Our Schizophrenic Attitude to Heritage Preservation

When the Ness-Adair home was heading toward demolition in 2008 to make way for the Canadian Tire development, more than 1,000 residents signed a petition to save it, led by Marj Mossman. The subsequent sudden loss of the home led to the resignation of the Chair of the Heritage Committee and a renewed attention at Council on heritage preservation. In a schizophrenic turn of events, some people are now opposed to the latest application of the Heritage Act.

Former Mayor Brian Jackson was quoted at the time saying, “We need a spirit of co-operation. Things have been somewhat adversarial up to this point. It’s been a learning experience for the town. The work of the heritage committee is ongoing and it is taking steps to make a list [of potential heritage sites] to enable them to designate certain properties with the permission of the owner,” Jackson said. “We’ll hopefully not be caught in the same position.

Yet here we are again. The debate has again been adversarial about whether to formally list the Wauchope home on the Heritage Registry. This time, Council received a volley of angry letters from some residents who argue that the Heritage Act is invasive, unfair and financially punitive.

If people want to be angry, they should direct their anger at Gregory-Otis-Trinity Group. Let’s face it, they spoiled it for everyone with their callous and ill-timed demolition in 2008, especially when the expected new construction has failed to materialize.

The Wauchope’s concern is clearly financial. Their lawyer says that heritage registration would repel any commercial developers who may be interested in the property. I’m quite sceptical about that claim. Developers in Innisfil are holding a large inventory of agricultural land on the speculation that it will be rezoned. The Places to Grow Act and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act haven’t caused any panic selling. The Big Bay Point Resort developer hasn’t been shy about taking on the municipality, the County, the Conservation Authority, environmentalists, ratepayers and the Ministry of the Environment. Can we really believe that simple heritage registration, which delays demolition for 60 days, would stop all developers in their tracks?

Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star this past week about two developers who bought properties on each side of a downtown street. One had a row of historic homes removed from the Heritage Registry and then tore them down. The other company took its time and incorporated the facades of Georgian style homes into their mixed-use development. Neither had any qualms about buying properties with historic – potentially ‘heritage’ – buildings on site. Each achieved their separate development results, new construction in one case, partial cosmetic preservation in the other.

A representative of the Heritage Committee suggested that the Wauchope matter be deferred until the property is actually acquired by a developer because the controversy was too damaging to public perception of the Heritage Committee and its work.

This seems to me to only continue the uncertainty surrounding the issue. It would be more appropriate for the town to signal its commitment to heritage preservation. And it would also be appropriate for a community-minded developer to step up with a commitment to at least try and relocate the home if and when the Heritage Committee determines that it is a worthwhile structure to preserve.

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6 thoughts on “Our Schizophrenic Attitude to Heritage Preservation

  1. Mike,
    Since the Ont. H. Act was passed some 35 years ago, thousands of heritage bldgs. have been designated and a great many have also been de-designated, so the Act has enjoyed some success over the years. However it is painfully week in some respects and there are inherent flaws in the process which cause much frustration and loss of heritage. Even the ammended Act of 2005 did not solve the problem. If the Act is respected by council and both the HC. and council are committed to preservation and if they both understand their role and agree to co-operate and to comply with legislated heritage policies, then the preservation process will work quite well.
    However if the elected officials refuse to comply with the Act. and refuse to learn by the experience of other municipalities and make the common, and I might say naive mistake of trying to re-invent the wheel, then the process is doomed to failure. This is the unfortunate status in Innisfil at present.
    Innisfil, in its wisdom(?) has only recently recognized its responsibility in heritage responsibility. Whether they have accepted this role and to what degree they are committed remains to be seen.
    While we recognise some inefficiencies in the Act.; just as much at fault, are councils who proceed in contravention of the Act. and local heritage policies, and determine to ignore or interpret the Act to suit their preconceived notions about heritage preservation.
    You may well ask; How is it that lower tier Gov. is allowed to make a mockery of the Act. in this way, and not be held accountable?
    I would suggest you pose this question to your MPP.

    You raise the question of developers.
    Heritage preservation is the responsibility of everyone, simply because all of us are the beneficiaries of, and should be the custodians of our heritage.
    As a good corporate citizen and one who determines our life style to a large extent, developers are in a position to lead by example where heritage is involved.
    With some exceptions, developers have a reputation of wantonly destroying our heritage by various means and not being held accountable by the municipality.
    The municipality sets the standard. Why should developers be concerned if the municipality ignores heritage policies?
    The Province has provided the legislation, so the municipality has no excuses for allowing the desecration of heritage resources.
    Council and land developers are negotiating all the time and many important heritage bldgs. have been preserved in this way.
    Developers who show a callous disrespect for our heritage should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, reported to their member organisation, put at the bottem of the application list and given no concessions by the town.
    David Chambers.

  2. Mike,
    Encouraging to know that at least one person in Innisfil has a handle on Heritage,.
    I might add that the Ness Adair stone house was located on the north side of the 8th. and the building site still stands empty.
    The Mcconkey- house was on the south side and demolished for the C tire store.
    I might also add that I advised and cauctioned council about 1 year before they were allowed to be demolished, that both were 2 of the most architecturally significant stone houses in Simcoe Cty.
    Provincial legislation was in place, and council had the power to preserve these bldgs., but elected to turn their heads. As a result, you and I, and everyone in Ont have needlessly lost 2 irreplaceable heritage bldgs; all because of the ineptitude of local elected officials.
    David Chambers.

    • Thanks for the clarifications. I wasn’t aware of the history of either house and got easily confused on the names and locations of these buildings. It seems to me that the existing legislation doesn’t work very well. Is there a better solution? Should municipalities reward heritage developers, or alternatively blacklist developers that are hostile to preservation?

  3. Notice how Jackson said “with the permission of the owner” even though such a stipulation doesn’t exist in the Heritage Act.
    Also interesting how there was no public pressure or great debate about the Barclay house being registered even its owners were also against it. That issue also received a fair amount of local press coverage.

      • In response to your question about the Barclay house: It was added to the Heritage Register by Council resolution CR-007 Jan 21/09. This is a non-designated property on the Heritage Register.
        During contacts with the lawyer and the owners, in September and October 2008, some reservation was expressed about placing the property on the Register. Ultimately the owners decided not to consent to nor authorize the listing of 7335 Yonge Street on the Heritage Register.
        The resolution to add the property to the Register was passed by the previous Council as noted.
        The Heritage Committee has NOT recommended the property for Designation, nor has Council voted on it.

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