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David Stirling, RCA (1822-1887)

David Stirling was born at Galashiels, a small textile manufacturing town in the Scottish Borders near the River Tweed north of Sir Walter Scott's home at Abbotsford. His father, James, was a stonemason and the young David would develop an interest in architecture. After training in Scotland, he immigrated to St. John's, Newfoundland in 1847. That city had just endured a major fire which provided him ample opportunity to design new buildings. He was soon employed by the Bank of British North America to build a new structure. This still stands on Duckworth Street. By 1850, the branch of the bank at Halifax, Nova Scotia, was seeking his expertise. Although no longer standing on Hollis Street, like his Newfoundland example, it would exhibit the Italianate architectural style, a favourite of Stirling's.

In 1852, he married Jane Fullerton of Pictou County, Nova Scotia. In 1855, he would design the Pictou County Courthouse, a decorative wooden building which would survive until an arsonist destroyed it in 1985. Moving next to Toronto, he worked with an architectural firm on the centre portion of the famous Osgoode Hall law school from 1857 to 1860. He then tried unsuccessfully to gain the position of clerk-of-the-works for the new Parliament buildings then being constructed at Ottawa.

By the early 1860s, he returned to Halifax and designed the Gothic Revival style villa called Fernwood. It is now a National Historic Site. In 1861, he was commissioned to complete the Convocation Hall for King's College School in Windsor. He would later also design the Hensley Memorial Chapel built on the campus in 1877. Stirling began a business partnership with William Hay, who was the main builder of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's, Newfoundland. They worked together until 1865, when Stirling would take on commissions alone. Among the many buildings they created were: the Halifax Club (1862), Alexander Keith's residence (1863), and a new Provincial Building designed for use as a post office, customs house, and railway department (1863-1868). It is now the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

The first of Stirling's building designs on Prince Edward Island appeared in 1866 with the Victoria Building at 57 Queen Street in Charlottetown. Now known as the Hyndman Building, it was the first four storey commercial structure in PEI. This was soon followed by the new brick headquarters for the Bank of Prince Edward Island at 40 Great George Street, later to be the Customs House, in 1867-1868. It is speculated that Stirling may also have designed the Italianate Lowden residence at 2 Haviland Street from 1868-1869. It was also in 1869 that Stirling married for the second time, to an Islander, Clara Richmond Lea.

Despite all these efforts in Charlottetown, he continued to take on projects in Halifax, including the Grafton Street Methodist Church (now the Presbyterian Church of St. David) constructed from 1868-1869; the Fort Massey Presbyterian (now United) Church in 1870; and the former St. Matthew's manse (1874) on Barrington Street. His reputation as an architect in his own right was growing. In 1871, according to Lovell's PEI Directory, he was living in Charlottetown on the Dundas Esplanade likely completing work on another major public building, the post office on Queen Square, adjacent to Province House. This landmark, also in the Italianate style, would stand until a fire destroyed it in February of 1884. It would be replaced by the Cabot Building which was designed by both Stirling and W.C. Harris. It would stand until January 1963, when it was demolished to build the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

Stirling was drawn back to Halifax in 1872, when Sir Charles Tupper, a staunch supporter of Sir John A. Macdonald's Conservatives, used his influence to have Stirling appointed to the prestigious role as "dominion architect" for Nova Scotia. This meant he was responsible for all federal construction projects in the province. The Pictou Customs House (1872), now an inn, is an example of Stirling's work during this period of his career. However, the economic depression of the later 1870s would see many such projects dry up in Nova Scotia. Stirling would soon be returning to PEI again where he would form another working partnership, this time with Islander, William Critchlow Harris. He would also assume command of one of the largest construction projects thus far in Island history.

In 1877, he won the commission to build the new Falconwood insane asylum. Completed in 1879, the imposing Gothic structure near the Hillsborough River would stand until fire ravaged the property in 1931, taking several lives. During the same period, Stirling and Harris completed the ornate Kirk of St. James Presbyterian Church (1877) on the corner of Pownal and Fitzroy Streets. The H.H. Houle House at 96-98 Prince Street, was completed in 1879. In 1880, Stirling and Harris completed the new Methodist (now United) church at Tryon.

In 1880, at the urging of her son-in-law and governor general, the Marquis of Lorne, Queen Victoria inaugurated the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. It would be an organization of the nation's accomplished painters, sculptors, and architects. Among the initial 26 members, David Stirling was one of only six architects. W.C. Harris' brother, the painter Robert Harris, would also be a charter member. W.C. Harris would join the esteemed group a year later in 1881.

From 1880, Stirling and Harris would be busy working on several federal projects as "dominion architects" for Prince Edward Island. Among these buildings were: the Summerside Post Office (now City Hall) 1883-1886; the Charlottetown Post Office or Cabot Building (now demolished) 1884-1885; and the Montague Post Office and Customs House (now Garden of the Gulf Museum) 1887-1888. Despite these major commissions, Stirling and W.C. Harris managed to design the ornate MacLennan House at 235-237 Prince Street (1886).

David Stirling, RCA passed away on April 13, 1887 and rests in Charlottetown's People's Cemetery.

Link to the entry for David Stirling in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

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