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Monday, June 5, 2023
Arch-i-text: Taking a page from the book of Saugeen Shores
St. Andrew’s church is one of many buildings without heritage protection. (Brian Marshall)

As a member of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario, I receive a monthly electronic newsletter.

While the pieces are often engaging, it’s the section which highlights and provides links to articles published by various news media across the province that grabs me.

Commonly, I link through to these articles and, so it was this month, I found myself reading Sandy Lindsay’s piece in the Saugeen Times, “St. Andrew’s Church seeks designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.”

Now, for those who are not aware, Saugeen Shores is located in Bruce County and contains the communities of Port Elgin and Southampton.

The town has, per 2021 census data, a population of 15,908 and a land area of 170.19 square kilometres – a population about 16 percent less than Niagara-on-the-Lake, whose town council manages lands roughly 22 percent larger.

Similar to NOTL, Saugeen Shores possesses significant 19th-century cultural heritage attributes and the community is actively committed to the preservation of same.

This brings us back to Sandy Lindsay’s reporting of the decision by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church trustees and congregation to present a delegation to the town council seeking to designate the property under Part IV, Section 29, of the Ontario Heritage Act.

In a very thorough written document which accompanied the delegation, this Southampton church was described as:

“The subject property is the oldest actively used church building in Southampton. Clad in local buff brick, it is a fine example of Gothic Revival Style, featuring a rectangular form with a pitched roof and centre gable, paired lancet windows, and a large Gothic arch window on the façade.

The property is intricately linked to the pioneer settlement of Southampton and to the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in the immediate community, and within the County of Bruce.

Contextually, the building is integral to the heritage streetscape of predominantly 19th-century buildings on Albert Street North, stretching between the Saugeen River and High Street.”

The presentation and documentation leave no question that this building qualifies for heritage designation, having well exceeded meeting the minimum threshold, two of nine, of provincially mandated criteria for such.

I do not doubt it will receive that designation.

That said, neither the delegation documentation nor the Saugeen Times article suggested what the church’s trustees and congregation’s motivation was for seeking to add their church to the meagre list of 500 designated places of worship in this province.

While pride in the built and cultural heritage of their church, and their larger community, may have played a part in their decision, I suspect the twin pressures of population growth and Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 23 might have had an influence as well.

Between 2016 and 2021, Saugeen Shores’ population grew by 16 per cent, well in excess of NOTL’s nine per cent growth for the same period.

Such an influx of folks” from away” might well “play-hob” with the historic warp and weave of an established community.

While change is inevitable as a community grows, it might only be prudent to seek to protect 175 years of cultural heritage.

Particularly when the provincial government has discarded any semblance of supporting heritage in favour of rampant development.

In my opinion, the congregation’s decision was a very wise one.

Interestingly, also contained within the text of the delegation’s document was a reference to the town’s design guidelines; a 33-page document put in place in 2012 “for the purpose of providing project planning and design guidance to the community (including developers).”

Further, the text spoke to the 2021 passage of a bylaw to “designate all or part of an area covered by such an official plan as a Community Improvement Project area” with the stated intent to “establish a sense of place based on the noted strengths and identity of Southampton, to make the local community successful, and realize the economic and social benefits available within the Community Improvement Project area.”

I find it fascinating the small town of Saugeen Shores had the foresight and will to institute both of these leading-edge practices in maintaining the character and health of their community.

At the same time, I am saddened Niagara-on-the-Lake apparently lacks equal foresight and will in this regard.

Further, not one of our places of worship is designated under Part IV.

With the exception of Grace United, which happens to be located in the Part V designated heritage district, this leaves the buildings exposed to the threat of demolition should, as recently took place at Christ Church McNab, the congregation dwindle to the point of closing and deconsecrating the church.

Goodness, folks. None of these actions, amongst others, are difficult or onerous and they protect the heritage we’ve been blessed with.

On another topic, before closing this week, I must admit to being the world’s worst multi-tasker. Knowing this, I focus sequentially on jobs and normally attempt to avoid distraction.

When writing last week’s column I did not follow this dictum and took a call from a woman named Nancy.

Twenty minutes later I returned to writing but, apparently not all of my brain did, and Helen Slingerland became, you guessed it, Nancy Slingerland.

She has graciously forgiven my error, but I needed to repeat it in writing. Sorry, Helen!       

Brian Marshall is a NOTL realtor, author and expert consultant on architectural design, restoration and heritage.

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