Heritage can be daunting; it is often controversial. Sometimes it is stigmatized as NIMBYism, as elitist, and as directed by people who oppose or even fear change. Yet, I would argue that the public’s knowledge of heritage is sometimes misguided and, to be frank, sometimes downright incorrect. Now, I, as someone who works in cultural heritage, will fully admit that the blame for a lot of this ignorance comes down to the lack of communication amongst the heritage community to the general public. We make assumptions that people know the difference between a designated property and a listed property or know the difference between a Heritage Conservation District and, say, the heritage corridor of the City of Stratford’s Official Plan.
It is at this point that I hope to dispel some of the myths behind heritage and clarify other details, as I focus on distinguishing various heritage designations and other heritage resources and tools. Much of this focuses on the most daunting of daunting heritage resources and tools, the Ontario Heritage Act (referred throughout as OHA). The OHA was first enacted on March 5th, 1975. At its most basic, its purpose, according to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, is “to give municipalities and the provincial government powers to preserve the heritage of Ontario” which can be achieved through designating properties or districts that have cultural heritage value or interest, as well as listing non-designated properties on a municipal register.
Despite Stratford’s industrial prowess that exceeded St Mary’s and once rivalled nearby Berlin (today’s Kitchener), Stratford was and still remains a modest sized city. With modest size comes relatively modest architecture, which generally fits into the mould of typical Canadian architecture that is often modest and conservative in nature and design.
Nonetheless, architecturally designed houses do exist within Stratford’s built fabric with the Beaux-Arts style mansion at 210 Water Street, built for furniture magnate George McLagan, as perhaps the most striking example. And while many neighbourhoods feature vernacular Ontario cottages, front-gabled workers’ houses, and some early 20th century Craftsman-inspired bungalows - buildings that are worthy of attention in their own right - others have representative examples of elevated architectural styles that were in vogue at their time of construction. It is with this idea that I turn to Hamlet Ward.
One of Stratford’s five wards, its historic part is perched on a hillier part of the city with historic houses enclosed by Worsley Street to the north, Erie Street to the east, West Gore to the south and John Street South to the west. In particular, we shall bring our attention to 146 Church Street and 220 Cambria Street, two fabulous houses designed by local architect David Gunn Baxter.
Architect David Gunn Baxter was the son of chief dispatcher of the Grand Trunk Railway, Joseph Baxter. David Gunn Baxter was noted as “a clever young man” whose roots in design started as a boy. His career began in June 1892 after training under Stratford’s Joseph Kilburn (known for the Ontario Street Baptist Church, 1888-89 - demolished). His portfolio contained a number of local buildings including what is now the Avon Theatre (1897-98, now substantially altered), the Myers Block (1893) on the north corner of Downie and Brunswick, and a chapel and school room for the Loretto Convent (1893, demolished) at Waterloo and Grange streets.
Long before my time a grand old post office sat in a commanding place at the junction between Ontario Street, Erie Street, and Downie Street. It was demolished in 1961. The demolition of industrial buildings and banks in the name of urban renewal continued into the 1980s and beyond. City Hall was nearly lost. Last year it was the majestic Italianate building, 91 Brunswick Street, that faced the rise of the machines, its remains carried away in dumpsters. This trend of demolition continues up to the present with the threat to the Ontario Street Heritage Corridor, the latest that stands face-to-face with the wrecking ball.
Four buildings in a row along the Ontario Street corridor are under threat of demolition for a 3.5+ storey condominium development of significant scale. This development is proposed in a neighbourhood of 1.5 to 2.5 storey single detached houses. These buildings appear to be well-intact. Adaptive reuse and integration into the condominium plan, which the developer has not considered, would be more suitable, appropriate, and environmentally friendly – and would be a marked distinction from a history of demolition in this city.
The developer has stated that the units will be sold at market value and that there will be no affordable housing options, a difficult pill to swallow especially for young Stratfordites trying to break into an increasingly expensive housing market.
It is imperative that we also consider the environmental impact of demolishing heritage buildings. Demolition is inherently tied to waste – waste that amounts to an average of 40 tons added to the landfill when a home is demolished. Most of it is cherished and valuable wood! Is this really what we should strive for as the clear and present danger of climate change is already affecting every one of us?
As an issue that affects Stratford’s heritage, community, and future, I’d like to shine light on the history of these four buildings that are under threat of demolition. The focus is on 370, 388, 390, and 396 Ontario Street.
Ubiquitous in Toronto, this bay-and-gable row is a rare gem in Stratford. Popular in the 1880s these rows, often constructed with Gothic Revival and Queen Anne influences, take their name from the protruding bays and accompanying - and often decorative - gables. Most rows of this style are two-and-a-half storeys which permit maximum space on a narrow lot.
This c. 1888 row, located at 105-109 St. David Street, features decorative bargeboard along the gables and shed roofs covering the entry porches. Buff brick is present in the bay corners, decorative detailing, and around the windows. Older or original windows are still present along the first storey and have segmentally arched heads. 107 and 109 St. David mirror each other in form. The east side of the row has a fire wall while the west side has a gable with decorative bargeboard. It is likely that this row was constructed to accommodate a growing population as the Grand Trunk shops, located just across the street, were expanded in 1888.