Renowned Canadian architect Eberhard Zeidler, who died in January, usually is thought of as a “Toronto Architect” but actually began his career in Peterborough, Ontario with the firm Blackwell & Craig. He joined in 1951 and became a partner in 1953; the company’s name was changed to Blackwell, Craig & Zeidler, then to Craig & Zeidler after Walter R.L. Blackwell retired. Craig & Zeidler continued until 1961 when they established a second office in Toronto and became Craig, Zeidler & Strong until 1975. It was this firm that designed the Peterborough Centennial Museum building (now Peterborough Museum & Archives) which opened in 1967.
William Blackwell (1850-1937) was born in Lakefield, Ontario, and was related to the locally-prominent Strickland and Reid families. He articled with architect Walter Strickland in Toronto, worked in Winnipeg and New York City, then established his Peterborough practice in 1880. He was a successful solo practitioner who designed private homes and public buildings throughout Central Ontario until 1919, when his son Walter became a partner. William retired in 1930, leaving his son in charge, and died in 1937.
Walter Renison Lightborne Blackwell (1890-1957) was born in Peterborough. Beginning in 1910, he studied architecture at the University of Toronto and then New York’s Columbia University; for five years (1913-18) he worked in New York as a draftsman, before returning to Peterborough and his father’s firm. Walter brought his American training and influence to Blackwell & Blackwell’s Ontario projects, which included many new branch buildings for the Bank of Toronto. His long career ended with retirement in 1955; he died in 1957, in Peterborough.
While it has been several decades since a Blackwell-designed building was erected (and some have since been demolished), two of their prominent Peterborough edifices – the former King George Public School (Hunter Street East) and the former Y.M.C.A. (George and Murray streets) – have been newsworthy recently regarding their re-purposing. It is good that the architectural legacy of two “Peterborough boys” still lives on, especially in their home town.
For lists of Blackwell projects, see the articles for “William Blackwell” and “Walter R.L. Blackwell” in the online Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950.
By: Don Willcock,
The Peterborough Museum & Archives,
300 Hunter St E, Peterborough, 705-743-5180