London Doorways — Celebrating a Unique Feature of London’s Heritage

Kyle Gonyu

Editor’s note: I am again pleased to welcome a guest contributor, one who proffered a welcome departure from OHA+M’s usual heavy policy diet with a topic that reminds us of the special, distinctive things in the makeup of our towns, cities and rural areas. Kyle Gonyou is a Heritage Planner for the City of London. He spends his spare time searching for London Doorways in communities around Ontario.

When I think of places in Ontario, the unique identity of each community is reflected in the built heritage. It is the monumental limestone public buildings found in Kingston; the Loyalist spirit in Neoclassical architecture of the Niagara Region; Toronto’s red brick bay-and-gables of residential streets; and each and every place in between. But what about my hometown of London, Ontario? Having to supplement the name of this place with its province speaks to its own identity-challenge.

London is a mid-sized city; half-way between Toronto and Windsor, and over 400,000 people with a variety of ages and socio-economic backgrounds. The Globe and Mail identified London, Ontario as the “perfect test market.”1 Established as a colonial administrative centre in 1826, London has always been a regional centre – pulling in from the productive agricultural land that surrounds the Forks of the Thames River. This informed the buildings that Londoners built. Lovely and decorated, but with a conservative restraint, keeping up with the architectural trends of the times.

For a time, London’s architecture was distinct – reflecting the influences, character, and people who built it. Over time, a predominant place-less design has taken hold. I am determined to take this opportunity to learn more about my own community and what makes it worth celebrating and protecting.

London Doorway of the home of Jermiah Moran

London Doorway of the home of Jeremiah Moran, built in 1875 in London’s East Woodfield Heritage Conservation District

In 2014, I was introduced to the London Doorway by the Architectural Conservancy Ontario London Region’s posthumous publication of Julia Beck’s research work. Julia Beck, building on the earlier work of Herb Craig, worked to identify, research, and document a unique doorway that has become known as the “London Doorway.” With my propensity for seeking something of London that was truly unique, I was instantly smitten with London Doorways and my obsessive quest to find more began.

A London Doorway can be identified by its triple arches: it has arched sidelights that extend above the head of the door jam, with a rounded arch transom window that is set in a segmented arch opening. The arches of the sidelights must break the head of the door jamb. London Doorways are single-leaf doorways and always symmetrical. The sidelights may be divided and the transom may feature an oculus or etched glass. London Doorways vary slightly in proportion (height and width, but scaled) and often exhibit slightly different carved and applied detailing.

London Doorway features

The diversity of architectural expression found in residential dwellings featuring London Doorways is amazing. London Doorways can be found on some of the finest buff brick2 mansions of London’s West Woodfield Heritage Conservation District3, in areas of more modest later nineteenth century frame workers cottages, and on hinterland farmhouses. Almost all of the dwellings with London Doorways feature some elements or influence of the Italianate style: vertical emphasis in designed elements, brackets, arched and segmented arched openings, and hipped roofs.4

Ontario Cottage in London's SoHo area

This London Doorway on a c. 1880 Ontario Cottage in London’s SoHo area was recently discovered when an enclosed porch was removed.

London Doorways are found on residential structures built between 1868 and about 1890. This may represent the work or career of one artisan or craftsperson, perhaps a wagon maker5, cabinet maker6, or furniture builder7; however, further research is required particularly into the methods of construction of a London Doorway.

Forty-seven London Doorways were initially identified and included in the 2014 publication London Doorways: A Study of Triple Arched Doorways.8 Each doorway was identified, documented with photographs, and presented as part of this important collection. Julia Beck’s research sought the origins of the London Doorway, suspecting potential Irish origins. While this did not yield the desired results, Julia Beck (and Herb Craig) left clues and avenues for further research to inspire another cohort.

Since London Doorways was published, about twenty confirmed and suspected London Doorways have been identified by a dedicated working group of researchers and historians. Still proving the London nomenclature, London Doorways can be found in surrounding communities including Ailsa Craig, Arva, Carlisle, Coldstream, Ilderton, near St. Thomas, Strathroy, Thamesford, and points in between.9 Similar doorways, with suspected adaptations (or potential salvaged doorways) have been identified in Elora, Hamilton, St. Marys, and Stratford.

London Doorway in London's West Woodfield Heritage Conservation District

This wide London Doorway (built in 1871), in London’s West Woodfield Heritage Conservation District, is decorated by robust bracket carving which emphasizes the depth of the doorway.


The geographic dispersion of London Doorways has emphasized the patchwork quilt of protection of cultural heritage resources across Ontario. In municipalities with a tradition of heritage conservation, there are robust heritage designation programs and heritage registers with active Municipal Heritage Committees. In other municipalities, there may be no municipal heritage committee and no register – leaving significant resources in those communities potential victims of neglect or omission from recognition of their cultural heritage value for future generations. Almost 40 percent of London Doorways have absolutely no cultural heritage protection afforded through listing or designation pursuant to the Ontario Heritage Act.10 These doorways could be removed or destroyed with no second thought to the consequence.

Will changes to the Ontario Heritage Act in Bill 108 better empower communities to recognize, identify, and protect resources that matter? Will the requirements to list a property on a heritage register pursuant to Section 27 of the Ontario Heritage Act focus the efforts of communities to protect significant cultural heritage resources? Will property owners be more likely to object to their property being included on a heritage register? Are local decision makers qualified to make informed decisions on cultural heritage matters without the advice of a municipal heritage committee? What about their provincial adjudicators after the elimination of the Conservation Review Board from the heritage designation process?

While the answers remain to be seen, the unevenness of cultural heritage protection across Ontario reinforces the need for continued efforts to take the time to explore your own communities (and nearby communities) to celebrate their unique identities.

And if, along the way, you find a London Doorway, will you let me know?

More information on London Doorways can be found at www.londondoorways.ca.

This London Doorway features an oculus

 This London Doorway features an oculus inside of its transom.


Note 1: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/london-test-market/article26846284/

Note 2: The buff, or white, brick of the London area is found in southwestern Ontario in areas with less iron in its local clay. When fired, the clay takes the buff colour.

Note 3: The City of London has seven Heritage Conservation Districts, designated pursuant to Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act.

Note 4: Local historian Nancy Tausky, in London: From Site to City (1993), labels the London Doorway as an Italianate doorway. Further discussion with Nancy Tausky illuminates the distinct Italianate-ness of the London Doorway in its suggestion of the triple arches of the Classical period and the Italianate palazzo of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, off England’s south coast.

Note 5: Julia Beck hypothesized that London Doorways were the work of James Moran and Jeremiah Moran, brothers and carriage-makers. Jeremiah Moran owned a home with a London Doorway (depicted above) in what is now London’s East Woodfield Heritage Conservation District. No definitive proof has been found to support Julia Beck’s theory.

Note 6: The now-lost London Doorway on Maitland Street was built on the home of Samuel Genge, a cabinet maker, in 1876 – another potential origin.

Note 7: A London Doorway identified in the former Yarmouth Township, near St. Thomas, included a detailed history of the family which suggested that furniture makers were brought in to build and fit the house in 1872.

Note 8: London Doorways: A Study of Triple Arched Doorways (2014) can be purchased at Attic Books for only $8: https://atticbooks.ca/products/122672. Unfortunately, seven of the 47 identified London Doorways have been demolished or the doorway removed. Herb Craig originally identified 58 doorways that may be related to the London Doorway during his research in the early 1980s.

Note 9: Sixty-eight percent (68%) of London Doorways are located within the City of London. More than 80% of London Doorways are located within the geographic area of Middlesex County, including the City of London.

Note 10: This includes nine properties with London Doorways that have been recently identified within the City of London, including London Doorways which were formerly covered by porches or enclosures that have been recently removed.

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About Dan Schneider

Dan Schneider Portrait Image

Dan Schneider is a heritage enthusiast, policy wonk, writer and professional heritage consultant. Formerly senior policy advisor with the provincial culture ministry, Dan has much experience with the Ontario Heritage Act and heritage policy issues. A lawyer by training, he was lead policy expert on major changes to the Ontario Heritage Act in 2005 and 2006. His advice is frequently sought on questions related to Ontario's legislative and policy framework for heritage. Based in St. Marys, Ontario, Dan is Principal of Dan Schneider Heritage Consulting. He can be reached at danschneider@live.ca.