It actually started in California. I was on a road trip down the west coast from Vancouver, then across the continental U.S. from California. I was enamoured with the sights, the smell, the west coast vibe of California. I guess it stayed in my mind, those colours and images, because when I got home and began documenting buildings from Gananoque and the Thousand Islands, they all went onto a candy-coloured, pop-art style background, straight from the dreamy California landscape.
My mother is a professional photographer, so it’s not unusual to go for drives and walks, looking for things to photograph. I often go with her. On these outings I find myself drawn to this warehouse or that store-front. There is something beautiful about them and I want to interpret these buildings within my art. I admit, it’s the old, often the abandoned that usually catches my eye. There is a messy beauty about them that pushes me to create. I’m fascinated with their history and their future.
The first building I drew is on King St. W. in Gananoque. Its store-front is now an antique store. I browse in there from time to time, as fascinated with these antiques as I am with the building they are housed in. Next came an empty store-front building across the street. It used to be a clothing store, but now the bottom part sits empty.
The Leeds Foundry building found its way on to my list after that. I loved it’s old, broken windows, crumbling stone walls, and boarded-up doorways.
The building is slated to become town-homes. The other factories will also be updated into condos and a couple of new buildings are to be built on site. My contact for the Riverstone project sent me a booklet. The architectural renderings show that Brennan Custom Homes intends to keep the limestone walls, large windows and overall rusticity of the building. I am thankful. What was once a weedy lot filled with ghosts is to be transformed.
Next came an old church found on Highway 2. I imagined turning the beautiful old building into a home. Last time I checked, it looked like someone had started to work on it.
I then turned my attention to the old movie theatre. This might be my favourite piece. Originally built in 1930, the theatre shut down in 1960, but reopened as a bowling alley. I remember bowling there myself and thinking about the empty theatre upstairs, imagining it full again. Now both the theatre and bowling alley sit empty, waiting for its next phase of life. Mysterious buyers from Montreal own it, and we must wait and see what the building’s future will bring.
My friend, Linda Yaxley, suggested that my next project might be the Pump House on King St. West. I took her up on the offer. I am equally fascinated by what’s inside, as I am with the building itself. Linda uses the space as her open-door studio and her art is phenomenal. Inside is one treasure after another, with bright metal jewelry gleaming from display cases and intriguing and surreal puppets resting on ancient suitcases. The walls are studded with paintings and sculptures. Amidst all this is Linda’s studio tools and utensils and you can often find her sitting at her work bench surrounded by antique buttons, velvet ribbons, shining silver, and semi-precious stones, all part of her work.
“The Pump House,” Linda informed me, “had its twin across the street, on the other side of the bridge and was used as a pumping station during fires.” She showed me old photos, one dated from before 1876 when the old metal bridge spanned the Gananoque River and the pump houses stood sentinel on either side. The river, at that point, was not tamed as it is now, and flowed up and around the pump houses. The Pump House is now owned by the town and is used for furthering Gananoque’s cultural heritage.
The last building for this article, but by no means the last in my series, is an old motel on Hwy 2. It closed down August of 1996 and has been slowly decaying ever since. The first time I found myself there, doors and windows were open to the elements and it was possible to carefully snoop through the rooms, envisioning a time when bands used to play on the bandstand and the pool held playing children, instead of weeds. Just this past summer, is was boarded-up tightly and whitewashed over.
I asked my friend Zach Treanor, who owns his own heritage building across from Gananoque’s Town Hall, what he had to say about these buildings. “Although heritage buildings have long suffered from underutilization and lack of preservation, they are now being recognized as an integral component of sustainable development. Communities and businesses are realizing Downtown Revitalization can be accomplished through adaptive use of old buildings; a process that redevelops buildings for new uses while retaining heritage features. The key is that Heritage buildings serve as historical records and contribute to a sense of place; a redesign should incorporate a building’s original character and architectural features, and prevent the erosion of community identity. Rehabilitated heritage buildings should serve as vibrant public spaces, which allow people to gather, interac, and share experiences.” Zach has done a marvelous job. His building houses the Socialist Pig, Steel Style Garage and the Ledger Room Yoga Studio.
These buildings continue to capture my attention and imagination. I am sorry to see these buildings go. I am eager to see their future.
By Amy Pierrson
Amy Pierrson is “a mother, an artist, an illustrator and a graphic designer.” However, she does admit to doing a “few other things, which combine to allow me to pay the mortgage.” She started her art career by chance, although she was always drawn to the arts. One day her employer asked her to find a graphic artist, to create a brochure. When they received the finished product, she realized, "I can do that!" and as she says, “I've never really looked back - The graphic design led to illustration - The illustration to art.” When Amy’s husband was posted to CFB Kingston, from Vancouver, they were looking for a house to buy and took a Sunday drive,following the River to Gananoque. “When we went through the West Gate and passed the Gananoque Town Hall, I announced, "I want to live here.” And here I am; it's beautiful!
Editor’s Note: We welcome Amy to the 1000 Islands. You may reach her at: http://about.me/Ashwenna