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The gradual extinction of the worker’s cottage along Lake Erie’s southern shore

12:00 PM, Friday 27 May 2022 (20 minutes)

This paper documents and describes a building typology that once dotted the shorelines of Lake Erie’s southern shore: the small, seasonal cottage. Known colloquially as the “worker’s cottage”, these modest structures are typically tiny, one-story light-framed buildings, uninsulated, built on piers, with stripped-down interior finishes. This humble spatial typology, which provides the most rudimentary, undressed type of interior spaces for a life that is lived largely outdoors, is found less and less in Ontario’s Niagara Region. As the region experiences an uptick in development, worker’s cottages are being demolished and replaced with vinyl-clad, sprawling, suburban-style homes with double (or triple) garages and the requisite finished basement.

Though old, these cottages haven’t gained the eye of preservationists or architectural tour guide writers. Instead, this humble building typology is quietly going extinct. But in demolishing the small, century-old lakeside cottages, an approach to building and living that can teach us a lot, is being lost.  This paper describes the value and relevance of the traditional “worker’s cottage” within contemporary architectural discourse by analyzing it through the lens of sustainable building and resource use, as well as a socio-spatial lens, to highlight how the destruction of these cottages is fundamentally classist and distances communities with modest means from public spaces like beaches along Lake Erie.

The paper will be accompanied by a photographic survey of remaining “worker’s cottages” along Lake Erie’s southern shore.

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