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Origins --- --- History of Cottages in Ontario

The Homesteader's Cottage------Newcastle_- Westfield Village_-Bexley-

The Worker's Cottage------Dundas_- Hamilton_-Georgetown-

The Ontario Cottage----- Galt-- Port Hope___Waterdown---_Simcoe-- Oakviile

Gothic Revival Cottage--- Canada Farmer Publication--- Peterborough---- Erin--- Burrits Rapids--- Cobourg--- Fergus--Ancaster--Kleinberg--Caledon--- Hamilton-- Orono-- Stratford-- Belleville-- Puslinch-

Regency Cottage --- The Gryphon Consecon---- Odessa- ------Bowmanville --- Sophiasburgh- --

-- Erin Mills------Dundas------- Consecon-

Mid-Century Modern - A-Frame---- Cuba/Ellicotteville/NovaScotia--- Melville---



The term 'cottage' is derived from the Scottish word 'cotter', a term for a person who owned a small shanty or lean to as a residence, a garden and a plot of land large enough to feed his family. These homes then became known as cottages. The Doomsday book in England, 1086 lists 30 percent of England's population as cotters. Socially cotters were beneath serfs and freeholders who were both beneath the landed gentry.

During the time of the Doomsday Book and up until 1750 or so, cotter families owned the land they farmed. A series of 'Enclosure Acts' in Britain resulted in the cotters losing their traditional rights to land for keeping livestock and growing hay and wheat. Not surprisingly, this same legislation was taking place just as thousands of cotters were leaving the British Isles and seeking their future in North America.

Canada Farmer magazine of 1864/1865 outlines some of the various types of residential dwellings being constructed in Canada. There is the 'Cheap Farm House', which has two stories and five bedrooms, the "Suburban Villa or Farm House' which has two stories and five bedrooms, the 'Two Story Farm House', now known as Italianate, which has seven bedrooms and two stories, and the 'Small Gothic Cottage' which is one story and has two bedrooms in the main section and a sleeping compartment by the kitchen stove.

A Short History of Cottages

"As comfortable as an English Cottage" was the expression used by ****** when building the cottage for his own family in ."

Cottages were not always considered comfortable. The first cottages were made using two crucks. The space between the crucks was then filled with wattle-and-daub. These were, in fact, the original A-Frames.


The 'Workers Cottage" was a small cottage built by the owner of a factory or farm and intended for the living quarters of men or families employed by his business.

The Gothic Revival Cottage is an Ontario Cottage with a central gable. This was the single most prevalent residential form of building in Ontario before 1950 and the influx of suburban housing.

Cottage Architecture in Europe and the Homesteader Cottage

The quickest and easiest form of shelter is the shanty or lean to. In the first year after immigrating to Canada, most Europeans in the late 18th century either built one of these or built a log cabin.

The proportions of the log cabin built by early settlers were 15' by 16'. These are the exact dimensions of cottages found in Europe that date as far back as 1086 and the Doomsday Book. There is sufficient consistency in these log cabin dimensions to make it a significant factor in considering the first cabin/cottage structures.

Below are two cottages from England. The first has a central chimney, a central door and two shuttered windows. A bay window was added later.

Below that is a cabin from Westfield Village. The layout and proportions are exactly the same.

Newcastle England

The proportions and layout of this building, the windows and the placement of the chimney are exactly the same as that found in Westfield village below.

Cottages were well known in Europe (see above) and it makes sense that the first homesteaders from Europe would have recreated a well established, indeed classic, style.

The Loyalists had developed some tricks as to how to make this cottage style more practical for North American winters.

Cottage Newcastle England

Newcastle England

Westfield Village

Made out of vernacular materials, log, this early homestead now situated in Westfield Village, has the same proportions as the small cottage in Bexley above. The floor plan of 15' by 16' is found so frequently in small cottages that the size is significant. The placement of the chimney and the size and placement of the windows is also similar to that above.

Kings College Cambrige

Westfield Village

The Cummins House 1837- 38

As can be seen above, the design is not far removed from the traditional log house. The door on this building is more ornate than in the log cabin. It is facing west. The windows on the south side of the house are large to emit the sun.

The owner of the property, Daniel Cummins, was of Scottish origin. He moved to New Jersey, then up to Flamborough Ontario in 1794.


Another log cabin style can be seen in this log house from Athens Ontario. The chimney has been removed, but the design is similar to the log cabin above.

Bexley England

It is not surprising that the cottages and small buildings in Canada follow the pattern set by those in England as there were plenty of pattern books available to help decide on styles and proportions.

Given the opportunity, most people choose to follow an accepted pattern. They build what know. This little place in Bexley is the same format as the Ontario Cottage. Sadly we never developed the nack for the thatched roof.


Pugin Church

Cruck with brick London England

The cruck was a tree cut in half lengthwise used to create a roof. Two crucks were used on the early cottages forming the back and front gable of the house. Here the cruck forms a portion of the wall. It is curved outward instead of inward.

Cruck construction died out in England in the 15th century and was never brought to North America, but the cruck within the walls, as shown here, was used frequently in half timber and 'Tudor Revival". The idea of two pieces of wood extending from the ground and terminating in the ridge of the roof, however, was used in the A-Frame of the 20th century.

Pugin Church

The Worker's Cottage

Most large estates in England had a few cottages on the property for the workers. The great bulk of these cottages, built for the rural poor, were merely hovels until the mid 18th century when it became socially unacceptable to have your worker's cottages noticeably less habitable than either your stables or your kennels. One of the first to articulate these sentiments was Nathanial Kent in his Hints to Gentlemen of Landed Property (1775). The social revolution had started.

In Ontario, worker's cottages were built by farmers who had large tracts of land. A family, if they were very competent, would take over residence in a cottage on the farm. The husband would help with the farm and the wife would work in the large farm estate house.

In towns, factory owners built rows of worker's cottages which were preferred living space for good workers.


These small worker's cottages formed the basis of the Ontario Cottage. Two rooms in the front, two smaller rooms in the back and a small kitchen cooking area out the back provided shelter for anywhere from 4 to 10 workmen.

Gothic Revival in Picton

Dundas Ontario


Dundas is a perfect place to study the worker's cottage since there is a very large variety and they are scattered around this very well preserved little town. Many worker's cottages on Witherspoon Street were built by MR. Witherspoon for the workmen who worked in his factory.

Gothic Revival

Dundas Ontario


These stunning, quaint little places were taken over in the 20th century by small families. They were sturdily built and have largely remained the same. New roofs and some new exterior woodworking is usually all that is needed to maintain them.

Gothic Revival

Dundas Ontario


The worker's cottage is surprisingly spacious inside. A kitchen was usually added onto the back of the building during the late 20th century. The interiors are usually fitted out with a nice fireplace, large baseboards and lovely window and door moldings.


Dundas Ontario


This small cottage is like many along Hatt Street. Charming and delightful in every way. The astute owners have resisted the dreaded vinyl replacement salesman and have maintained the original stone finish and the basic shape of the old windows.


Hatt Street

Here is another cottage with a brick facade.



Small worker's cottages can be found scattered around large cities. They are excellent smaller homes usually in lovely neighborhoods.



The Victorians added wood trim at every possible opportunity. Here is a fairly simple worker's cottage. Unlike the cottages built for mill or factory workers, this was intended for a family hired to care for the cattle belonging to a large farm. There were 12 such cottages built.

True to Victorian standards, however, the porch on this house is an ornate as could possibly be managed.

The owner of the house (in 2009) has lovingly restored the house to it's original splendor. A skilled carpenter, he rebuilt the porch and painted the house perfectly.

Decorative Woodwork

Georgetown Ontario

Decorative Woodwork

The Ontario Cottage

Anne MacRea, in her excellent book "The Ancestral Roof", has illustrated the wide variety of what is known as the "Ontario Cottage". Simply put, these are one or one-and-a-half story buildings with a cottage or hip roof. The cottage roof is an equal hip roof where each hip extends to a point in the center of the roof. The hip roof has a long hip in the center. The Ontario Cottage is the vernacular design of the Regency Cottage which generally has a more ornate doorway and a partial or full verandah surrounding it. The roof can have a dormer, a belvedere, and generally two chimneys.


Settlers arriving in British North America in the late 18th, early 19th century would have been leaving a building culture in Europe, particularly Britain, that was gravitating towards a well appointed, up market version of the worker's Cottage. John Nash and John Soane were championing the quaint cottage look, sometimes disguising huge houses as cottages with thatched roofs and decorative bargeboard.

Jane Austin lived in a cottage on her brother's estate. In her books it is usually the widowed mother who moves her marriageable daughters to a charming cottage from which to launch their careers.


For enthusiasts of older Ontario architecture, Galt is one of the best towns to visit. The main street is crammed with great buildings, the people of Galt have gone to great trouble to restore the buildings along the waterway, the Grand River, and the back streets have loads of wonderful older cottages.

Gothic Revival Cottage

Galt Ontario

Port Hope

Port Hope has the largest collection of small cottages in the province. It is also unusual in that the "Ontario Cottages" have an equilateral triangle above the front door. The cottages are more akin to the Regency look than the Gothic Revival look. This cottage, for example, has the French Doors that are generally associated with the Regency Cottage.

This style of gable is almost unique to Port Hope.

Port Hope

This cottage has the Port Hope Gable, a large Georgian style transomed door and two windows almost as large as those in the Erin Mills Regency below.

The cottage is very upscale with stone quoining and a lovely lunette above the front door. The large circular portico is also unique to Port Hope on the Ontario Cottage.

Port Hope

The large portico gives the cottage a lovely formal look. This is similar in style to those above.

Port Hope

The layout of this cottage is the same as the above. It also has a transomed front door with a lunette. Instead of the classical portico this has a large front verandah with delicate trellising.

Port Hope

Another beautiful old cottage has been updated to the 21st century colour scheme and landscaping but still maintains the charm of the original building.

Port Hope

This doorway is drawn in the MacRae/Adamson book The Ancestral Roof. The building is raised above street level and has what is clearly a large lower floor but still looks like a 'cottage'


This Ontario Cottage is the same as those above but without the central equilateral gable. The roses help to give it a cottage look.


This beautiful little house also has the central gable. It has a barrel vault over the front door as well.


For anyone interested in adding the barrel vault look to their cottage, there was one for sale last week (July 2013) at Legacy in Cobourg.


This beautiful cottage was built by a United Empire Loyalist family in Oakville. Additional space has been added onto the rear of the building, but the cottage has been preserved.

The Ontario Cottage is a vernacular version of the Regency Cottage.

The Gothic Revival Cottage

In 1864 the Canada Farmer newspaper promoted the Small Gothic Cottage which was more along the lines of an Ontario Cottage with a hip roof and only one story. Later in the same year, Canada Farmer came out with plans for "A Cheap Farm House". This is the design that became known as the Gothic Revival Cottage.

Leaving any community in Ontario, driving along any road, within two miles of the center of town you will find a Gothic Revival Cottage. This is the most prevalent style of residential architecture in Ontario prior to the suburbs of the 1950s.


Canada Farmer

An article in Canada Farmer, February, 1864, describes a cottage that could be built for a small family. It is built on a center hall plan with the central hall being 6 feet wide. On the left is a living room, on the right are two bedrooms, 11 by 13 ' in size. The kitchen and pantry would be in the back of the house, almost separate. The kitchen would also have a bedroom. There was no bathroom in the house.

Directions on building the house are provided. In building, the stipulation is that "None of the ceilings of the rooms should be less that 10 feet high.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Canada Farmer

Canada Farmer

Another article in Canada Farmer, November, 1864, describes a design for a cheap farm house that could accommodate a large family.

The exterior is to be covered with board and batten. Instructions say that this covering should not be painted. The house should cost between $600.00 and $800.00.

"It is rather by attention to the aggregate of inexpensive details than by large outlay on one particular object that the comfort and attractiveness of a county house are secured. We are persuaded that a little more regard for what many consider trifles unworthy of notice, would yield a large return of real enjoyment and satisfaction."

Canada Farmer


Gothic Revival Cottage

Canada Farmer


Peterborough should be proud to have one of the best examples of drip mould in the province. Ann MacRae described this as being like pull toffee, made with little buttered hands...

The style is similar to those in Port hope, but the gable is at a sharper angle and the roof is not a hip roof.

Gothic Revival church

Peterborough Ontario


Many people lived on their land for a year or more before the real house was built. They were not distracted from the natural world by televisions or games, so when it came to placing the building on the property they usually "got it right".


It is hard to imagine a better setting for this lovely little house.

Georgian House in Dundas

Erin Ontario

Burrits Rapids

The stonework on this house is extraordinarily good. There is a window with a Venetian arch on the upper level. This is an equilateral triangle much like those in Port Hope, but here there is another floor behind it.


Notice the beautiful workmanship above the jack arches sin the windows as well as the quoining on the corners.

The owners of this house should be congratulated for maintaining the original windows.


Georgian House in Dundas

Burrits Rapids Ontario


The house has casement windows instead of the more usual sash windows. A decorative finial is found above the gable on the front door and there is a lot of bargeboard (sometimes mistakenly referred to as gingerbread) along the front facade. The front porch is a nice addition to an overall very pleasing design.

Georgian House in Dundas

Cobourg Ontario


Fergus and the surrounding area is well known for the brilliant Scottish stone masons who lived there during the 19th century.


A lancet arch within the gable is masterfully framed. The quoins on the corners of the building and around the door are effective but discrete. The mix of stone is just lovely.

Georgian House in Dundas

Fergus Ontario


On the outskirts of Fergus is a house made with slightly different proportions and a very different approach to the stonework.

This is called 'pointed stone'. Large stone pieces are laid in a pattern with smaller stone making a pleasing decorative finish.

The lancet arch in the doorway is cut from much larger stone pieces than that above.

Georgian House in Dundas

Fergus Ontario


This beautifully maintained building is made from local limestone. The setting is as beautiful as the house itself.

Like many Gothic Revival Cottages there is an addition onto the back which was probably an early kitchen.

The owners of this house have been careful to maintain the original finished both inside and outside.

Georgian House in Dundas

Ancaster Ontario


Impeccable craftsmanship was standard in most of the Gothic Revival Cottages. Here the brickwork is distinctive.

The doorway is smaller than many of those above and has neither sidelights or a transom. There is a lot of dichromatic brickwork along the decorative quoining as well as above the door and windows. This building was most probably built after 1867 when the railway went in. Prior to that time bricks would have been made on the property and only one colour of brick would have been possible.


Period Revival Mansion

Fergus Ontario


Notice that the colour of this brick is slightly different than that of the above. The doorway has the older door design with a transom and side lights.

Like most Gothic Revival Cottages there are two chimneys on the house and it is a gable roof. The porch gives a nod to Regency Cottage porch design.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Kleinberg Ontario


This cottage has the dichromatic brick found in those above as well as the lancet arch design found in the stone cottages from Fergus. Again the porch is delicately and masterfully done.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Caledon Ontario


This example from Hamilton Ontario is currently in a very well populated residential area downtown. It could well have been the original farmhouse for the area.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Hamilton Ontario


This Gothic Revival Cottage as siding as the exterior finish. Wood siding was popular during the 19th century. If painted with milk paint or linseed paint it will not need to be repainted for 50 years.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Orono Ontario


The Gothic Revival Cottage generally housed a large amount of people - one family usually had an average of six children.

This example in Puslinch has an unusual second floor balcony exiting from the large window - or door - over the front entrance. The interior is most probably MUCH larger than it appears from the outside.

Gothic Revival church

Puslinch Ontario


This Gothic Revival Cottage in Straford Ontario has a set of lancet arches within the front gable that are almost equal to the size of the front door. They are beautifully framed with an almost Victorian flourish. The side quoins are elegant and tasteful. The jack arches above the first floor door and windows are made from yellow brick as is the quoining.

Gothic Revival House

Stratford Ontario


This house was probably the original farmhouse for the area. It is now surrounded by 20th century houses. The shape of the Gothic Revival Cottage is unmistakable still, and above the doors and windows is a slight classical cornice treatment found much more in Hastings County and in Prince Edward County than further west.


Period Revival Mansion

Belleville Ontario


Merrickville has a similar door and window surround with clapboard finish. This finish is usually associated with Neoclassical.


Period Revival Mansion

Merrickville Ontario


The two bay windows may have been added later to this classic Gothic Revival Cottage in Cobourg.


Period Revival Mansion

Cobourg Ontario

The Regency Cottage

By 1793 even the great Sir John Soane had written a book and published drawings of pretty little cottages that would enhance the British landscape and provide a picturesque background for travel between estates.

By the time John Nash started adding smaller cottages to his 'Architecture of the Picturesque" the cottage had become the fashionable weekend retreat for wealthy 'townies'.


When British naval officers and higher officials were given their pensions from the British government, they sometimes made their way to Ontario where they build beautifully appointed upscale 'cottages' that were quickly becoming the fashion in Britain.

These are the opposite of modern architecture. The exterior look quaint and compact but the interiors are huge.


The Gryphon Consecon

The Regency Cottage was once in Ancaster Ontario. It was taken apart and rebuilt in Consecon, Prince Edward County, and is currently available for rent on a nightly basis, or a weekly basis.

For special events or a quiet country getaway, this private country location close to beaches and wineries may be perfect.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Consecon Ontario

The Gryphon Windows

This is a five bay Regency Cottage. The ceilings are 10' 9" high.

The Regency Cottage was not built to be worked as a farm as the Gothic Revival Cottage was. Instead the lands were to be made into decorative gardens for the owners and their guests. It was made in the style of George IV otherwise known as the Prince of Pleasure.


Gothic Revival church

Consecon Ontario


This small Regency Cottage is situated beside a beautiful stream. The verandah, extending around the whole exterior of the house, is an integral part of the design.


Regency Cottage in Odessa Iron Cresting French Doors Railing

Odessa Ontario


This long, low example of a Regency Cottage (also an Ontario Cottage) has the original elegant verandah.

Regency Cottage 12 over 12 Sash Windows Veranda Hip Roof

Bowmanville Ontario


This five bay Regency Cottage has two small dormers on the roof. The front verandah has been removed. Tall French Doors allow access to the gardens.

Regency Cottage 12 over 12 Sash Windows Veranda Hip Roof

Sophiasburgh Ontario

Erin Mills

This Regency Cottage has two HUGE windows along the south facade. Two dormers allow light to the upstairs rooms.

Regency Cottage Erindale Frieze Transom Dormer 12 over 12 Sash Windows Veranda Hip Roof

Erin Mills Ontario


This is another five bay Regency Cottage.

The building is of local stone. It has French Doors and an elegant door. The new owners are currently adding a front covered verandah.

Regency Dundas Transom French Doors Pilaster

Dundas Ontario


Across the lake from The Gryphon this lovely Regency Cottage has the original Monitor Roof as well as French Doors. The interior is spectacular.

Oakville Transom French Doors Pilaster

Consecon Ontario

The Mid Century A-Frame, Viceroy and Kit

Summer Homes along the many wonderful lakes in Ontario were popular with the wealthy at the end of the 19th century. The 20th century saw the beginning of the appreciation of the summer cottage.


Mid-century Modern cottages. Ironically, looked back to the very first cottage designs where one single structural member extended from the ground right up to the roof ridge. Like the cruck designs, the A-Frames were simple designs to build and provided a quick and relatively easy construction..


Veradero, Cuba

The A-Frame is used around the globe as an elegant but small beach house. This one in Veradero, Cuba shows the classic triangular windows and some beautiful shuttering.


Gothic Revival Cottage

Veradero, Cuba

Elicotteville, New York

The A-Frame is generally all windows on one side as in this example from Elicotteville, New York.


Gothic Revival church

Elicotteville, New York.

Wolfville, Nova Scotia

The front of this A-Frame opens onto the parking area, so there are no windows. The back opens onto the lake and the whole wall is windowed.


Gothic Revival House

Wolfville Nova Scotia


Other easy to construct summer cottages include the Viceroy designs that became popular both for cottages and for homes along the lake sides.

Gothic Revival Church

Melville Ontario

The Webmistress - shannon@ontarioarchitecture.com



Cottages Extra Reading and Films


Blumenson, John. Ontario Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms. 1978

Downing, Andrew Jackson, Cottage Residences,,Toronto: Firefly Books, 1836.

MacRae, Marion, and Anthony Adamson. The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.

Rempel, John I. . Building with Wood. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1972..

Soane, Sir John, Cottages and Villas,London: Firefly Books, 1793.

William-Ellis, Cottage Building in Cob, &c,,Toronto: Firefly Books, 2000.

For information on cottage architecture in specific areas within Ontario there are some very good books listed under the About page.


Beyond the Forest 1949 - Bette Davis




Agraffe Transom reveal Quoins Shutter railing Chimney Keystone Transom Balcony Pediment Sash Shutter Veranda Chimney Transom Shutter Sash Arch Transom Sash Windows Voussoirs Band Flat Arch Door Surround Shutters Chimney Stairs Sash Window Shutters Veranda Sash Quoins Roof sash Transom Shutters Cornice dripmold or hoodmold scalloping finial scalloping vergeboard dripmold or hoodmold