Stain Glass Window

In March 1884, prominent architect George F. Durand (1850-1889) was hired to design new buildings to stand on one of the most prominent sites in the city. As a result, Perth County moved from having the worst set of county buildings, in Ontario to the best. Local contractors, Scrimgeour Brothers, who had their shop nearby, began construction in 1885, with the jail opening in 1886 and the courthouse in 1887.

The Stratford Beacon Weekly newspaper had a front page story on April 29, 1887 under the headline “Handsomest and Best Appointed Courthouse in Canada.” The article goes on…”with the single exception of Hamilton perhaps, Perth County will have the finest county buildings in the Province, both as to architecture and internal finish and equipment. The finishing touches are being put to the outside, with the placing of the terra cotta figures in their places.

In the basement are a number of fire-proof vaults for public documents; the janitor’s rooms, well lighted and comfortably finished; the heating apparatus, consisting of two large boilers for distributing hot water, and closets and urinals fitted up in the most modern style. Internally, the building is a model of elegance, the finishing being in white pine and the stairway and furniture of oak, all brightly finished.

The first floor will be occupied by the various officials, legal and municipal, each office having a private room and vault for the safe keeping of documents. This floor contains the offices of the sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer, local registrar, with the county judge’s and county attorney’s rooms. On the second floor are the court-room, council and grand jury room, petit jury rooms, law library and barristers’ rooms. In the court-room itself from the judge’s chair to the dock for the prisoner, everything is on a costly and magnificent scale.

The floor, from the recess for the judge’s seat to the windows on the other side of the room, commanding a fine view east on Ontario St., is on a gentle rise, and is traversed by a series of wide steps. The centre chandelier is a beautiful and noteworthy object, and will contain about fifty lights. The chandelier for the grand jury room is also a beautiful thing, made up of four branches of three lights each in imitation of wax candles.

Just inside the main entrance, to the right, is a fine slab of Tennessee marble, on which are inscribed the names of the present county council, the buildings committee and the architect, Mr. G.F. Durand; the sculptor, Mr. John Matheson; and the contractors, Messrs Scrimgeour Bros. This slab will be framed in a massive ornamental border of terra cotta (see below).

Hall, Second Level, Photo: Paul Wilker

The carved oak newel post at the foot of the main staircase is one of the more splendid features of the building. The four sides have symbols representing the origins of early European settlers in Perth County: a rose for England, a shamrock for Ireland, a thistle for Scotland and a leek for Wales. There are also oak leaves near the top, thought to represent Germany. Photo Paul Wilker

At the first landing of the main staircase is a grand stained glass window, the various panes of which are symbolical of the arts &c [etc.]. The top pane is taken up with the Canadian coat of arms. The floor of the tower room and first floor hall are laid with English tile. Viewed externally, the building is plain, but, aided by the trimmings, which are of Credit Valley red stone, and the various panels in terra cotta, it presents a pleasing look and is a pile of which Perth may well feel proud. In the centre pediment is a panel with three figures that in the centre representing Lax, and the cherubs on either side bearing respectively the Scales and Sword of Justice. Under each of the three centre windows are two panels, representing Justice with the Sword and Scales;

Architecture, Mechanics, Agriculture and Art. In the centre pediment are also two medallions with heads representing Manufacture and Agriculture, and crowning the pediment will be a lion holding a shield. Over the main entrance is a panel bearing the Perth County coat of arms, with the inscription County of Perth Court-House. In the front of the tower are inserted two fine medallions in the design of a rosette.

Two such medallions appear also on the south side of the building, which with the north side, is rather scant of ornamentation. The inside is nearly finished, except the putting in of the furniture, which is being manufactured in a neighbouring city. The work on the outside is keeping pace with that of the inside, with a view to, if possible, holding the next assizes in the new

The official opening for the Perth County Courthouse took place on May 9 1887. County Judge James Peter Woods declared that it was "a beautiful temple of justice erected in place of the old courthouse where people were in danger of their lives. The building is a credit to the county and an ornament to the province." building which will be formally opened in June. The supervision of the work has been in the hands of Mr. J.R. Kilburn, architect and over the whole Mr. William Davidson, the county clerk has exercised a watchful care, and it need not be said that he has had a keen eye to the public interests. The building, with its surroundings, will, when finished, be another monument to the skill of Mr. G.F. Durand, the rising architect, to whom the design was entrusted.

A Mysterious Terra Cotta Artist

For many years the terra cotta embellishments were believed to have been designed by the architect and created by the London stone carver, John Matheson, who was a subcontractor when the courthouse was built in the 1880s. However, nearly a century after they were installed, the real artist’s signature was discovered during renovations to the exterior of the building. It appears on the pediment depicting a female allegory of justice where the front wall peaks into a gable. Henry Plasschaert was a leading terra cotta artist who eventually became the Professor of Sculpture at the School of Industrial Art in Pennsylvania. There are six allegorical terra cotta panels to the right of the tower

  1. Arts: angels with musical instruments, a score, painter’s brushes, etc.

  2. Manufacture: measuring instruments and gears.

  3. Justice (2 panels): a sword for defense of the law and a set of scales for fairness– both surmounted by a lion’s head, representing the authority of the Crown.

  4. Agriculture: sheaf of wheat, a plough and fruit.

  5. Architecture: a compass and other measuring instruments represent architecture.

Arrow points to Signature Henry Plasschaert

Terra Cotta figures

George Durand

G.F. Durand, Architect

George F. Durand was born in 1850 to Scottish parents. His artistic ability encouraged his father to enroll him in Peel’s Art School, London, where after two years of study, specializing in marble sculpturing, Durand began his studies in architecture in apprenticeship with London architect, William Robinson. After completing his apprenticeship, Durand moved to the United States, where he helped with the designs of the New York State Capital Building for a short time.

Elevation: G.F. Durand

In March 1884, George F. Durand (1850-1889) based in London was hired to design new buildings to stand on one of the most prominent sites in the city. He also designed : The Pump House, Skating Rink and General Hospital in Stratford. During his career he did 341 architectural drawings (see Western Libaries).

He was married to Sarah Parker (1851-June 4, 1895). They lived at 554 Waterloo St. London Ont. and had five children. They are buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, London.