Harper, John

HARPER, John (1806-1888) was active in Toronto where he had a long career spanning nearly sixty years, at first as a contractor and builder, and later as an architect. Born in Belfast Ireland in 1806, he was brought to America in 1810 and was raised in New York. His father, an Englishman named Richard Harper, left New York City in 1817 and brought his young family to Little York, Ontario and commenced his career as a builder. His son John learned the building trades from his father, and made a successful career as contractor and builder from 1829 to 1865, and he was responsible for overseeing and supervising the construction of Toronto landmarks such as the stone barracks for the New Fort York, for St. Michael’s Cathedral, Bond Street (1851), for Trinity Church, at Trinity Square (1846-47), for the Toronto General Hospital (1854-55), and for the first Observatory in the city (1853-55). John Harper raised a family of ten children, including his youngest child, his son George R. Harper, who would later become a successful architect under his own name.

In November 1867 John Harper began to advertise his services as an architect (Toronto Leader, 19 Nov. 1867, 3, advert.), but it would not be until late October 1868 when he would form a partnership with his son George R. Harper, under the name of Harper & Son, Architects. During the next decade, their firm obtained more than 30 commissions for industrial, commercial, residential and institutional commissions throughout Toronto, and as far away as Lindsay, Ont. One of his largest commissions, the Gurney Stove Works complex on King Street West at Brant Street in Toronto (1872) has survived and still stands today (2016). Harper favoured the Italianate style for much of his work, evident in his treatment of the facades of this industrial complex with its boldly expressed brick bays and piers, elaborate brick window arches, and cast iron window sills. Harper applied the same elaborate Italianate style to his residential work, best seen in his design for the large residence Rev. Alexander Sutherland, 437 Sherbourne Street (1876-77) which is also still standing as of 2016.

The partnership between father and son was dissolved after January 1881. His son then appears to have left the city for at least a year, but John Harper remained in the city and continued to be listed as an architect until 1888. No references to his architectural work have been found after 1882. Harper died in Toronto on 17 July 1888 (obit. The Globe 18 July 1888, 8; obit. Toronto Daily Mail, 18 July 1888, 6; biog. G. Blackett Robinson, History of Toronto and County of York, 1885, Vol. ii, 60)


(works in Toronto unless noted)

YORK STREET, at Front Street West, hotel for Mr. Tinning, 1869 (Globe [Toronto], 29 May 1869, 1)
YONGE STREET, near Adelaide Street West, new facade on commercial building for Angus Black, 1870 (Globe [Toronto], 12 Aug. 1870, 3, t.c.)
TORONTO GYMNASIUM, Millstone Lane, 1871; demol. (Globe [Toronto], 14 Feb. 1871, 3; t.c.; 7 Oct. 1871,, 2, t.c.)
WELLESLEY STREET EAST, at Church Street, residence for Thomas Lailey, 1871 (Globe [Toronto], 6 June 1871, 3, t.c.)
LINDSAY, ONT., Wesleyan Methodist Church and Parsonage, Market Street at Bond Street, 1871 (Christian Guardian [Toronto], 5 July 1871, 107, descrip.; 10 Jan. 1872, 13)
PRESBYTERIAN PRINTING CO., Bay Street at Melinda Street, 1871; demol. (Globe [Toronto], 29 Aug. 1871, 4, t.c.)
VICTORIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL COLLEGE, Gerrard Street East at Sackville Street, 1871-72; demol. (Globe [Toronto], 4 Dec. 1871, 4, t.c.)
GURNEY'S STOVE FOUNDRY & WORKS, King Street West at Brant Street, 1872 (Mail [Toronto], 7 May 1872, 3, descrip.; 7 Dec. 1872, 4, descrip.)
COLOURED BAPTIST CHURCH, Queen Street East at Victoria Street, 1872; demol. (Mail [Toronto], 15 July 1872, 1)
ISABELLA STREET, east of Church Street, residence for James Myles, 1872 (Mail [Toronto], 2 Dec. 1872, 3)
DUNDAS STREET EAST, at George Street, residence for Henry Tasker, 1872 (Mail [Toronto], 27 Nov. 1872, 4, descrip.)
COOKSVILLE, ONT., parsonage for the Methodist Church, 1872-73 (Christian Guardian [Toronto], 4 June 1873, 181, descrip.)
ST. JAMES HOTEL, York Street at The Esplanade, 1873; demol. c. 1910 (Globe [Toronto], 7 June 1873, 3, t.c.)
CITY FIRE HALL & POLICE COURT, Court Street near Toronto Street, 1874 -75; demol. c. 1960 (Mail [Toronto], 24 Dec. 1874, 4, descrip.; Globe [Toronto], 9 Feb. 1876, 2, descrip.; Leader [Toronto], 9 Feb. 1876, 8, descrip.)
SHERBOURNE STREET, at Wellesley Street East, mansion for Richard S. Williams, 1876; demol. (Mail [Toronto], 15 April 1876, 4; Globe [Toronto], 4 Dec. 1876, 3, descrip.)
WELLESLEY STREET EAST, near Yonge Street, residence for Hon. J.C. Aikins, 1876 (Mail [Toronto], 15 April 1876, 4)
SHERBOURNE STREET, north of Carlton Street, residence for Rev. Alexander Sutherland, 1876; restored 1988 (Globe [Toronto], 4 Dec. 1876, 3; Toronto Real Estate News, 28 Oct. 1988, illus. & descrip.)
DOMINION TIN WORKS, for Thomas McDonald, Queen Street East, near George Street, 1876 (Globe [Toronto], 4 Dec. 1876, 3, descrip.)
McCAUL STREET, north of Baldwin Street, row of six houses for Richard B. Blake, 1876 (Globe [Toronto], 4 Dec. 1876, 3; Mail [Toronto], 2 May 1877, 2)
WELLESLEY STREET, east of Church Street, residence for John Bain, 1877 (Mail [Toronto], 2 May 1877, 2)
WINCHESTER STREET, near Sumach Street, top floor extension to residence for James Lobb, 1877 (Mail [Toronto], 2 May 1877, 2)
JAMES H. ROONEY & SON, Church Street at Lombard Street, stores and warehouse, 1877; demol. 1925 (Mail [Toronto], 2 May 1877, 2)
YONGE STREET, at Bloor Street, stores and public hall for M.B. Jackson, 1877 (Mail [Toronto], 2 May 1877, 2)
PARLIAMENT STREET PUBLIC SCHOOL, extension, 1879 (Toronto, Annual Report of the Inspector of Public Schools for Toronto for 1879, 1880, Appendix, 3)


TORONTO, ONT., Metropolitan Methodist Church, Queen Street East at Church Street, 1869. Using the pseudonym "Peerless", the firm of Harper & Son were one of seven architectural firms invited to submit an entry in the competition in January 1869 (Metropolitan Church, Trustees Minute Book, Vol 1, entry for 6 February 1869, p. 15). Their entry was passed over in favour of the design submitted by Gundry & Langley (inf. Wendy Fletcher, Toronto; Paul Dilse, Toronto)