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Demolition of Picton church makes Heritage Canada’s list of worst losses

Steven Draper, of Polepics, photographed what became the iconic image of the demise of the Brick Church.

The demolition of the historic brick church on Main Street Picton one year ago made the Heritage Canada Foundation’s list of the 10 worst losses of 2010.
The foundation’s lists of worst losses and top 10 endangered places are released annually to draw attention to architectural and heritage sites in Canada that are threatened with demolition or already lost.
Topping the Worst Losses is the historic Empress Hotel In Toronto, “lost due to neglect, lack of municipal resources and indifferent owners – and ultimately by an arsonist’s fire,” the report states.
“Other examples of historic places needlessly destroyed by the wrecking ball are Vancouver’s Pantages Theatre and the Methodist Episcopal Church in Picton,” the report states. It continues:

“The 135-year-old landmark known as the ‘Brick Church’ was not given a fighting chance last fall when a demolition permit was quickly issued. The owners said they attempted to sell it to someone who could convert the space for another use, but without success. As a shocked community looked on, the historic church was razed and a piece of Prince Edward County’s history was lost. Members of council in favour of giving 30 days for interested parties to apply for a heritage designation were outvoted before council issued the demolition permit. The church’s demise acted as a catalyst for change and for the first time, heritage became a municipal election issue.” (The complete story/video here: http://www.countylive.ca/?p=4573) Heritage Canada’s annual report here: http://www.heritagecanada.org/eng/news/new.html#sep2_11

In July 2011, Prince Edward County council approved changes to the heritage property designation process – including a change to remove the requirement of an owner’s consent to designate.
Planning, at its meeting Wednesday, will recommend that a bylaw to adopt the amendment to the official plan be enacted as recommendations of the planning report are consistent with the Ontario Heritage Act.
A letter of concern from Edith Justin, who was owner of the Brick Church, has been provided for council’s consideration.
Justin lists several concerns with the proposal, including a loss of individual property rights, the potential to delay real estate transactions, overly burdensome restrictions on properaty alteration, and the cost of maintaining a designated property.
“It should be noted that it is anticipated that only in rare circumstances will council exercise its ability to designate a property without an owner’s consent”, the report states.
“Hypocrisy in the form of saying ‘this does not affect me personally or finacially’ will not suffice here, writes Justin. “It may well be that a building forcibly made ‘heritage’ and therefore cannot be demolished will cost the present owner too much money or is impractical to restore to its originally built form. How long would that kind of circumstance last before it became a public blight” How does the Society propose to force an unwilling heritage property owner to maintain and spend his money in the direction the society wants when he wishes to spend it in an entirely different direction” Say, like gutting and changing previous layouts and usages? What does the society plan for that kind of contingency” How further invasive can this kind of a bylaw become?
“We should all know all eventualities before we open a door we cannot then close,” she concluded.
The new heritage designation policy here:
https://princeedwardcounty.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?ID=49252

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  1. John says:

    I think that the whole point of this story is to point out that it has now taken over a year from the demo of the ‘Brick Church’ for the Municipal Government to put in place a public policy of being able to ‘force’ a ‘Heritage Designation’ onto a building/property owner in order to save it from unwarranted destruction, a power that they have already had, according to the Ontario Heritage Act of 2005, but publically chose not to exercise. National public embarrasment of Prince Edward County did not motivate them to change this policy, an election that forced 9 Councillors out of their seats on Council did. The ‘Brick Church’ could have, and should have, been saved. The fact that it made the Heritage Canada ‘Top Ten List of Worst Losses of 2010’ reinforces that fact.
    The ‘criminal’ manner in which the demolition was carried out is a whole different matter that still has yet to be settled.

  2. Marnie says:

    Well, Beth, surely you must have noticed by now that our taxes are raised, all the time, often for hare-brained schemes dreamed up by our politicians. Maybe it would have been worth paying a little more from our own pockets to save that old church. It was an important part of our streetscape and Picton was the big loser on the day it came down. Like Rickarton Castle, the church was demolished before all options had been explored.

  3. Beth says:

    Yes the property remains unsold, if you haven’t noticed the economy took a turn for the worse and investors are protecting existing assets. I hate to see the beautiful old building demolished as much as the next person, however I agree with Ken, If you want the building saved save it. There reaches an unfortunate point where a building is no longer economically viable for redevelopment. The only way to save these old buildings are for them to be taken over by the government bodies and the only way for the government bodies to do this to all historically significant buildings is to raise taxes.

  4. Steven Draper says:

    Hi Ken, there was a lot of people interested and I believe some pretty serious offers were made even with the wall knocked out.

    The whole way the demolition permit was requested was scandalous, the only bonus from this very sad affair is that it raised awareness of heritage and I think council would have a harder time pulling the trigger again.

  5. Ken Globe says:

    If there were people truly interested in saving that building, they should have ponied up the money to buy the place instead of stamping their feet and pouting. Maybe you should start saving your cash for when the Royal Hotel will get condemned and have to come down. I give it another three years tops.

  6. M Gallagher says:

    Strange, Edith, that you should object to the new bylaw since it was your actions that caused it to be brought forward.

  7. Carl Wiens says:

    It should be noted that this property remains unsold. Wasteful and pointless destruction.

  8. Edith Justin: “How long would that kind of circumstance last before it became a public blight”

    Absolutely right. The public blight of yet another empty lot on Main Street is insignificant to the lack of vision of someone who buys a 135 year old landmark and can’t make a viable business out of it. Unsafe and illegal destruction was the only obvious option.

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