Excellent work still shines
Living in a city rich in history and historical buildings, architect Lily Inglis aimed her sights on heritage conservation in Kingston
Unwell and tucked into her bed in Milan, Italy, the young girl was inspired by structural design. Lily Inglis passed the time by drawing and crafting miniature buildings out of paper. Her childhood creativity later turned into a career in architecture and devotion to heritage conservation in Kingston.
“As a 12-year-old, Lily was sent to a British boarding school,” Mona Holmlund and Gail Youngberg said in Inspiring Women: A Celebration of Herstory (Coteau Books, Regina 2003). “When the Second World War broke out, she found herself in Britain, having finished school and wanting to be an architect.” Inglis did not hesitate.
Apprenticing with a firm in Cheltenham for six years, Inglis then enrolled at University of Edinburgh’s School of Architecture program and achieved a diploma in 1952 at age 26. Soon after graduating, she became a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. While at the university, Lily met psychologist James Inglis, PhD. The pair wed in 1953.
The new graduate “was offered a travelling scholarship that enabled her to go the Scandinavia, Italy and the United States to study post-war architecture,” according to Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. “Inglis then moved to London, England, where she was employed with the firm Bridgewater & Shepard.” While there, the avid architect continued her studies, attending London University in 1957 to earn a certificate in Landscape Design.
About two years later, James Inglis was offered a teaching post at Queen’s University. The husband and wife moved to Kingston in 1959 and purchased a home in the early 1960s. The two-and-ahalf-storey house at 23 Sydenham St. was a heritage home, built of clapboard by John McMahon in 1866. Nestled among older brick homes with tall, mature trees, it was within easy walking distance of Queen’s and downtown. Perhaps the home with elegant gables, fishscale imbrications, and a sunburst pediment design provided personal stimulus for the young architect’s dedication to conservation.
While her husband developed his career as assistant professor of psychology and researcher, Inglis continued on her path of architecture. In 1962 and 1963, she completed practical training with local architect Wilfred Sorensen. Becoming a member of the Ontario Association of Architects in 1963, Inglis opened her own business.
It was a pioneering move — Inglis set up her office in her home so she could raise her two daughters at the same time. She faced more than the usual business hurdles. Inglis “found that ‘as an architect in North America, working out of the house and being a woman meant two strikes against you,’” Holmlund and Youngberg noted.
In them id-1960s, the Inglis family moved to Pennsylvania. Lily Inglis established “an interior architectural practice in Philadelphia ... from 1965 to 1968,” said Queen’s University Archives. Returning to Canada, the professor and the architect slipped back into their Kingston routines. “Between 1968 and 1983, she was the sole principal of Lily Inglis Architect, working mainly in downtown Kingston with heritage buildings.”
Partnering with Sorensen, the architect took on impressive projects. “Sorensen and Inglis have often been regarded as being ‘ahead of their time’ with respect to their use of current best practices in heritage conservation,” described City of Kingston’s Report to Council regarding an application for a heritage permit on Sept. 6, 2016. The company’s excellence shines through in many downtown restorations: the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, the George Brown building, Prince George Hotel, Newlands Pavilion in Macdonald Park, Newcourt House, cafe courtyards behind Chez Piggy, and more.
In 1979, Inglis hired architect Bruce Downey. The graduate of Carleton University came with experience working at Sorensen’s firm. Two years later, Downey hung out his own shingle and in 1981, the professionals joined to form Inglis and Downey Architects. Their office was located at 11 Princess St.
The firm specialized in smaller contracts, such as comfortable, accessible group homes and “converting homes to barrier-free use.
… We feel that if people have a need for something that is well designed, they should get it,” Inglis said in Perspectives: Publication of the Ontario Association of Architects (Vol. 5, No. 2, 1991). Appreciated by clients, the designer brought attention to detail to her projects.
Lily Inglis “felt that buildings should sit comfortably in their setting, that a building didn’t scream out ‘look at me,’ that they weren’t monuments to the people who made them and that they responded to the purpose for which they were being built,’” Downey said.
As with any construction professional, Inglis attended the projects under her purview. Wearing her hard hat, with documents and equipment in hand, she of course was fully capable of answering questions and solving technical problems that arose.
Always a people person, Inglis often arrived late at her office — she would stop and chat along the way, interested in the daily lives of those she met on the street. She particularly held concerns for children and the homeless.
Living in a city rich in history and historical buildings, Inglis aimed her sights on heritage conservation in Kingston. Teaming with lively historian and author Margaret Angus, Inglis took city council to task time and again when heritage buildings were threatened.
There was a time during the mid-1900s when the city preferred to demolish significant buildings. “Lily and Margaret Angus were outspoken about the need to preserve them. This was at a time when [speaking in favour of preservation] was going against the flow,” commented Jennifer McKendry to Mike Norris in the article “Inglis ‘was devoted to the cause of heritage preservation’” (Kingston Whig-Standard, Jan. 13, 2010).
Persistence won the day. Recognizing the value of heritage, council passed “The City of Kingston Act, 1970.” The act allowed passage of bylaws to designate buildings as having “historic or architectural value or interest.” It also prevented destruction of designated structures, provided for acquisition under several methods, and provided grant opportunities to building owners for “renovation, restoration or maintenance.” Following Kingston’s advanced vision, the Ontario Heritage Act was established on March 5, 1975.
The architect’s expansive body of work brought her well-earned recognition. In 2001, the City of Kingston presented Inglis with the Livable City Design Award. The next year, the Frontenac Historic Foundation honoured the exacting architect with a lifetime achievement award. As well as the Ontario Heritage Foundation Achievement Award, Inglis received an honorary diploma from St. Lawrence College.
As her career flourished, Inglis’s husband also enjoyed a successful career. A co-founder of the Queen’s Psychology Department’s Clinical Programme, James authored and co-authored books and research papers. His interests were wideranging, from childhood “Cognitive Abilities,” to the “Cognitive Effects of Unilateral Brain Damage,” to analysis of “When Memory Fades” in seniors, and more. On the death of Inglis in 1999, Queen’s University established the James Inglis Prize, awarded annually to a graduating doctoral student with highest standing in the clinical programme.
Several social services boards made use of Lily Inglis’s devotion to the welfare of city residents. The Children’s Aid Society, Science 44 Co-operative (student housing), Downtown Business Improvement Area, the Social Planning Committee, and others, all benefitted from her experience and valuable ideas. As an advocate for affordable housing in Kingston, Inglis was also a proponent for Home Base Housing.
Developing cancer, Lily Inglis died in Kingston on Jan. 11, 2010. In commemoration of her dedication to social welfare, in 2012 the family-oriented shelter at 333 Kingscourt Ave. was named Lily’s Place.
Inglis loved bringing heritage buildings back to vibrant life. Speaking with Annmarie Adams and Peta Tancred in Designing Women: Gender and the Architectural Profession (University of Toronto Press, 2000), Inglis mentioned how she felt about her work. “My kicks really come from seeing it there and even more from seeing it used and seeing people enjoying it…” Susanna McLeod is a writer living in Kingston.
As a 12-year-old, Lily was sent to a British boarding school. When the Second World War broke out, she found herself in Britain, having finished school and wanting to be an architect.”
Mona Holmlund and Gail Youngberg in Inspiring Women: A Celebration of Herstory
Architect Lily Inglis spoke to members of the Queen’s University Town-Gown Relations committee in the Wilson Room at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library in March 2005.