Pearson, John Andrew

PEARSON, John Andrew (1867-1940), one of the most important architects in Canada during the late 19th C. and early 20th C., and a partner in the following offices:

Darling, Curry, Sproatt & Pearson, Toronto, April 1891 to July 1892 (with Samuel G. Curry and Henry Sproatt)
Greene & Pearson, St. John's, Newfoundland, July 1892 – Oct. 1893 (with William H. Greene)
Darling, Sproatt & Pearson, Toronto, 1893-1896 (with Frank Darling and Henry Sproatt)
Darling & Pearson, Toronto 1897-1923 (with Frank Darling)
Darling, Pearson & Over, a branch office in Winnipeg 1902-06 (with Frank Darling and Walter P. Over)
Darling & Pearson, Toronto and Ottawa, 1924-1927 (John Pearson alone, after the death of Frank Darling in 1923)
Darling, Pearson & Cleveland, Toronto, 1928-1935 (with Charles B. Cleveland)

It is one of the ironies of Canadian architectural history that Pearson had no formal education or training in architecture, yet he played a key role in the success of the office of Darling & Pearson, who may rightfully be considered the most talented, and indeed the most prolific, architectural office in this country during the Edwardian era. No other office can match the remarkable output of this partnership which can now be credited with over 300 buildings from Victoria, B.C. in the west, to St. John's, Newfoundland in the east, an enviable record unmatched by any other architectural firm in Canada during this period (see full list of works in the entry under Frank Darling). Pearson was born in the town of Chesterfield, Co. Derbyshire, England on 22 June 1867, son of John Pearson (1831-1906), a prominent builder and stone mason of nearby Sheffield who was a favoured contractor to the Duke of Norfolk. He was educated at Wesley College in Sheffield, and after leaving school he worked for his father as a stonemason in 1885-87, and cultivated his own knowledge and expertise of the craft of cut stone construction, a technical trade which he later wrote about in the Canadian Architect & Builder after moving to Canada ( C.A.B., i, December 1888, 5, and C.A.B., iii, April 1890, 46; May 1890, 58).

Pearson arrived in Toronto in 1888 and immediately sought out Frank Darling, who was nearly a full generation older than himself. The young John Pearson, then aged 21, was hired on the spot by Darling, who immediately dispatched him to the construction site of their new project of the Hospital for Sick Children on College Street. Pearson served as job site supervisor, overseeing the day-to-day construction of this major commission. Darling was impressed with the capabilities of his young assistant, and in April 1891 he offered to make Pearson a full partner in the new firm of Darling, Curry, Sproatt & Pearson. He was, by all accounts, aptly suited to the job. He was outgoing, gregarious, and a perfect foil to the character of Darling, who was a brilliant designer, an articulate and perceptive observer of the architectural scene, and an erudite and a well-read scholar intimately familiar with British architectural history and precedent. Pearson had little interest in issues of aesthetics and style; his preoccupations centred on construction, materials and process, and he was comfortable in leaving issues of style and form in the hands of Darling, his mentor and professional partner.

Less than a year later, in July 1892, the Great Fire in St. John's, Nfld. provided a rare opportunity for Pearson to assist in the rebuilding of that city. He moved there, taking with him three of the most talented young designers from Darling's Toronto office, including C.H. Acton Bond, W. Percy Over, and Andrew H. Cassels. Pearson formed a partnership in Newfoundland with William H. Greene (see list of works under Greene & Pearson). They were initially successful, but their collaboration later ended in acrimony, with Greene suing Pearson for a deserved share of profits. After two years, Pearson returned to Toronto, and with the departure of Samuel G. Curry, Pearson then became a partner in the new firm of Darling, Sproatt & Pearson. Their office was renamed as Darling & Pearson in 1898, setting the course for the next two decades of remarkable achievements which became the envy of the Canadian architectural profession.

With the death of Darling in 1923, Pearson carried on the legacy of the previous firm, adding new staff and a new partner Charles Barry Cleveland, and renaming the firm Darling, Pearson & Cleveland, Architects. Pearson inherited the entire architectural library belonging to Darling, consisting of over 250 books and folios, and this collection was later willed by Pearson to the University of Toronto Library in 1940. A full and complete record of all of the books, many with Darling's personal signature on the title page, was retained by the Library and can still be found in their Accession records held by the Library at the present time.

After the completion of the rebuilding and restoration of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Pearson was named the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. In 1926 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in England, and as a Fellow of the R.A.I.C. in Ottawa in 1930. In 1932 he was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Architecture by the University of Toronto, in honour of his notable contribution to Canadian architecture, and he was the first architect in Canada to receive this degree (port. and biography, R.A.I.C. Journal, ix, June 1932, 143; Const., xxv, June 1932, 134). In 1929 he was elected as Associate Member of the Royal Canadian Academy in Ottawa, and promoted to Senior Member of the RCA in 1935. Pearson retired from the profession in 1935, and later died in Toronto on 11 June 1940 (obituary in the Globe & Mail [Toronto], 12 June 1940, 4, with editorial tribute 13 June 1940, 6; Ottawa Journal, 20 June 1940, 6, editorial tribute; obituary and Appreciation, R.A.I.C. Journal, xvii, July 1940, 117, with photographic port.; obituary The Builder [London], clviii, 23 June 1940, 723; obituary and memoir, R.I.B.A. Journal [London], xlvii, 19 Aug. 1940, written by Charles M. E. Hadfield, FRIBA, architect of Sheffield, an essay containing important details about the personal life of Pearson not published elsewhere. A lengthy biography of Pearson, with photographic portrait, was published by the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto in their annual publication called The Year Book of Canadian Art, 1913, pp. 256-63.

At the time of his death Pearson left an estate valued at $287,950.00, making him one of the wealthiest architects in Canada in the early 20th C. (Ontario Archives, Wills for York Co., No. 91570). The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa holds his diploma work submitted to the Royal Canadian Academy, an original architectural drawing of his design for the Peace Tower in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. There is no substantial archive in Canada of original architectural drawings by the firm or Darling & Pearson because many of these were destroyed in two disastrous fires in their Toronto offices, one in April 1886 (the Toronto World Building fire), and the other prior to 1900 before the office relocated to No. 2 Leader Lane in 1901. The original drawings which do still remain in existence are now mostly held within institutional and commercial archival collections scattered across the country, including those held by banks, insurance companies, and university archives.

Note: After the death of Frank Darling in May 1923, the firm continued to use the name of Darling & Pearson for projects which were executed between 1924 and 1935. These buildings were designed by various staff members in the office including John A. Pearson, Charles B. Cleveland, Jules Wegman, William M. Ferguson and others.

JOHN A. PEARSON

(with Jean O. Marchand) OTTAWA, ONT., rebuilding of the Parliament Building after the fire of February 1916, with a new Peace Tower in the Centre Block, 1919-26 (C.R., xxx, 1 March 1916, 221, descrip.; 29 March 1916, 301, descrip.; xxxi, 28 March 1917, 43, t.c.; xxxiii, 13 Aug. 1919, 767-74, illus & descrip; xxxvi, 12 July 1922, 703, descrip.; xxxvii, 4 April 1923, 336, descrip.; Ottawa Journal, 31 Jan. 1920, 22, descrip.; 2 March 1920, 1 & 3, descrip.); and
The Peace Tower, with design concept described in Ottawa Journal, 13 Nov. 1920, 3, descrip.; 12 March 1927, 8, an Editorial on the design as prepared by Pearson, with commentary; design concept of the Peace Tower, in the Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 13 Dec. 1924, Section Three, p. 8, descrip.; Ottawa Journal, 27 July 1925, 6, Editorial; and
Memorial Chamber in The Peace Tower, 1927, described in Ottawa Journal, 16 May 1927, 1, 17 May 1927, 2, descrip.; Ottawa Journal, 9 Nov. 1935, 6, descrip.; and
The Centre Block, described in Canadian Engineer, xxxix, 19 Aug. 1920, 253-55, illus. & descrip; Const., xvii, May 1924, 140-72, illus. & descrip.; R.A.I.C. Journal, i, March 1924, 5-18, illus. & descrip.; vii, Sept. 1930, 321, illus.; Canada, Sessional Papers, Vol. IV, 1927-28, Report of the Minister of Public Works, 7-8, descrip.; NAC, Picture Collection, watercolour drawing Acc. C 36695)
OTTAWA, ONT., Beechwood Cemetery, a stone monument for William Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918), designed by Pearson in the form of an outdoor stone bench and seat, 1919 (National Capital Commission, Statues of Parliament Hill - An Illustrated History, 1986, 55, illus.)
TORONTO, ONT., major alterations to Osgoode Hall, Queen Street West at University Avenue, 1923, but construction postponed until the following year (C.R., xxxvii, 25 April 1923, 60, and 11 July 1923, 54)
TORONTO, ONT., Bank of Montreal, Yonge Street at Roselawn Avenue, 1923-24; demol. 2017 (dwgs. at Bank of Montreal, Premises Div., Toronto)
TORONTO, ONT. Forestry Building, Univ. of Toronto, St. George Street opposite Russell Street, 1924-25 (C.R., xxxviii, 16 April 1924, 53; 15 Oct. 1924, 66, t.c.; R.A.I.C. Journal, ii, Nov./Dec. 1925, xvii, illus. in advert; iii, March/April 1926, 61, illus.)
TORONTO, ONT., residence for the architect John A. Pearson, Forest Hill Road, 1925 (R.A.I.C. Journal, iii, Jan./Feb. 1926, xvii, illus. in advert.; Toronto Star, 28 April 1990, Saturday Magazine Section, M4, illus. & descript.)
YORKTON, SASK., Union Bank, 1925 (dwgs. at Royal Bank of Canada Archives, Montreal)
(with William M. Ferguson) TORONTO, ONT., Glenview Presbyterian Church, Glenview Avenue at Yonge Street, 1928 (C.R., xlii, 25 Jan. 1928, 65; Toronto b.p. A7919, 10 May 1928; R.A.I.C. Journal, viii, March 1931, 80, descript.)
TORONTO, ONT., Pathology Building, University of Toronto, College Street, near University Avenue, 1928 (C.R., 8 Feb. 1928, 53)
TORONTO, ONT., Toronto General Hospital, University Avenue at Gerrard Street, major addition for a Private Patients Pavilion, 1928-29 (C.R., xlii, 4 July 1928, 723, illus.; R.A.I.C. Journal, vi, Sept. 1929, 312-13, descript.; Dec. 1929, xxxvi, illus. in advert.; vii, July 1930, 253, illus.; Aug. 1930, 299-302, illus. & descript.; Const., xxiii, May 1930, 146-58, 160-62, illus. & descript.)
PORT HOPE, ONT., rebuilding of Trinity College School after a fire in March 1928, built 1928-29 (The Globe [Toronto], 23 Oct. 1928, 15, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xlii, 31 Oct. 1928, 1151-52, illus. & descript.; 12 Dec. 1928, 48, t.c.; Const., xxiii, Oct. 1930, 316-24, 328, 330-34, illus. & descript.)
COBOURG, ONT., major additions to “The Lawn”, the residence of Mrs. W.C. Gumble, c. 1928 (C.H.G., v, July 1928, 29-31, illus.)
TORONTO, ONT., The Banting Institute, Univ. of Toronto, College Street near Elizabeth Street, 1929-30 (Const., xxiv, Feb. 1931, 55-8, 65-72, illus. & descript.; Larry W. Richards, University of Toronto: The Campus Guide, 2009, 187, illus.)
(with York & Sawyer, of New York City) TORONTO, ONT., Canadian Bank of Commerce Tower, King Street West at Jordan Street, 1928-30 (C.R., xlii, 18 Jan. 1928, 50, 69, descript.; 16 May 1928, 497, illus. & descript.; xliv, 9 July 1930, 833-36, illus. & descript.; xlv, 4 March 1931, 247-64, illus. & descript.; R.A.I.C. Journal, vi, Dec. 1929, 429, illus.; viii, April 1931, 134-53, illus. & descript.; Dec. 1931, 414, illus.; ix, Aug. 1932, 189, illus.; Const., xxiv, Jan. 1931, 4-24, 26, 30-38, illus. & descript.; W. Dendy & W. Kilbourn, Toronto Observed, 1986, 220-23, illus. & descript.)
TORONTO, ONT., Forest Hill Municipal Building, Spadina Road near Lonsdale Road, 1929 (C.R., xliii, 9 Jan. 1929, 48)
OSHAWA, ONT., mansion for Col. W. Eric Phillips, Simcoe Street South at McGrigor Street, 1929 (C.R., xliii, 24 April 1929, 70; C.H.G., vii, Dec. 1930, 21-25, illus.)
OSHAWA, ONT., outdoor gardens and pavilion at “Parkwood”, the mansion for Col. R.S. McLaughlin, 1929-30 (C.H.G., vi, May 1929, 28-33, illus.; xvi, May 1939, 32, illus.; R.A.I.C. Journal, ix, Oct. 1932, 223, illus.; x, Feb. 1933, 39, illus.; June 1933, 104, 110, illus.)
(with Charles B. Cleveland) TORONTO, ONT., Singer Sewing Machine Building, Yonge Street at Louisa Street, 1933; demol. c. 1975 (Toronto b.p. 36042, 19 July 1933; Const., xxv, April 1934, 45-6, illus.)
TORONTO, ONT., St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, King St. West at Simcoe Street, new Communion Table dedicated to the 48th Highlanders, 1934 (Globe [Toronto], 10 Nov. 1934, 5, illus.)