Heritage Demolitions Should Still Preserve Materials

By Kayla Jonas
Published August 29, 2011

The historic building at 377 Shaver Road in Hamilton caught fire early in the morning on Saturday, August 13.

The house had been sitting empty for some time and it was owned by a developer who had plans for a subdivision on the lands.

Shortly after the fire the building inspector ordered "to make the property safe and remove all unsafe conditions on the property". This resulted in the demolition of the entire house.

Pictures from the property as it sits now show that the building was taken down, and done so in a manner that means none of the waste can be salvaged.

Part of one of the walls still standing
Part of one of the walls still standing

The loss of this heritage building is made worse by the fact that it wasn't taken down in a way that respected the materials and ensure that they could be used to repair or restore other local buildings.

What can we do to ensure that:

  1. These fires stop happening; and

  2. If demolition is necessary the building materials can be reused for other historic or new construction buildings?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

First published on Kayla's personal website, Adventures in Heritage.

Kayla Jonas is a graduate from the University of Waterloo in Environment and Resource Studies with a joint major in Anthropology. Kayla works as a Heritage Planning Specialist at the Heritage Resources Centre, a research centre that specializes in built, cultural and natural heritage.

Her professional experience has focused on the documentation of historic places including individual sites, heritage conservation districts and cultural heritage landscapes.

Her blog Adventures in Heritage can be found at:


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2011 at 14:16:18

Well, easiest solution is not ot trust developers to safeguard heritage buildings, especially since their own incentives often run counter to preserving said buildings.

Developers who purchase land with existing buildings on them should be required to make the property secure, and have a bylaw officer visit and confirm good and secure conditions within a short period of time (7 days) of taking possession of the property. Afterwards bylaw officers should make random inspections of properties, at one month intervals, to determine the property is still being properly secured and safeguarded.

Developers should also have to put up a Bond, where they intend to "keep" at least parts of the heritage structure, and the bond will be forfeit if anything (regardless of fault) happens to the structure. This incentivizes the protection of the structure, not only fromt he developer's negligence, but from vandals, natural decay, etc., and shoudl cause developers to take greater than their normal "plywood cladding" precautions (which we all know are not very effective). The amount of the bond should be a multiple of the building's value (or possibly a percentage of the land's value, depending on which would serve as a greater incentive).

It wont' be perfect, but it's a start, and I"d like to see how developers would suggest my proposal be modified to keep it reasonable for everyone involved, while still achieving its objectives.

As for the recycling of materials, it's an absolute shock that they didn't keep anything given the cost of heritage materials. It seems to indicate they felt the building was worth more demolished quickly than it would be to "deconstruct" it and save the materials. Kind of interesting in my opinion.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 29, 2011 at 21:18:23 in reply to Comment 68581

I worry about imposing even more of a financial burden on "developers". I don't like the industry more than anybody on here, but knee-jerk won't necessarily solve the problem.

On one hand, it's already nearly impossible for most people to develop much beyond a shed or deck, thanks to the enormous financial burdens placed by our bylaws and regulations. This leaves 'big developers' with little or no competition, and leaves our entire surplus property market to be divided up between them. On the other, you have a small group of developers who can afford to pay these prices and likely won't bat an eyelash at having to pay more. Look at how much Vranich has paid over the last decade for the former Federal Building/HMP lot without flinching...

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2011 at 21:39:13 in reply to Comment 68619

So how does one make heritage preservation more attractive to developers?

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By Freedom Seeker (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 00:29:39

"What can we do to ensure that:
These fires stop happening; and
If demolition is necessary the building materials can be reused for other historic or new construction buildings?"

Well, if by "we" you mean the Government then the answer is, in a word, "Nothing!"

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 11:10:14

It is pretty easy to sit here after the fact and bemoan the loss of this building. Where was everyone who cares 10 years ago. It has been sitting empty for that long. The developer who owns it presently has only had it for about 1 year. There are lots of other "heritage" buildings in our city. If they are important to the populace then raise some money and start buying them up and restore them.

It is everyone's favourite hobby to sit around and spend other peoples money. The owner should do this and restore that and add another one over there.

What I find just as disturbing if not more so is that Costco in Ancaster is tearing down a building that is 20 years old, pretty young for a commercial building and replacing it with a bigger building right beside it. Not one peep about this. Nobody complains nobody raises an objection. I realize that the building has no historic value whatsoever but what a waste of resources. Yet no one started a campaign to change things and there was a realistic chance for that to happen. Costco is probably fairly sensitive to the opinion of not only it's customers but the community which hosts it's store at large.

I am sure that there are many other places that the populace can get involved to instigate change, to stop the waste and destruction. If that is what you wish to do.

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By RB (registered) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 12:27:33 in reply to Comment 68659

I agree; there doesn't seem to be much complaining until after something has been torn down/demolished.

And I have to point out the fact that Mr.Meister is correct in saying that people seem quite content to spend other peoples money. I own various rental properties in the city, and even my close friends feel like they can tell me what I "should" & "shouldn't" do with my property. But it's most amusing when it's coming from people who don't have a pot to piss in. Most of my "outspoken" friends on this issue are also some of the financially poorest ones of the bunch. Gee... what a coincidence.

I, as an accountant and NOT a surgeon, would not tell an MD how to perform his job/give workplace advice, therefore I cannot seem to fathom how someone who has trouble scraping together enough cash to pay their rent or cable bill can tell me what I should do with a $150K property. People are funny animals.

The Costco in Ancaster is bizarre... I go a few times a month (big family!) and looked at the sandwich board they have in the entrance with a birds-eye shot of the proposed new building. It's literally like 50ft away from the existing one, and is practically the same size.

Obviously, there is a reason for this, but it just seems strange at first glance.

And I agree that it seems like a big waste of resources, especially when we don't know all the reasons why.

Comment edited by RB on 2011-08-30 12:28:40

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2011 at 08:41:21 in reply to Comment 68669

So you're equating owning property to being a surgeon? Wow. Just wow.

Most of my "outspoken" friends on this issue are also some of the financially poorest ones of the bunch. Gee... what a coincidence.

Silly plebeians, eh?

The built environment around us affects everybody, especially people not wealthy enough to afford their own property. Why wouldn't they have an opinion on the matter?

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By Big box (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2011 at 18:37:32 in reply to Comment 68669

According to this story:
The new store is going to be about 3,000 square meters larger than what's there now.
There probably will be fairly little waste. You can be sure all the structural steel will be recycled, and the old floor slab will wind up as reclaimed aggregate.
This is no more than a guess, but 20 years is about the lifespan for the flat roof on one of those sorts of buildings before it starts leaking. If they wanted a larger store anyway the cost of doing a re-roof on the existing building might have pushed the numbers over the top.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2011 at 18:02:02 in reply to Comment 68729

I can believe that it needs a new roof after 20 years but the new building will need one too. So the only difference is the cost for removal of the old one. I find it hard to believe that the cost of removing the old roof is the same as demolishing the entire store and building a new one. Why not just add on to the existing store? Why always build single story expansive stores? I would love to see them build up a story or two. The WalMart at Square One is 2 story. There is a rolling ramp that will take you and your cart up and down, easy. The cost savings of building a 2 story store with half the footprint more than pay for the escalators and rolling ramps.

Some or even most of the material may or may not be used in one way or another. However melting all that steel and then reforming it into new material requires resources too. On top of that there are losses. 100 tons of scrap metal does not make 100 tons of new steel.

How old is the old Federal Building on Main that is presently being partly demolished? A lot older than 20 years. Everyone gets their panties in a knot because it is being torn down. The only exceptional thing about the building is the art work. It generated lots of angst and posts. To demolish a 20 year old building that is functioning almost perfectly (perhaps needing a new roof)and replacing it with a new one mere steps away seems to me to be a much bigger sin.

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted September 06, 2011 at 09:23:58 in reply to Comment 68802

Meister, here for the first time on RTH you are actually advocating for something rather than criticizing someone else's position. Good for you. Go with it; start a campaign against the Costco development. I'd never heard of it. But why in god's green earth you feel a need to argue for this on the basis that the federal building or this Shaver building were less in need of preservation is totally beyond me. Here's an idea: try arguing for a position rather than against one for a change. Just try it. You might find it rewarding, if a little more challenging than normal.

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