Visiting London, Ontario and Its Middlesex County Court House: Historic, Gothic Revival Building Dating From the 1820s
Remembering its official roles in the 19th century
London, Ontario, is fortunate to possess many buildings of considerable historical and architectural interest (as mentioned in 'Also worth seeing', below).
Nearly two centuries old, the Middlesex County Court House (1) an historic building both on account of its age and the notable associations of its site. The Court House overlooks the Thames River (2).
Some features and history
The Court House dates from a time in Upper Canada's history when London might have become Canada's capital. This, at least, was a preference entertained by Lieutenant-Governor General John Graves Simcoe, when he visited the immediate locality in 1793.
The style of the building is Gothic Revival, which was very greatly popularized in the 19th century. Substantially built by 1829, its architect was John Ewart (1788-1856), who was also one of the architects responsible for Osgoode Hall, headquarters of the Law Society of Upper Canada (3). Architect Ewart is believed to have modelled the Middlesex County Court House on Malahide Castle, Country Dublin, Ireland.
Mortar-covered brick walls give the appearance of a stone construction. A fortified look is suggested by crenellations and octagonal towers.
The Court House replaced an earlier wooden building. Subsequently, the latter was used as a school.
The building served, in fact, both in a judicial role, and as a jail, and as an administrative centre. In 1850 there occurred a local, administrative reorganization, whereby the former District of London was incorporated into the County of Middlesex.
In 1878, considerable alterations were made to the building.
The Middlesex County Court House is a National Historic Site of Canada, and has been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The Court House and the 'Old Country'
What strikes me as remarkable is that, while many of Ontario's older buildings looked to the British Isles for stylistic guidance, this particular historic edifice is actually older than, for example, many of the 19th century College buildings in Oxford and Cambridge, England, which are themselves now deemed to be historic.
(1) The county's name is derived from Middlesex, England; interestingly, the Middlesex Guildhall in England is situated in Parliament Square, London, opposite the Houses of Parliament, with its tower containing the bell known as Big Ben. Although Middlesex in England is no longer an active administrative unit for local government, a significant proportion of the territory containing London, England was formerly part of Middlesex. Thus for historical reasons it seems appropriate that the chief city of Ontario's County Middlesex should be called London.
(2) Again, the naming of the Thames River at a city called London is entirely appropriate for historical reasons. Similarly, the presence of a building in London, Ontario named St. Paul's Cathedral follows these historical precedents (see also Link, below).
(3) Architect John Ewart's daughter, Lady Jane Mowat, was the wife of long-serving Ontario Premier, and later Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, Sir Oliver Mowat).
Also worth seeing
Detroit , Michigan (distance: 201.6 kilometres), linked to Windsor, Canada by the Ambassador Bridge, has an impressive riverfront skyline, and many visitor attractions. (Interestingly, here in London, Ontario, a significant regional centre, it is not unusual to see visiting vehicles with number plates issued in Michigan.)
How to get there: Air Canada flies to London International Airport, from Toronto Pearson Airport, from where there are wide North American and other connections. Car rental is available at London International Airport. VIA Rail serves London, connecting with Windsor and Toronto, and other cities. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada