Ceramics Page 6.3 Great Canadian Ceramics
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Great Canadian Historical Platters 3 - 1835-1900

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"Elizabeth, How Could You?" - J Heath Ontario Lake Scenery Platter - c 1845-53

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure These fabulous platters date from the 1850s and are part of a series produced by J Heath for its Ontario Lake Scenery series.

Canada - you say! You must be joking?

For many people this "Canadian scene" of Lake Ontario remains a subject of controversy. It could not possibly be a Canadian scene...

Well it is and it isn't...

Visual communications, between Canada and Europe, was poor to non-existent, in the early 19th century.

Immigrants and travelers did what they could to tell those back home what it was like, but what does an artist do when words fail?

You invent from your own background. Which is what the illustration artists for the potters in Staffordshire did, based, of course, on what they heard second or third hand, from visitors who had seen the real scenes in the wilderness of Canada.

The result of all this is, in spite of the naysayers, indeed the Ontario Lake Scenery transfer left.

Platters, Lake Ontario Scenery - J Heath 1845-53
Orig. platter - Size - 31 x 40 cm
Found - Toronto, ON

Fakes at the Royal Ontario Museum

Hugely erroneous captioning by Museum curators who mindlessly copy errors which experts write, without doing independent research to verify if what they say is actually correct.

"No stretch of the imagination could credit (this) view to Canada."

- Elizabeth Collard - Canada's pre-eminent expert on 19th century china and earthenware.

"J. Heath (possibly Joseph Heath) was responsible for a fanciful scene entitled on the back of the pieces 'Ontario Lake Scenery.' Presumably he had Lake Ontario in mind when he fixed on the name, for the province was, at that time, known officially as Canada West (and unofficially still called Upper Canada).

"In Heath's completely imaginary version of a Canadian scene, printed generally in light blue, a large, castle-like building stands on one side of the water, and on the other are what some have seen as Indian tepees. Mountains and a waterfall are in the background, figures in the foreground.

"This scene on Heath's earthenware... (are) pseudo-North American pictures. No stretch of the imagination could credit (this) view to Canada... These are... artistic fantasies."

Outrageous really, isn't it?

Why it looks like there are even two waterfalls, a broad one, and behind, a tall stringy one... And look at that house! That Heath certainly had nerve...

Actually Elizabeth is quite - totally, in fact - wrong on all this. And Heath, in far off England, really got it right!

It can happen when scholars spend too much time with books and research, and don't go hike the terrain, or explore the geography, of the areas they are reporting on. It can lead to wrongful - make that fanciful - conclusions.

Great Canadian Insight - Not linking or testing their scholarship to actual sites is a common failing among scholars, who are bookworms in covens by persuasion, not men and women of action in the great outdoors. Canada's two foremost writers on the Boer War wrote major books about the Canadian campaigns of the war in South Africa without ever having been to any of the sites... When I talked to Ron Stagg, Canada's foremost historian on the Rebellions of 1837 in Canada, and tried to draw him out on the actual sites of the Rebellion, some 40 of which I had explored, he confessed, sheepishly, that he had not been to any of them... though he wrote a detailed book - indeed the Bible - on the event.

Who hasn't heard of journalists, who, while drinking whiskey in bars, far from the eyes of the boss, waxing authoritative, and making up stories of remote places they haven't been to, based on second hand - and often wrong - information. Of course we'd never say that about Elizabeth. She only drank tea...

Clearly Elizabeth had never climbed Hamilton Mountain or visited Dundurn Castle.

Actually, in spite of Elizabeth and her fellow naysayers, the tepees shown below are not a bad copy of similar Indian dwelling of the time, featuring cone - not square, or rounded - shaped huts, supported on sticks, which jut out on top.

In fact, George Heriot depicted such Indian tepees, painted from real life below in his rare Travels Through the Canadas of 1807.

Alfred Worsley Holdstock's tepee of c 1880 below also shows another variation.

The entrance way was always a problem with the bark tepee. How to you keep out the wind and bugs and cold when you need a hole to go in and out of constantly?

The solution was often to drape a huge blanket over the hole, supported by long poles, which in the summer, held the blankets high to let cool air in, like Heath's picture above correctly shows.

That can also be seen below in Frederick Verner's c 1880 painting, on the tepee in the foreground.

The tepee in the back already has a large blanket, or canvas covering, in place of much of its bark. Canvas or sheet coverings were far easier to set up, especially when no big bark was locally available.

In time bark tepees were gone completely, replaced entirely by cone-shaped canvas tents on poles, especially on the plains.

Clearly the artist was told of all these variables, and tried to represent the best composite that he could, without seeing pictures himself/herself.

If you are still not convinced, below is a lithograph Matthews published in Montreal in 1849, from a drawing made by James Duncan, a noted artist of the era.

It shows Indians making a birch bark canoe on the Montreal waterfront.

"Artistic fancies" Elizabeth? - The tent in the foreground is a dead ringer for the type of summer shelters favoured by Indians that J Heath included in his plate produced in the same time period.

Excusing the usual artistic license, we believe the Heath artist below mostly got it right, Elizabeth.


And the cone shaped tent of bark or animal skins, on supporting sticks, inside and out, and a flap door, also happens to be the classical definition of a tepee...

Finally Dundurn Castle was built literally only a stone's throw from where Iroquois Chief Joseph Brant had his house built years before.

No doubt Indian tepees had established this as a good place to settle.

Which is why MacNab presumably chose to build here.

Go to Hamilton Bay

"Lake Ontario never looked like this. High mountains appear in the distance where a waterfall descends and widens to a river in the foreground." clearly echoing Elizabeth, writes a modern day Englishman, authoritatively describing a Heath platter in the United Kingdom, for internet audiences. He too, obviously, has never visited the site whereof he speaks.

Yet at the edge of the western shore of Lake Ontario sits the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a long and high craggy outcropping which snakes north across southern Ontario and features the highest elevations in that part of the province.

And in the immediate vicinity - within a few kilometers in either direction - are more than a dozen waterfalls, exactly like those illustrated in the platter (Ball's Falls right, or Webster's Falls below are only two of many others).

And is that not the long stringy Devil's Punchbowl left, pouring over a curved escarpment lip, and featured by the artist in the back of the Heath transfer? See above.

Actually, Elizabeth, within Hamilton's city limits there are no fewer than 92 water falls.

And as for J Heath's outrageous "double" falls in his transfer - several of these falls have combinations of completely separate Upper and Lower Falls, separated by scores of meters and sporting separate names.

At least one has an Upper, Middle and Lower Falls.

Below: nearby Felker, Tews, Sherman, Tiffany, Smokey Hollow, and Borers Falls.

Despite the look of a European castle the Heath house is definitely Dundurn Castle below, in Hamilton, Canada West (Ontario), which at the time was the grandest private home in Canada, belonging to - whom else - a local politician, Sir Allan MacNab.

It had been built in 1835 out of stucco-covered brick, and would astonish people for decades to come, most of whom lived in log shacks chopped out of the wilderness.

Corroborative clues that Dundurn is indeed J Heath's castle, are the sprawling mass of the facade, rooftop balconies and protrusions everywhere, the Tuscan towers with beveled roofs and prominent finials, and the tall narrow windows and French doors throughout.

The property in the background also exists, set aside from the main block.

Dundurn, like Heath's house, stands just above the waters of Lake Ontario. And the Indian tepees Heath shows, were common in the area in those days.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Dundurn Castle was completed over a three year period and reflects the Italianate Villa style of the Regency Period much favoured among the wealthy at the time.

When George III descended into madness, in 1810, he was replaced by a regent who also took the opportunity to usher in a new style of architecture to reflect his tastes and signal the end of the long run of the highly formal, regular, and inward looking Georgian Period style.

Regency Period houses featured irregular facades, showcasing French doors everywhere, that allowed easy access from the interior to the outdoors, to light, to nature, the site, the gardens. Verandas were a favoured feature to allow one to spend time in comfort outdoors, but shielded from the sun and rain.

It was also important to situate Regency houses on sites which allowed grand views from the windows and grounds.

Dundurn offers fine vistas of Burlington Bay from its rooms and towers.

Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ontario - 1835
Orig. Heritage Home & Museum
Found - Hamilton, ON


Dundurn, seen from the back, was designed by a young English architect, who had been influenced by the "castle-like" buildings he had seen back home, and was in its full glory when J Heath decided it sounded grand enough to feature on his dinner service.

It got its castle nickname from the locals when comparing it to the rude hovels they lived in at the time. Some 40 rooms have been restored.

There are outlying buildings of various sorts including a huge pigeonry below, giving the whole area the look and feel of a "castle-like complex" shared with grand homes found in many parts of Britain.

At least that's what the local immigrants, who had seen the originals in the old country, thought when it was built in 1835.





So a belated "hats off" to J Heath, over a century ago, for getting Hamilton Mountain, Dundurn Castle, the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Hamilton, the City of Waterfalls, mostly right! And certainly more so than the stay-at-home academic experts of our day...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

All that remains - after 150 years of use and abuse - of an entire original J Heath Lake Ontario Scenery dinner set, once made with the Dundurn Castle/Hamilton Mountain motif.

Shown here are two platters, a large vegetable dish, which has the transfer inside even though it probably had a - long lost - cover on top originally.

Left are a desert plate and a tea container on its own saucer.

Sadly, even the small plate has a small hairline...

The rest of the pieces are in fine condition, front and back.

But mint pieces are so rare nowadays that collectors often have to make do with stained, chipped, crazed, or cracked specimens below if they want to collect Great Canadian Heritage Ceramics.

So the hunt goes on...

Dinner Service, Lake Ontario Scenery - J Heath 1845-53
Orig. remnants
Found - Toronto, ON

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous plate in mint condition.

This is what you aim to find in a collectible plate, but they are invariably in the blue or light blue pattern.

To find one in mulberry is rare, especially one in mint condition as this one is.

The J Heath "Dundurn" pattern, in a vegetable dish, platter, tea pot, or soup tureen, is extremely difficult to find, and a rare treasure indeed, if one does.

Plate, Lake Ontario Scenery, Mulberry- J Heath 1845-53
Orig. plate - Size - 24 cm
Found - Gales Ferry, CT
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