The 100 year mistake for Southampton

To the Editor:

I decided to write this letter after reading Diane Huber’s excellent overview of where we are relative to a very small group influencing the vision of the future for the entire area.

Take the opportunity to read her letter to the Bruce County Council. She advises us all to “Stay the Course”.  For Diane Huber’s Letter Click Here.

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, Municipalities can pass bylaws to designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest or parts thereof. The starting point is with local Town Council and the local and recognized heritage group reporting to the Town Council. Click Here for more background.

I have had no experience in designating any property as a heritage site. I did work on the Chantry Island restoration. We knew from the start that we should not seek Provincial or national historic site designation at that time. Why?

The government had already designated a like site at Point Clark and they saw no need to do more for the historic Imperial Towers. They have done a wonderful job of restoring Point Clark.

As a group, the Marine Heritage Society did not pursue Chantry Island designation as a historic site further. We did get and continue to get great cooperation from local, provincial and national governments and we operate under the oversight of Saugeen Shores and the Coast Guard. We did what was required to do the job on Chantry Island ourselves all the while trying to help other Lighthouse groups in Bruce County and beyond.

Later many of us volunteered on the HMS General Hunter shipwreck. It was clearly worthy of study and yet, after over four years of trying, the chief Marine Archeologist, Ken Cassavoy, was turned down for the General Hunter as an historic site. The reason given? Canada has enough War of 1812 examples.

Recently, I was talking to a friend about the former Anglican Church minister’s Manse now owned by the County of Bruce. It was sold to the County by the Church, who saw no pressing need for it. In fact, they opted to add proper space attached to the Church on the other side of the street making the Manse obsolete and burdensome. As far as I know, the Church never sought any historical designation for the structure.

I checked with some Heritage Committee members present and past. No serious attempt was made to follow the process that involves the Heritage Committee of Council or the Town Council itself. There are members of Town Council on the Heritage Committee.

The space and pattern of the rooms did not serve well for what the Anglican Church desired, so they sold it. Be mindful that they could have added to it as it was not listed as an historic structure, but they did not. Why? It’s a house and they wanted space to hold banquets, do projects and have meetings. To make it work for the Church would have been too expensive and very hard to do. Think of the elevator issue and environmental concerns. Wheel chair access was a problem too, but most of all the house did not fit their needs.

An engineering friend, who has been involved in buildings that were possible historic sites, rightly pointed out to me that buildings are considered carefully. There are many reasons why a building or site could be designated, but there are more reasons why they should not be selected either in total or part as they are old buildings that are not unique. Keep in mind that parts or features can be considered too, not just the whole property. The reasons for and against are simple and concise. Some of them are:

1. The building might be unique in that it was or is related to a famous person.

2. The building could be unique in that it was involved in some historic event that has either local or national importance.

3. The building might exhibit some material, style or construction method that is unique or rare to the area or to Canada. It could be as simple as an inset roof in the style of the famous stone mason John Brown. We preserved that feature on Chantry Island, the government did not at Point Clark.

An owner of a site or home designated ‘historic’ is guided by rules. For example, a house should not upgrade to a metal roof, if the original dwelling used slate or authentic wood shingles. Prospective buyers of historic sites soon find out that they are subject to rules and regulations. Some designated sites in Saugeen Shores have, in fact, violated these rules and guidelines.

One thing is for sure, either a buyer or seller of a potential ‘heritage’ site (not historic) should go through Town Council and the locally formed Heritage Committee reporting to Council. The group who created their own legitimacy did not pursue the proper and well documented procedure.

The Anglican Church Minister’s house exhibits none of the above criteria. There are more than 100 local buildings of equal and more importance and style (see the listed sites below). Some were locally famous for housing famous personages of the area. You see characteristic signs on many of those houses awarded by the legitimate Saugeen Shores Heritage Committee. The plaques do not designate official historic sites, but they clearly show background of the area as a heritage area for interested visitors. Many of these dwellings and sites exist in Port Elgin, Southampton or the former Saugeen Township. You can see them block by block in each area.

From where I sit, I can see three buildings which are older, larger and of the same construction type as the Manse and have a relationship with locally famous figures. The owners of these properties see no need to have their dwellings designated as special or rare because like properties are protected in Saugeen Shores. They certainly are not rare/historic.

In fact, such a designation would limit the owner’s ability to go forward with possible modern improvements like additions, open concept and combining or adding rooms with structural changes. Adding an integrated family room could be prohibited, if the site was considered historic.

The classic Saugeen Shores brick colour and masonry style abounds in more than 200 examples of dwellings, churches and business places. There is even a heritage-type school house adjacent to the Saugeen Golf Course. It is privately owned. Now, going back to the procedure in the (Ontario Heritage Act) that declares a structure as historic. How does the fledgling Southampton Conservancy group gain status to declare a building as historic or heritage? Will they ‘police’ the Manse building to ensure no significant changes take place? Will they maintain it over time … say 100 years? Do they seek to buy the structure from the County?

Did this group go to Town Council and follow the guidelines? Maybe they did and were turned down formally or informally. I found no evidence of trying to follow the bylaws. How about the Saugeen Shores Municipal Heritage Committee? They have not endorsed this new group’s singular mission. There is a procedure and it is well documented. Let’s keep in mind the house was sold to the County by the Anglican Church with no strings attached. I’m sure that some of the members of the Church knew about the sale. It was sold for a significant price.

Some seem to not know about the proposed use. How come? A Museum expansion has been in the works for some time and was no secret. Ask the 60 or so volunteers. They knew. The County of Bruce was not required to maintain or keep the house as part of the sale. No suggestion or promise to do so was extended to the seller.

The sale of the old dwelling has become the subject of much controversy however, a few things are known for sure …

The building was sold. The building is far from unique. The sale had no strings. The structure and materials are not unique in the area. No part of the structure was considered to warrant special status. There was no sale requirement to maintain the building as is or maintain any part of it.

To even start to declare a building a heritage or historic site, the fledgling group should go to the Town first to start the process. Of course, they are free to go there own way, but are not free to their own version of facts. Civilized communities try to follow the plans and guidelines that are contained in the Official Plan, records and bylaws of the Town.

Take a look at The Town of Saugeen Shores Municipal Heritage Committee information Click Here

Instead of following procedure, this ad-hoc group has gone to the courts costing all the tax payers of Bruce County money and ‘shipwrecking’ both the Nuclear Innovation Institute’s preferred location and the Museum expansion, which is on hold pending the court’s decision based upon litigation brought forward by the private group. What is this group’s argument based upon? What about the well-documented process? Let’s see what the issues are and how they fit the guidelines.

The Argument

I never knew the Krug Brothers, so I asked a friend of mine who knew them well. The folks who have engaged the courts say that the Krug Brothers would want to use the old house to fulfill the archiving requirements. Diane Huber, whose Mother was a Krug and who is a direct descendant, thinks otherwise.

I got some things clear in my mind by talking to another friend.

The Krugs built things and the Krugs used work space well. They designed space for work purposes. If you look at the factories they built and used in old documents, you see that space was paramount.

Below is the structure built and used by the Krugs. There are many like this available on the Internet. You can see the open layout of the interiors. We see similar things in the old factory now transformed into ‘The Market’ in Southampton. Space, space, space…

The Krugs were above all craftsmen, but more important than that was their sense of work space and production. Look at the factories they built. They NEVER would have built or recommended a building like the Manse in question for use in the process of archiving and preservation. They would have agreed totally in using a new structure that is in tune with the day-to-day work of the museum staff and archivists. They would accept the advice of the staff doing the work.

Ask the staff about what they think of using the old house. The house is not suitable at all and the Krugs would be the first to acknowledge it, as are the staff of the museum. Structural, space and environmental issues such as mold would be clear to them. It’s erronious to think otherwise. Have we lost our way because of a vocal few? What are we to do? Should we put in an elevator in an old house to get to a second floor bedroom where some records are stored? Do we ignore issues like handicap access?

For long stretches of time, I’m at the Museum working on one thing or another and so are many dedicated volunteers. To a person, we all agree that using the old house would be a bad and wasteful mistake. It may be fatal to the growth of the museum. Everyone working day after day at the museum knows this.

The old school was neatly incorporated in the last expansion, but it did and does create severe space and access limitations, workflow and structural difficulties. Even the electrical routing is problematic. The old school’s space is broken up limiting effective use. The heavily reinforced floor for the Archives is a question given that the theatre is directly below. When the very heavy sliding access doors are moved, those below hear and see it. These issues are well known to the staff and they would like to avoid crippling the ongoing and expanding archival and exhibit requirements for 100 years.

There is more.

Could it be that, at the heart of it all, we have a nostalgia issue? Are we fatally charmed by the past to destroy the future? I’m familiar with nostalgia having written ‘The Long Road to Southampton’. Is it simply wishing for a simpler life? Do they think that change of this type is bad or do they think that, because Bruce Power is a benefactor of the Museum it should be viewed with suspicion? Why? Does Nuclear Power just bother them because it brings too many people to the area?

Many of these same people stalled and misinformed the public about safely storing low and intermediate waste. Some years later, the waste is still there. Are we safer because of this zeal? I remember going to a public meeting about a bathroom proposed for the foot of High Street. The opening salvo by those opposed was to say: “We don’t want Tourism”.

Is it not more than a coincidence that the leaders of the injunction stopping all progress are really not about the old house or the real needs of the Museum? Could it be all about slowing or stopping a new Innovation Institute? Where did this rumor about nuclear waste on the site and an eight story building originate? This new group appears to be against change. I often think that way too. Was 1935 better? It is their right to reject what we call progress. Rejection should not be habitual, however …. Wal-Mart, Tim Hortons, DGR, Museum etc …..

So far, a small group has put mud in the waters and stopped the Innovation Institute from being part of a campus. The idea of a campus that includes the Theatre Group, Art School, Library, Museum, First Nations, School and Innovation Institute studying the Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, has been ruined.

Very few people in the community go out and give out pamphlets that are negative or devoid of fact. When asked, I do answer questions and, many days, I get someone asking me about the issues. They are astounded when I give them my understanding and they should be. In most every case, I try to take the questioner inside the Museum and behind the scenes to see the work spaces and their limitations.

A very small group of people have ruined a great project that could have transformed the community for 100 years into the future.

It really  is … a 100 Year Mistake.

The coming together in a single campus would benefit the community in many ways. It would grow and prosper over time. Donated funds would be maximally used. World class people would come to live here, buy homes and walk along the streets of the community. It would attract walking traffic for exhibits. Residents and business people would prosper. Why not save the future? To do otherwise is something that no other community would do.

I was watching my seven-year-old grandson program a robot on the kitchen floor using an I-Pad and Blue Tooth. It zoomed around chasing the cat and shouting at us too! Think of what the Innovation Institute could do for this child before he reached his tenth birthday.

Again, read Diane Huber’s Letter Click Here and notice the qualifications she brings to the discussion. I don’t have her deep insight into the community. I was, however, awarded the Canadian National Museum Award for volunteering and, because of this, I am obliged to step forward for the future as well as the past.

If you click on the list of houses in the three designated structures sections list below, you will see many, many of them are familiar and serve the community well. You will quickly see the Manse is not unique and not on the list. Please note that if there is a bylaw number for the structure, you must read that to get the full impact of the designation for part or all of a structure.

Remember as you read, that the process of saving the past is not to freeze the present and ignore the future.

Designated Structures in Southampton, Ontario Click Here

Designated Properties Port Elgin, Ontario Click Here

Designated Properties Saugeen Township, Ontario Click Here

Mike Sterling, Southampton