James Edward Harris (1886-1954)
James Edward Harris was born in Charlottetown on July 2, 1886. He was one of three sons and a daughter of Thomas James Harris (1847-1904) and Etta Haszard (1856-1938). His was an accomplished and artistic family. One of his uncles was the famous architect, William Critchlow Harris, who gave him great inspiration and encouragement. Another uncle was the notable painter, Robert Harris.
As a boy, James attended St. Peter's Boys' School and West Kent School in Charlottetown. In 1906, at the age of twenty, he moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to train as an architect in the office of his uncle, W.C. Harris, who was working there with the architect, William T. Horton (1840-1926). Their offices were in the Keith Building which still stands on Barrington Street. William C. Harris encouraged his nephew to gain professional credentials by enrolling in McGill University's architectural studies program. After spending several years studying in Montreal, he graduated from McGill in 1912 with degrees in architecture and mechanical engineering.
The following year, after William Critchlow Harris died suddenly, James took his place in the firm with Horton. Like his uncle, who had created a legacy of church buildings in the 19th century, James would also become noted for his ecclesiastical architecture as the 20th century unfolded.
One of his first major commissions was for St. Matthias Anglican Church in Halifax in 1914. The outbreak of the First World War, however, would change any career plans James might have been making. Halifax became a major naval centre. James enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 5, 1917 - eleven months before the fateful Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917. Among the casualties of this event was Emmanuel Church in Dartmouth, which James had designed in 1912.
James Harris, like his artistic uncle, Robert, was a keen observer of both humanity and nature and liked to sketch what he saw. During the First World War, James created drawings and watercolours which convey an interesting sense of the Great War. These include a drawing of the blue uniform worn by Canadian nurses. The experiences of his fellow soldiers such as writing letters, reading letters, and firing an eighteen pound field artillery gun. They also depict the damage inflicted on a church in the French countryside, and a weary soldier returning on horseback from the battlefield. These images are an important historical resource, providing a rare insight into the personal experience of someone who lived through the Great War years.
Near the end of the war, in 1918, James was employed with Foley Brothers as a mechanical engineer at the Halifax Ocean Terminal.
By 1920, he moved back to the Island to operate the Prince Edward Island branch of the Horton and Harris firm. The 1922 telephone directory reveals that he was then residing at 8 Greenfield Avenue in Charlottetown. His office was located in the DesBrisay Block which had been designed by W.C. Harris in 1901.
During the decade of the 1920s, James would design churches for several denominations in each of the Island's three counties.These included a new United Church in Dunstaffnage in Queens County which he completed in 1927. Later, in Alberton in Prince County, he completed St. Peter's Anglican Church in 1929. By 1930, he had designed St. Alexis Roman Catholic Church in Rollo Bay in Kings County. The style of this building resembles that of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Indian River, which had been designed by W.C. Harris in 1902.
James Harris' church designs were all unique. In each of these examples, for instance, although the tower rises from the corner of all of them, each tower has a distinct design which adds a personal character to the building.
An example of his commercial architectural style can be seen in the Tweel Building in Charlottetown. Built in two sections in 1927 and 1936, it stands on the corner of University and Kent Streets and is now the location of a Starbucks coffee shop. Its style is a marked contrast to commercial buildings such as those in Victoria Row created in the 19th century by W.C. Harris. Those were more ornate and decorative. This building, however, is utilitarian and reflects the austerity of the Depression years. Like its Victorian counterparts, the three storey building is constructed of durable brick, but it lacks major decoration except the date stones shown prominently in triangular parapets at the top of the building.
Harris' sketchbooks in the 1920s and 1930s contain drawings and watercolours of many familiar Island buildings which he admired. These include places such as Province House in Charlottetown, St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Sturgeon (a W.C. Harris design), and the Norton House in Brudenell. Other W.C. Harris designs James featured were the Anglican Church in Kensington and Watermere in Charlottetown. He also included one of his own projects, St. Mark's Anglican in South Rustico, where he redesigned the tower.
In these sketchbooks, James records examples of rare Island stone houses such as the MacCallum House in Brackley and the Aitken House in Lower Montague. Vernacular styles such as the Goff House near Cardigan and the Presbyterian Church at Canoe Cove also caught his eye. A view of Vernon River with St. Joachim's on the hill in the distance was drawn in pencil. In 1930, he drew what must be one of the earliest images of the Green Gables House in Cavendish.
Harris depicted images of several iconic Island lighthouses in the 1940s. These included the Blockhouse Lighthouse with its attached keeper's dwelling and the two small range lights at Rocky Point. In 1946, he completed pencil sketches of the Souris and French River Lighthouses.
Perhaps the most significant public building Harris designed was the Charlottetown Public Library which he completed in 1930. It stood in the heart of downtown Charlottetown until it was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Confederation Centre of the Arts. The library was made possible by funds from the estate of the late Mrs. Robert Harris (Bessie) with matching funds from the City of Charlottetown and the Province. The Harris Memorial Gallery on the second floor displayed many of Robert Harris' paintings. These are now part of the collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.
Harris' designs for residential homes exhibit a range of architectural influences. These include the Dutch Colonial style with gambrel roof and snub gables as shown in the Paoli/Reddin House on Ambrose Street in Charlottetown. The former J. Macdonald House on Upper Prince Street exhibits the Four Square or Prairie style, while the Colonial Revival style George DeBlois House on West Street in Charlottetown is impressive for its two-storey semi-circular portico with four classical columns. Harris also made alterations to the Wyatt House in Summerside. These included the addition of Palladian style windows in the third storey gables, a decorative vestibule on the west elevation, and a sunporch on the east elevation.
By the late 1940s, Harris was designing single storey bungalows, some with attached garages, such as the residence for E.S. Chandler on North River Road in Charlottetown. He also designed decorative fireplace mantels which adorned the interior of many of his houses.
James Harris married Freda Haszard and they had one daughter, Mary Elizabeth Harris. The 1935 telephone directory lists James as residing in a duplex at 10 Greenfield Avenue in Charlottetown, while his mother, Mrs. Thomas Harris, lived next door at 8 Greenfield. James would later build a residence further up the street at 84 Greenfield Avenue in 1945. In the summers, they had a cottage at Holland Cove. James' sketches captured some of the activities they enjoyed which included canoeing and clam digging.
Some of Harris' drawings were caricatures of events in his life such as the local Legion meeting or the elaborate hats worn by ladies attending the christening of a child in church. These are reminiscent of art that his uncle, Robert Harris, had also created. They convey James' whimsical sense of interpreting the world around him and illustrate another side of his abundant creativity and skill.
On the inside cover of several of his sketchbooks, James pasted quotations which he found inspiring. One by Robert Louis Stevenson declared: "Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel is a better thing than to arrive, and the True Success is to labour." Another by John Ruskin said: "We are not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts. We have certain work to do for our bread and that is to be done strenuously; other work to do for our delight and that is to be done heartily; neither is to be done by halves or shifts, but with a will; and what is not worth this effort is not to be done at all."
Today, both residents and visitors to Prince Edward Island can enjoy the legacy of James Harris' labour. His many churches, commercial buildings and private homes have become part of our built heritage and important landmarks in our rural and urban landscape. They help define us as Islanders and are part of our shared provincial heritage.
James Harris passed away at the Prince Edward Island Hospital on May 5, 1954 and rested in All Souls' Chapel of St. Peter's Cathedral which had been designed by W.C. Harris in 1888. He was interred in the St. Peter's Anglican cemetery in Charlottetown.
Some of Harris' work in PEI includes:
*Not yet listed or recognized.
St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church, St. Margarets - 1926*
Central United Church, Dunstaffnage - 1927*
St. Peter's Anglican Church, Alberton - 1929
St. Alexis Roman Catholic Church, Rollo Bay - 1930*
St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Corran Ban - 1932*
St. Teresa's Parish House, St. Teresa's - 1936*
St. Mary's Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Kensington - 1937*
Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Wellington - 1952*
St. George's Roman Catholic Church, St. George's - 1952*
St. Mark's Anglican Church, South Rustico (redesigned the tower)*
Central Christian Church Manse, Charlottetown (demolished)
St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, Bassin, Magdalene Islands, Quebec - 1939
Tweel Building, corner of University and Kent in Charlottetown (now Starbucks) - 1927 and 1936*
Moore and McLeod Limited Building, Queen Street - 1937*
Clark Brothers Store, Montague*
New section of the Currie Block, Queen and Kent Streets*
Block Building, Kent Street (demolished)
Island Telephone Building, Summerside - 1950s*
Harris Memorial Library - 1930 (demolished 1962)
Fire Hall, Montague (now the Eastern Graphic Office) - 1938
Cass Science Hall, St. Dunstan's University - 1939*
YMCA in Charlottetown (now condos) - worked with E.S. Blanchard - 1944*
Souris Hospital (with E.S. Blanchard) - 1944*
Steele Recital Hall, UPEI (former chapel of St. Dunstan's University) - 1950*
Former gymnasium for St. Dunstan's University (demolished, but torch decorations on the facade later incorporated into the design of modern W.A. Murphy Student Centre) - 1951
Holy Redeemer Community Centre (now part of St. Jean's Elementary School)*
Nurses' Residence for PEI Hospital (now the Aubin Arsenault Building)*
The Prince Edward Island Hospital (veterans' wing)
The Charlottetown Hospital (added a wing)
The Provincial Sanitorium (added a wing)
Beachgrove Resort (demolished)
Simon Paoli Residence, 4 Ambrose Street - 1928
Alterations and Additions to the Wyatt House, Summerside, 1928
E.A. Large House, Water Street, Charlottetown - 1936*
Hubert Mabon House, Montague - 1938-1939
Dr. E.S. Giddings House, Greenfield Avenue - 1938-1939*
George J. Tweedy House, Greenfield Avenue - 1938-1939*
A.F. Owens House, North River Road - 1940*
James E. Harris Residence, 84 Greenfield Avenue - 1945*
E.S. Chandler Residence, North River Road, 1948*
George DeBlois House, 1 West Street - c 1950*
Former United Church Manse, Georgetown*
J. Macdonald House, Upper Prince Street*
William E. Cotton House, corner of Brighton and North River*
Mrs. W. Champion, Alberton*
R. Bagnall, Hunter River*
J.F. McMillan, Hunter River*
Dr. J.E. Croken House*
Mark MacGuigan House*
Dr. B.C. Keeping House*
Vere Beck and Sons, Montague (demolished)
Keir Clark House, Montague*
Len Goodwin House*
Fred J. Chappell House*
Allan Forsythe House*
Ralph Jenkins House*
Leo Doucette House*
Don Archibald House*
Aubrey Brown House*
H.T. Holman, Jr. House, Beaver Street, Summerside*
P.S. Bradley House*
Ned Irwin House, Spring Park Road*
E. Duchemin House*
Dr. Seaman House*
Roy McClure House*
Reuben MacDonald House*
MacEwen House, Bristol*
A.L. Wright House, Greenfield Avenue*