In Warsaw, Poland the market square of the old town was rebuilt following brutal destruction in the Second World War. “We will not accept the annihilation of our cultural monuments. We shall reconstruct them, we shall rebuild them from their foundations, in order to hand over to later generations if not the authentic, at least the precise former of these monuments, as it is alive in our memory,” stated Poland’s General Conservator Jan Zachwatowicz in 1946.
In Germany, the rebuilding process continues as Berliners have just rebuilt the Berlin Palace that dated to 1443. It was heavily damaged during the Allied bombing campaigns and demolished by Soviet authorities in 1950. Frankfurters have rebuilt 14th century Frankfurt in what is called the “new old city.”
And yet, in Stratford, tenders are being sought by the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance for the destruction of a monumental building, the city’s first general hospital, designed by significant Canadian architect, George F. Durand, and added onto by prominent local architects, Thomas James Hepburn (1910) and James Simpson Russell (1922). This symbol of civic pride and progress is slated for demolition for, can I really say, progress - or will it become just another parking lot, as the rumour mill has generated?
We need not even look to Europe considering the town council of Petrolia, Ontario heroically voted in favour of restoring Victoria Hall after a devastating fire. To no surprise given its stature and community value, this building was also designed by George F. Durand. Today, it is a national historic site and a landmark that has been reused as a theatre in charming little Petrolia.
Regarding Avon Crest, President and CEO of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance, Andrew Williams, has stated that “future development will need to support the health and wellness needs of our community.” Undertaking an adaptive reuse project that preserves our first hospital is the first step to support the health of our community. Let’s first consider the city’s economic health. Williams argues that about $24 million is required to bring the building up to code. Rather than treating that money as a dreaded requirement, let’s consider it an investment into the community.
Unbeknownst to many, the cost breakdown associated with the restoration or rehabilitation of buildings is about 25 percent for materials and 75 percent for labour. For new construction, material and labour costs balance out at about 50 percent each. Put differently, restoration and rehabilitation has the potential for a more positive impact on the economy through wages paid to tradespeople who in turn spend money in the economy. Employ local contractors and tradespeople for the restoration and rehabilitation of Avon Crest and the result is millions of dollars invested in the local economy while keeping our local trades healthy and well.
Let’s turn to the environmental and physical health of our city and citizens. There’s two key points to consider. First, construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of municipal waste, according to a study from the University of British Columbia. This translates to about 9 million tons of C&D waste in Canada every year. What a waste! New buildings are perceived as greener, but when we factor in the requirements to source and transport new material along with the waste generated from demolishing an existing building, our green building isn’t so green after all. In fact, it takes decades for a new building to pay off the carbon footprint of its construction. And just to dispel any myths, abatement to remove harmful materials like asbestos has to happen even when a building is demolished and that costs money. It should be no surprise then that “the greenest building is the one that is already built.”
Our second environmental and physical health consideration is the dire need to plan not for the future but for the present. Housing in Ontario is in short supply and many of our citizens simply need a roof over their heads. Imagine how many apartment units we could fit inside Avon Crest! The Baby Boomer generation is aging and already we need to consider adding more retirement and long-term care facilities. Imagine the peace of mind you would have knowing a loved one could reside in a renovated old hospital across the street from a new hospital! From our railway history to theatre and manufacturing, Stratford is an innovative city. Imagine the prestige and honour of adaptively reusing Avon Crest as a state of the art healthcare facility. It would continue a fine legacy in this city with a historic building capturing its identity.
Therefore, demolition is more than the erasure of history; it is plain shortsightedness and a waste of resources and opportunity. Once demolished a building and its legacy is gone. We need to do better, Stratford.
When I started writing about Stratford’s history, it was to shed light on our rich heritage and our cherished architecture, with the goal to reach the great citizens of this city - especially our youth who are stewards of our heritage and environment. I see no exception to that with Avon Crest.
If you are interested in seeing a valuable piece of Stratford’s history adaptively reused to serve benefit the health of the city for another 130 years, then please consider signing this petition that already has over 1,000 signatures: https://www.change.org/p/save-avon-crest-stratford-1891-preserve-our-heritage-and-protect-our-environment
Please also write to Mayor Martin Ritsma (MRitsma@stratford.ca) and city councilors, including Chair of the Planning and Heritage Sub-committee, Cody Sebben (CSebben@stratford.ca) as well as President and CEO of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA), Andrew Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org). There are template letters to get you started at: https://saveavoncrest.ca/what-you-can-do/.
Where some people see eyesores others see opportunity. All it takes is a little imagination.
See the attachment below for a template letter to copy and paste and send to the mayor, city council, and the planning department.
To have correspondence/input listed for record retention, it is necessary to copy Tatiana Dafoe email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org AND specifically request that the comments and concerns be listed and recorded, for consideration and inclusion in upcoming meeting agendas
City Contact Information:
City Clerk’s Office – email@example.com
(519) 271-0250, ext. 237.
City Office fax: 519-271-2783
City Planning Department firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Dan Mathieson – DMathieson@stratford.ca
(519) 271-0250, ext. 5234
Using the Ontario Heritage Act to Determine the Cultural Heritage Value of the Registry Office
With news of the Perth County Council’s decision to demolish the Registry Office, I thought I’d raise awareness of its significance and give some hope on how we can fight this.
This building was designed by prominent local architect T.J. Hepburn and constructed in 1910. On this street alone, Hepburn designed the original part of the Stratford Public Library in 1903 and undertook extensive renovations of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in 1899.
Hepburn designed the building to complement the existing Perth County Court House and Stratford Jail, so, as the Stratford-Perth ACO stated, “when completed the addition of the building created a unified street scape from Huron Street to the jail thus creating a significant landscape along St. Andrew Street.” Demolition of the Registry Office effectively removes this unified streetscape.
The similarities are evident in the Hepburn’s use of buff brick with rusticated brown stone as well as in the red painted detailing including the stamped metal ornamentation above the entry and in the gable that is designed to replicate the use of terra cotta on the Court House.
Brown coloured stone is applied to the windowsills and lintels, as well as through stringcourses along the base and heads of the windows, along the eaves of the front gable, and as a plinth course along the building’s base. Even more significant, is application of this stone in a rusticated door surround. The words “REGISTRY OFFICE” are inscribed in stone above the entry door. The stone detail and colour closely resemble the Credit Valley stone used on the Court House. Similarly, there is a frieze board with prominent brackets.
Stratford Times - December 2021
Signs of Stickley and the Craftsman Movement in Stratford
The early 20th century was a fascinating time for innovations in building and architecture with movements that spread in what was a global society before World War I disturbed this notion. For some Canadians, it was a time of optimism where people – or a least the literature of certain echelons of society – expressed a strong faith in science, technology, and progress (a term that I believe to be quite elusive). In the period between 1900 and 1914, Canada matured into an industrial country. This was an occurrence that took place a few years after our southern neighbourhood and certainly not with the same magnitude but was nonetheless impressive.
Yet rapid industrialization disenchanted some. The Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the subsequent Craftsman movement which we explore pieces of here, formed in reaction to the monotony, mass-production, and, most crucially, the dislocation of the artisan.
Stratford Times - November 2021
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.
Stratford Times - October 2021
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.
Stratford Times - September 2021
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.
Stratford Times - August 2021
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.
The following was originally published as a Letter to the Editor in the Stratford Beacon Herald on August 7th, 2020.
Despite rich histories, the Grand Trunk Shops and Avon Crest – Stratford’s first hospital – sit derelict, their futures in jeopardy. The cost to restore these buildings only grows over time. Now the fate of the historic pump house, the home of Gallery Stratford, is in danger as time and wear take their toll. In July, the Beacon Herald published a story about the city’s rejection of a Gallery Stratford proposal to match a federal grant. The city’s funds would have helped secure an architectural feasibility study for this 137-year-old city-owned building. The cost to the city would have amounted to a modest $22,000. As many will recall, the city is spending $48,000 this year – an increase from $32,000 in 2019 – to remove Canada geese from the Avon river, a costly venture with questionable results.
Built in 1883 by architect George F. Durand, who also designed the Perth County Court House and the first Stratford Hospital, the pump house is a unique piece of architecture that helped provide the city’s water for many years. The proponents of the pump house hoped it would attract industry while lowering insurance rates and preventing disease, such as typhoid. It was repurposed in 1967 and has since showcased Stratford’s artistic talent.
Countless times in Stratford’s history its significant architecture has been threatened – and in some cases demolished. The demolition of the old post office and the Perth Mutual Insurance Company buildings, which both once sat on Ontario Street, are tragic examples of foolhardy decision making. While we marvel at our existing heritage architecture, we mustn’t be complacent. We must realize that these spaces show us our past. We must realize their fragility.
Nearsighted politics prevents proactivity. If the city is unwilling to provide the funds, then Stratfordites ought to band together to raise the $22,000 through donations and address a problem before it becomes too late and too costly. We must invest today to save tomorrow.