Saving Barns

This evening at Council, we removed the Hart Barn at 132 Harts Lane from the city’s Heritage Register. It was disheartening, but necessary. The barn was structurally unsound and the best possible future is to retain, preserve and reuse its architectural elements in the potential new subdivision that is being proposed. Thankfully, the barn’s new owner is someone who understand there is an aesthetic and economic value to integrating heritage into a community; that people respond and appreciate something out of the ordinary.

It didn’t have to be that way. If this barn had been identified for adaptive re-use many years ago and if the city and the owner had taken steps to ensure it was maintained to a minimum structural standard, perhaps the barn might have had a new chance at a new life today.

Not all heritage structures are worthy of saving. But the ones that are worthy should be protected. Allowing “demolition by neglect” is simply not acceptable for a municipality. Failing to take appropriate measures to maintain and conserve heritage assets that we, as a community, have determined are in the public interest to save, is irresponsible. Would we stand by and watch a wetland be drained, or an endangered species be removed, or the river be polluted?

We have only a handful of barns left in the city. I can think of three privately owned barns that are worthy of saving. I know that two of them are in excellent shape and lovingly cared for by both previous and current owners. The third could use some TLC, but is not too far gone to save. With appropriate incentives, the owner may see the value in future retention and adaptive re-use. There are other barns that are not likely to be saved, and while that is disappointing, I have to face reality.

To save a barn, we need three things: a) a future use, b) a community who values having a barn as part of its urban landscape, and c) an owner who understands its value.

I think we have (b) and (c) already in place in the three barns that I believe are worth saving. So let’s talk about (a) future use. What can you do with an old barn? Believe it or not, the possibilities are wide open. We already have several former barns in the city that have been successfully converted – apartments on Bagot Street, offices in the former U of G sheep barn, and the Drill Hall on Wyndham was a former industrial building — and that is just the beginning. Here’s a few other cool ideas ….

Barn Again:  New Uses for Old Barns  acorn_pg9

The Future of Community Sports

The following column appeared in the Guelph Mercury, December 28, 2007.

by Randy Norris

Guelph needs a recreation master plan designed for today’s pressures – Sports – Guelph needs a recreation master plan designed for today’s pressures


I remember my parents telling me that time speeds up as Father Time gets older. I much prefer being called mature compared to what my teenagers could call me. It allows me to retain some resemblance of dignity since I’m on the dark side of 50, but my parents were right. Where did the time go?

‘Twas the night before Christmas and my oldest boy told my wife and I that we were old. According to him, our supper table conversations were funny since we talked about what we could remember about events, not about events to come. When did I start being fixated on what happened? Has something slipped?

My teenage boy claims there are far too many conversations containing the phrases “do you remember when” or “no, that’s not what happened.”

I’m in danger of becoming a parody of myself since I can’t remember when.

All of sudden, according to my children, I’m looking backwards and rushing into the future. Where did the time go and what do I hope for in 2008?

I hope that the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and the Raptors, without steroids, win, respectively, the World Series, the Stanley Cup and the NBA championship. I could hope that crossing my fingers will make it happen, but I don’t think it ever will. Even salary caps won’t make it happen. Not in my lifetime.

For 15 years I’ve thought about, obsessed about and generally made a pain of myself over sports facilities. I and many others have debated the quantity and quality of our facilities.

But something happened on the way to 2008.

Any logical conversation, however, has to include the status of all municipal facilities since resources come from the same trough.

I can’t stand on any soapbox and clamour about sports facilities without realizing the need for a new museum and library, the need for an expressway without lights that has enough room to expand along its borders and a public transportation terminus that’s integrated into a regional and provincial hub.

Where did Guelph the ‘Recyclable Green City‘ go? Guelph garbage on the 401, I’m ashamed. Where’s the vision of greatness for Guelph?

As much as the West End Community Centre adds to the recreation facilities in Guelph, I still have a hard time accepting that it has a wading pool that’s also called a therapeutic pool. We almost starved Centennial pool to death. We have an arena in a mall.

I shudder to think what lies in wait for the new south-end facility.

I’m dizzy with the contradictions, or maybe it’s the city buses that spew exhaust in the central city square that has me so discombobulated.

Despite this, someone has to say, “Excuse me, what about sports facilities?”

Many of the conversations that I’ve had contain a not-so-quiet discomfort about how this city has approached the provision of public services across the entire range of possibilities including sports facilities.

No matter which wing of political persuasion occupies the municipal government roost, our energy and drive seems to fall short.

It’s not about one voice or another, but it’s about us collectively exceeding our grasp. Where’s the recreation master plan that understands today’s pressures?

I’m getting older and maybe I’m reviewing too much of my past, but it’s still clear to me that we desperately need municipal leadership that can lead us beyond our grasp in 2008.

Randy Norris is an active community sports volunteer, freelance writer and supportive dad of three competitive kids. His column appears every Friday. E-mail: