Architect Donald Chapman left a legacy throughout the region with his designs of many landmark buildings, including Niagara-on-the-Lake, where he served on the town’s heritage committee for more than three decades. Chapman died Aug. 8, at the age of 94.
His associate, Wayne Murray of Chapman Murray Associates Architecture, says for more than a half century, Chapman was a leader in the community, focusing on good building design and the preservation of heritage structures.
He also served on the Niagara Falls heritage committee, and was devoted to protecting historically or architecturally important buildings in Niagara. When asked to design additions or alterations to existing heritage structures he was always sensitive to the character, style and period when they were built, says Murray.
His firm was involved in the design of many hotels and restaurants in Niagara Falls, and all of the hotels in NOTL, all regional long-term care facilities, major additions to the Douglas Memorial Hospital in Fort Erie and Greater Niagara General Hospital, and designed several medical office buildings in Niagara.
He also designed the NOTL Town Hall, and worked on most of the NOTL hotels, including the Pillar and Post, Queen’s Landing, the Moffat Inn, the Harbour House and the Show Club Hotel.
He was proud of the work he did in NOTL, says Murray.
He also worked extensively with Calvin Rand on Randwood over a period of many years.
Did the current situation at the John Street estate bother him?
“Nothing ever really bothered him. He was resilient, and he was a realist.”
Most of the buildings he designed are still used for the same purpose, Murray added, a sign that Don took his work very seriously, and made the right decision, always choosing classic designs that would fit in over time. That was the philosophy of the firm, he says, that buildings were to be timeless, not avant garde or cutting edge, which might seem right for the time, but not over the long term. Instead, he liked contemporary functions and material with a nod to heritage, “and that turned out to be a good philosophy to have. It means designing buildings that age well.”
It has been about 10 years since Don served on the local heritage committee, says Murray. He always tried to stay apolitical, and focus on buildings and on heritage.
“He was a well-respected man, who made significant impact on heritage issues.”
He lived in NOTL, loved the town, and invested in designing a beautiful home on the river side of the Niagara River Parkway, on an estate that had been divided. “He built a wonderful home, one that looks contemporary but has all kinds of historic references. He did a beautiful job capturing the significant historical shapes of the Old Town.”
Don knew everybody in NOTL, says Murray, “and everybody knew him.”
Murray says Don was so well-liked, his clients looked forward to meeting with him.
“He was very colourful, and had nicknames for people he would use when talking to them. He was also a colourful dresser, deliberately wearing things that were mismatched, big floppy hats, and he had one pair of pants he wore that looked like a quilt pattern. He liked to make a fashion statement — he was that kind of guy.”
He also always had an opinion that he liked to share, although never in a way that offended people, says Murray, or to embarrass or criticize.
“He worked quietly to let his opinions be known,” he says.
“He was a good planner, very wise, and as a person, no bad habits — everything was in moderation.”
As good as Don was at his job, “I think some of our clients kept coming back to us because they liked him so much,” Murray jokes.
“He was a wonderful, colourful guy, but he didn’t socialize a lot. He enjoyed his own company.”
He also worked on the latest additions to the Regional Niagara government headquarters building in Thorold. In St. Catharines, the firm designed One St. Paul office and retail complex at the corner of Ontario Street, the Canada Trust building at James and King Streets and many commercial and residential buildings throughout the city.
As well, Don designed many churches, schools, university and college buildings, affordable housing for the YWCA and several women’s shelters throughout the Region.
“The people of the region were fortunate to have lured Don Chapman from John B. Parkin’s office in Toronto to Niagara where he has made significant contributions to the built environment,” says Murray.
“Despite his somewhat irreverent sense of humour, he remained respected professionally by his peers, admired by the hundreds of employees who had worked with him for almost 70 years, and remembered fondly by his many public and private clients who became good friends of this remarkable, colourful and talented man.
“The firm of Chapman Murray Associates is proud to carry his name forward which will act as a tribute to his legacy and as an inspiration to continue creating architecture of the highest quality.”
Chapman is survived by his wife, Isobel, children Reid and Susan, Lisa and Patrick, and Gregory and Sarah, and other family members. A private family service is to take place.