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Elizabeth M. Lord

  • MAA

Biography

As Manitoba's first registered woman architect, Elizabeth M. Lord, was a trailblazing figure on the provincial architectural scene. Lord graduated from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1939 and registered with the Manitoba Association of Architects and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 1944. After a period of absence, she was reinstated with the Association in July of 1953. After her graduation she stayed in Winnipeg; initial employment came through a position with the North American Lumber Company in 1939. This was followed by employment with architect Arthur Cubbidge the following year (working out of offices located at 808 Boyd Building, 388 Portage Avenue.) Still during this war-time period, Lord switched to a post with Crawford Painting in 1941 before leaving architecture for a two year stint with the Dominion Government Naval Treasury from 1942-43. Lord returned to architecture in 1944, taking up occupation with Moody and Moore Architects.

At the time of Lord’s graduation from the University of Manitoba in 1939 Canada had only five women registered as architects, only three of whom had been been educated in Canadian universities.The first woman to have graduated with an architectural degree in Canada was the University of Toronto’s Ester Marjorie Hill who graduated ten years prior to Lord, in 1929, and who later practised in Edmonton and Victoria, B.C. Noted Winnipeg designer and professor Joan Harland had graduated from the University of Manitoba one year prior to Lord but did not register with the Manitoba Association of Architects. Notably, as articulated by scholar Marco Polo, “in the first half of the 20th century a disproportionate number of women architects were graduating from western Canadian schools” and “one third of all women architects registered in Canada before 1960 were graduates of the University of Manitoba” which had “ established the first course in interior design and had four women on faculty during the 1940s and 1950s.” (Marco Polo, “Architectural Education,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2012.)

Little is known of Lord’s early architectural practice; one project which was specifically recorded was the 1950 renovation of the residence of Dr. Sterling Orr Dowling at 530 Basswood Place, in Winnipeg. While the details of this assignment are uncertain, the interest in housing which it reveals reflects a broader theme within the work and thinking of Lord. In 1960 Lord – at a meeting of the Progressive Conservative Women's Association of Winnipeg South Centre and St. James – called on women to push for legislation providing for public housing for those in need. Lord here articulated this argument in a manner which underlined her crusading approach: “Only one man in a 1,000 is a leader of men, the other 999 are followers of women. ... Women have a tremendous part to play in the betterment of the community and the country." This desire to improve the state of housing was also served by Lord’s work on the steering committee of the housing committee of the Welfare Council of Greater Winnipeg and as housing chairman of the Provincial Council of Women.

1960 was a busy year for Lord; as well as filling the aforementioned roles (and serving as chairman of the building committee of the YWCA), in October of that year she also ran as a candidate in Division 9 of Metropolitan Winnipeg. Notably, in 1960, of 2400 registered architects in Canada only 30 (1.25%) were female. Lord's candidacy in the civic election is but one aspect of her concern with the broader state of civic affairs. In 1956 the architect was a member of a special committee on the redevelopment of central Winnipeg held by the University of Manitoba School of Architecture under the auspices of professors Wolfgang Gerson and Richard Soderlind; at this point Lord was also a representative of the Winnipeg Council of Women. In 1960 Lord termed Winnipeg a "city without a centre” with a “nebulous downtown area of mixed uses with old deteriorated residences side by side with old commercial developments and a few very fine new commercial buildings.” Yet the solution in her mind came not in suburban development – whose “mushrooming out” she stated will would simply create "new slums to come" – but rather redevelopment of extent neighourhoods. By 1963, Lord, then executive director of the Community Planning Association of Canada came forward (alongside Len Wyner, manager of a Winnipeg building cleaning company) with a plan to partially achieve this goal with a plan to establish a “brighter, cleaner central Winnipeg in time for Canada's centenary celebration in 1967.” This plan, which they stated was modelled on Norwich, England, whose council and the Civic Trust of Great Britain, in 1957, proposed the improved of the city “without major alteration or expense.” The strategy, which Lord upheld for Winnipeg, was to involve the examination of street by those with “an experienced eye,” its potential appraised and a “plan of renovation and redecorating” prepared. Lord promoted these ideas in the local press and television programs such as that of Bud Sherman. Such a strategy of small scale, street-by-street, urban redevelopment was a far cry from many of the modernization plans which would proceed in Winnipeg and across the continent.

This involvement with urban and housing issues was also demonstrated in Lord’s October 1967 presentation to the Community Planning Association of Canada’s national convention in Ottawa – she was then executive director of the Manitoba division of this organization. Here the architect argued that young married couples often worried about their ability to afford homes and that it ought to be realized by planning authorities that not everyone should own his own home. Notably, at this time it was acknowledged in media coverage that Lord was one of only two female architects in Winnipeg. Such interests are also apparent in Lord’s November 1967 plea for the creation of a federal urban affairs department at the Manitoba Liberal Party's annual convention in Brandon following her administration of a review of the problems involved in refurbishment of urban cores. This suggestion was welcomed by many delegates but no action was taken to follow it through and objections were raised by Lloyd Axworthy (the executive assistant to registrar general John Turner) who argued that constitutional issues prevented such federal involvement in civic jurisdiction.

Over her years of activity in the field of architecture and in the community, Lord was a ground-breaker both personally and in the positions she held. That the situation for a female architect was not easy in these years is made clear by the fact that, even in 1971, Lord was the only woman in Winnipeg running her own practice. This year the architect argued that "Competent women are a threat to men" and felt the need to point out that "There's no logical reason whatsoever that women can't be successful" in architecture. Lord herself acknowledged that she herself, while a landmark figure, had not achieved the professional success she desired. At the same time she, a mother of four, attacked comments by eminent Modernist architect Marcel Breuer that motherhood was a full-time job and that construction sites were not places for women. Indeed, the Winnipegger argued that women have certain advantages in the profession, including a greater degree of empathy. In this capacity, beyond herself being a pioneering woman in her profession, Lord argued for a greater role for women in the sphere of environmental design. In 1964, at the 25th anniversary convention of the Canadian Home Economics Association (held at Winnipeg’s Royal Alexandra Hotel) the architect argued that inadequacies in modern housing might be remedied in part by an increase in the number of women on planning commissions — and by greater societal openness to the opinion of women on issues of home and a community. On this subject it is reported that the majority of the audience, as well as co-panellists Earl Simpson, director of the City of Winnipeg housing and urban renewal branch and Winnipeg architect George Gordon were persuaded by Lord. Similarly feminist concerns were expressed in a 1963 speech for the the Professional Engineers' Wives Association by the architect entitled “Is It A Man's Or A Woman's World?” Lord was likewise politically outspoken on such issues as abortion and spoke on this subject before hundreds at a 1971 rally by the Manitoba Abortion Action Coalition at the Manitoba Legislature.

Lord resigned as a practicing architect in Manitoba in 1976 at which point she moved to Antigua.

Sources

  • “Special Committee Studies Redevelopment.” Winnipeg Free Press. 31 July 1956.
  • “Architect Urges Women to Back Public Housing.” Winnipeg Free Press. 17 May 1960.
  • "31 Candidates Seek Election In 10 Metro Divisions." Winnipeg Free Press. 16 October 1960.
  • “Club Events.” Winnipeg Free Press. 21 March 1963.
  • “Buying House Costs More — Architect.” Winnipeg Free Press. 19 October 1967.
  • “Urban Affairs Body Urged At Architect.” Winnipeg Free Press. 18 November 1967.
  • “Abortion Group Seeks Support.” Winnipeg Free Press. 22 November 1971.
  • Adams, Annmarie. “‘Marjorie’s Web’: Canada’s First Woman Architect and Her Clients.” Rethinking Professionalism: Woman and Art in Canada, 1850-1970. Huneault, Kristina and Janice Anderson, eds. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012.
  • Bletcher, Mary. “Mortgage Outlives Modern House.” Winnipeg Free Press. 8 July 1964.
  • Janz, Susan. "Own practice long, hard pull local woman architect feels." Winnipeg Tribune. 14 April 1971.
  • Matsuzaki, Eva. “Consultation & Roundtables on Women in Architecture in Canada.” Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. 2003.
  • Morriss, Bill. “City 'Norwich Plan' Urged For Clean-Up.” Winnipeg Free Press. 30 December 1963.
  • Polo, Marco. “Architectural Education.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2012.