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Visiting the Renfrew County Courthouse: Pre-Confederation Neo-Classicism by Henry Horsey

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Provincial flag of Ontario

Provincial flag of Ontario

A sedate, judicial structure

Built between 1862 and 1866, the Renfrew County Courthouse is thus technically pre-Confederation in origin, at a time when Ontario was known as Canada West (1). Because of the proximity of the year 1867, the building is sometimes known as being of Confederation-era.

The building's architect was Henry Hodge Horsey (1830-1911) (2).

The structure of the Renfrew County Courthouse is strongly Neo-Classical in character. Features include a prominent pediment, atop a number of ornamental pilasters and an ornate main entrance. The limestone used in the building of the Courthouse was quarried a relatively short distance away over the provincial boundary with Quebec (then known as Canada-Est / Canada East at l'île Morrison (formerly l'île de Tessouat).

Today the building houses both a Superior Court of Justice and an Ontario Court of Justice. In Ontario the structure is protected by a Cultural Heritage Protocol. Officially, the property is sometimes referred to as Pembroke Jail (3), in reference to one of the facilities which it incorporates.

From 2005 until 2007 the building underwent a program of expansion and restoration. Observers have sometimes argued about the suitability of brickwork added in the 1980s, particularly as to whether it is truly in keeping with Architect Henry Horsey's original work and thus whether it truly enhances the overall heritage value of the complex. However, professional architects have nevertheless widely acclaimed the quality of the more recent expansion and restoration work.

Interestingly, Pembroke itself is not formally part of Renfrew County. The County was formed in 1861, having been separated from the former United Counties of Lanark and Renfrew in 1861. Today, Renfrew County is comprised of 13 municipalities.

Like Ottawa, with its presence of Federal buildings, Pembroke effuses a strong sense of institutional continuity from the 19th century; but, again like Canada's capital city, with the proximity of the Ottawa River and thus of Quebec, there is also at Pembroke a sense of being at an extremity of the Province of Ontario.

The Renfrew County Courhouse is located at 297 Pembroke Street East, Pembroke, Ontario.

November 23, 2020


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(1) In 1867 the name Ontario was officially adopted.

(2) Architect Horsey was a prolific designer of government and commercial buildings, many of which are located in Ottawa or elsewhere in Ontario. While the Renfrew County Courthouse is exhibits Neo--Classicism, the architect proved versatile in style; some of his other work was notably in Gothic Revival. See also: Henry H. Horsey also collaborated in various examples of his work with Architect J. Sheard.

(3) See also:

Some sourcing: Wikipedia.

Renfrew County Courthouse in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada

Renfrew County Courthouse in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada

Also worth seeing

In Pembroke itself, visitor attractions include the City Hall, dating from 1889; the Champlain Trail Pioneer Village and Museum, Pembroke Hydro Museum, a large number of commemorative murals; and many others; to some extent, Pembroke acts as a service centre for nearby Algonquin Park; its marina is popular for boating on the Ottawa River.

Renfrew (distance: 58.7 kilometres), the McDougall Mill Museum, in a stone building dating from 1855, overlooks the Bonnechere River; a swinging bridge, first built in 1895, attracts visitors to the town; other notable structures include the stone Government of Canada Building, with a conspicuous clock tower, dating from 1909; Bonnechere Provincial Park is located near the town.


How to get there: Air Canada flies from various North American destinations to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport / Aéroport international Macdonald-Cartier d'Ottawa (distance from Pembroke, Ontario: 151.6 kilometres); car rental is available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Pembroke, Ontario

Map location of Pembroke, Ontario

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