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When heritage rears its ugly head

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

I’m big on heritage. I make my living by bringing County history to life, with all of its quirks and eccentricities.

For some reason, talk of ‘preserving heritage’ has become something of a controversial issue. I’d like to explore it and, God willing, perhaps add a little insight to the topic.
First, let’s set the stage: I was at the now-famous Beach Bum Council meeting, and spoke to Council spontaneously in my allotted three minutes. (I think other people get 10, but councillors know I can run for an hour on any topic!)
My purpose was not to support Beach Bum, as I barely knew them, but to point out that the County was saddled with a bylaw that was more concerned with sign dimensions, substrates and collecting a fee, than it was about heritage.
In fact, part of the problem is that signs are not the major part of heritage preservation. But this is how governments work: “We not only want to control you, we want you to pay for the privilege!”
With good intentions, the Heritage Advisory group tried to make a case for preserving our historic buildings. What they ended up with was a bylaw that does nothing to support the cause. What they got was a pile of rules about signs, placed under the auspices of the Planning Committee of Council, designed to do little more than to collect fees for putting up signs.
This was evident during BB’s presentation when, clearly, most of the councillors were okay with the sign, but were hogtied by their own bylaw. So the argument basically boiled down to: following proper procedure, and paying the proper fee.

Do you see Heritage leaping out of this discussion? No. You look for heritage protection, and end up with a municipal body whose sole purpose is to read, interpret and implement a bylaw.
Many comments have been made about heritage. I’ll say up front that I disagree with Bill Roberts’ letter, Steve Staniek’s response and Jamie Forrester’s plan. And here’s why:
Okay, I don’t completely disagree with Bill. He nicely defined the need for preserving our glorious past. But he neglected to define it. For all of the talks, consultants, surveys and community outreach over the course of years that he refers to – no-one has defined the elusive ‘heritage’ we wish to preserve. He answered the ‘why’ but not the ‘what’. More on this later.
As for Steve, he seems to indicate that a public poll should decide if there is any interest in pursuing a preservation plan. I strongly disagree. All preservation efforts call for vision, not referendums. Every worthwhile conservation effort in Canada has been launched by handfuls of people who care, even if no-one else cares. And future generations thank them for their foresight.
Do we care about World War Two? Hell no. That was ages ago. Forget about it. That could be the response of an 18-year-old.
But those who look to the future know that ‘Lest We Forget’ is more than a slogan, and the message of that war and others needs to be preserved, as a constant reminder of the terrible toll it took on the world.
I do agree, however, that legislation is not the answer to preservation. More on that later.
Jamie Forrester, with good intentions, wants to throw money at the problem. And that, again, is not the solution.
Everyone is thinking way too hard about this.

I was a participant in Steve Ferguson’s Two Days About Yesterday in Wellington. If you want to talk heritage, this was the place to be.
I had a brief look at a display by ERA Architects. Two people were deep in conversation about the porosity of old brick vs. new brick. So I just looked at the pictures of Picton and area building restorations.
Then it hit me. All of the thoughtful restorations of Picton’s many beautiful red brick facades were done by the owners of the buildings!
They weren’t legislated, or controlled by punitive bylaws. They brought their personal vision to the table, and made it happen.
Let’s forget for a minute about signs as a heritage item, and the hideous Canada Post Box, and the futuristic new LCBO (which, by the way, will consume all of Ontario’s wind power, just to heat the enormous empty space above the booze bottles). And yes, we’ve had some pretty slap-dash infill buildings in place of alleyways and burned-out spots.
Look instead at the work of Alex Fida in restoring the Downes/Falconer home. The work on the Royal Hotel is a jaw-dropper for any passer-by. And take a look at the businesses of Alexandra Bake, who brought so many of the Main Street buildings back to life, with taste and care – and probably considerable expense.
Even The Edward – a new construction – mirrors the heritage of Main. This is not only true vision, but they are statements of the power of heritage preservation in improving the atmosphere of an old rural Ontario town.

I’ve heard County people scoff at projects like this: “Oh, yeah, but they’ve got lots of money!” Maybe so, and I hope so. But keep in mind any one of these people – and others who have taken the time to improve their buildings – could just as easily have dropped their money in a GIC and walked away. Instead, they chose to invest in Prince Edward County. I, for one, greatly admire that.
You can’t legislate it. You can’t buy it. But you sure as hell can encourage it.

If you have vision, brains and will, the job can be done. In Bloomfield, if you plant a spectacular flower garden, next year your neighbour does. And pretty soon, everybody does.
If you are a building owner, and don’t have a lot of money to restore and improve it … that’s where I think help is needed. Perhaps some guidance through the Heritage group. Maybe some helpful videos on how to treat your old porous red brick to preserve it.
Not everyone can undertake a major reno project, but some helpful tips on small things that can be done over time might help those who can’t make a big one-time cash outlay.
Turn to the experts, not the damned consultants. I’ve heard nothing but great things about County contractors, and have personally had great experiences with them.
Forget the legislation, and the ridiculous sign issue, and the pot of money. Make the pathway to doing the right thing easy to follow. We’ll take it from there.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    I agree with Steve on his take in this article – particularly with the BB sign issue – which shouldn’t have been an issue. On a personal note, I get tired of words like “heritage” being used as a marketing tool and having both politicians and business people taking advantage of it and of us too! History/heritage isn’t invented, it is what it is – if business wants to place a price tag on it, then I hope they are prepared to pay for it and not expect the taxpayers to. Hear this Councillor Forrester? While I support infrastructure improvements to downtown, I wonder why the Heritage Advisory Committee wasn’t consulted about the design? A word is a word, actions reveal the truth of how it is being used – or not.

  2. gilles says:

    Sad to see so many naysayers in the comments section of Countylive. It certainly would have been easier and cheaper to have started from scratch, yet Mr Sorbara recognized the heritage value of what remained to be saved, after years of neglect and exposure to the elements inflicted on the interior.
    It is indeed termed facadism, yet in this case it is a fair case of preservation of the exterior.

  3. Chuck says:

    You don’t get it. The Royal was practically beyond repair. The developer has done his very best. What would you have suggested? Would you have assisted with $$ if more could have been salvaged?

  4. Hildagard says:

    The Royal Hotel IS a pile of rubble! Definitely someone should be commended for preserving the facade as a heritage building! This is so ludicrous! Look out folks, the Legion may be the next pile of rubble but oh yes, let’s preserve the facade to be able call it a fully preserved heritage structure! We should be very grateful for the outstanding preservation of the Royal Hotel! If that is what one calls an extreme effort to preserve and maintain the exterior walls, perhaps the job of preserving the Legion should be done by Tepperman the Wrecker! We certainly want these buildings to meet the expectations of the wealthy.

  5. Susan says:

    Forrester wants to throw taxpayer money at private heritage preservation. This will be a long line for funds. Perhaps major monetary decisions such as this should be deferred until the OMB determines a fair and equitable governance for all residents of the County.

  6. Marnie says:

    The building was near-derelict and Sorbara could have simply knocked it down. Instead, he chose to preserve its façade. Kudos to him for respecting the Royal’s heritage in the only way that remained possible. We should be grateful. Without his intervention that hotel would have been a pile of rubble in a short time.

  7. Chuck says:

    Restoring a structure such as the Royal is very complex. The fact that extreme efforts are being made to maintain the exterior walls is commendable. To say the walls might as well be demolished is foolish. The interior I am certain had to go given the condition and product makeup that wwould not be fitting for a hotel in this age. We are fortunate this investment is being made.

  8. Hildagard says:

    The work on the Royal Hotel is a jaw-dropper! This is a total joke to think that the Royal Hotel is being preserved as a heritage building. There’s nothing left of it! This is a perfect example of the Emperor having no clothes! This building has been completely gutted. To leave up the facade of the building is a mere skeleton of its former self. It might as well be demolished to make way for the new building. It is deceitful for anyone to suggest that this represents heritage preservation in any manner. County council has a ferocious reaction to the Beach Bum’s modest sign but County council turns a blind eye to the gutting of an actual heritage building. Are there different rules for the rich and working class?

  9. Stewart Bailey says:

    Nailed it, Steve

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