Colwill, William Frye

COLWILL, William Frye (1871-1928), a locally prominent architect active in Guelph, Ontario from 1900 to c. 1914. He was a member of the following firms:

Trimble & Colwill, Guelph, Ont. 1897-1898, (with John A. Trimble)
William F. Colwill, Guelph, Ont. 1899-1911
Colwill & Tanner, Guelph, Ont. 1912-1914 (with W.T. Tanner)
Colwill & Boothe, Guelph, Ont. 1915-1918 (with C. Boothe)

He was the author of one of the most impressive Carnegie Library buildings in the province. Colwill was born in Wales on 13 June 1871 and attended Bideford School in Devonshire. He was brought to Canada by his family in 1890 and they settled in Hamilton, Ont., then moved to Guelph during the following year. Through family connections, Colwill was introduced to John A Trimble, an architect from nearby Brampton who was working on two projects in Guelph in 1897. Together, they opened an office as “Trimble & Colwill, Architects, Architectural Engineers, Designers, Draughtsmen” and collaborated until late 1898. When Trimble moved to Alberta, Colwill moved to Toronto in search of employment in an architects office, but after six months, and after working in various odd jobs, he returned to Guelph in early 1899 and opened an office under his own name.

His architectural practise there was a moderate success, with commissions for residential works in and around Guelph, but his most important project was for the Carnegie Library in Guelph (1902-03). His remarkable Beaux-Arts design, clad entirely in artificial Roman Stone, was initially rejected by the Carnegie Foundation as “grandiloquent and expensive”, and with ornate facades treated in “the pillar-sham style”. The local library board in Guelph prevailed, however, and the scheme was built as designed by Colwill. Unlike most other Carnegie library buildings in Ontario which were symmetrical in plan and elevation, Colwill accentuated the monumentality of his design by placing the entrance at the street corner, beneath a large dome, flanked by two-storey high columns and richly decorated facades on both sides of the entry. It became one of the most distinctive landmarks of institutional architecture in Ontario, yet it is puzzling as to why, in 1965, the entire building was demolished, only to be replaced by a new library on the same site.

Colwill continued to practise in Guelph until 1911, but only a few references to his work after this date have been found. He continued to compete for work, but several commissions went to his rival W.A. Mahoney. In 1913-14 he was in partnership with W.T. Tanner, and in 1915-18 he was recorded as an architect in partnership with a “C. Boothe”. He was attracted to the placid and serene atmosphere of Muskoka and moved his family there permanently in 1918. He operated a saw mill and a tourist hotel at Bala Park called Clovelly Inn, on Lake Muskoka. Colwill died at his residence there on 29 October 1928 and was later buried at Torrance, Ont. (obituary Gravenhurst Banner, 8 Nov. 1928, 4; inf. and correspondence from Mrs. Marion Colwill-Maddock, Bala Park, Lake Muskoka). A lengthy and detailed biography of the architect, written by Prof. Gilbert A. Stelter entitled “The Architect and the Community: W. Frye Colwill and Turn of the Century Guelph“, was published in the journal Historic Guelph, xxxiii, September 1994, 4-34. A photographic portrait of Colwill appears on page 8 of this article.


(works in Guelph)

WOOLWICH STREET, residence for Dr. J.R. Dryden, 1899 (C.R., x, 8 March 1899, 2)
WYNDHAM STREET, alterations and repairs to commercial block for Col. H. Higinbotham, 1899 (C.R., x, 10 May 1899, 3)
GLASGOW STREET, residence for J.J. Kelso, 1899 (C.R., x, 10 May 1899, 3)
ARTHUR STREET, major addition to residence for David Allan, 1899 (C.R., x, 17 May 1899, 2)
LONDON STREET, residence for J.F. Dutton, 1899 (C.R., x, 30 Nov. 1899, 2)
GUELPH HERALD CO., Quebec Street, major alterations to offices for the Herald newspaper, for Henry Gummer, 1900 (C.R., xi, 31 Jan. 1900, 3, t.c.)
WOOLWICH STREET, addition and alterations to residence for Hugo Reed, 1900 (C.R., xi, 21 March 1900, 2, t.c.)
unnamed street, residence for Joseph Paquegnat, 1900 (C.R., xi, 2 May 1900, 2, t.c.)
ERAMOSA ROAD, at Queen Street, residence for Dr. Edward W. Wells, 1902 (Weekly Mercury [Guleph], 20 Nov. 1902, 9; Historic Guelph, xxxiii, Sept. 1994, 16-17, illus.)
GUELPH WORSTED & SPINNING CO., Huskisson Street, factory, 1902 (C.R., xiii, 23 July 1902, 2, t.c.; Weekly Mercury [Guelph], 20 Nov. 1902, 9)
CARNEGIE LIBRARY, Norfolk Street at Paisley Street, 1902-03; demol. 1965 (C.R., xiii, 30 April 1902, 2; Evening Mercury [Guelph], 24 April 1903, 1; 30 Oct. 1903, 1, 27 Sept. 1905, descrip.; C.A.B., xvii, Jan. 1904, 20, illus.; Const., i, Jan. 1908, 47, illus. & descrip.; M. Beckman, The Best Gift, 1984, 33-5, illus.; Historic Guelph, xxxiii, Sept. 1994, 17-22, illus. & descrip.)
HOMEWOOD SANATORIUM, Delhi Street, a Nurse's Home and a residence for Dr. A.T. Hobbs, 1903 (Evening Mercury [Guelph], 30 Oct. 1903, 4)
GUELPH WATERPROOF CLOTHING CO., Surrey Street at Huskisson Street, addition of a second floor to the factory, 1903 (Evening Mercury [Guelph], 30 Oct. 1903, 4)
GUELPH CARPET MILLS CO., Neeve Street, factory, 1903 (Evening Mercury [Guelph], 30 Oct. 1903, 4)
QUEEN STREET, residence for Miss Thompson, 1906 (Weekly Mercury [Guelph], 11 Oct. 1906, 6)
ST. ANDREW'S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Norfolk Street, additions and alterations to Sunday School, designed 1907, but the commission was later awarded to W.A. Mahoney (C.R., xviii, 19 June 1907, 2, t.c.)
KING STREET, at Spring Street, residence for W.H. Holliday, 1909 (inf. Gordon Couling, Guelph)
ST. JAMES WARD SCHOOL (now Torrance School), Waterloo Avenue, 1910 (Daily Mercury [Guelph], 10 Sept. 1910; Historic Guelph, xxxiii, Sept. 1994, 26-27, illus. & descrip.)
DOUGLAS STREET, stores and offices for Walter E. Buckingham, 1911 (C.R., xxv, 2 Aug. 1911, 63, t.c.)

(works elsewhere)

FERGUS, ONT., residence for J.J. Craig, 1901 (C.R., xii, 20 March 1901, 2, t.c.)
FERGUS, ONT. The Royal Alexandra Hospital, a remodelling of the old mansion of Henry Michie into a new hospital building for Dr. Abraham Groves, 1901 (Historic Guelph, xxxiii, Sept. 1994, 14)
PONSONBY, ONT., Union School, on the Elora Road, near Elora, c. 1901 (Historic Guelph, xxxiii, Sept. 1994, 15)
KOSUTH, ONT., residence for James Meyer, 1902 (C.R., xiii, 19 Feb. 1902, 2, t.c.)
CHESLEY, ONT., residence for James Halliday, M.P., 1902 (inf. Mr. F. Colwill Calvert, Guelph)
PALMERSTON, ONT., Carnegie Library, Bell Street at James Street, 1903; restored 2015; still standing in 2022 (M. Beckman, The Best Gift, 1984, 48, illus.)
MUSKOKA, ONT., summer home for Henry Gummer, Lake Muskoka opposite Muskadasa Island, 1906; burned 1908 (Bracebridge Gazette, 10 May 1906, 1)
PERTH, ONT., factory for Perth Carpet Mills Co., 1911 (C.R., xxv, 31 May 1911, 61)


OWEN SOUND, ONT. factory complex for Owen Sound Rolling Mills Ltd., 1913 (Owen Sound Sun, 25 Feb. 1913, 4, t.c.)
ELMIRA, ONT., St. James Lutheran Church, Arthur Street South at Wyatt Street East, 1914-15; still standing in 2024 (Berlin News Record [Kitchener], 10 May 1915, 1 and 2, detailed descrip.)


GUELPH, ONT., The Royal Hotel, extensive alterations and improvements, 1915 (Evening Mercury [Guelph], 11 March 1915)


GUELPH, ONT. Collegiate & Vocational Institute, 1922. Both Colwill and W.T. Tanner collaborated on submitting two designs for this major institutional project. One design was presented in a Collegiate Gothic style, the other in a Beaux-Arts Classical style. The drawings of both schemes have survived and are now part of the Colwill Papers (Historic Guelph, xxxiii, Sept. 1994, 28). The competition was won by Hutton & Souter of Hamilton