Francis C. Sullivan

1882 – 1929

A student and later associate of famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Sullivan introduced the modernist Prairie School of architecture to Canada.

An architect of undoubted talent and energy, Sullivan’s career was marred by a quick temper and an undisguised contempt for most of his professional colleagues. From an early age, architecture was his only passion and he invested enormous effort to learn his profession while still making a living at other jobs. Starting in 1908, he worked for three years for the Chief Architect Office of the federal Department of Public Works while also moonlighting at a private practice on the side.

In 1910, he married Mildred Genest, daughter of Samuel Genest who gained renown as a defender of French education rights in Ontario (see capsule above). Although they had four daughters, this was not a happy marriage. Sullivan was a workaholic and Mildred felt left aside. His eccentric individualism (Sullivan designed some of her clothes and forced her to wear them) and obstinate non-conformism also rankled. She thought that Frank Lloyd Wright was taking advantage of her husband and she forbade the mention of his name in their house.

Sullivan left the government in 1911 and his practice flourished until 1916 when commissions dried up, partly as a result of the war.  During this time, Sullivan designed several public buildings (hospitals, schools, libraries, churches, post offices) as well as a number of private homes. Several of these are still standing[1].

In 1913, he designed and built his own house at 346 Somerset St E (now designated under the Ontario Heritage Act). Sullivan conceived the house as a total package as he also designed custom furniture and wood trim for its interior. This interior detailing, alas, has now been lost. He only lived there for two years for, in 1916, he was forced to give up the house and move to 462 Stewart St. He was 34, married with children, had no income or savings and few friends. He designed some military hospitals in 1917 and worked for the city in 1918 but left on bad terms. He moved to Chicago where he worked intermittently and never returned to Canada. He died in Arizona in 1929.

[1] A map of a bike tour of buildings designed by Francis Sullivan in Ottawa can be found at: https://ottawavelooutaouais.com/2014/08/24/an-ottawa-bike-tour-of-designs-by-the-architect-francis-sullivan/

 

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