Elizabeth Turner dons a pair of wooden snowshoes and begins trekking on her property on Soyers Lake Road. As she heads for the lake, there is a demolished building to the right – the excavator that brought it to the ground still onsite.
Looking at the ruins at 1942 Soyers Lake Rd., she remembers the building’s past. It was built by her great-grandfather Joseph Dummitt in 1891. It was a lodge beginning in the 1920s until the 1970s. She lived in the farmhouse until going to university.
While she feels a personal loss, she thinks Minden residents need to know the building’s wider significance and why she is devastated council was unable to have it designated under the Ontario Heritage Act before its recent demolition.
“The development of the property reflects the development of the municipality from farming and logging to the beginning of the tourist industry,” she said.
She noted the gothic farmhouse was typical for pioneers of the day and the only example on Soyers Lake. Dummitt farmed dairy and beef cattle. The kitchen hosted square dances. For a half-century it was the Lakeview Lodge. The Soyers Lake Ratepayers Association held their early meetings there.
“So, the house has significance, not only to me and my family but to the whole lake community. I met a cottager yesterday who was shocked when he saw the demolition as he drove to his cottage from the city. He had always assumed that the house was a protected historic site and was shaken to think it is gone. A landmark on the lake is gone.”
When she got wind of a possible demolition by the property’s new owners, Turner had hoped to save the farmhouse from the wrecker’s ball via council designating it under the Ontario Heritage Act. However, as she told Minden Hills staff and councillors Feb. 27, she was too late and believes a lack of communication at the township on the file has dealt a “significant blow to local history.”
She noted that under the Act, council is allowed to make decisions regarding heritage properties, including to designate. She added they have to fulfill one criteria outlined in Ontario Regulation 9/06.
“1942 Soyers Lake Road clearly fulfills multiple criteria under Regulation 9/06 and is eligible for designation,” she said. She further noted that Ontario municipalities are required to protect their heritage resources and there are policies regarding cultural heritage preservation in the Minden Hills and County of Haliburton official plans.
She said she first raised the issue with a councillor in July 2019, and was referred to the planning department. She met with them last October and it was recommended she speak to council. She was originally to appear in January but was away and did not anticipate a winter demolition. While waiting for the February delegation, staff issued a demolition permit.
“By issuing the demolition permit prior to council receiving the delegation and making a decision, staff undermined council’s ability to fulfill their provincially-mandated responsibility to make decisions regarding historic properties within the municipality,” she told council.
She doesn’t think it was in any way malicious, just a “troubling lack of communication among those involved in this file and an insufficient understanding of provincial planning legislation and policy.”
She said she hopes the township learns from the experience, since there are many important historic properties not now recognized or protected.
“If Minden Hills is going to remain the special place that it is with a rich and interesting history that is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike, the protection of historically significant buildings is something the municipality must begin to undertake,” she said.
Mayor Brent Devolin said, “council is seeing this today for the very first time,” and has asked for a staff report. He said Turner had given them food for thought and expressed an interest in council taking a more proactive role in future.
After the meeting, Coun. Jennifer Hughey, who first spoke to Turner last July said via email, “It’s very unfortunate how circumstances transpired in this case, but a delegation is always the best way to present concerns to council as a whole. I commend Ms. Turner for bringing to light the way Minden Hills could work to conserve, protect and enhance the cultural heritage of the municipality through designation considerations in the future.”
Planner Ian Clendening, who spoke to Turner last October, added, “at this time staff will be preparing a report to council regarding heritage designations.”
The Highlander was unable to reach the owners of 1942 Soyers Lake Rd. for comment.