The Central Chimney Braced Frame House – Part 2

The Lyle and Dingwell Houses, 1836 and 1838.

In my previous post I introduced you to the braced frame central chimney house brought to Canada by the Scottish Catholic Colonial settlers in the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century.

In this post I want to examine two more Island houses with a central chimney, both built more than a generation later, one built by a Devonshire settler and the other by a Scottish Presbyterian. They are nearly 100 miles apart, one in Lot 16 on Malpeque Bay and the other at the eastern extremity of the Island, at Howe Point, down the coast from Souris and Fortune Bridge. Of course, both were near the water, for although by the 1830s Island roads were starting to appear water transport was still the most practical.

There is a special human connection between these two houses in that the first, in Central Lot 16, was rescued, moved to a new location and restored by an extraordinary individual. When he heard that the Howe Point house was shortly to be demolished because of extensive hurricane damage, he bought salvage rights in order to preserve wood, windows, bricks, stone, kitchen cupboards, mantelpieces and mouldings that were still intact. This material was recycled in the restoration of the Lyle house from Central Lot 16.


The Lyle House, 1836 – Central Lot 16

Here from page 40 of Meacham’s Atlas is a detail showing the general area of the James Lyle property on which the house was built in 1836. It is in an area packed with thousands of years of historical associations from the Indigenous tribes who moved about the Island for over 10,000 years, the Basque fishermen who set up seasonal fishing stations in the area, the French/Acadian settlers of the 1720-58 colonial period, and the British colonists who took their place after the Expulsion.

Detail of Lot 16, p. 40 from Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island, From Surveys made under the direction of C. R. Allen, C.E., Engraved by Worley &nd Bracher, 27 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa.; Printed by F. Bourquin, 31 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa., Published by J. H. Meacham & Co., 1880.

Very often it is difficult – almost impossible – to find information about the architecture of ordinary people, in the country or in the town. In 1976 the local Women’s Institute published a history of Central Lot 16 and in it provided biographical sketches of various British founders of the community. Most fortunately for us the writers found a good bit of information about James Lyle, his activities and his descendants right up into the Twentieth Century. I quote it as they wrote it, without editing.


Pages from the Past – Central Lot 16 – Lot 16 Women’s Institute

James Lyle was born January 31, 1805, in Devonshire, England. He came to Prince Edward Island in his early manhood. On October 3, 1832, he married Elizabeth Birch. The first few months of married life they lived in Indian River. They bought some land in Central Lot 16 and built a log cabin home near where the schoolhouse now stands. In the year 1836 they built a house which is still standing on the Lyle farm. This was called Lyle Inn, and was a stagecoach stop. They kept the Post Office, a small amount of merchandise, over-night guests, as well as served meals and had a tavern. They had a family of eleven children. One son, William, took over the farm. He married Susan Hutchinson. As years went by the Hotel life gradually came to a private home life, which has been carried on since that time.

William and Susan had a family’ of four. One son, Prushia, married Rachel MacLean in December 1904. They took over the farm in 1906. They had three children, Hazel, who died in infancy, Violet and Wilfred. The farming continued and Prushia was one of the pioneers in Seed Potatoes. They boarded school teachers for many years, and had a small Silver fox ranch which was discontinued in 1946.

In 1937 Prushia and Wilfred built the present homestead.


In 1805 Lyle had built a log house in which he lived for 28 years. When he married in 1832, he built a much more substantial, and architecturally sophisticated house using the braced frame construction with a great central chimney servicing two fireplaces. Here is a photograph of the house, with its accumulation of farm buildings, as it appears on page 66 of the history. It probably dates from the 1920-30 period. Its dimentions are 33 x 26 feet (10 x7.8 metres).

You see at once that there a distinction, a definition of elements that is absent in the early Scottish Catholic houses we looked at in the previous post. This definition is due entirely to what we generally call the trim – the decoration applied to the house with its baseboard, corner boards with their ornamental tops, connecting to, and being a part of the cornice that runs around the house and up the eaves. The doors and windows are similarly ornamented with matching trim.

In this photo from the early 1900s you can see all these things much more clearly. It is typical of its time in that the husband and wife pose along with their team of horses used for farming the fields and also for transportation on the vastly improved roads. The children, perhaps not so important at this stage, are a little bit away, near the front door.

Photo provided by Claude Henry Arsenault

Looking closely at this photograph we see several details which we have not encountered before. First, and most importantly, we realise that the house looks like an ancient temple with the gable being the pediment and the corner boards, wide and quite elaborate with vertical design elements, represent columns.

When we look at the decorative trim at the top of the corner boards, we realise that an effort has been made to suggest some kind of column topping that in architectural terms we call a capital.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

The eaves consist of two parts, an upright board called the fascia and at 90 degrees a horizontal board meeting with the edge of the roof called the soffit. Where the two boards join there is a decorative moulding, often elaborate, called the cornice. Together these elements protect the roof/wall connection from the elements and bring classical references and beauty to the arrangement. The corner boards, which we will call pilasters, have sunken central panels surrounded by raised slats to create the illusion of substance and depth to these important supporting elements.

Before we leave this photograph, you will notice two things that have to do with the distribution of light in the downstairs and upstairs halls. The door is topped by a row of small panes of glass in a frame. This is called a transom and is meant to light and ventilate the front hall.  Above the door, and at floor level with the upstairs hall is another window – a sash window actually – containing six panes of glass, and also useful for ventilation.

You will already have noticed that these old houses have sash windows which were invented in the Seventeenth Century to get rid of the difficulties caused by large casement windows swinging back and forth like doors. Sash windows permit also the greatest accuracy in adjusting the ventilation of a room by raising or lowering them until the right balance is achieved. The small panes of glass exist for two reasons. First, they are cheap to produce, and secondly, since there was no income tax in those days this was a sneaky way for governments to raise extra money. Since at one point the weight of the glass became a taxation issue, small thin panes resulted in lower tax rates for each window. It’s a complicated story. But the small panes remained in use until the abolition of the glass tax in the mid Nineteenth Century when larger panes became popular. After that, in domestic applications, the sashes were 2 over 2 instead of 6 over 6. By the Twentieth Century it became more practical to have 1 over 1.

When we examine this reconstructed plan of the Lyle house, we are amazed to notice that there is almost no difference from the houses built in the 1700s.

The house is rectangular and cut in half by the huge central chimney which heats two large rooms – parlour and kitchen generally – and smaller rooms at the back. These rooms serve a variety of purposes connected with storing food and crockery in pantries, providing bedroom space, and a warm space at the time children were born. Infant mortality, for many reasons, was very high in those days and so preventing chills was vital in the rearing of children.

In 1863 the central chimney was taken down and stoves now heated the house, connected to a new brick chimney. The space left by the central chimney was enormous, but no extensive renovation of space followed this: the gaping hole was simply boarded in.

Most of these houses had a porch or extension leading off from the kitchen. In the case of the Lyle house, we speculate that this addition was connected with its function as an inn and later role as a post office. It has two windows in front, one smaller than the other, and a door. Since the wing was separated from the house in 1937 when, to build a new house, the original home was moved to the back of the property to use for general storage, there is no recollection of how it was used. There is a story that it was sold and moved to Miscouche. And that was the end of the Lyle house as a living home.

From 1937 to 2004 the Lyle house sat and ripened until it looked like some strange organic growth against the wood. In a way it was tactile and picturesque, but it was gradually rotting away.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

It is at this moment when our hero, and the saviour of the Lyle house appears. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, you see (and seek) him here, you see him there, you see him EVERYWHERE! And he is in the heaven of Island history.

Photo by David Lacey

Claude Henry Arsenault is a Summerside boy who displayed an early interest in art.  In the early 1970s, on Christmas break from Sheridan College, he was asked by Ardis Desbrough, his first art teacher, to produce a letterhead logo for a new heritage group that Fr. Bolger was involved with. Looking at a postcard of Province House Claude quickly produced this abstraction that was accepted by the group and which persists to this day. It is still the most recognisable presence of the Museum.

He moved away from the Island and studied Graphic Design at Sheridan College and and afterwards did a year at an artist run art school, called the New School of Art in Toronto. Ontario became his home base. There he owned and restored historic buildings and was involved in the sale of Canadian artefacts. Over the years he developed a great sensitivity for historic architecture and artefacts and accumulated a remarkable knowledge – and collection – of both. This knowledge was honed by sharp instincts for period, materials, and quality. When the Acadian Museum was updating the later sections of its storyline exhibit Claude acted as design consultant for that section of the display.

In 2004 he and his partner David decided to retire to the Island and bought a Victorian house in Tyne Valley which they intended to restore and fill with the accumulated treasures of a lifetime.

Not long after, because of his never-ending explorations, Claude came across the abandoned Lyle house in Central Lot 16 and pestered Mrs Helen Lyle until she sold it to him in 2005. He and David found a suitable piece of land, historically and aesthetically fit for the project they had in mind in Birch Hill, near the upper edge of Lot 14, looking out over Malpeque Bay. In Meacham’s Atlas map of Lot 14 in 1880 the property was owned by Niel McIntosh.

Detail from Lot 14, p. 48, Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island, From Surveys made under the direction of C. R. Allen, C.E., Engraved by Worley &nd Bracher, 27 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa.; Printed by F. Bourquin, 31 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa., Published by J. H. Meacham & Co., 1880.



The view towards Malpeque (or Richmond) Bay is a never-ending source of pleasure and comfort, regardless of the season.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

When I look at this photograph, I am constantly reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), who was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, and lecturer. In Chapter 1 of his essay, Nature, published in 1849 – contemporary with the farms around Malpeque Bay – he writes,

The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.

This part of the Island is very rich in historical associations going back over 10,00 years. Not far from this place, the Island’s most ancient artefact, a Palaeoindian fluted point was found near Tryon. Seventeenth Century Basque maps show that they had seasonal fishing factories in the area. The French/Acadians – Claude’s ancestors – were spread out all over the region in the pre-Deportation period. Then the area was colonised by the British and an enormously productive shipbuilding industry was established by families from Devon. You cannot plough a field without turning up artefacts and even house sites, including the Catholic church that served and guided the Acadians. Walk to Malpeque Bay and you walk on thousands of years of history.


Quite incredibly, considering the condition of the Lyle house, and its distance from its destined home in Birch Hill, (19 km or 11.88 mi), Claude nonetheless forged ahead, and with the services of most excellent local contractors, began the process of taking the roof off the house so that the bottom half could pass under utilities wires along the route. As these preparations progressed Claude was able to study many construction details that otherwise would have remained obscured.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

The drama of the move is epitomised in this quite extraordinary photo of the house moving excruciatingly across the Grand River Bridge. There was simply no room at all to spare.

Photo by Bruce Small

Dismantling in the old, and re-assembly in the new location was a very tricky business, requiring expert manipulation of the house parts by man and machine.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

Before the roof was re-installed, necessary repairs to rotting portions of the wall plate were done. It was a fine moment to study early construction techniques.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

Finally, the house as assembled, underlay for new cladding installed, and in a breath-taking moment the house was positioned over its foundation.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

And there it sat, blessed by Heaven, waiting for the years of restoration work that were ahead.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

The exterior was finished first to protect the house from the elements. In every instance, original doors and windows were used, or substituted with contemporary replacements.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

Work on the interior was extremely difficult. Claude decided to strip everything to its original surface that the builders of the house had created. This meant removing endless layers of wallpapers, patching and smoothing the original plaster where it remained, and scraping manually, with surgical precision, all the woodwork including the board walls, the trim, and the mantelpiece assemblies. This progress is still going on. Claude and David have indescribable patience and dedication.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

When the Lyles turned to heating by stoves in the 1860s, they removed the great central chimney and built a brick one. They did not do any architectural adjustments to fill the great empty space but simply boarded it over. Claude had to establish the original spaces when he began his work of restoration so that chinmey fronts could be installed once again.

As much as possible the original colours are preserved and carefully enhanced by glazes. Replacement contemporary boards from another house 100 miles away were similarly treated and used

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

The walls were constructed using vertical boards that were joined together by splines to make them airtight. All this was done using hand planes, one for each cut or moulding one was likely to require in the construction of that time. This is what these planes look like, and they are responsible, singly, or in combination, for EVERY moulding you see in these early houses.

Photo by Lee Valley Tools

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault


It was decided to rebuild the missing addition to the Lyle house and make it into a modern kitchen. The former kitchen in the house then became the dining room. Since nothing had been done to the house since 1937 when it was moved back to build the new house, the outline of the addition was still visible on the end of the house, and this provided the dimensions for the new kitchen wing. It was not possible to determine the length of the original addition but in the course of things, this was of little importance. The house was rescued and restored.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault


Quite incredibly, in the massive project of moving, reassembling and restoring the Lyle house Claude found the time to salvage a great deal of wood, mouldings, bricks, stone and even period kitchen furniture from an 1838 house located 100 miles away. Not only that, under the direction of Provincial Archaeologist Dr. Helen Kristmanson he turned his relaxing walks along the beach into archaeological surveying to identify places where significant numbers of Acadian artefacts were eroding out of the bank and into the bay. When Dr. Kristmanson instigated three seasons of excavation in the area, Claude volunteered as an amateur archaeologist. His efforts were so appreciated that when a large exhibition telling the story of the site and Acadian archaeology in general was opened at the Musée acadien in Miscouche, a special panel had been dedicated to Claude.

Photo by Dr. Helen Kristmanson

What more can one say?



The Dingwell House, 1838, Howe Point

From 1990-93 I worked on contract basis as Architectural Consultant at the Heritage Foundation. The intent behind this service was to provide free on-the-spot advice to homeowners on how to repair or restore their historic homes in the spirit of the original style. During that time, I received a call to consult with the Dingwell family at Howe Point about their ancestral home, a centre chimney house built in 1838, and which was now no longer lived in.

A large number of Dingwells settled in the southern part of Lot 43, and I have no idea what the relationships were between these various families. To assist you in your speculations I insert this detail from Meacham’s map of Lot 43 with the Dingwell colonists highlighted in red. The owner of the land on which our house stands is highligted in green. There are 24 separate Dingwell properties in this small section of the Lot, and another half dozen in the southeast corner of Lot 42. This represents a very significant move of many members of the Dingwell family from Scotland to Eastern PEI. What brought them there?

Detail from Lot 43, p. 96, Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island, From Surveys made under the direction of C. R. Allen, C.E., Engraved by Worley &nd Bracher, 27 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa.; Printed by F. Bourquin, 31 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa., Published by J. H. Meacham & Co., 1880.


James Dingwell, who occupies the house property in 1880 is logically the son of the man who built this house. I assembled this genealogy on with material supplied by Barb Dingwell.  It is a lovely thing to see a direct line through five generations from the builder of the house to his direct descendant who lived in that house.

Image courtesy of

Here is their summary of the life of the man who may have built the house.

When James Dingwell was born on January 27, 1805, in Prince Edward Island, his father, Joseph, was 33 and his mother, Margaret, was 30. He married Sarah MacEwan on January 1, 1829. He died on May 10, 1888, in his hometown, having lived a long life of 83 years. He was a farmer, shipbuilder and was a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

The property can be seen in the detail of Lot 43 from Meacham’s 1880 Atlas. Meacham’s surveyor innocently caused confusion for future generations of the users of the Atlas because in the map of the complete Island he correctly labels the area as Howe Point and Howe Bay, just as Holland had done in his survey. However, in the detailed map of Lot 46 he mentions neither of these places and gives them the name Eglington, also a Holland name! Today the official name is Howe Point.

The Dingwell house and its accumulated farm buildings of a century or more is shown clearly in this circa 1960 hand-tinted aerial photograph of the property. Such photographs were taken by a company, about which I have no information at present, all over the Island in the late 1950s – 1960s, and they are a very precious record of rural topography at the point when the Island was entering a new era of modernisation with the construction of the Trans Canada Highway and the spread of rural electrification services.

As a matter of interest, the original house on that site, which had a clay floor, can be seen to the right of the house we are examining.

Detail of the Dingwell property aerial courtesy of the Dingwell family.

It was with difficulty that I located the Dingwell house the day I went to consult with them regarding its style and its condition. The moment I saw it I was amazed not only that it seemed to be an intact central chimney house, but the massive corner boards with their extremely elaborate modillion (a flat bracket) capital arrangement, although familiar from examples in Charlottetown, was way beyond those austere Isaac Smith examples by the sheer energy, even virility of their design.

The house was grander than any of the ones we have looked at so far in that it had five bays on the façade, instead of the usual three. Those pairs of windows flanking the front door gave the house a monumentality that completely masked its relatively small size.

Of all the braced frame central chimney houses that I have seen on the island this one is the grandest of them all, in spite of being a country cottage for a pioneer family. Mystery surrounds this house because I know nothing of the person who designed and built it. Nor can I fathom where the details for the trim elements came from. All the sashes in the house had been replaced by 2 over 2 sashes probably in the late Nineteenth Century, getting rid of the 6 over 6 sashes which would have given even more detail and antique dignity to the house.

A very formal entrance porch with fully articulated eave or cornice returns is placed directly in the centre of the gable end leading into the kitchen. It looked original.

Barb Dingwell, who lived in this house for some time, kindly provided a sketch of the interior arrangement. It is different from the usual pattern of the back third of the house being divided into three rooms used for sleeping and food storage. The kitchen wall has been pushed back to make two pantry spaces while a larger centre room is heated by a third fireplace added to the central chimney. It is a peculiar arrangement and not one expected from the rigid planning of the Eighteenth Century. Since the Dingwell family in the Nineteenth Century was much involved in the politics of the colony perhaps, as Claude suggested, this was meant to be a study where meetings with clients took place. That books were probably present in the room in some numbers is indicated by a built-in bookcase with a lower part with doors that could be used for filing papers. That would also explain the formality of the fireplace with its paired half-columns supporting the mantel shelf arrangements.


The front door and its accompanying sidelights, transom, and architectural trim had been replaced at some time in the Twentieth Century and a simple gabled porch, matching the proportions of the original porch, placed over the door. It must have been extremely handsome in the centre of that elaborate façade.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Dingwell, December 1993.

The window frames are complete little temples in themselves and have all the required architectural elements to justify that. On heavy bases, pilasters rise to the top of the sashes where they are ringed with an astragal, a thin round-headed moulding found at the top of the shaft of a Roman Tuscan Doric column shaft. Above that, and carrying the projecting articulation of the pilasters, is the entablature or fascia.

Above that, a cavetto or cove moulding, forms the transition to the cornice, or crowning element of a temple wall just underneath the pediment and roof edges. The cornice is composed of a flat strip, also called fascia, a compound moulding made with the hand planes and topped with a sloping cap or water table, just like the drip course in ancient buildings.

So grand are these temple front window frames that Claude converted one into a cupboard that contains a TV!

Photo: Claude Henry Arsenault

It is when we turn our attention to the monumental corners of the house, so powerfully grand that they would be a credit to an urban structure many times its size, that we are overcome with a sense of marvel and incredulity.

The soffit, which is the crowning element of the cornice, and the place where the edge of the roof terminates, is very broad in order to accommodate the crowing elements of the corner boards or pilasters. I have never seen such an elaborate crowning assembly. The pilasters, which sit on top of quite wide flanking boards, flare out, with moulded edges, at meet at the corner. There they meet a quite large Three Quarter moulding which forms the transition between the fascia and the soffit. Here is a cross section of that unusual moulding that gives such a presence to the eaves and the capital assembly itself. It is 2 3/4 inches wide.

The moulding is interrupted by the insertion of flat brackets or modillions that were first used by the Ancient Romans in similar situations, but often running all along the eaves of the temple.

It seems appropriate to point out at this time similarities between the rustic capital on the McDonald pilaster at Monticello and that on the sophisticated capital on the Dingwell house. Both pilaster boards flare out at the top with a concave moulding. Could this be a design element common on Scottish cottages and imported to the Island? Research is needed here and perhaps in time we will have an answer for this similarity.

A further observation on the capital assembly of both houses is that the MacDonald house also has a round top moulding, but it is much smaller and consists, unusually, of a torus, or half-round moulding, flanked by narrow bands or fillets.


Following the inflexible rules of classical architecture, the soffit turns the corner, and since it has run out of roof to support, ends itself by turning at 90 degrees into the building. It is all done to the most exact proportions taken from the width of the soffit itself. That is why so many old houses have these seemingly meaningless boards at their corners. They are in effect classical eave returns.

When we seek the origins of this eave treatment on the Island, we have only one source to go to and that is John Plaw’s 1811 Courthouse built at the west end of Queen’s Square. Long gone we have a couple of Plaw’s original sketches in which he puts forth his design.

Plaw’s successor, the Yorkshireman Isaac Smith who arrive in Charlottetown in 1817, three years before Plaw’s death, somehow inherited Plaw’s unfinished work and began to use an adaptation of the design, much simplified, on the corners of his own architectural commissions which coincided with the Greek Revival Period in the region where buildings were given very wide corner boards with quite massive terminations under the eaves. Smith’s most famous use of this Plaw-originated design was on Government House.


The Interior of the Dingwell House

We are most fortunate, thanks to the kindness of Barbara Dingwell, one of the last of the family to live in this house, to have a plan of the ground floor. When I visited it in the 1990s because the house had been filled to bursting with stored family possession it was not possible even to make the most primitive of sketch plans, let alone measured drawings. Like all the other central chimney houses we have been looking at the great chimney stack dominated the centre of the house. Off it were two fireplaces, in the kitchen and parlour with a third in a back room. A typical convoluted tight staircase led to the upstairs. All the doors to the various rooms were still intact, the typical late Eighteenth Century pattern of panelling called by the Americans a “Christian door” because of the cross-like design in the upper portion. Of course, this is nonsense.

In the practise of the day the trim and doors would have been wood grained – a delicate process involving special brushes and combs and various paint glazes to simulate the expensive wood of your choice.

The fireplaces were interesting, and as to be expected, elegant. The one in the kitchen had been damaged and obscured by the blocking up of the fireplace and the installation of a kitchen stove whose pipe had to pierce the central panel of the overmantel where a hole into the great chimney was chiselled.

When all that was removed in the preparation for demolition the massive simplicity of the original was revealed.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault


The mantelpiece in the parlour was extremely elegant with diamond motifs predominant. This sort of design was typical of the late Eighteenth Century furniture makers – one thinks of Hepplewhite – who designed austere, classical, geometric pieces.

Here in the parlour the architecture of the room was carefully preserved be exhausting the space heater into the fireplace opening instead of, as so many people did, bypass the mantlepiece and exhausted the smoke high op on the overmantel wall.

In a biggish room running along the back of the Dingwell house, there was a third fireplace inserted into the chimney stack. This is a handsome mantelpiece in the Georgian tradition whose main design element is a pair of half-round pilasters that hold up an entablature with a central medallion ornament. The purpose of this room is a mystery and suggests a use other than a bedroom. The bookcase suggests that it was an office or a study and that might well have been the case, as the family was involved for years in the politics of the Colony.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

There was a built-in bookshelf next to the window. Here is the bookshelf as found, and in the process of being restored in the Lyle house.

Claude speculates that that it might have been the study of these early Dingwells, who were both involved in colonial politics.

When the mantel was removed during demolition this chimney back and surrounding stone was revealed. As a secondary fireplace for a very small room you can see that the depth and scale of the fireplace were reduced.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault


The house had interesting pieces of furniture that had accumulated over time but the most spectacular piece of all was the great sideboard in the kitchen. Damaged when the roof fell in during a great storm it was slated to be bulldozed into splinters.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

Claude obtained it and after a restoration, a cleaning down to the original pine surface, and a rubbed in varnish, this is the result today. It is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault


Claude’s interest in the Dingwell house had been present for some time when, during a terrible hurricane, a portion of the roof was ripped away and the sodden contents of the tightly pack upstairs fell down through the kitchen ceiling.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

The destruction was massive, and family could not, and had no immediate reason to spend untold sums of money restoring their ancestral home. It was decided to demolish it and have the bits buried in a landfill site. All traces would be removed.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

Claude, in a rash fit of caring, bought from the family salvage rights to take away anything – timber, mouldings, bricks, stones and furniture – that could be extracted from the colossal mess. In this way he was able to accumulate enough original contemporary material to complete the basic restoration of his house, which in many parts was lacking boards to cover walls, mouldings and floors. Thus, the dissection of the house was begun and soon it was time for the bulldozer to come and reduce the remainder to splinters for deposit in a landfill site.


The upper portion of the chimney had been replaced at some time with courses of brick. This was predictable in houses of this kind where heavy stones were held together with a mortar of brick clay and crushed seashell.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

When all was knocked down the base of the chimney stack was visible with its THREE fireplace openings. The wood surround of the smallest fireplace partly masks the two other large ones which had beed used in the kitchen and parlour. Triple fireplaces in one stack are rare and this is the only one I have encountered in my explorations.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault


An amazing amount of 1830s wood, brick and stone was salvaged and used on the Lyle House at Birch Hill. Claude’s friends benefitted generously from the material that was left over.

Photo by Claude Henry Arsenault

In a fit of genius Claude rescued all the window trim temple fronts that were intact and also some of those magnificent, mysterious and virile eave articulations.


The Dingwell house also continues to live on in my house, with a pilaster capital as a unique artefact of a style not seen before on the Island, and as a source of constant pleasure to me.

Times come and go, and they are punctuated with joy and sorrow. Such too is the fate of our heritage architecture. This blog post has been about the love relationship between two highly endangered heritage houses, destined to rot away, until an individual filled with knowledge and love saved one for posterity and recycled the other so that others too could at least symbolically take part in this act of resurrection.


Special Thanks

This blog post could not have been written with this degree of accuracy and detail without the concentrated help of Claude Arsenault, who provided many of the photographs, plans and historical background vital to documenting the Lyle house. Barb Dingwell, who was the last of her generation to live in the Dingwell house provided a sketch that was vital to drawing a provisional plan of the house. She also provided genealogical material that shows her direct link to the proposed builder of the house. And also, some time in the 1990s, gave me my first and only tour of the house and property. Thank you all.



Supplement 1

Architectural Terminology to learn

It is not possible to get a deep appreciation of historical architecture without a knowledge of the architecture of Greece and Rome, which, through the Renaissance, and later the Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century, gave us the basic forms which have survived into our own day. Most of you will be familiar with these basic mouldings which have all appeared, at one time or another, on classical architecture. It is worth memorising them.


As well, we should be familiar with the basic parts of a temple as even the most basic old house displays detail that can only be explained in the context of a temple. This tiny Roman temple is dedicated to Portunus, the god of livestock among other things, and it is fitting that it should have been built in the Forum Boarium or the Cow Market down by the Tiber. It is the best preserved Roman temple, dating from the First Century BC when a much older temple was rebuilt. In an attempt to make its various parts clear to you I have defaced this lovely photo with text overlays, naming the parts.

The Temple of Portunus (formerly called Fortuna Virilis) in the Forum Boarium in Rome.


Mouldings on temples – and on houses built by our colonial ancestors – behave in set ways. When they reach the end of their course they turn the corner and continue. When they come to the end of the line they must turn and disappear into the building they are ornamenting. This, logically enough, is called a RETURN.

Hersey, p. 41

Here are three examples from early Island houses we have been looking at that demonstrate the necessity and omnipresence of the return. In this case it is the horizontal soffit board that turns the corner then turns again into the wall. If it is supported by a cornice or top moulding, that turns too until it disappears into the wall.

Brackets, flat or upright, called MODILLIONS, are once in a while seen supporting the soffit. This was a practice introduced by the Romans and which also survives up to our day.

There will be more architectural terminology appendages as this series on Island architecture continues. I believe one must know the names of all the parts.




____________ Memorial Volume 1772-1922, The Arrival of the First Scottish Catholic Emigrants of Prince Edward Island and After, The Journal Publishing Co. Ltd., Summerside, 1922.

____________ Souvenir of the Scottish Celebration, title and first two pages missing, probably published by the Journal Publishing Co. Ltd., Summerside, 1922.

Aslet, Clive, The Story of the Country House, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2021.

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Gowans, Alan, Looking at Architecture in Canada, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1958.

Hersey, George, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture – Speculations on Ornaments from Vitruvius to Venturi, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988.

Humphreys, Barbara A and Meredith Sykes, The Buildings of Canada: A Guide to pre-20th Century Styles in Houses, Churches and other Structures, distributed for free by Parks Canada, reprinted from Explore Canada, The Reader’s Digest Association (Canada), Montreal, 1974.

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Kniffen, Fred, and Henry Glassie, “Building in Wood in the Eastern United States: A Time-Place Perspective,” Geographical Review, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Jan. 1966), pp. 40-66, Published by the American Geographical Society, 1966.

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Rayburn, Alan, Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island, Energy, Mines and Resources Canada, Surveys and Mapping Branch, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa, 1973.

Rempel, John I., Building with Wood, – and other aspects of nineteenth-century building in central Canada. (Revised edition). University of Toronto Press, Chapter 2, (pp. 25-90), 1980.

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Rogers, Irene, Reports on Selected Buildings in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Manuscript Report Series, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1974, 1976. Pp. 124-125.

Rogers, Irene L., Charlottetown – The Life in its Buildings, The Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, Charlottetown, 1983.

Sloane, Eric, A Museum of Early American Tools, Ballentine Books, New York,

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