Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Here today...gone tomorrow

Recent developments in Picton have set me musing about the fate of our heritage buildings, always in peril. An historic church has been demolished - partly demolished, actually, as the activity was stopped -temporarily- when it was discovered that not all the necessary permits had been obtained by a notorious local demolition artist. But it's only a stay of execution for the 1875 Methodist-Episcopal building. A photo in the local newspaper showed the building's west wall demolished, and the interior exposed, like a disemboweled body. Seems even more of a travesty given the day the surprise actions took place - Sunday. All this before the community could launch an effective campaign to preserve this structure, in a town valuing heritage but nevertheless seeing off a great number of worthy older buildings on Main Street in recent years. Council reportedly declined the local heritage advisory committee's recommendation for a heritage designation.
One has only to visit the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario's 'Buildings at Risk' pages to read countless similar stories. They use a phrase that chills my blood....demolition by neglect. That one's always angered me - buildings are left to deteriorate, deliberately it would seem, so that public outcry is muted when the ruin is finally demolished thus saving the developers no end of trouble and delay from heritage preservationists."Oh dear it's too run down to be worth saving" - convenient.
Am I mad? You bet I am, and sad.
But I must explain myself - it's pretty obvious that the photo above is not of the endangered Picton church. This image is, in fact, a source of optimism for me. The photo shows the 1835 home of one of Belleville's prominent businessmen, Billa Flint. Looming behind the little house (in front actually, and across the river from it) is the 1874 City Hall, much "grander", and certain to be preserved for years to come. In the photo's foreground is a long empty lot, the site of the Springer Lock Company buildings that I remember from my rare Belleville visits as a child. The Flint house was used as offices by the company. And this is where I get to the GOOD NEWS - a story of a narrow escape. Gerry Boyce, heritage expert and author, mentioned in passing one day that Lois Foster, a local historic structures expert with the Hastings County Historical Society, researched the house and saved it from certain demolition by discovering its links to an important figure in Belleville's history. Had she not done so, I suspect the crews currently preparing this area for construction would not be working around this fenced-off little Georgian house with its distinctive parapet gables and wide chimneys.
And could it be that the heritage awareness created by Lois' campaign, and those of countless others in communities around the country, was behind the legislation requiring archeological exploration of proposed development sites? One such dig took place last year at the site of one of the homes in this future construction area. This requirement has been in place in England for ages - a country that has a visible heritage,and protects it.

1 comment:

  1. How very interesting! I must go for a walk to see this site. I had a drive by the Moodie house last week - wonderful to finally see it.