Francis Rattenbury and British Columbia
Architecture and Challenge in the Imperial AgeBook - 1983
Yorkshire-born Francis Mawson Rattenbury (1867-1935) emigrated toBritish Columbia as a young architect in 1892. Within months of hisarrival in Victoria he launched his brilliant, if abbreviated, careerby winning an international competition to design the legislativebuildings. While his life was marred by controversy, scandal and, inthe end, tragedy, Rattenbury's architecture had an enduring impacton the Canadian landscape and his commercial ventures were important tothe economic development of the West.
Richly illustrated with over 200 drawings and photographs, FrancisRattenbury and British Columbia is the first major critical study of aCanadian architect in the context of his times. Using unpublishedprimary sources, including his recently discovered private letters, theauthors document Rattenbury's professional career and the evolutionof his architectural style. Detailed descriptions are given of some ofhis most famous projects, notably the legislative buildings and theEmpress Hotel in Victoria. Besides working on a number of governmentcommissions, Rattenbury became chief architect for the Canadian PacificRailway and designed "chateau-like" buildings for C.P.R.hotels in the Rockies, Vancouver, and Victoria.
Other projects such as the Vancouver and Nanaimo Courthouses andBank of Montreal branches set the pattern for institutionalarchitecture in British Columbia. His buildings not only drew attentionto the growing importance of the province, but also lent dignity andcharacter to its major centres.
Filled with the vigour and confidence of the imperial age,Rattenbury initiated a number of commercial ventures. These includedthe founding of a transportation system to the Yukon goldfields andextensive land speculations. As the authors point out, theseinvestments were perhaps not undertaken solely for monetary gain butreflected Rattenbury's firm belief in the future of BritishColumbia and his desire to play an active role in its growth.Unfortunately, his entrepreneurial adventures involved heavy financiallosses, among which were ruinous lawsuits involving the provincialgovernment.
This pioneering work on Western Canadian architecture will serve asa valuable design source for both the specialist and lay reader. Italso includes an important account of the part played by major Canadiancompanies and government patronage in the development of BritishColumbia. This professional biography reveals new facets ofRattenbury's life and character which have been the subject of bothpublic and literary controversy.