The Bewildered House

I look out for buildings that are eloquent and truthful, making promises from the exterior and follow through in their interior. They have an uncompromising character, palpable as you experience their presence on the street and when you inhabit their rooms. Like people of strong character, I am immediately drawn to some, and others leave me cold. But either way, I know where I stand, and I am comfortable with that.

“The Backwards House” is located near Union and Mary Streets on a site that originally straddled over Kitchener and Waterloo. “Bewildered” is a more fitting adjective though. Sadly, one can say that this building never knew itself, and true to itself, now sits dazed and incongruous both on Mary Street and on King Street. Curiously I know I am standing before (or behind?) a very confused building.

Time and progress haven’t been kind to this house, but even when the ground was staked out to dig a hole for its foundations, it was already architecturally doomed to a muddled existence. The front is lovely, playfully informal with its asymmetry, its turret, its windows of different shapes and sizes, balconies and fanciful wood trim that speak of well-to-do domestic happiness and comfort. The back of this sunny home is that of a dour and imposing church!

As you walk along Mary Street, lined with trees and charming century homes, you can’t miss the surly church apse, two stories of brick wall, with scarce openings for bleak windows and doors. Not knowing how you would enter this “church”, what you find beyond is a ramshackle of left over spaces between the backs of buildings.

This house originally addressed King Street. It was well set back, over one hundred feet from the street, and one can only imagine the kind of garden it would have had. The promise is that of well-appointed landscaping to set off the best features of the house, somewhat ceremonial, distinguished, and somewhat playful. Instead there are buildings of squat shapes that line King Street and plenty of parking. The front of this house is visible only through the shadows of a narrow driveway.

Ironically, I enjoy the uncompromising and unapologetic confused attitude of this building that never fails to leave me bewildered. Don’t look for this building. It is more fun if you stumble upon it accidentally.

Guest Blogger Margaret Santos


3 thoughts on “The Bewildered House

  1. Dwight

    Margaret (Matthew and Cailin):
    I love this series of posts on buildings around Waterloo region. It’s so good to know that others are moved by the buildings they encounter in their journeys.
    I’m still attached to the TD Bank building at the counter of Frederick and King in Kitchener. I’m glad to see it still in use with its fundamental design intact.
    I remember stopping at this bank on my first trip to Kitchener. I had to withdraw some cash for the next leg of my job hunting tour to all the major newspapers in southern Ontario. I had no idea then that I would end up making Kitchener my home.
    Hope it see more of these posts.

    1. adminjma Post author

      Thanks for taking the challenge Dwight! And what a great building choice too, sometimes the stories behind why a certain building is our favourite are just as interesting as the buildings themselves.

    2. adminjma Post author


      You’re in good company. When the architectural jury convened to choose the winner for the Kitchener City Hall, in 1990, they had the following to say in the competition publication: “The architect members of the jury expressed particular appreciation for this local gem, the Toronto Dominion Bank at the corner of King and Frederick Streets. Built in 1958 by architect A. Bruce Etherington, the building has been threatened with demolition. The Jurors recommended that the preservation of this unique and spirited work from the post-War period become a priority in Kitchener’s campaign for design excellence.” [from the competition publication]. I particularly like how the fins look completely different when approached from different directions.



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