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Small Town Architectural Firm Celebrates Big Anniversary

Behind the scenes tales of building design

In early July, Allan Avis Architects Inc., of Goderich, Ontario, will be celebrating their twenty-fifth year in business. A quarter of a century, marked by dedication and passion for building history and design with many interesting stories along the way.

Allan Avis explains, “I started my own firm with 1 employee, growing to a consistent staff of 8, in less than 10 years. Most of our staff have been with the firm for more than 15 years.” During the growth of the firm, “it has been my wife of 36 years, Anne Haley, my best friend, supporter and soul-mate who has helped build the firm; without her, none of this would have been possible,” says Avis.

When visiting “Canada’s Prettiest Town,” you can’t avoid coming across a project completed by Allan Avis and his team. If you have experienced a play at the Livery Theatre, an outdoor concert at the performance stage, in Court House Square, eaten fish and chips at the Main Beach concession booth or visited the Public Library or the Town Hall, you have encountered some of the influences and character that Allan Avis Architects has contributed to the Town.

Outside of Goderich, AAA’s work has spanned Huron, Bruce, Essex, Middlesex and Oxford Counties and beyond and during the past 25 years over 1,650 project files have been opened. Significant and noteworthy work includes, Oxford County Courthouse in Woodstock, Dillon Hall at the University of Windsor, Blyth Memorial Community Hall, St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Cowbell Brewing Co. in Blyth, St. Joseph Church in River Canard and St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica in London, to name only a few.

The hundreds of projects each come with their own unique story, as many of the projects are the most recognized and cherished places in their communities.

One such story stems from a project where a new foundation was needed. The building was jacked-up, supported on wood cribbing and the earth removed beneath. The contractor was surprised to discover undocumented human remains. “You really never know what you might find concealed underground, behind walls or in other concealed areas of a building,” explains Avis. “I had to write a change order for a coffin to reinter human remains, which was definitely a first for me.”

Specializing in heritage restoration, AAA has assessed the condition of many prominent historic buildings with restoration often following. Although there have been unexpected twists and turns along the way, such as occasionally having to close buildings due to public safety concerns, “Fortunately, the historic buildings are more often than not rehabilitated or restored, providing an uplifting experience for the community and for us at AAA,” explained Avis. Thousands of hours go into the design and restoration of a heritage building and the people involved must possess exceptional skills and have a real love for keeping the past intact for future generations.

Allan recalls that one of the most challenging times in his career was when the 2011 tornado struck Goderich. “The devastation was both physical and emotional,” says Avis. “We assessed, designed and rebuilt our own AAA office, on West Street, in the midst of the aftermath, as well as helped others in our community affected by the disaster. One of the most memorable projects, following the tornado, was assembling a temporary courthouse facility in Goderich’s Courthouse Square, within 6 weeks after the tornado, to accommodate scheduled court cases,” explains Avis.

The work and accomplishments of Allan Avis Architects have been recognized with awards and accolades from various associations and, more importantly, from their clients. “From our work on national historic sites to destination breweries, to work on multi-generational projects, it has been the long list of exceptional clients we’ve had over the years that has made all the effort worthwhile,” reflects Avis.

While every project is different, and there are always surprises and interesting stories along the way, the accomplished team of experts and professionals assembled by Allan Avis will ensure his firm continues to operate smoothly, as he begins planning for retirement in the upcoming years. “Succession and continuity of the firm are important to me and 2018 is truly a milestone year for us at AAA. As well as being our 25th anniversary, management and ownership of AAA will be transferred this year into the capable hands of long-term staff architect, Jason Morgan,” says Avis. “Jason will nurture and shepherd our team through the next 25 years and I will continue as Senior Heritage Architect and counsel for years to come, comfortable that the interests of our past, current and future clients will be fully cared for,” explains Avis. “The transition will be seamless; it is business as usual!”