by Tricia Habberjam
The year is 1874. Alexander Mackenzie is Prime Minister of Canada, and a new crushed limestone building is completed at 15 Water Street in Kemptville, beginning its life as a Fire Station, Municipal Offices and Town Hall.
As time moved on, this building was to house a hydro office, shelter school children when their school was destroyed by fire, and help the police keep law and order by the use of its, still in place, prison cell. Today, although 15 Water Street no longer looks as grand as it once did, it is in use as a satellite Provincial Court House (lease in place until 2021), as well as housing the North Grenville Historical Society Archives, and hosting their monthly meetings.
It would seem, then, that 15 Water St. has more than earned its designation under part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. But, just in case you aren’t convinced, here are some other reasons for the designation: original windows; the two front doors, and each corner has cut stone quoins or blocks, used for ornamental or strengthening reasons. In addition, it is a two story high building with a rectangular plan and a hip roof. It is true that not all these attributes are visible today. The stonework has been parged over, probably because the two large doors (seen in first photograph) were removed after it ceased to be a firestation, and were replaced by windows and a different type of brick or stone work. Thus, the parging makes it look the same, but detracts from its esthetic and historical value and is not covered by the heritage designation. The hip roof has the original eaves, hidden by modern material not covered by the heritage designation. Inside, it has in place original wainscotting on the second floor.
All of these reasons make it significant to the community, as well as its central location in the heart of Downtown Kemptvile.
It is heartbreaking, therefore, to realise that this building is in such a bad state of repair. At the present time, the heating system is not working and the upstairs, where the Historical Society Archives are housed, is kept just above freezing, making it very uncomfortable to work there. The estimate for heating repair costs will be presented to council during the budget process in February. However, the future of this building needs to be addressed and determined before it falls into worse disrepair.
In 2016, a Community Consultation Report was commissioned by the Director of Parks Recreation and Culture. It was carried out by Letourneau Heritage Consulting and is available for viewing at www.northgrenville.ca, under Planning and Development Heritage. This report covered both 15 Water Street and the former Oxford-on-Rideau Township Hall, located at 100 Maplewood Avenue in Oxford Mills (this building will be looked at in a future article). The report was requested so that the Municipality could receive input from the public about the future options for these properties. It makes distressing reading, especially when we remember that it was presented in September 2016, two and a half years ago, and it appears to have been buried in the detritus that was the last council’s Heritage legacy.
Public input, at the time of the Report, was in favour of retaining these buildings, but even if this is no longer the case, you are still urged to come forward and help in any way you are able to preserve these properties. Both are in urgent need of upgrades, are owned by the Municipality, and are listed buildings.
It seems the way forward, at least for 15 Water St., is for the present Council to organise a group of interested locals who can pursue these options in the hope that the future of 15 Water Street will continue on to 2074.
Next: Part 2, The Township Hall in Oxford Mills.