Hill, Esther Marjorie

HILL, Esther Marjorie (1895-1985) is often referred to as “...the first woman to graduate from a School of Architecture in Canada”, but she was not the first woman to study the subject of architecture at a university in this country. That honour falls to Miss Alice C. Malhiot (1889-1968), a resident of Edmonton, Alberta who, it was claimed, graduated from the Department of Architecture at the Univ. of Alberta in Edmonton in 1914 (see separate entry under Malhiot, Alice Charlotte). However, recent research conducted in Edmonton reveals that Malhiot did not, in fact, complete all of her course examinations in 1914, and it took another 6 years before Esther M. Hill of Toronto claimed the title as the very first woman architect to successfully graduate from an accredited architectural school at a Canadian university.

Hill was born in Guelph, Ont. on 29 May 1895, daughter of E. Lincoln Hill, who later became Chief Librarian at the Edmonton Public Library from 1912 to 1936. While growing up in Edmonton, she attended the University of Alberta and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1916, then transferred to the newly formed Department of Architecture at that university which was organized and operated under the direction of the architect Cecil S. Burgess. She attended classes there in 1916-17, but, unable to complete her courses, she moved to Toronto and graduated from the School of Architecture on 4 June 1920. She was the first woman to meet all of the course requirements to graduate from a Canadian architectural school, and this event was hailed in both the local and national press (Vancouver Daily World, 3 June 1920, 6, Vancouver Daily World, 12 June 1920, 7, with port.; Saturday Night Magazine [Toronto], 12 June 1920, 31; biog. & port. Vancouver Sun, 1 July 1920, 8, illus.; Mail & Empire [Toronto], 7 Aug. 1920, 17).

After her graduation, her attempt to find employment in the male-dominated profession proved difficult, but she did manage to obtain a position as an assistant in the Edmonton office of Magoon & MacDonald. She returned to Toronto in 1922 to study town planning at the Univ. of Toronto, then moved to New York City to study at Columbia University, and served an apprenticeship with a successful woman architect Marcia Mead (1879-1967). Hill then returned to Edmonton in 1925 and achieved a breakthrough of being accepted for membership in the Alberta Assoc. of Architects, thus becoming the first woman in Canada to become a registered architect. Her family moved to Victoria, B.C. in 1936, but it would not be until 1953 when she joined the Architectural Inst. of British Columbia, and sustained a moderately successful career as an architect, designing a variety of residential and institutional buildings in a contemporary, modernist style. She retired from the profession in 1963.

Hill died in Victoria, B.C. on 7 January 1985 (obituary Times-Colonist [Victoria], 14 Jan. 1985, A3; biog. and port. in For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture, 2008, 22-23, illus.; inf. University of Toronto Archives; inf. and correspondence received from Miss E. Marjorie Hill, 29 June 1982; and 19 Nov. 1982; inf. Architectural Inst. of British Columbia, Application for Membership dated 1953; inf. Prof. Annmarie Adams, McGill Univ.). The University of Toronto Archives holds a small collection of drawings and blueprints by Hill for her projects completed between 1946 and 1963.

Several detailed biographies of E. Marjorie Hill have recently been published in the following sources:
“More of Less The History of Women in Architecture in Canada”, by Prof. Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, in Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada Bulletin, Vol. xvii, No. 1, March 1992, 5-11;
“Breaking In: Four Early Female Architects” by M. Conreras et al, in Canadian Architect [Toronto], Nov. 1993, 18-20, illus.;
Constructing Careers: Profiles of Five Early Women Architects in British Columbia, 1996, 18-25, an exhibition catalogue published by the Women in Architecture Exhibits Committee;
“Designing Women: Then and Now” by Annmarie Adams & P. Tacred, in Canadian Architect [Toronto], November 2000, 16-17, illus.;
“Marjorie’s Web: Canada’s First Architect and her Clients“, by Annmarie Adams, an illustrated essay in Rethinking Professionalism : Women and Art in Canada 1850-1970, 2012, 380-99, illus.

Esther M. HILL (works in Victoria unless noted)

MAYFAIR DRIVE, near Richmond Road, residence for David A. Hanson, 1946 (Canadian Architect, Nov. 2000, 16, illus.)
PEMBROKE STREET, at Chambers Street, residence for W.E. Lock, 1946-47 (dwgs. City of Victoria Archives, File 18333)
QUEENSWOOD DRIVE, near Shannon Place, residence for F.R. Moore, 1948-49 (dwgs. Univ. of Toronto Archives)
SAANICH, B.C., residence for Pierre J. Timp, Fowler Road, 1950 (Donald Luxton & Jennifer Barr, Saanich Heritage Structures, 2008, 64, illus. & descrip.)
HILLCREST APARTMENTS, Fort Street opposite Linden Avenue, 1952 (Canadian Architect, Nov. 2000, 16, illus.)
ST. CHARLES STREET, near Rockland Avenue, residence for T. Diminyatz, 1952 (City of Victoria Archives, File 29137)
EAST SOOKE, B.C., residence for Ltd. Col. F.E. Hill, Becher Bay Road, 1952 (Canadian Architect, Nov. 2000, 16, illus.)
OPTIMIST BOY’S CLUB, Hobby Workshop, Fairfield Road near Vancouver Street, c. 1955
APARTMENT BLOCK, Hillside Avenue at Prior Street, for an unnamed client, c. 1955 (dwgs. Univ. of Toronto Archives)
EMMANUEL BAPTIST CHURCH, Gladstone Avenue at Fernwood Road, addition, 1955 (dwgs. Univ. of Toronto Archives)
GLEN WARREN LODGE, Balmoral Street at Chambers Street, a senior citizen's home, 1961 (dwgs. Univ. of Toronto Archives)