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Source: Government of Ontario

Backgrounder

The Park House, an 18th century dwelling located on the commercial main street of Amherstburg, is considered one of the oldest houses in southwestern Ontario. The precise date of its construction is unknown, but it has long been contended that the Loyalist owners of this combined dwelling and warehouse floated it down the Detroit River to Upper Canada when the British ceded Detroit to the Americans in 1796. The Park House is associated with the transborder region’s long history of economic fluctuation. Its early use by transplanted Detroiters and transformation by the Park family in the context of the local shipping industry attest to the history of settlement around Windsor, where colonial power struggles were evident not only in shifting borders but also in the region’s architecture and landscapes. A rare example of a once-common colonial building type found in settlements and fur-trading posts throughout colonial North America, its asymmetrical design, center-passage plan, and French-framed grooved post construction are rooted in a common French-Canadian vernacular architectural language.

Located on a large lot bordering the Detroit River, the Park House was owned by groups or individuals involved in river-based trade between the 1790s and mid-19th century. It was used by relocated Detroit merchants during the closing days of French-British fur trade, around the time the international border with the United States was first demarcated. In 1823, it was purchased by the Park family, who transformed the house for use in the local shipping industry. Between 1881 and 1936, it was home to local physician Theodore Park, who worked out of the house and added a wing for his offices.

The Park House features a variant on pièce sur pièce construction known as poteaux-en-coulisse (grooved post). The pièce sur pièce method of construction, in which squared horizontal members are closely placed one above the other, was once an important feature of the landscape of New France. The technique involves vertical corner and wall posts that are mortised in order to receive the tenoned ends of horizontal fill logs, which slide down one atop the other. As fur traders moved west along the Great Lakes, they brought with them the work of skilled artisans, which facilitated the spread of pièce sur pièce construction.

With its connection to the oldest permanent French settlement in Ontario, the Park House is evidence of the French-descended population’s mobility in the 18th century. Through its architecture, the Park House tells the story of the traders and artisans who populated the Windsor region. In 1972, when the building was moved to its current site, its interior wall structure was revealed, which demonstrated how French builders brought an ingenuity in construction that allowed them to adapt older techniques to the topography, materials, and climate of a new land.

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