Submitted by Kenneth Mews, President, North Grenville Historical Society and Archives
Did you know there was a National Historic Site in North Grenville? Did you know it was at risk? What should be the future use of the former Township Hall of Oxford-on-Rideau in Oxford Mills, and the former Town Hall (now Court House and Archives) in Kemptville? Both are designated as heritage buildings under the Provincial Heritage Act.
Marcus Letourneau, a heritage consultant, has been hired by the Municipality to advise Council on what to do with these buildings. On June 22, the public got its chance to provide input. About thirty members of the community attended, but Letourneau said that, in his experience, this was a good turnout for heritage-related issues.
As Parks and Recreation Director Mark Guy conceded, these two buildings have been neglected over the years by the Municipality and are now in need of significant restoration and upgrading. They were declared surplus to municipal needs last year and staff proposed consideration of sale within five years.
The building that is in worse shape is the National Historic Site – the Township Hall in Oxford Mills. All the stone needs repointing; the recently added porches are rotting and falling away from the building; there are no eavestroughs or downspouts; there may be structural damage to the roof and rear wall; and there are gaps in the foundation. There are also bats. The bill to remedy these major deficiencies might be three to five million dollars – money the Municipality says it does not have.
The same conditions can be found, although to a lesser extent, at the former Town Hall in Kemptville. It needs water and washroom upgrades to meet building code requirements. Like the Township Hall, the second floor is not accessible to the handicapped. Its foundation needs to be surveyed. But it does have tenants. The courts have renewed their lease for another five years and the Historical Society is happy to stay where it is. Mark Guy commented that utilities and routine maintenance are covered by rents.
No one who attended the public meeting wanted to see the buildings demolished or altered in any way that would damage their heritage character. Many agreed that the Oxford Township Hall, at least, a handsome building in a magnificent setting, could be sold for an appropriate future commercial use. Suggestions ranged from a brew pub, to a theatre, to a multi-use rental facility and wedding venue. According to Marcus Letourneau, its heritage value could be protected by easements written into any lease or sale agreement and enforceable in the courts.
We also learned that there are new sources of funding both at the provincial and federal level that might be tapped for restoration. They require matching funds from the Municipality, however, and it is unclear that the current Council would agree to pay 50% of the cost. Amanda Gould, of the North Grenville Historical Society, pointed out that both buildings were erected at considerable cost and some sacrifice to the communities who built them. They built them, not only because they were needed for municipal business, but also because they were proud of their communities and wanted to show it. Now that these buildings are old and becoming dilapidated, can we not expect some degree of sacrifice from the present-day citizens of North Grenville? Are we proud enough of our heritage, the municipal activities and achievements these buildings recall to see that they are preserved for the future?
If they are to survive, we need to find a creative new use for the Oxford-on-Rideau Township Hall and approve the current uses of the Former Kemptville Town Hall as a Provincial Court House and Archives. Meanwhile, as the consultant prepares his final report, you can express your opinion on what should happen. A survey on the future of these two buildings will be posted on the Municipal website in the coming weeks. If this issue matters to you, please participate.