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Ministry wants demolition; states Sandbanks homes not historic

UPDATE SEPT 1: It seems demolition of the historic Hyatt and MacDonald houses at Sandbanks will move forward as planned – though the Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes group will continue its efforts to save them before the bulldozers arrive.

The government states it only sees heritage value in the MacDonald Farm hog shed.

In a letter from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), to the citizens group, the ministry maintains the houses present serious health and safety risks due to their deteriorated condition.

Chloe Stuart, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Land and Water Division of the ministry, announced Ontario Parks plan last night, to proceed with demolition in response to a request by the SHSH for a meeting the MECP Minister David Puccini and local municipal and park officials to consider alternative options.

She stated that “even if private funding was secured for the renovation of both houses, Ontario Parks would still incur annual costs for operating and maintaining the buildings. Given the findings in studies, it would be inappropriate to use taxpayer dollars for this purpose.

“Wrong,” states Liz Driver, spokesperson for SHSH. “The third party (private not-for-profit) would pay to restore, operate and maintain the buildings at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Stuart’s letter goes on to state “The studies also confirmed there is limited heritage value of the two buildings due to the relocation of outbuildings or their outright removal, the past owners followed the trend of lakeside cottaging and were not the leaders in the industry, and there is nothing unique or innovative about the buildings. The MacDonald Farm hog shed is the only structure found to have provincial heritage importance. This structure will be retained and interpreted for park visitors.”

Driver says it is unfortunate the ministry is choosing demotion “based on a faulty misinterpretation of its own reports, and a deeply-flawed public process; that it is disregarding the views of the community – as the Prince Edward County Heritage Advisory Committee, municipal council and other groups such as the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, have all strongly opposed the Park’s demolition plan over the last year.

“Their consultants actually found that both homes qualify as significant properties under the Ontario Heritage Act. This means both merit designation and protection.”

The houses had been identified by Ontario Parks’ heritage consultant as worthy of designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. The 1993 Management Plan for Sandbanks Provincial Park committed to preserving them within a defined historical zone but no work was done. In 2019, there was an Environmental Registry notice that the buildings were going to be demolished.

Regarding “limited heritage value” SHSH states MECP and Ontario Parks staff have “cherry-picked and misinterpreted the consultant’s comments without understanding the application of the heritage regulation.

Based on the Park’s consultant’s final reports and other documents from the Environmental Registry process, SHSH points out “the consultant describes the Hyatt House and ‘an important historical and visual landmark’ and ‘important in defining the character of the area’. The community agrees. The consultant finds that the MacDonald House and other MacDonald farm structures ‘provide context for an understanding of the agricultural and recreations history of Sandbanks Provincial Park. The community agrees.”

Regarding public health and safety, SHSH also points out a heritage engineer has visited the houses and found no significant health and safety risk.

“Whatever risk there is, architects and contractors are used to working with these conditions on a regular basis. If Ontario Parks would bring in a third party to restore the houses, the risks would disappear.”

The letter states that following the demolition of the buildings, Ontario Parks will invite the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee and other interested individuals to assist in preparing materials to commemorate the buildings and the community in discussion on how best to use the sites.

Driver notes the park consultant never reached out for the Heritage Advisory Committee’s input. And in a public survey conducted over the past two months, “more than 450 people were 96 per cent in favour of re-purposing the house and neither residents or visitors responding wanted commemorative plaques.”

Further questions or comments were to be sent to Greg Walsh, Southeast Zone Manager at greg.walsh@ontario.ca or by calling 905 715-3106.

The Hyatt and MacDonald properties then and now.

Fate of historic homes at Sandbanks unknown as stay of demolition reaches expiry

AUG 31: As the hours tick down on the stay of demolition of two historically significant homes at Sandbanks Province Park, community members and friends of ‘Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes’ group fear the worst.

Liz Driver, of the community group Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes (SHSH) says the longstanding determination to demolish the Hyatt and MacDonald after the Sept. 1 stay expires – despite the views of the local council, the County’s Heritage Advisory Committee, other heritage groups including the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, the private sector, park visitors, and the community – belongs to a bygone age – “the Dark Ages of the 1960s and ‘70s when many significant properties in this historic area were lost.”

A statement from a media spokesperson with the ministry about its decision to demolish because the buildings are a public safety risk was presented to Global News Kingston last week. The SHSH group doesn’t know whether that is simply information reiterated from the ministry’s decision in February, or whether it will remain as the ministry’s position, come Sept. 1.

Lindsay Davidson, a media spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, reiterated to Global News Kingston that “Proposals by local individuals with an interest in the two houses were carefully reviewed and considered by the ministry. Detailed heritage assessments recommend tearing down the buildings as soon as possible in the interest of public health and safety. They are no longer safe to maintain or access. The ministry has since amended the park management plan for Sandbanks Provincial Park to allow for the demolition of the two buildings after consultation with the Indigenous community and the public.”

SHSH awaits confirmation of the ministry’s intent.

Driver adds the group is also still awaiting a response from the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks following a telephone conversation with him on August 17th indicating he would review the file and get back to the citizen’s group.

Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes has consistently asked officials to delay demolition and to allow time for the details of May’s new Ontario Park program and $6 million fund to be finalized; and to seek proposals from developers for re-purposing the properties.

During a judicial process in the spring, the ministry agreed no demolition of the Hyatt and MacDonald houses would take before Sept. 1 to protect nesting birds, roosting bats and avoid the busy summer season at the park.

Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes used the eight weeks to rally support demonstrating the community’s desire to save the heritage structures and repurpose them for a combination of uses which could include information and educational centres, general store, market, accommodation or culinary venues.

Noted historical architects have deemed the properties – built in 1869 and 1878 – are sound, and suitable for renovation. Private investors have indicated interest and intent to save the structures.

The group’s request to minister Puccini is to continue to pause demolition while details of the new government program are worked out, along with consideration of proposals from third parties.

Hyatt House in 1893 – Photo Hyatt/Mullins collection

The Hyatt and MacDonald properties are the last two remaining homes in the Sandbanks area that represent the birth of the tourism industry, as well as other cultural entrepreneurial interests, in Prince Edward County.

Since Ontario Parks initiated the process to demolish the historic buildings in 2017, the Hyatt and MacDonald houses have escaped demolition three times because of community engagement: in March 2020, after the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee and mayor and council raised concerns in response to the announcement on the Environmental Registry that Ontario Parks intended to amend the Park Management Plan to allow for demolition; in Fall 2020, after Philip Evans of ERA Architects brought forward an alternative development proposal for the Ontario Parks’ consideration; and in March 2021, after a motion was filed for a stay of demolition and subsequently an application for a judicial review.

The MacDonald Home 1970s and as it stands now in 2021. – Hyatt McMullin collection

For more on the history of the homes, visit saveheritagesandbankshomes.com 

 

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  1. gilles says:

    These are, in fact, buildings worthy of heritage protection. The Sandbanks Park Management Plan (1991) specifically pointed this out. Sadly, thirty years of poor management, and failure to comply with the Master Plan, may result in demolition by neglect. Of all the buildings described as heritage assets of the Sandbanks Provincial Park, only one building has been saved: Maple Rest. The Province has not demonstrated good stewardship of our collective heritage resources in this situation. Demolition is a shameful answer.

  2. Liz Driver says:

    The properties are on County Rd 12 and accessible to everyone – Park visitors and residents – because you can reach them without registering at the Park gate.

    The MacDonald House is on prime real estate! It faces the water, directly across from a small grassy area on the shoreline with an interpretive sign.

    The Hyatt House, which has distinctive architecture, is at the start of a walking trail along the lakeshore.

    Yes, both houses are looking a little sad now because of Ontario Parks’ long neglect, but with some restoration and carefully designed additional amenities, the houses will spring back to life. Renewed, they will add great character to this stretch of County Rd 12.

    The loss of these 1869 and 1878 houses would be an irreversible loss of the County’s built heritage – most of which is vernacular, which is to say built by County hands.

  3. angela says:

    Nothing that special about these houses. Lovely in their day but that time is over. Lots of old homes in the county with as much or more character. Naturally, relatives of the original families have a strong sentimental attachment to these homes but this does not justify large expenditures to restore them.

  4. Michelle says:

    These houses really add little character to the County and are land locked away from residents that cannot even get in the Park.

  5. CountyProud says:

    Sad state of affairs on this wonderful opportunity for the park to create a unique value-added proposition to the Sandbanks Park experience.

    I’m left to wonder what ulterior motives are at play here, does the Ministry already have their plans in place for what they propose to do on these lands after these historic properties have been obliterated?

    And, I found it personally rather rude that the Ministry will “INVITE” the Community and the County’s Heritage Advisory group for ideas on how to commemorate the sites AFTER the homes have been demolish – seems a bit tokenish is me.

  6. Dee says:

    Pretty soon the “unique and special” place our County prides and promotes itself as, which draws people from all over, will be just like every other place. It is sad that the Minister is relying on a staff that neither understands or cares to understand the regulations their government has put into place. you have to wonder how much information is filtered to achieve the desired outcome of staff, before it reaches his desk…or if he really does not care. The latter seems unlikely…apparantly he has worked closely with his own constituency in Northumberland in preserving and repurposing heritage properties. He has even reached out and asked their opinion on the future of the old Brookside youth detention centre. Makes you wonder.

  7. Liz Driver says:

    The heritage value of the Hyatt and MacDonald houses is indisputable. Ontario Parks’ own consultant found that the Hyatt House met all 3 criteria for significance under Regulation 9/06 of the Ontario Heritage Act; the MacDonald House and other farm buildings met 2 of 3 criteria. Only one criteria is necessary to trigger protection. If the properties were not within the Provincial Park, the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee would have multiple grounds for recommending heritage designation to Council.

  8. Susan says:

    It is rather difficult to argue with the Ministries position, other than the Heritage Act does not allow disrepair by neglect, which obviously occurred. For valued heritage value however is quite questionable.

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