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Friday, March 31, 2023
Arch-i-text: Fond farewell and a building worth saving
This home needs to be saved. Brian Marshall

In a recent conversation, Jon Kormos described William (Bill) German as the finest crafter of traditional furniture and cabinetry that he has ever dealt with.

And, as one of the former owners of a nationally respected antique dealership, Jon would know.

But, it’s not only Jon’s opinion, Bill German’s reputation for the quality of his work is widely held across Niagara and many points abroad. Over 50 years, his commissions have been installed in a plethora of heritage buildings both here in Niagara-on-the-Lake and “away.”

Now 64, Bill began his love affair with fine woodworking at the young age of 14 and never looked back. He refined his skills through practice – studying the work and techniques of those crafters he considered pre-eminent in the field – and his relentless pursuit of perfection.

His pursuit of quality can amply be demonstrated by his self-description of being “vertically integrated,” that is, his pieces begin with logs, which he cures in a traditional fashion and mills into lumber, from there he selects his wood and crafts it into finished pieces.

He controls every step of the process to achieve a result he can be satisfied with.

He admits his approach may not be the best business practice if you measure success by making lots of money, but creating finely crafted, top-quality work has provided him with a happy and fulfilling career.

And Bill believes it’s important to share craft knowledge and expertise, particularly with younger generations and accordingly he has taught woodworking programs at Willowbank School of Restoration Arts over the years. 

About 40 years ago, Bill and his wife Tracy acquired a circa 1880 home originally owned by a master carpenter (which Bill suggested was kismet) on Queenston Road.

On the large lot, he constructed a workshop that would house his business. Over the years, the couple completely restored the three-bay, end-gabled historic clapboard house.

Unfortunately for the Germans, their home and property was in relatively close proximity to the Garden City Skyway bridge, land that would be required in the event that bridge is  twinned.

And because that infrastructure project has been given the green light by the province, the government has acquired the title to the property.

Tracy and Bill German are planning their move to Nova Scotia, where they have their eye on a late 18th-century house. I say Nova Scotia’s gain is our loss. Still, I wish them godspeed and happy days.

However, as we extend our best wishes to the Germans, a question remains: what will be the fate of the century and a half old piece of NOTL’s built-heritage they leave behind?

Certainly, the likelihood of successfully force-designating a building owned by the province is extremely unlikely (not to mention that force-designation should only be undertaken as a desperate last resort, in my opinion).

Other options to ensure the survival of this historic home should be explored.

For example, this town has a long history of lifting and moving historic houses. Is that a potential option if a potential purchaser is found and the province is willing?

While I realize that the election has just finished and our elected representatives still have to “find their feet in office,” I believe the town needs to immediately initiate discussions with the province to determine where they stand on the future of this house.

It’s a piece of our architectural heritage.

Correction: On a completely different topic, one of the Arch-i-text’s readers reached out concerning part of last week’s column on Chautauqua. He suggested, supported by historic maps, that the Chautauqua Hotel was actually located east side of the One Mile Pond in the vicinity of Lansdowne Avenue and the second hotel, Lakeside House, was at the foot of Shakespeare.

To be frank, I was working off the “Map of Grounds” belonging to the Niagara Assembly on which the Shakespeare lot was identified as “Hotel Reservation” which I assumed (and we all know how that word breaks down) was the location of the Chautauqua Hotel.

My apologies for the error and my thanks to our knowledgeable reader.      

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