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Barbara A. Humphreys

30 Oct 2015
Image Credit: Barbara A. Humphreys
Architectural Credit: N/A
Today we continue our special blOAAg’s series “Women in Architecture – Ontario” by highlighting the career of an Ontario architect that has been described as “the ‘quintessential’ Ontario woman architect.”1 A graduate of the University of Manitoba in 1941 and OAA member since 1945, Barbara Humphreys has specialized at one time or another in public service, historic preservation, and housing – three key areas where Ontario’s first female architects made their greatest contributions. Barbara is perhaps most known for her role in the preservation of Canada’s early architecture, managing the creation and establishment of the Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings, a nation-wide survey of buildings constructed before 1914.

Today’s post, prepared by Barbara herself, provides us a glimpse into her remarkable career.

From the architect:

I have had a long and broad ranging career as an architect in Canada, and as such I thought my story might be of interest to fellow OAA members as part of the October Women in Architecture and Women's History month.

I graduated in architecture from the University of Manitoba in 1941 and obtained registration with the RAIC in 1944 - in fact I may be one of the oldest registered female architects in Canada. Following graduation I worked in private practice for several years - a field largely dominated by men at the time - then during the war years I joined Defence Industries in munition and aircraft engineering plant design - in both instances working as the only female architect in the area. At the conclusion of the war I worked with the Veterans Land Act, a division of the federal government, supervising the establishment of housing subdivisions across Canada for returning veterans.

In the 1950's I started a family and established my own private practice focusing largely on domestic architecture in eastern Ontario. Then in 1967, with Canada's Centennial and a renewed interest in our country's history, I decided to take my career in a different direction to pursue Canadian Architectural History - a field that was virtually non-existent at the time.

Interested in the identification and preservation of Canada's early architecture, I created a programme illustrating style and construction methods designed to introduce the study of architecture into high schools. I also lectured widely in schools and at historical societies, wrote extensively on Canadian architecture in a range of publications, and was involved in both local and provincial organizations relative to the conservation and preservation of Canadian built heritage.

Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings card, Source:

Working with Parks Canada in the 1970's, I was the only female architect on a team that initiated an inventory of historic buildings in Canada - an undertaking that was unprecedented in the world. Subsequently I was involved in the creation of, and ultimately led, the Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings, a computerized record of early architecture, which today includes records of over 200,000 buildings.

Following retirement from the government, I established a course on the History of Canadian Built Environment at Carleton University, and lectured there for a number of years. Since retiring from Carleton I have continued to write and lecture extensively on Canadian architectural heritage, and remain active in numerous local heritage associations.


1. Adams, A., & Tancred, P. (2000). Designing women: Gender and the architectural profession. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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