An Artist and His Cottage – Part One 0f Three

77 Brunswick Street in Stratford and Gerard Brender à Brandis

by Marianne Brandis



When Gerard Brender à Brandis, a well-known artist, moved into the little house at 77 Brunswick Street, it marked the coming together of an artist practicing the traditional arts and crafts of wood engraving and book-making with a historic dwelling that had been built in 1866 and thoroughly restored in the 1980s with an eye to authenticity.  It would prove to be a wonderfully fruitful combination.

By then—this was November 2005 – Gerard had been living in Stratford for fourteen years, at 249 Ontario Street.  Upon moving there he had immediately set up a shop to display and sell his work.  The very first visitor was Norma Cardiff, and when he learned that she was a potter he pricked up his ears because, besides being an artist and craftsperson, Gerard is a long-time and knowledgeable grower of orchids.  He asked Norma whether she ever made flowerpots on commission.  Yes, she did.  So he drew a design – and it was when he went to pick up the pots that he first saw the house at 77 Brunswick, where she lived and created her pottery.  He was delighted with the little old house.  In 2005 he was able to buy it, and it has proved to be a most appropriate setting for the latter part of his life and his career.

The house is one of the last old frame houses in Stratford, and its being of wood rather than brick appealed greatly to Gerard, who has spent his life working with wood.  Moreover, it is small, and it is eccentric: the kitchen is tiny, and there is no driveway.  But it is historic, and Gerard is engaged in historic arts and crafts.  His printing press dates from 1865, the year before the house was built. 

Besides being Gerard’s home, the house is also his work-space.  What had been the dining room became his studio, and the former parlour served as a gallery for displaying his work.  Until 2019 the studio was open to the public for five days per week from May to October, roughly corresponding with the Stratford Festival season.  During those months Gerard was a shopkeeper – a role which he did not always enjoy but which meant that his work reached many hundreds of people each year. 1

77 Brunswick is officially designated under the Ontario Heritage Act as the McDonald-Creasy House. 2  It had been built in 1866 by Donald Bain McDonald, a Scottish-born builder who is listed in the 1861 and following city directories as a carpenter and joiner.  The 1871 census showed him to be a man of substance, owning 200 acres of land and eight dwelling houses; his carpentry and building shop employed eight men over age sixteen. 

In his application for the house to be designated, James Anderson – the owner at that time, and Stratford’s first archivist – described the building: “This modest house is the last remaining example of the Greek Revival style in Stratford.  It was erected in the 1860’s by Donald McDonald, a builder, for his residence.  It is basically a beam frame resting on a fieldstone base.  The interior trim remains almost intact and the exterior reveals evidence of double hung window sash 6 over 6, eared trim on windows, brackets, columned porch in Classic Doric detail and shiplath 3 siding.  The front door and surround are original.  It was also the long-time house of the Creasy family known for their community service work.”

However, the information given in the actual designation classifies the building’s architectural style as Georgian.  The whole description reads: “Storey and a half frame house covered in clapboard 4 ; gable roof at front and saltbox roof in rear; one red brick chimney with a hood on either end of the roof; front façade three bay with centre door and rectangular six over six paned window on each side of entrance; window frames have eared trim; elaborate Greek Revival porch with round Doric columns; paneled architrave above columns; flat roof with dentils under fascia; the picket fence is quite detailed with urn finials on top of the intermediate square posts. 5 ” 

Thor Dingman, an architect with a special interest in historic buildings, wrote to me: “I would characterize the house as Georgian vernacular with a Greek Revival portico. 6 ”  Dan Schneider, another expert in heritage buildings, agrees 7.

An observation by John Blumenson, writing about Ontario architectural styles, is helpful.  “More often than not, any one building will exhibit a variety of architectural detailing that present more than any one specific architectural style.  This mixing of styles or eclecticism make objective categorization confusing and seemingly impossible.  … The word ‘vernacular’ [indicates] buildings that exhibit unique regional or local design characteristics, while at the same time aspiring, however minimal, to high-style architecture.” 8

The McDonald family occupied the house until about 1873, after which it had several owners and tenants.  In 1916 it was rented by Frederick Creasy, who lived there until 1974.  

Fred and Alice Creasy had both been born in England and had married there in 1901.  In 1913 they emigrated to Canada with two sons, Arthur and William, living first in Hespeler; in 1916 they moved to Stratford, where their third son, Harold, was born. 

Alice and Fred Creasy on the porch.  The fluted pilasters beside the door were probably among the historic features that caught Jim Anderson’s attention.

The Creasys were figures of some note in the town.  Fred, a cabinet-maker working first at the McLagan Furniture Company and later at Preston-Noelting Ltd., was better known as a singer.  For more than 20 years he was choir leader at First Congregational Church and he also sang in the choir at Knox Presbyterian Church, led the Masonic choir, and took part in the presentation of several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  He sang in the Stratford Male Chorus and often took part in the Kiwanis Music Festivals.  

Alice Creasy was much engaged in philanthropic work.  She was secretary of the Welfare Bureau for 28 years and organized the Christmas Welfare Fund.  She was on the executive of the Stratford branch of the Canadian Red Cross.  She was also an active member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, the Salvation Army, and the Women’s Auxiliary of the YMCA.  She visited the sick and needy.  Norma Cardiff told me that she had once met someone who, as a girl, had been taken to Alice Creasy’s house for clothes: Alice had a room full of clothing to distribute to people in need. 9

Their three sons had careers that took them away from Stratford, but after Alice died in 1959 William bought the house for his father, and Fred lived there until his death in 1974.  William’s son Robert Creasy continues to be interested in the building; when he was young he visited his grandparents there, and recently he has provided me with some memories and other information.

Following Fred Creasy’s death the house again had several owners.  By then it was visibly deteriorating, but it caught the eye of Jim Anderson, Stratford’s first archivist.  Having worked on the restoration of the Brocksden School and the Fryfogel Inn, Jim had experience with old buildings.  He described 77 Brunswick as “a noble wreck” 10 and considered it worth saving.  In the first place, it was historic, not only because of its actual age but also because, as one of the last frame houses in Stratford, it represented an early stage in the city’s development. Its being old-fashioned and unusual clearly appealed to Jim Anderson, as it does to Gerard.

Jim bought it in 1978, intending that its restoration would be a project for his retirement, and continued to rent it out.  He was living in the Jenny Forbes Cottage, less than a block east on Brunswick, and his trips from there to the town centre and to his place of work – the Archives – would have taken him past 77 Brunswick Street hundreds of times, giving him many opportunities to become familiar with the house’s external appearance.  However, in November 1984 the company that insured the house informed him that its condition, and the current tenants’ careless housekeeping, were such that it could no longer be insured.  Jim notified the tenants that they would have to leave.

The “noble wreck” in 1976.

 Once the house was empty it began to be vandalized, so Jim needed to do something quickly.  One step was to have it designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.  And, being an archivist – by nature, apparently, as well as occupation – he began researching its history and creating the scrapbook that is now such a valuable resource. 11 He contacted members of the Creasy family to learn more about the house’s past.  In 1985 he began restoring it. 12



1 At the time of writing, Gerard still lives and creates new work in the house, but the studio is no longer open to the public.  His wood engravings are available through several dealers, and the handmade books can be obtained directly from Gerard by appointment.  For more information please see

2 In what follows, I have not provided a footnote for every item of information.  See “Note about Sources” at the end of this article.

3 This was clearly a mistake for “shiplap”: the correct term is given in a binder of photos prepared by Jim Anderson.  See “Note about Sources.”

4 The front is in fact flush board, a Greek-Revival feature.


6 Personal e-mail, 16 October 2023.

7 Personal e-mail, 17 October 2023.

8 John Blumenson, Ontario Architecture: A Guide to Styles and Building Terms, 1784 to the Present.  FitzHenry & Whiteside, 1990, p. 1-2.

9 Personal communication, 27 August 2023.

10 Jim used the phrase in a letter of 8 March 1987 to William Creasy, describing the house as it had been when it first caught his attention.

11 See “Note about Sources.”

12 It is worth noticing that Jim Anderson did a certain amount of the hands-on restoration himself.  (Personal communication from Norma Cardiff on 27 August 2023.)