Germany and there it began all around us: modern architecture. Not just the big buildings that we saw in Paris or even London, but all around, every city we went to. I went to, I walked out into the suburbs, and walked back again in the evening whether it had been raining or not, and saw buildings, buildings, buildings, all of them modern. And I liked most of them. The only case that I remember, I was coming back after a pouring wet day walking all day to- going back to- this was Hamburg. I was walking home in the rain to Hamburg and I looked down the street and saw what I thought was a modern building. And as I approached it, I found it was a very exciting-looking synagogue. So I went down, went to the side door, and obviously it was a big one, it was closed solid. And the door was opened by a pleasant-looking woman who smiled and seen what I wanted. And I took out my RIBA travel card, which we were given for the very purpose of showing any language, you see, what I wanted to get in for. So she took it, glanced at it and said, “ein augenblick”, if you know what that means, ”one moment please”. So she closed the door in my face and I waited in the rain. She came back in a minute; she handed me a little plate with a bun on it and a little piece of cheese just like that. And I said, “Oh, excuse me”. And showed her the card again, which she read more carefully. And then she blushed. She thought I was a tramp, which I’m sure I wouldn’t blame her for. And after that, she was very kind and took us in- took me in. That was Hamburg.
Then moved back westward from there. Went through the Netherlands, Holland. And there I got another thrill in architecture when I rode my bicycle around a corner and came upon Dudok’s Town Hall.
In Hilversum, sorry. I should have told you earlier that after Östberg, we made a policy of going to call upon whoever was the best-known architect, even if it was the town’s architect, or in Hilversum, I went to call on Mr. Dudok. And he was just as kind as Mr. Östberg had been. He didn’t give me a meal but he took me in. He came out of a meeting and gave me his time and I spent another week or two in that building.
After Hilversum, I went on on the bicycle, which I had been lent by the owner of the pensionnat I was staying at. And that kind of generosity you found everywhere you went. It was really delightful. And so around- where was I? Holland. I eventually ended up bicycling up one of the dykes from-
H.M.: It wouldn’t be Rotterdam?
Ah yes, it was Rotterdam. I saw that and then I climbed up on the dyke and walked basically all the way up to- I can’t say that either. From the dyke, I could look south and eastward and see the towers, the church towers, anything, any tall building, I could see it from where I was standing because the sweep of Holland is that sort of elevation.
While in Holland I had just completed twelve months from the day I landed on the boat from Canada in London and I figured it out that I had spent in that twelve months in all that traveling and a couple little short holidays thrown in, exactly twelve hundred dollars. Try it today! So I went over back to England then and that was the beginning of a new year. What I mean is that I had a year and started out a new year by taking a year at the Architectural Association, which kept me occupied and I enjoyed it and I learned quite a lot there too. So that was there. Then after that, I finally managed to get some skiing. I had had a little three-day skiing jaunt as I went from France to Italy at the side of an Alp in March when the snow was damp and the weather was warm and sunny. And I spent four days there skiing up in the slushy, wet snow like a darn fool because I could watch the avalanches coming down around me. I should never have done it. But I borrowed the pension owner’ s ski boots and across the street, I was able to rent a pair of skis. And for three days, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. That was a brief holiday.
Finally, at Christmastime in 1933, I was invited to go with a gang of Cambridge students to [unclear] and we skied there for two weeks. And that was the greatest skiing I’ve ever had certainly in that kind of skiing. So back in London, in the third autumn I had, I took a town-planning course, which wasn’t terribly exciting, actually, at the University of London with an old gentleman named Adshead. But I took it anyway. That was approaching the end. That next summer, I came home. Oh, I had had a job in one of what we used to call the beknighted architects offices. Do you know the beknighted architects?
Well, there was Sir Aston Webb, Sir Morris Webb, Sir Henry Lutchins. Am I right?
H.M.: Of course.
I think I’m right. Anyway, there were several of them and this was one of them, for six months, just to see how they run their offices. And they were still doing their sections and things in coloured ink, you know, all the colour on the drawing. And after that, I waited ‘till the end of the summer and I took another freighter and came home.
Back home in Montreal, there were no jobs or very few but I was lucky to pick up a couple, from one or two architects around. And finally, I was lucky enough to get a job in the Canadian National Railways, which saved my skin for a while. In fact, it was a good job, as I was about the only designer in the place. The others were painting railway cars and so on but I was taken out with the boss to Vancouver, where they were finishing up the Vancouver Hotel. I managed to design one or two of the dance rooms- one of the rooms including a dance room on the roof. And then back in Montreal, I got put on the CNR main station here in Montreal, where I enjoyed designing the main concourse.
There’s my winning number!
H.M.: That’s great! That’s a great space.
So that was fun. After that, things brightened up and I went back into Mr. Barott’s office and there I stayed with my friend Bob Montgomery and Warren Marshall and me as partners so that felt pretty good. And there I ended up too a few years ago.
H.M.: So you evidently got into quite an extensive practice and how long did that last?
As far as I was concerned, it lasted from the late thirties to about 1970, I think.
D.C.: How did you end up in architecture? What brought you into architecture as a career?
It took me not more than about two weeks to make up my mind I think. I had, you know, I sort of played with that sort of thing, planning a house, you know, on paper. But my father was very keen for me to go to R.M.C. and I wasn’ t nearly as-
H.M.: What was his occupation?
He was at Bank of Montreal. A banker. That’s why he paid for me to go to Europe!
H.M.: Best way!
Oh, I was saying, he wanted me to go to R.M.C. and I wasn’t very keen but I signed up and I got a message a month or two later that my physique was not adequate for the rigors of R.M.C., which I guess they weren’t. Anyway that-
H.M.: Too much dissolute living, I would guess!
All right, if you’ll say so. No that was from school, boarding school. So that, I think it didn’t take me long to make up my mind about architecture. So I drew a beautiful house and something else and sent it in with my application and didn’t wait very long. We were only- how many of us were there who came in? About seven or perhaps eight of whom six graduated.
You were part of the gang that got together in the Faculty Club and thought up this letter we were going to send the Principal?
H.M.: I can’t imagine myself being involved in any subversive activities!
Oh, well that could be!
H.M.: I don’t recall.
Have you read that book?
H.M.: About the history of the school?
H.M.: No I haven’t.
I’m ashamed of you.
H.M.: I’ll get it.
Absolutely ashamed of you!
H.M.: You know, that’s a pretty significant event in the life of a school and it’s strange, if you say that I was involved in it.
H.M.: You say that I was involved in that petition….
H.M.: …to admit women to the school.
That came, yes, well we advised that.