A little good news on the Alma College front

Over the past decade, there has been precious little in the way of positive news emanating from the rubble that is Alma College.
That is until last week when employees of R. Good Concrete of Aylmer uncovered the McLachlin Hall cornerstone that dates back to 1888.
How did the crew clearing the 11-acre site of debris hit paydirt with the discovery?
Credit goes to St. Thomas native Ryan Belanger, who has kept in touch with fellow history buff Steve Peters in an attempt to locate the stone, assumed to contain a time capsule.
Belanger contacted London developer Gino Reale to alert him as to the possibility the object in question was likely buried amid tons of yellow bricks and other building materials.


St. Thomas history buff Ryan Belanger, left, and London developer Gino Reale, owner of the Alma College property, hold the tin container that served as a time capsule unearthed last week inside the McLachlin Hall cornerstone found buried amongst the rubble. The capsule, believed lost, contained newspapers, drawings, coins, a postage stamp and other items.

Thankfully, Reale didn’t tell Belanger time is money and why would should he prolong cleanup of the property to search for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Well, both Belanger and Reale were on hand Wednesday for a ceremony at the Elgin County Museum where the contents of the time capsule were displayed.
“I knew the cornerstone was there but I never thought there was a time capsule,” Belanger admitted. “I thought I would go dig for it myself, go through the bricks but after a while I knew I wouldn’t get too far.”


The McLachlin Hall cornerstone which contained a time capsule dating back to 1888.

Belanger has had a long fascination with the history of Alma.
“I was always transfixed by by this big kind of Gothic castle in the middle of the city when I was a kid.”
Years later he discovered a cousin attended Alma, adding to the urgency of salvaging the cornerstone.
His persistence drew praise from Donna Robertson, past-president of the Alma College International Alumnae Association.
“It was nice to have good news. I put it on Facebook and had great response. There is a lot of information in here that will be of interest. It shows somebody cares to begin with.”
Unlike the previous owners, Reale is sensitive to the history of the former school for girls.
And although he has demolished the Ella Bowes chapel, with the music building likely to follow, Reale has saved the chapel entrance in the hopes of incorporating it into future development on the Moore Street property.
Likewise he plans to revitalize the amphitheatre so that interested parties can breathe life back into the unique setting.
And that’s more good news.

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A month ago in front of Ontario Justice Desotti at the Elgin County Courthouse, the city and Sutherland Press building owner David McGee renewed their protracted haggling over the fate of the derelict structure.
23jt01sutherlandjpgThe city sought to have the court approve its application for security of costs from McGee, arguing he may not have sufficient assets to cover costs should the city get the green light to proceed with demolition.
The city’s legal counsel, John Sanders, had sought $17,477 in security for costs.
Desotti agreed to the city’s request for security of costs but cited the proposed amount as excessive and pegged the figure at $11,754, to be paid by April 30.
We’ve fielded several queries this week as to whether McGee met that deadline. We have confirmed McGee did pay the amount in full and the two sides return to court on May 17.

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If you so desire, you can obtain your own full version of the Dobbie Report — dealing with restructuring of the city’s environmental services department — by filling out a Freedom of Information request and handing over a fiver at the clerk’s office. However, a section dealing with an identifiable individual is blacked out and several other paragraphs that delve into “economic and interests relating to the institution” have also been redacted.
A review of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act indicates the city “may refuse to disclose a record” whose disclosure could prejudice the economic interests of the municipality or if that record contains information or instructions to be applied to any negotiations to be carried on by the city.
Notice the key word is may.
So why black out a sentence that noted “It is impossible to establish a relationship with the (environmental services) department?
Wasn’t that the purpose of the Dobbie report? To present council with a report card/recommendations? After all, the preceding sentence could be construed as equally damning.
“It takes too long to receive replies to inquiries, applications, maintenance requests, etc.”
Once again, we have to ask how did the issue of dividing the duties of Wendell Graves become the most important element in an environmental services review?

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Ryan Belangerjpg

“It was always a dream of mine to see this. When Gino sent me the email with ‘Great news’ and lots of exclamation marks, I almost had a heart attack.”

Ryan Belanger, instrumental in uncovering the McLachlin Hall cornerstone buried under tons of rubble on the Alma Colllege property.

City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to imccallum@postmedia.ca.

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