Morton, John Gibb

MORTON, John Gibb (1876-1949), a talented and highly underrated architect who became one of masters of ecclesiastical design in Ontario with his refined interpretations of the modern Gothic style. Born in Dennistown, a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland on 14 July 1876, he was educated at Ansonian College, Glasgow University, and graduated in 1898. He served a four year apprenticeship with John Hamilton in Glasgow (in 1893-97), then worked as chief assistant to Hamilton for five years from 1897 to 1902. Morton then moved to London and worked as draftsman in the office of Sir Aston Webb (in 1902-04), and returned to Glasgow to work as assistant to Sir John J. Burnett (in 1904-06). At the same time, he was also in partnership with a local Glasgow architect George N. Beattie, as Beattie & Morton from 1902 to 1907, and they took every opportunity to enter local architectural competitions in Scotland, none of which appear to have been successful for their firm. Their partnership was dissolved in 1907, and Morton worked under his own name from 1907.

In 1910 Morton emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. A fellow Scotsman, Victor W. Horsburgh, invited him to join the staff of the Dominion Realty Co. in Toronto, the real estate arm of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and from 1910 to 1924 Morton served as chief draftsman under Horsburgh. In 1920, Morton married Nellie Foley Brennan in St. Catherines. She had been previously married, and had one son John Frank Brennan, who became a stepson to Morton. It was Morton who encouraged his new stepson to pursue a career in the architectural profession, and to take up the study of architecture at the University of Toronto.

Beginning in 1921, Morton freelanced on his own, soliciting work from local Baptist, Presbyterian and United Church congregations, but most importantly, from the Roman Catholic Archdioceses in Toronto and in Ottawa, which provided him with the bulk of his commissions over the next fifteen years. By 1924 he was working full time under his own name, and quickly developed a reputation for his robust and finely proportioned designs for churches in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and in Nova Scotia. He possessed a wide-ranging scholarly knowledge of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic precedents, and used these to great effect in his ecclesiastical commissions in Toronto. His finest work must surely be the remarkable design for Blessed Sacrement Roman Catholic Church in Ottawa ( 1932-33), a convincing interpretation of the modern Gothic style clad entirely in Indiana limestone. Impeccably detailed, this work has a dignity and presence rarely attained in Canada, except perhaps from the hand of other talented ecclesiastical designers such as Louis N. Audet in Quebec, or from his rival J. Francis Brown in Toronto.

Morton died in Toronto on 13 February 1949 (obit. Globe & Mail [Toronto], 14 Feb. 1949, 8; Daily Commercial News [Toronto], 15 Feb. 1949, with list of works; R.A.I.C. Journal, xxvi, April 1949, 125; biog. and list of works in R. Hamilton, Prominent Men of Canada, 1931-32, 341; inf. Ontario Association of Architects).

J. GIBB MORTON (works in Scotland)

DARVEL, CO. AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND, “Lintknowe” a residence for an unnamed client, c. 1901 (R. Close, Buildings of Scotland: Ayrshire & Arran, 2012, 287)

BEATTIE & MORTON (works in Scotland)

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND, tenement, Balgrayhill Road at Barclay Street, 1903 (E. Williamson et al, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 1990, 431-32, descrip.)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND, glass manufacturing warehouse for William Cotterill, Howard Street, 1904 (Academy Architecture [London], xxv, Part 1, 1904, 88, illus.; E. Williamson et al, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 1990, 197, descrip.)
MILNGAVIE, SCOTLAND, residence for Herr Oswald, 1904 (Academy Architecture [London], xxv, Part 1, 1904, 106-07, illus. and plans)

COMPETITIONS (by Beattie & Morton)

MILNGAVIE, SCOTLAND, St. Paul’s Church, Strathblane Road, 1903. The firm of Beattie & Morton received the Second Prize of £ 30 for their submission. The winner was Leadbetter & Fairley of Edinburgh (list of projects by Morton in R. Hamilton, Prominent Men of Canada, 1931-32, 341)
HAMILTON, CO. LANARKSHIRE, SCOTLAND, Freemason’s Masonic Temple, Cadzow Road, 1903. There were 12 sets of plans sent in, including those from Beattie & Morton, but their scheme was set aside in favour of the design by Alex Cullen of Hamilton
KIRKINTILLOCH, SCOTLAND, Town Hall & Municipal Buildings, 1904. Beattie & Morton were one of 18 firms who sent in plans for this building, but their design was not selected (list of projects by Morton in R. Hamilton, Prominent Men of Canada, 1931-32, 341). The competition was won by Walker & Ramsay
HAMILTON, CO. LANARKSHIRE, SCOTLAND, District Council Offices, Brandon Street, 1903. The submission by Beattie & Morton was set aside, and the project awarded to Alexander Cullen of Hamilton.
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND, Mitchell Library, 1905. There were 42 sets of plans sent it by architects from Scotland and England, including the scheme by Beattie & Morton (list of projects by Morton in R. Hamilton, Prominent Men of Canada, 1931-32, 341). The winner was William B. Whitie of Glasgow.

J. GIBB MORTON (works in Scotland)

PRESTWICK, CO. AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND, St. Cuthbert's Golf Club, 1908 (Builder [London], xciv, 13 June 1908, 700; R. Close, Buildings of Scotland: Ayrshire & Arran, 2012, 583, descrip.)

J. GIBB MORTON (works in Toronto)

WAVERLEY ROAD BAPTIST CHURCH, Waverley Road near Queen Street East, 1921; and Sunday School, 1924 (Canadian Baptist [Toronto], 24 April 1924, 3; inf. from Ontario Association of Architects Application Form, 1931)
ST. CLAIR AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH, St. Clair Avenue West at Wychwood Avenue, new Sunday School, 1924-25 (Canadian Baptist [Toronto], 7 May 1925, 3, illus.)
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST CHURCH, NORWAY, Woodbine Avenue at Kingston Road, a new Parish Hall, 1924-25; Cemetery Office for St. John's Cemetery, 1928 (G. Dodd, Story of One Hundred Years of the Church of St. John the Baptist, 1950, 26)
FIRST AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH, First Avenue at Bolton Avenue, reconstruction after a fire, 1925 (C.R., xxxix, 6 May 1925, 430-3, illus. & descrip.; Canadian Baptist [Toronto], 19 Nov. 1925, 4, illus.)
ST. BRIGID'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, Wolverleigh Boulevard at Glebemount Avenue, 1926-27 (The Globe [Toronto], 12 Dec. 1927, 13, descrip.; Const., xxi, April 1928, 114-17, 123-4, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xlii, 29 Aug. 1928, 919-20, illus. & descrip.)
CORPUS CHRISTI ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, Queen Street East at Lockwood Road, 1925-27; still standing in 2023 (Toronto Star, 21 Dec. 1925, 4, illus. & descrip.; Const., xxi, April 1928, 125-8, 133-5, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xlii, 29 Aug. 1928, 919-20, illus. & descrip.)
HIGH PARK BAPTIST CHURCH, Roncesvalles Avenue at Hewitt Avenue, 1927-28 (C.R., xli, 26 Oct. 1927, 62)
METROPOLITAN METHODIST CHURCH, Queen Street East at Church Street, rebuilding after the fire, 1928-29; with Parish Hall, Bond Street, 1928-30; all still standing in 2023 (The Globe [Toronto], 28 Aug. 1928, 13, illus. & descrip.; Toronto Daily Star, 28 Aug. 1928, 26, descrip.; and 13 Dec. 1929, 43, descrip.; Const., xxiii, Feb. 1930, 53-63, 69, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xliv, 25 June 1930, 789-94, illus. & descrip.; R.A.I.C. Journal, viii, March 1931, 80, 93, illus.)
OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, St. Clair Avenue East at Clifton Road, 1929-30 (Toronto Star, 4 Oct. 1929, 8, descrip. & illus.; Const., xxiv, March 1931, 78-80, 87-90, illus. & descrip.)
BLESSED SACREMENT ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, Yonge Street at Cheritan Avenue, 1929-30; rectory, 1930 (Toronto b.p. B8325, 14 June 1929; Toronto Star, 7 March 1930, 31)
FORWARD BAPTIST CHURCH, Gerrard Street East at Glenmore Road, 1929 (Toronto Star, 4 Dec. 1928, 34, illus.; Globe [Toronto], 7 Dec. 1928, 17, illus.)
ST. TIMOTHY'S ANGLICAN CHURCH, Ridley Boulevard at Old Orchard Grove, 1930-31 (Toronto Star, 22 Aug. 1930, 24)
SACRED HEART ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, Carlton Street at Sherbourne Street, 1936-38; still standing in 2023 (Daily Commercial News [Toronto], 12 Aug. 1936, 5, illus.)
ST. ANSELM'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, R.C. SCHOOL, & RECTORY, Millwood Road near McNaughton Road, Leaside, 1939 (Toronto Star, 19 Nov. 1938, 4, illus. & descrip.; C.R., lii, 4 Jan. 1939, 28)
CHRIST THE KING ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, Lakeshore Boulevard West near Long Branch Avenue, 1939-40 (inf. from R.C. Archdiocese Archives, Toronto)
CLOVERHILL APARTMENTS, St. Joseph Street near Bay Street, 1939; still standing in 2023 (Toronto b.p. 62697, 19 Jan. 1939)

(works elsewhere)

GLACE BAY, N.S., St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church, Main Street, 1919; completed 1936; burned 1982 (inf. from Cape Breton Regional Library, Sydney)
HAMILTON, ONT., Melrose United Church, Locke Street at Homewood Avenue, 1928-29; Sunday School, 1931-32 (C.R., xlii, 2 May 1928, 53; xlvi, 29 June 1932, 61; Toronto Star, 11 April 1930, 36, illus. & descrip.)
FORT ERIE, ONT., Knox Presbyterian Church, Highland Avenue at Central Avenue, 1929-30 (C. Glenny, Knox Church-A Glimpse in the Past, 1956, 9, illus.)
OTTAWA, ONT., St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, Wilbrod Street at Cumberland Street, rebuilding and reconstruction of the church after a fire in December 1930, rebuilt 1931 (Ottawa Journal, 5 Jan. 1931, 13; and 13 Feb. 1932, 23, descrip.; Const., xxiv, Jan. 1931, 38)
OTTAWA, ONT., Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, Percy Street at Fourth Avenue, 1931-32 (Toronto Star, 12 Dec. 1930, 38, descrip.; Ottawa Journal, 27 April 1931, 7, extensive descrip.; 2 Nov. 1931, 2, descrip.; C.R., xlvi, 24 Feb. 1932, 122; Andrew Waldron, Exploring the Capital: An Architectural Guide to the Ottawa-Gatineau Region, 2017, 100-01, illus. & descrip.)
VAUGHAN TOWNSHIP, spa and hotel on the farm site of Wilbur L. Keffer, 1931 (Toronto Star, 11 Sept. 1931, 28, illus.)