Special Report: Heritage

Council Refuses to Exercise its Power to Save Gore Buildings from Demolition

Do Minister Chan and City Council members really want to be remembered as the elected officials who stood by and allowed an irreplaceable part of Ontario's built heritage to be destroyed?

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 09, 2013

We are meant to take some comfort from the knowledge that Hamilton City Council voted to add the buildings around Gore Park - excluding 18-28 King Street East - to the City's register of properties of cultural heritage value or interest, defined in Section 27 of the Ontario Heritage Act.

18-28 King Street East, at imminent risk of demolition (RTH file photo)
18-28 King Street East, at imminent risk of demolition (RTH file photo)

Under the terms of the Act, that means if the owner of a building on the register submits a demolition permit request to the City, they have to give the City 60 days' notice.

In the case of a functional City Council that recognized the value of built heritage, this would give the Council an opportunity to intervene and prevent the demolition, either through an agreement with the property owner or by designating the building under Section 29 of the Act.

A building designated under the Act has some real protection from being demolished. (The owner can submit an objection to the designation, but that objection goes to a Review Board, which makes a recommendation in an open hearing.)

Unfortunately, Hamilton does not have such a Council. Indeed, what frustrates me the most about this whole affair is the sinking realization that our City Council as a whole really does not care about heritage, especially in the lower city.

I appreciate that Councillor McHattie and Farr have presented what they believe is the best outcome they can expect Council to support, i.e. demolition and a promise that the property owner will bolt some "heritage features" onto the new construction if and when they rebuild, even though they don't have a development plan and are only demolishing now to take advantage of low interest rates.

But if Council won't use the power it possesses right now to prevent the demolition of 18-28 King Street East, what is the point of adding the rest of the buildings to a Register that merely adds a 60 day waiting period to a demolition permit?

It has already been nearly eight months since the demolition permit was submitted for 18-28 King Street East: plenty of time for Council to act if it wanted to do so.

Indeed, Council rejected even the bare-bones motion from the Heritage Committee last November to add 18-28 King Street East to the register, when it looked like the buildings might be at risk of demolition.

As for the Province, I am dismayed that Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan refuses to intervene to protect Ontario's heritage from the negligent stewardship of Hamilton's Council. It is simply not acceptable for the Province to fail to take action merely because the municipality has also failed to take action.

Why did the Ontario Government bother to write, debate and enact so thoughtful and sensible a piece of legislation as the Heritage Act if it then refuses to exercise its principal mandate of protecting heritage?

Do Minister Chan and Hamilton's City Council members really want to be remembered as the elected officials who stood by and allowed an irreplaceable part of Ontario's built heritage to be destroyed?

Why go into politics at all, if not to leave a political legacy of which one can be proud? Will anyone on Council or at Queen's Park be proud to declare they let these buildings fall?


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

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 Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2013 at 21:35:43

For what it's worth, I don't blame Councillor McHattie or Farr for this appalling state of affairs. Unless enough other members of Council step up to protect these buildings or the Province decides to intervene, I don't see what else they can do beyond what they have already done to try and save them. (I was also happy to see Councillor Merulla ask the Province to intervene.)

It is the deafening silence from most of the other members of council that is stifling what could still be one of this Council's finest moments if it chooses to act soon.

In either case, it will certainly be one of this Council's defining moments.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted August 09, 2013 at 23:06:11 in reply to Comment 90741

McHattie on council for 10 years and seen dozens of buildings torn down, He has known this is a problem.
He may walk the walk and talk the talk but (if he cares) he has been a miserable failure at saving our heritage. If the Blanchard deal is that 'good'. Resign and call an election. You could have started the Historic audit THEN not now. Farr may have a some wiggle room but not much, he's seen ll these building torn and replaced with parking lots

Any deal with Blanchard MUST include performance covenants.

I left a message on my councillors voice mail, suggesting the city engage Graham Crawford to negotiate a deal with Blanchard. Unfortunately my councillor is on permanent sick leave. I heard he comes in once a month to ensure the Pearl company is getting screwed over and there will NEVER be a bike line in ward 3. Like the landlords he's absentee too. Only a bloated bureaucracy could come out with a statement like ' There may be 6000 historic buildings) .... but we never bothered to really designate any of them because ... We too busy having lunch with people like Blanchard

Comment edited by rednic on 2013-08-09 23:12:35

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted August 10, 2013 at 21:47:11 in reply to Comment 90758

He's one vote among sixteen, what do you expect from him?

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By how council works (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2013 at 09:56:18 in reply to Comment 90774

to work behind the scenes to educate the rest of council and then bring a motion forward to force all of his colleagues to go on record as for demolition or against.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 10, 2013 at 16:26:03 in reply to Comment 90758

...he has been a miserable failure at saving our heritage.

I wouldn't lay all that blame on him. He has failed at building any consensus on council for his causes. I have not been overly impressed with any of our councillors’ political savvy. Let’s be honest, when two former mayors and a good chunk of council routinely get out maneuvered by the likes of Bob Bratina it doesn’t say much for our politicians’ comprehension of the Machiavellian machinations of politics.

Council is just one big group of bad hair, dim wits, flapping lips and hyperbolic sentiment.

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted August 09, 2013 at 21:39:25

I emailed them all. It literally only takes one minute, because you perfectly formatted the email list and separated the addresses. I linked them to this website and explained that the developers admitted they don't have any semblance of a plan, that they'd deal with it later, sticking us with more holes in the core.

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By Joanna (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2013 at 08:54:50

I'm very disappointed to see this taking place once again. All about the $$$ folks.
They just cannot see the value when dollar signs are in the way. Terrible loss for our City
For the Province and Country as well. Shame they don't understand that.
I wonder how Target looks with bricks and stone glued to it?
My condolences to each and every person who cared for these buildings and who fought for these buildings. May Amenhotep bless you and may you find comfort in October 2014.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 10, 2013 at 16:21:03

At least the bricks will be recycled, the rest will go to the dump. Facadism has taken over the sensibilities of everyone involved. Remember all those heritage elements saved from the school board demolition, they are in storage, yet the boards new head office is going full steam up in a residential area of the central mountain? By the end of the year these firetraps will be gone.

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By History (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2013 at 19:24:06

Cllr McHattie was responsible for the rescuing of the Lister Block and had a hand in ensuring our City Hall wasn't demo.d. We should be careful about what we call a failure in politics. Hopefully the strongest voices here have been lobbying the other cllrs as mentioned by Ryan. The Democratic process doesn't end with a vote and an armchair. Our voices must be heard by Council not just by one or two councillors.

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By In the Wind (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 09:15:09

Council will become enlightened when the voters are. Until you can get the average voter more interested in progressive urban planning than which side of the street they can park on facing the way they want, we'll be pissing in the wind.
We have to market our message to the masses.

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