“The City Can’t Be Trusted With Our Heritage”

I overheard this comment last night at the Community and Social Services meeting where the fate of the Wilson Farmhouse at 80 Simmonds Drive was on the agenda. I understand where the sentiment was coming from, because one of the shared reflections from all involved (neighbours, staff, heritage advocates and members of council) is that the Wilson Farmhouse file has not been a shining example of how to conserve cultural heritage assets in our community.

We recognize that. We can debate on what to do about it going forward (that debate will happen September 30 at Council). We can also debate on how to do better and get our other heritage assets in order.

But the city’s track record on heritage, taken as a whole, is something to be proud of and celebrate. Council decisions on heritage over the past two terms has been exemplary and many projects have been lauded as best practices, receiving awards and recognition for the city. This past spring, the City of Guelph received the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Community Leadership.

Council decisions led to the inclusion of the heritage wall of the Provincial Winter Fair building into the new City Hall, the conversion of the Loretto Convent into the new Guelph Civic Museum and the restoration of old City Hall into our new Provincial Offences Court. We support private heritage stewardship through tax-increment financed grants that has  resulted in restoration of the heritage character of many downtown buildings.  As well, we have policies in place to protect key sites, such as the former Allan’s Mill distillery and mill buildings at 5 Arthur Street, which is being preserved as a central feature in the draft plan for this significant redevelopment site.

In other words, the City can be trusted with the protection and conservation of our community’s heritage.

Regardless of the outcome of the Wilson Farmhouse file, I will be advocating for a more pro-active approach to maintaining heritage assets in public ownership. There are assets (buildings, bridges and public art) that need some attention. With appropriate resources and protocols in place, I hope that we can rebuild public trust that our heritage is in good hands.