Special Report: Heritage

Enough is Enough: Designate the Gore Now

When heritage is destroyed, its value to the community is destroyed as well, and so the community has a legitimate interest in its preservation.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 24, 2013

Based on what representatives of Wilson-Blanchard are saying, the best we can hope for in the absence of heritage designation and a stop order for 18-28 King Street East is that the owner will remove some 'heritage elements' from the facades of 18-28 King Street East before demolition and attach them onto whatever eventually gets built on the site.

Despite an agreement less than two weeks ago to hold off demolishing the buildings, the property owner is already removing material from the front of the buildings.

Facade removal at 18-28 King Street East (Image Credit: Kieran Dickson)
Facade removal at 18-28 King Street East (Image Credit: Kieran Dickson)

Original stone behind siding (Image Credit: Kieran Dickson)
Original stone behind siding (Image Credit: Kieran Dickson)

It is important to note that the property owner has neither a development plan nor funding for the site, so we have no idea what a new development might look like or when it might be completed, if ever.

In any case, it is not heritage preservation in any meaningful sense to bolt some facade pieces onto a wholly new construction.

There are already several whole city blocks in the downtown area of Hamilton that have been flattened and have sat for decades as empty gravel lots - including sites owned by Wilson-Blanchard.

It is unconscionable to add to the city's stock of vacant lots without even so much as a plan to build something - particularly when the threatened buildings are as important to the city's and province's built heritage as the Gore District.

What the cascading crises, changing plans, miscommunications and misunderstandings over the past eight months have demonstrated is that the only way to protect these buildings is to designate them under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Enough is Enough

Enough is enough: we are right on the threshold of losing yet another irreplaceable piece of our built heritage.

City Council needs to issue an intent to designate 18-28 King Street, and indeed the entire Gore District, as a heritage site under the Act. The Ontario Government needs to issue an immediate stop work order so no more of the buildings is removed.

It is not acceptable for one level of government to fail to take action because the other level has also failed to take action. The Act provides distinct powers to the municipality and the Province with respect to heritage protection so there are two layers of protection for important heritage buildings.

The Province is not overstepping its bounds to recognize and protect as important a part of Ontario's heritage as the Gore District and, in particular, the 1840 building at 18-22 that was designed by William Thomas. Its obligation to designate and protect properties is independent of the municipality's obligation.

Why Heritage Designation

I have also heard the argument that the City and Province should not impose heritage designation on a property owner who does not wish it. That reasoning entirely misses the purpose of the Ontario Heritage Act.

Heritage is a positive externality - a value that accrues to the community as a whole as well as to the property owner. When heritage is destroyed, that value to the community is destroyed as well, and so the community has a legitimate interest in its preservation.

Designation is most necessary in precisely those cases where a property owner does not recognize the value of heritage and threatens to discard it.


Tell Council and the Province to designate the Gore and protect these buildings from designation:

mtrmclco@ontario.ca, mchan.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org>, Bob.Bratina@hamilton.ca, Brian.McHattie@hamilton.ca, Jason.Farr@hamilton.ca, Bernie.Morelli@hamilton.ca, Sam.Merulla@hamilton.ca, Chad.Collins@hamilton.ca, Tom.Jackson@hamilton.ca, Scott.Duvall@hamilton.ca, Terry.Whitehead@hamilton.ca, Brad.Clark@hamilton.ca, Maria.Pearson@hamilton.ca, Brenda.Johnson@hamilton.ca, Lloyd.Ferguson@hamilton.ca, Russ.Powers@hamilton.ca, Robert.Pasuta@hamilton.ca, Judi.Partridge@hamilton.ca, kevin.finnerty@ontario.ca, Peter.armstrong@ontario.ca, tamara.ansoncartwright@ontario.ca, tmcMeekin.mpp@liberal.ola.org, ahorwath-co@ndp.on.ca

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 00:23:11

Designating "facades" is a mockery of heritage preservation. The buildings that face Gore Park must be preserved and used.

Slapping a few elements of the facade on "whatever" is built there is just a slap in the face.

Any towers must be behind the existing buildings. Towers just don't work right at the street in a pedestrian park.

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:49:07

.... hmmmm ...

Here at the waterfront, in the Beach area, the lighthouse is an OBVIOUS 'Heritage' project that should garner City attention, but it's been abandoned since 2009, even after an 'Emergency Report' called for a land-transfer to City ...

http://www.bclg.ca/news.htm

There's a 'story' in this, and I'll be pursuing more info on it soon ...

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 13:55:17 in reply to Comment 90456

Definitely follow up on what staff recommended, if anything.

Council can direct staff to do something, but when staff comes back with the report, it's just received, and not acted on. Often directing staff to do something is a way to be seen to be doing something, while actually just stalling so they can quietly do nothing when the topic drops from the public eye.

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted July 26, 2013 at 10:43:29 in reply to Comment 90464

Yes, I get that impression too. Will be following up on this shortly ...

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By YoungBlood (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 13:53:58

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By citizensue (registered) | Posted August 05, 2013 at 14:18:36 in reply to Comment 90463

WHAT businesses? There are NO present plans to develop this location.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 25, 2013 at 14:25:46 in reply to Comment 90463

That would be the proven value that heritage buildings bring to urban centres. People will pay a premium to live in urban places with a) the distinctiveness that comes from over a century of various uses and b) the solid construction and adornment that Victorians put into their buildings.

There's a reason James Street is thriving more than John Street, and it has a lot to do with the fact that the buildings on James survived intact to be restored and reused, whereas much of John was demolished by property owners who claimed their buildings were "decrepit" and promised new construction Real Soon Now.

According to Blanchard's own research, there's actually a stronger demand for boutique shops and offices in restored buildings in downtown Hamilton than for large-footprint constructions. And it must be said over and over again: there is no redevelopment plan yet.

As for the Gore buildings, if they were structurally unsound, the engineering study Wilson-Blanchard had done would have revealed this. The fact that we haven't heard anything about it tells us the buildings are still solid - that, and the fact that they were occupied until W-B removed all their tenants earlier this year.

With some relatively modest investment, these buildings could be occupied, productive and a positive contribution to both their owner's bottom line and the vitality of the core. Instead, they languish in threat of needless demolition because the property speculator who has spent the past 20 years amassing them has a block-sized hammer and sees only nails along King Street.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-07-25 14:34:13

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By hamurray (registered) | Posted July 27, 2013 at 11:15:50

This surviving historical architecture is one of the many things that drew me to Hamilton from Toronto 16 years ago. While I am heartened that the Lister Block, for instance, was saved from exactly the type of "facade only" bs that is now proposed for Gore, I was saddened to see it turned into office space. There is scads of existing vacant office space in the core already. The revitalization of the core will not be achieved by simply adding to the 9-5 crowd. We need more people living and making consumer purchases in the core. This requires a better blend of venues and services than is presently available. The proximity to highway and transit travel makes the core a prime location for commuters who are tired of the congestion and outlandish real estate prices in Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington in addition to those of us who also work in Hamilton and choose not to drive. Fewer dollar stores, parking lots and payday loan locations - more boutiques, cafes and green spaces would go a long way towards making the core a pleasure to inhabit day and night year round. God forbid we see the same type of renovation that befell the Centre Mall - total abomination for anyone who doesn't drive and not even particularly convenient for those who do. Nor do we need to be surrounded by so many high rise towers that you never see the light of day.

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