No matter where you go in Canada-small towns or the provincial and national capitals, you are likely to see the handiwork of the architect David Ewart (1841-1921). During his term as Chief Architect for the Department of Public Works in Ottawa, Ewart was responsible for the design and construction of over 340 new buildings and substantial renovations during his tenure of this office, one of the most productive eras in the history of the chief architect’s branch. The office produced a steady string of well-designed public buildings – almost every municipality of any consequence got one – and the standardized plans that emerged in this period resulted in a recognizable federal design vocabulary across the country.
In this area, Ewart was responsible for the old post office in Dundas as well as the Dundas Armoury. The original post office buildings in Grimsby, Paris and Woodstock Ontario were built under Ewart’s direction as was the Armoury in London Ontario. Writing in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Gordon W. Fulton wrote, “Ewart and his staff occasionally equalled the best work being produced in private practice, as in their Edwardian baroque design for the Vancouver Post Office (1905–10).
Ewart himself designed in a very controlled, sober manner, favouring Tudor Gothic for his Dominion Archives Building (1904–6), Victoria Memorial Museum (1905–8), Royal Mint (1905–8), and Connaught Building (1913–16), all in Ottawa. Scottish-born Ewart trained as a draftsman in his native country and came to Canada at age 30, within 11 days of his arrival he was hired by the Department of Public Works, eventually rising to become head of the Architectural division. He was asked to prepare a report on the replacement of the Parliament Buildings after the 1916 fire and he designed the Canadian War Museum. He was responsible for much of what is today’s Rideau Hall.
So esteemed was Ewart that after his retirement in 1914 he was immediately retained as a consultant at full salary until his death. Whether you are in Owen Sound or Saskatoon, a century after his death, the legacy of David Ewart can be found in well-designed federal buildings that have stood the test of time. In many cases, as in the Dundas Armoury, which is now a community Centre or the London Armoury which is now a hotel, they have been repurposed for other functions and continue to add a touch of historic class to their communities.