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Great Canadian Architects since 1800: Thomas Fuller


On 6 June 2016, the architect Thomas Fuller was designated a National Historic Person.

Is there one of his buildings near you?

If you're looking through the Canadian Register of Historic Places (CRHP) the chances are that you're already interested in Canada's built environment. You might be surprised how many buildings on the CRHP database were designed by some of Canada's greatest architects. One architect whose architectural designs and prolific output proved influential in the field of Canadian Architecture was Thomas Fuller, Chief Architect to the Department of Public Works (DPW) 1881-1896 a period often referred to as the golden age of federal architecture in Canada.  Fuller's main works are available on both the CRHP and the Dictionary of Architects in Canada where Robert Hill has made his Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950 available online.

After 1867, the newly created Dominion Government was responsible for creating and maintaining its own public buildings and so a public works department was formed to take this in hand. In 1871, the Engineering Branch of the DPW was enlarged to include an Architect's Branch. This eventually became the Chief Architect's Office. Thomas Seaton Scott (1826-95), the first Chief Dominion Architect, was succeeded by Thomas Fuller (1823-98).

Library of Parliament / Bibliotheque de parliamentFuller instilled a high level of professionalism and the consistent production of high quality buildings soon established the department`s position within the Canadian federal bureaucracy. Already with an international reputation, Fuller left England in 1857 to set up practice in Toronto with Chilion Jones. With Fuller as designer their firm won two important competitions, the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in 1859, and the New York State Capitol in Albany in 1867.

In 1881, Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, Minister of Public Works appointed Fuller Dominion Chief Architect. Langevin wanted high design standards and to create an imposing government presence across the country. During Fuller`s tenure the department expanded, increasing output to cope with events such as the opening of the Prairies and other government initiatives. A small department in 1881, the Chief Architect's Branch soon grew producing a large, innovative body of work. By the late 1880s, however, budgetary cutbacks led to more economic designs and standardization.

Langevin Block / Édifice LangevinAlthough responsible for buildings such as the Langevin Block, an early, expensive project, Fuller's department also excelled in the design of small to medium sized public buildings tailored to individual sites, perhaps best seen in the smaller individually designed post offices. Now cherished community landmarks these picturesque structures, sometimes asymmetrically designed, often feature a blend of Gothic and Romanesque details, stone gables, and corner positioned clock towers.

Public Works had a huge impact on the built environment in Canada. Chief Architect until 1896, Fuller's tenure witnessed the construction of approximately 140 buildings nationwide, of these approximately 78 were federal buildings and post offices. These buildings created and consolidated a federal government presence across Canada. Saint Hyacinthe Post Office / Bureau de poste

Changes in architectural styles in federal architecture are reflective of stylistic changes in Canadian Architecture as a whole. Fuller's work for the federal government reflected the picturesque eclecticism of the period. This free and eclectic use of Gothic, Romanesque, Flemish, British vernacular, and classical elements is most apparent in his early buildings.

Fuller's period of tenure occurred at a time when the architectural profession was becoming more developed, when new materials, technologies and engineering methods were becoming widely available, and when architects were creative stylistically.

Under Fuller's Brockville Post Office / Bureau de poste de Brockville (Alan, 2009)tenure the DPW delivered attractive, well-designed buildings in a short time period and usually within budget. His work is distinguished by its excellent site use, contrasting surfaces, love of texture, attention to detail, and good craftsmanship and materials. Under Fuller's direction the DPW consolidated its facilities for in-house design and construction supervision. The government of the day successfully extended its federal presence through services to smaller communities. This resulted in a series of well constructed post offices in towns and cities across Canada.

Thomas Fuller died in Ottawa in 1898 and is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, which was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2002.

In 2016, Thomas Fuller was designated a National Historic Person.


Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org

Thomas Fuller's page on the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/architects/view/1578

Janet Wright, Crown Assets, The Architecture of the Department of Public Works, 1867-1967, 1997

Harold Kalman, A Concise History of Canadian Architecture, 2000

Randy Rostecki, Leslie Maitland, Post Offices by Thomas Fuller, Historic Sites and Monuments  Board of Canada Agenda Paper, 1983

Mathilde Brosseau, ''Gothic Revival in Canadian Architecture'', Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History, 1980

Government of Canada, Thomas Fuller (1823-1898) National Historic Person, link