Historic properties tell the story of our community. They help maintain the character of local places. They provide a sense of identity.
These aren’t my words, although I do agree with them. They were spoken by Elizabeth Turner, a woman who made an emotional delegation to Minden Hills council Feb. 27.
She talked about a missed opportunity to designate a building at 1942 Soyers Lake Rd. under the Ontario Heritage Act. Through a series of apparent miscommunications, the building is now demolished.
It all started when Turner caught wind that the owners were seeking approval to demolish the structure. She went to Coun. Jennifer Hughey last July to see what could be done. She then met with planner Ian Clendening in October. Both Hughey and Clendening told her to make a delegation to council. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that advice.
What went horribly wrong was by the time Turner made her delegation last Thursday, the building had already been razed. The other hitch was Turner may have made her pitch in January but was out of town. However, she never anticipated a winter demolition.
Somewhere along the way, the demolition permit was granted and the owners notified. Councillors, other than Hughey, only learned of the building’s historic and social significance after the fact. They never got an opportunity to discuss whether they should pursue a designation under the act.
The case for one was arguably strong. After all, the house was a really good example of a gothic farmhouse, typical after pioneers decided to permanently put down roots. Builder Joseph Dummitt later transferred it to Rizpah Dummitt and her husband Edward Elstone, who farmed but saw a tourism potential. They started out renting rooms to hunters and then summer guests. Before long the demand required cottages be built. Lakeview Lodge was born. Many stayed there while building their own cottages in the area. The lodge was where mail was dropped off and picked up, and phone calls made and received.
In 1975, the lodge was transformed into housekeeping cottages and the house returned to being a private dwelling.
We take no umbrage with private owners wanting to demolish a building in the hopes of erecting a new one. They likely didn’t know the depth of the building’s history. How could they? It was not designated. Nor would a designation have stopped them completely. They may, however, have had to alter their plans to ensure some features were kept intact.
Any council in Ontario can apply under Regulation 9/06 of the Act to get designation. Indeed, they are encouraged to via the province and their own official plans.
We may never find out what exactly happened with this file although council has requested a staff report. As Mrs. Turner has stated, she doesn’t think there was malice involved, simply a lack of communication. She hopes the township learns from this, and quite frankly, so do we.
It is important to protect heritage buildings and properties in the Highlands. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be tapped into, whether it is the Haliburton County Heritage Society, the museums, or longtime residents. A list should be struck now so we don’t lose lodges or other important remnants from our past.
It isn’t about stopping development of the new but protecting the old so we can indeed tell the story of our community, maintain the character of our local places and provide ourselves with a sense of identity.