Balfour, James

BALFOUR, James (1854-1917) was a successful architect in Hamilton, Ontario during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. His father Peter Balfour was a native of Fifeshire, Scotland who settled in Hamilton in 1842, and who commenced practice as a builder, carpenter and joiner; he later served as city alderman and assessment commissioner. His son James was born in Hamilton on 24 December 1854 and was educated there at Central School, but left Canada at the age of 18 to apprentice with the prominent Scottish architectural partnership of Peddie & Kinnear in Edinburgh. He then moved to New York City for a year, and returned to Hamilton to open an office in late 1873.
Assimilating the popular Second Empire style, he quickly established himself as a competent designer of residential and commercial buildings in the Hamilton area, and took frequent advantage of numerous architectural competitions held in Canada and the United States to obtain commissions. He won First Prize for his impressive design of Alma College, St. Thomas (1878; burned 2008), for the Hamilton City Hall (1887) and for the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts (1887), all of which were realized as originally conceived. He also won competitions for the St. Thomas Post Office (1882) and the Oxford County Court House (1889), but neither project was built for a variety of financial and political reasons.
By 1885 his designs were drawing inspiration primarily from the American architect Henry H. Richardson, the most skilled proponent of the Romanesque Revival style in the United States from 1870 until his death in 1886, and this influence is apparent in Balfour's work well into the 1890's. He was an active member of the Ontario Society of Artists and an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy. Balfour was not a theorist, however, although his brief essay entitled 'Architecture in Canada' (C.A.B., iii, June 1890, 3) does give some insight into the state of architectural design in this country through the eyes of a prolific and technically competent practitioner. Balfour's consistency of style and architectural ingenuity in his later work appear to have impressed Hamilton City Councillors when they awarded him First Prize in the competition for the City Hall in Hamilton in 1887 (Spectator [Hamilton], 13 Aug. 1887, 4). This accomplished design for a dignified Romanesque work executed in Port Credit sandstone was selected over the design prepared by his rival Charles W. Mulligan, and became the crowning achievement of his career upon its completion in 1889. That same year, he was declared the winner of the competition in February 1887 for the new Art Museum in Detroit, Michigan (Detroit Free Press, 1 Feb. 1887, 8; 3 Feb. 1887, 5; 4 Feb. 1887, 8). This victory was not without criticism and debate, as the eminent jurors who selected the design were interviewed at great length and revealed their lack of support for Balfour's design (Detroit Free Press, 12 March 1887, 5, descrip.).
Balfour was married to Georgina Catharine Munro on 26 June 1878 and they raised five children before their marriage ended in a highly publicized divorce case when she was accused of adulterous behaviour and she in turn claimed Balfour had been '...violent, obscene and abusive' (Spectator [Hamilton], 25 May 1892, 1; 1 June 1892, 1; 29 June 1892, 1). A long illness prevented Balfour from carrying out significant work after 1905 and he died at Hamilton on 10 April 1917, and was buried at Hamilton Cemetery. A portrait of him can be found in C.A.B., iii, Dec. 1890, l44. (biography in H. Morgan, Canadian Men and Women of the Time, 1898, 46; Dictionary of Hamilton Biography, i, 1981, 14; obituary in Spectator [Hamilton], 11 April 1917, 4)


GARTH STREET, near Main Street, residence for Michael Fanning, 1873 (Spectator [Hamilton], 13 Dec. 1873, 3)
CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Jackson Street West at MacNab Street, a manse for the church, 1874 (Spectator [Hamilton], 12 March 1874, 3, descrip.)
HANNAH STREET, a block of dwellings for the Hamilton Real Estate Association, 1876 (Spectator [Hamilton], 25 March 1876, 2, t.c.)
BOY'S HOME, Stinson Street, 1876-77 (Spectator [Hamilton], 27 Feb. 1878, 4, descrip.)
WESLEY METHODIST CHURCH, John Street North at Rebecca Street, 1877-78, demol. 1975 (Spectator [Hamilton] 26 Feb. 1878, 4)
JOHN McPHERSON & CO., King Street East, factory, 1878-79 (Spectator [Hamilton], 30 Jan. 1879, 4, descrip.)
SANFORD, VAIL & BICKLEY, King Street East, additions and alterations to factory, 1878-79 (Spectator [Hamilton] 13 April 1878, 2; 8 Sept. 1879, l, t.c.; 23 Jan 1880, 4, descrip.)
LARKIN HALL, John Street North near King Street, a block of stores and theatre for J.H. Larkin, 1878-79 (Spectator [Hamilton] 23 Nov. 1878, 4)
MARY STREET, near Barton Street East, a cotton factory for James M. Young, 1880 (Spectator [Hamilton], 22 March 1880, l, descrip.)
BROWN, ROUTH & CO., James Street South, warehouse, 1880 (Spectator [Hamilton], 21 April 1880, 4; 31 July 1880, 4, descrip.)
MAIN STREET EAST, at Wellington Street, residence of James Cummings, 1880 (Spectator [Hamilton], 16 Oct. 1880, 4)
ONTARIO COTTON MILLS, MacNab Street South at Simcoe Street, 1881 (Spectator [Hamilton], 17 Oct. 1881, 4, descrip.)
LUCAS, PARKE & CO., MacNab Street South near Merrick Street, warehouse, 1881 (Spectator [Hamilton], 24 Oct. 1881, 4,)
CONCESSION STREET, residence of William J. Copp, 1881 (Spectator [Hamilton] 24 Oct. 1881, 4; 18 Jan. 1882, 1, t.c.)
W.H. GILLARD CO., Main Street West near James Street, warehouse, 1882-83 (Spectator [Hamilton], 28 June 1882, 1, t.c.; Toronto Mail, 22 May 1886, 6, illus. & descrip.)
MacNAB STREET SOUTH, residence of George A. Grover, 1883 (dwgs. at Fisher Rare Book Library, Univ. of Toronto, MS 257; inf. from Rachel Grover, Toronto)
ERSKINE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Pearl Street at Little Market Street, 1884 (Spectator [Hamilton], 20 May 1884, l, t.c.)
CRYSTAL PALACE GROUNDS, Grandstand, 1887 (Spectator [Hamilton] 2 July 1887, 4, t.c.)
HAMILTON CITY HALL, James Street at York Street, 1887-90, demol. 1962 (Spectator [Hamilton] 13 Aug. 1887, 4, descrip.; 19 July 1888, 4, illus. & descrip.; 22 Oct. 1889, 4, illus. & descrip.; C.A.B., i, Jan. 1888, illus.; xii, May 1899, illus.)
YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION, Jackson Street East at James Street, 1889; demol. 1958 (Spectator [Hamilton], 4 March 1889, 4, descrip.; 29 Oct. 1889, 4, illus. & descrip.)
CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Jackson Street West at MacNab Street, a Sunday School, 1889 (Spectator [Hamilton], 15 June 1889, 4, t.c.; C.A.B., v, April 1892, illus.)
TUCKETT TOBACCO CO., Queen Street North, an office and factory complex, 1890 (Spectator [Hamilton], 27 Feb. 1890, 4)
BELL TELEPHONE OFFICE & EXCHANGE, Hughson Street South, 1890 (C.R., i, 12 April 1890, 2; Toronto Daily Mail, 17 Aug. 1891, 6, descrip.)
CENTRAL SCHOOL, Hunter Street West at Park Street, major additions and new tower, 1890 (C.R., i, 26 April 1890, 2)
ALL SAINTS ANGLICAN CHURCH, Queen Street North at King Street, a new rectory and Sunday School, 1891; demol. 2016 (C.R., ii, 23 May 1891, 2)
FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH, James Street South, 1891 (C.R., ii, 6 Aug. 1891, 2)
GOMPH BREWERY, John Street North, 1891 (C.R., ii, 26 Sept. 1891, 2)
BAY STREET SOUTH, a pair of houses for J.M. Lottridge, 1892 (C.A.B., v, Jan. 1892, illus.)
HAMILTON ELECTRIC STREET RAILWAY CO., James Street South, power house, 1892 (C.A.B., v, July 1892, illus.)
HAMILTON JOCKEY CLUB, at the Central Hamilton Fair Grounds, a race track, Club House, grand stand and paddocks, 1892-93 (The Globe [Toronto], 25 Nov. 1892, 6, descrip.; C.A.B., vi, March 1893, illus.)
QUEEN STREET NORTH, a mansion for George E. Tuckett, 1892-93 (C.A.B., vi, Nov. 1893, 115, descrip.; vii, June 1894, illus.)
JAMES STREET SOUTH, at Markland Street, residence of Charles M. Counsell, 1894 (C.A.B., vi, Nov. 1893, 115, descrip.)
BAY STREET NORTH, residence of James Thomson, 1897 (C.A.B., x, July 1897, illus.)
MARKET SQUARE, a public comfort station, 1905 (C.A.B., xviii, Jan. 1905, 8, illus.)


ST. THOMAS, ONT., Alma Ladies College, 1878-81; additions 1888-89; burned 2008 (Advertiser [London], 25 May 1878, 2, descrip.; Globe [Toronto], 21 April 1886, 5, t.c.; E. Edwards, History of Alma College, 1927, 5, 7, 18, illus.)
MILTON, ONT., new Gaol and additions to the Court House, 1877 (Globe [Toronto], 7 April 1877, 7, t.c.)
SMITHVILLE, ONT., Methodist Church, 1882 (Christian Guardian [Toronto] 12 April 1882, 117)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN, Institute of Fine Arts, Jefferson Avenue, 1887-88; demol. 1921 (Detroit Free Press, 11 March 1887, 5; with appraisal and debate, 12 March 1887, 5; Architectural Era [Syracuse], ii, Dec. 1888, 225, 228, descrip.; W. H. Ferry, The Buildings of Detroit, 1968, 133, 171, illus.)
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT., Christ Church [Anglican], River Road, addition of new chancel and transepts, 1893, (25th Anniversary Souvenir of Christ Church, 1935, 10, illus.)
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT., Power House for the Niagara Falls Park & River Railway, 1893 (Street Railway Journal, ix, Sept. 1893, 586-7, descrip.; inf. R. Barnett)


TORONTO, ONT., Parliament Buildings, 1880. Using the pseudonym 'Ontario', Balfour was one of 16 competitors who submitted a design in this two stage competition (OA, RG15, S-6, Vol. 3, File 315). His scheme was not sent forward to the second stage.
HAMILTON, ONT., The Hamilton Club, Main Street East at James Street, 1882. Balfour was one of four architects from Hamilton, Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y. who were invited to submit designs for the new home of the Hamilton Club. The eventual winner of the competition was Richard Waite (Mark Osbaldeston, Unbuilt Hamilton, 2016, 101-04, illus. & descrip.)
ST. THOMAS, ONT., Post Office & Custom House, 1882. Balfour's proposal, a classical Palladian design, was commended as the best scheme, but his project was never realized (St. Thomas Times, 2 March 1882, 3, descrip.)
TORONTO, ONT., City Hall & Court House, 1886. In May 1886 Balfour was one of thirteen architects who prepared designs for this important project, but he was not a finalist and the commission was awarded to E.J. Lennox. Balfour exhibited his design the following year (E. McMann, Royal Canadian Academy Exhibitions & Members 1880-1979, 17, Item 188)
WOODSTOCK, ONT., Oxford County Court House, 1889. Balfour was awarded First Premium for his design, but his plans far exceeded the budget and were never realised (C.A.B., i, Aug. 1889, 1)
TORONTO, ONT., Confederation Life Building, 1890. Balfour's robust Romanesque Revival design received Third Prize (C.A.B., iii, June 1890, plate illus.). The firm of Knox & Elliott were awarded the commission.
PITTSBURGH, PENN., Carnegie Library, 1891. Six prizes of $2,000 were offered to competitors, but Balfour was not among the finalists (C.A.B., iv, Nov. 1891, ix)
OTTAWA, ONT., Departmental Buildings, 1914. More than 60 competitors from the British Empire submitted designs for this major commission, but only six were elevated to Stage Two, and the project was never realized. Balfour's scheme was not premiated (NAC, RG11, Vol. 2952, File 5370-1B)