Looking for heritage roadblocks? Start with the legal community.

During its August meeting three years ago, city council denied a permit application from the Zubick family of London to demolish the remaining buildings at Alma College.
What appeared at the time to be a bold move by our municipal representatives was, in fact, nothing of the sort. With a trip to the polls just three months distant, our elected officials were just protecting their political assets.
Following the November vote, it was business as usual and a collective ho-hum to the city’s rich heritage.
To be fair, however, the finger of blame also needs to be pointed in the direction of culture minister Aileen Carroll, who appears to be missing in action when dealing with the province’s built heritage.
Or as faithful reader Bob Foster in Brampton notes, should you wish to corner Carroll, you are best to attend regal gatherings where there is no shortage of wine and cheese.

Which ties in nicely with the letter we received from Carolyn Cameron, who admits her address may read London, Ont., but she proudly advises, “I attended the old St. Thomas Collegiate Institute (which is also gone), volunteer at Backus-Page House Museum during Education Day, taught elementary school in the county and always take our exchange students to visit the area.”
That more than qualifies her to toss her two cents worth into the dialogue.
She recently returned from a month-long jaunt through Europe, which allowed her the opportunity to visit historic sites in numerous cities and towns.
“Many of these very old buildings currently in use include churches, museums, town halls and office buildings,” writes Cameron.
“Although they have been renovated for modern use, they have also kept the historic features of the architecture, both inside and out.”
She finds in difficult to comprehend the reluctance of the province and St. Thomas to preserve and renovate the Elgin County Courthouse.
Shmuel Farhi, owner of the Wellington Street building, got the ball rolling by offering to donate the structure to the city to allow it and the province to refurbish and expand the courthouse.
“Why is no action being taken?” she questions.
“St. Thomas has very little left of historic value since the unfortunate destruction of Alma College. It would be a shame if the same fate were to befall the courthouse because the governments at both levels don’t seem to be able to step in and preserve our heritage.
“My uncle, Ian Cameron, was Sheriff of Elgin County for many years and I treasure the times that I visited him in his office in this beautiful building.”
Cameron is forwarding copies of her letter to a bevy of bureaucrats, including the Honourable David Onley, lieutenant-governor of Ontario, with a plea they “do not just file this letter under “G.”
May we suggest adding the Elgin Law Association to your mailing list. When it comes to roadblocks hindering preservation of the courthouse so that it can continue to serve in its original capacity, this body doesn’t need to take a back seat to any level of government.
Speaking of Europe, what’s this we hear regarding St. Thomas Energy CEO Brian Hollywood and Ald. Tom Johnston tooling around the continent these days?
Are the shareholders (that would be the members of city council) aware of this junket?
Dianne Morgan commanded considerable space in this corner last week, but we short-changed her in one critical area.
Her full job title was manager of culture and recreation.
“I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I tended only to the area of culture,” she notes, by way of clarification. “Recreation truly comprised the largest number of my responsibilities for the city.”
A victim of city restructuring, we know she will bounce back in true Morgan fashion.
Four years ago this month, community centre capital fundraising chairman Hilary Vaughan announced the public component of her campaign to finance the $12.1 million twin-pad facility.
“Over the next ensuing five-year period,” wrote Vaughan at the time, “the pledge payments will exceed $2 million.”
Which prompted city treasurer Bill Day to observe, “the longer the tail on these pledges, potentially the less likelihood of ultimately getting the money. Obviously I’d rather have the cash in hand.”
So, wasn’t the chairman requested to appear before council prior to the summer break with an update on fundraising and expenses?
Is this committee still in existence or is treasurer Day expected to assume the role of professional fundraiser in addition to his other duties?
Remember, taxpayers are on the hook for any shortfall in the fundraising efforts.
Picking up on last week’s cycle safety concerns, reader Bruce Ideson passes along a couple of observations.
“A few years ago when the then A&P at Elgin Mall had its parcel pickup service, the staff doing the parcel duties often encountered cyclists using the sidewalk, not just teens, but grownups as well.
“Staff would just get out to serve the customer and would get hit by a bicycle. I would often place one of the movable signs posts toward the middle of the sidewalk at both ends to help deter the cyclists.”
Ideson notes he even went as far as going the the mall management to suggest signs on the sidewalk, but nothing transpired.
On his travels through the Kincardine area, he spotted downtown sidewalks sported a bicycle graphic with an “X” painted through it as an advisory bikes and sidewalks are not compatible.
“Wonder if city hall could ever do something like that for the shops downtown,” he ponders.
“You could just be burying a farmer deeper in debt. The government backing the loans is only going to prolong the agony.”
John Vanlith, president of the Elgin County Pork Producers, has mixed feelings on the federal government’s long-term loans, one of three initiatives to aid the ailing hog industry.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to:

3 thoughts on “Looking for heritage roadblocks? Start with the legal community.


    If they are in Europe drumming up new business, scouting prospects for the Red Wings or learning to fly a kite, surely the “shareholders” (the members of city council) must have approved it.
    Is it any wonder the residents in St. Thomas are forbidden from attending Shareholder’s meetings?
    As I was informed by solicitor, Alec S. Biddy from SISKINDS LLP;
    – “the individual citizens of the City are not shareholders”
    – “members of the public do not have the right to insert themselves in the meantime into City decision-making processes.”
    – “Of course, if the public is dissatisfied with how the City’s affairs are conducted, they can choose to elect new representatives in the next round of municipal elections”
    The problem with that is that between elections this council is bulletproof for four years and they know it.
    To close with a quote from Benet, “We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.”

    Bill Sandison
    Advocate for a Better Municipal Government
    STR8TALK in St. Thomas


    A decade ago, By-Law 12-99 was introduced on Property Standards when Steve Peters was mayor, Jan.8th 1999 to be precise. Was Zubick ever tasked to maintain Alma College in accordance with this by-law? As for what anyone on this council may have said three years, let’s get real – they voted to demolish Alma College.

    Has anybody seen that $87,413 report from the Hamilton consulting firm, Miller Dickenson Blais – maybe something is planned to address the need of protecting the heritage in our community e.g. court house, in a meaningful way. In June, Scott Dickenson told me “the actual economic development strategy for St. Thomas runs more than 200 pages”. That great, so where is it?

    Shifting gears, London recently introduced a one year pilot project on four bus routes; the Bike and Ride program to accommodate the transport of bicycles (free of charge) so enthusiasts can travel to bike trails and enjoy themselves in a safe domain. Where are our forward thinkers?

    Back to the potential covert mission to Europe, be forewarned disclosure of the information may not be forthcoming due to competitive reasons, a possible invasion of privacy or even national security.

    Bill Sandison
    Advocate for a Better Municipal Government
    STR8TALK in St. Thomas

  3. Bill: In 2004 council authorized city staff to proceed with a stop work order against the owners of Alma College in an effort to halt any further removal/damage to the structures on the Moore St. property. The stop work order was never issued. Here is the background from stories I wrote in April, 2004.

    By Ian McCallum
    Times-Journal Staff

    Members of the city’s municipal heritage committee (MHC) are frustrated a stop work order against the owners of Alma College has yet to be issued by city staff.
    A motion instructing the chief building officer “to enforce immediately” a bylaw which designates the former private school for girls as a heritage property, was authorized by council more than a week ago but the matter now rests with the city’s legal counsel because of “vague” wording in the Ontario Heritage Act.
    At the April 5 council meeting Diana Player, chairman of the MHC, petitioned members to issue the stop work order to ensure owner Brian Squires of Alma Heritage Estates proceeds no further with the removal of windows and frames in the main building at Alma College.
    Player said the mandate of the MHC is to advise council on heritage issues in the municipality.
    “We have followed our mandate to a ‘T’,” stressed Player. ‘We are the conscience of council with regards to heritage.”
    She urged council to issue the stop work order, send a registered letter to the owners with a list of violations under the Ontario Heritage Act and arrange for a meeting of all stakeholders to take place within 21 days.
    Mayor Jeff Kohler told the Times-Journal Wednesday the registered letter has been sent and a meeting is scheduled for April 28. However he confirmed the stop work order has not yet been issued against Squires, who acquired the property in 1998.
    “We’re trying to get a little more information,” explained Kohler. “We’ve sent it (the stop work order) to our lawyer and we’re waiting to hear back on it. We’re somewhat frustrated in the wording of the act and who is to do what and how it is to be done.”
    Angus Walton, past chairman of the MHC, agrees some of the wording of the act is “vague.”
    “The act is very vague on many things and this is one of them. It is very frustrating.”
    “The whole process has been very frustrating,” adds Kohler. “Not only for council but also for the heritage committee and the city-at-large that is interested in the building.”
    Squires told the T-J he is equally frustrated by the turn of events this week, and by the discovery of water in the basement of the former music building, due apparently to a damaged storm sewer.
    In an attempt to rectify the situation Wednesday afternoon, Squires upset some of the neighbouring residents by removing three sections of wrought iron fence along the front of the property to gain access to the building’s foundation.
    However Walton suggested in this instance Squires would not be in violation of the Ontario Heritage Act.
    ‘It’s an emergency,” noted Walton, “and generally speaking you couldn’t refuse an emergency. But it would have been nice to phone us and say ‘I’ve got a problem’.”
    In the meantime Kohler says he hopes to have clarification from legal counsel before the end of the week.
    “We’re hoping to get it (the stop work order) back from the lawyer this week and come up with some further recommendations for staff. We’ve spent a lot of time on this lately and we’re running into brick walls every time we turn around.”

    Subsequently the stop work order got bogged down in municipal/provincial dithering over wording in the Ontario Heritage Act as follows:

    By Ian McCallum
    Times-Journal Staff

    To the dismay of the St. Thomas municipal heritage committee (MHC), city staff will not be issuing a stop work order against the owners of Alma College.
    And a policy advisor with the Ministry of Culture, responsible for the Ontario Heritage Act, admits although the city’s decision not to issue a stop work order against the owners might be a bit “of a red herring”, serving such an order may not be possible in this case.
    A motion instructing the city’s chief building official “to enforce immediately” a bylaw which designates the former private school for girls as a heritage property was authorized by council two weeks ago today.
    At that time Diana Player, chairman of the MHC, petitioned members to issue the stop work order to ensure owner Brian Squires of Alma Heritage Estates proceeds no further with the removal of windows and frames in the main building at Alma College.
    She urged council to issue the order, send a registered letter to the owners with a list of violations under the Ontario Heritage Act and arrange for a meeting of all stakeholders which will take place April 28.
    However Mayor Jeff Kohler told the Times-Journal Saturday the issuance of a stop work order will be reconsidered when council meets tonight.
    Based on the advice of John Sanders, the city’s legal counsel, “in our opinion there is no legislative authority for the chief building official to enforce compliance with the Ontario Heritage Act unless possibly where such compliance has been made a condition of the building permit issued to the property owner.”
    The city has not issued a building permit to Squires, who acquired the former girls school in 1998.
    Sanders added council could issue a stop work order if Squires is performing construction or demolition activities without a building permit or demolition permit.
    “However it is our opinion,” wrote Sanders, “the present level of activity may well be insufficient or could be too easily misconstrued or otherwise explained to establish the legal definition of construction or demolition.”
    Dan Schneider, a policy advisor with the Ministry of Culture, says if Alma Heritage Estates is violating the municipal bylaw designating Alma College as a heritage property, the city should be “doing something about it.”
    “It’s as simple as that,” noted Schneider. “It’s a city bylaw and under the Ontario Heritage Act there are penalties for breaching designation bylaws. The city has bylaw enforcement officers that presumably enforce bylaws.”
    When asked by the T-J if a stop work order would be appropriate in this case, Schneider admitted “that may not be possible.”
    “In this particular scenario I’m not sure because we don’t know exactly what he’s doing. But it’s up to the city to determine that. What I’m hearing is a stop work order may or may not be possible in this case depending on just what kind of work is going on. The whole stop work order might be just a little bit of a red herring.”
    Council’s decision to reconsider the MHC recommendation has Player fuming.
    “It’s not about saving Alma College anymore. It’s the principal of binding agreements with the Heritage Act and people doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to do their jobs.”
    “ We’ve reached a point now where staff and council are saying on the one hand, ‘ the volunteers in the MHC are the best, they know what they’re doing’, but now they’re saying ‘maybe you really don’t know what you’re doing, because staff knows better’.”
    Noting, “I have been very patient with the city,” Player says her committee will likely call an emergency session, based on the outcome of tonight’s council meeting.

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