The battle of evermore

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Careful readers will have noticed that this issue of the Times contains quite a lot concerning history and heritage. It can often seem that such topics don’t get the attention they deserve (speaking as an historian) and this can result in residents being unaware of serious threats to our shared story in the shape of buildings and monuments lost forever through neglect and destruction. But, of course, there are those who don’t believe heritage and history is worth spending a single cent on, and they are quick to take to social media to express their views, views with which I am completely and totally opposed.

Take a look at what’s happening these days: in this issue, there’s an article about attempts that are being made to restore and preserve the Deek’s Quarry Cairn, a link, not only with our local past, but with engineering across the country. It is a monument to lost and injured workers, a reminder of how important the quarry and its workers were in the economy of what is now North Grenville, and Merrickville-Wolford, for many years. It has been wilfully neglected by previous North Grenville Councils, who refused to give it any protection through heritage designation. Yet, it is part of a chain of such cairns across Canada that could serve as yet another attraction in Heritage Tourism, an area that the philistines refuse to believe even exists.

The structural collapse at the Baldachin building in Merrickville is another warning sign that important tourist attractions linked to history and heritage need minding. Imagine if that building disappeared from the corner on which it has stood since the 1860’s. What would replace it? Would there be some unsightly modern red brick monstrosity, or would there remain an empty space where history once stood? North Grenville, in particular, has lost some really great buildings over time. Some were lost through fire, others through neglect and demolition. Has the community lost more than bricks and mortar?

To answer that, take another look at Merrickville. At one point after the 1960’s it was a sad and dilapidated place, one upon which residents of North Grenville looked with some disdain. Then the renovations began, and the visitors arrived, and the economy of Merrickville-Wolford was revitalised. Then, it was downtown Kemptville that was being bypassed by tourists and weekend visitors to Merrickville. Heritage and history are potentially pivotal economic development assets to any community; but not if the built heritage has been destroyed. No-one wants to visit a place where heritage and history used to be. They can go on-line for that, and local business will gain no benefit.

The recent announcement by the Municipality of North Grenville and the United Counties that the old Town Hall in Kemptville would be altered to accommodate nine affordable housing units was one that received a range of responses. For some, the possibility of easing the housing crisis which exists in the community, however small the effect of the nine units would have, was welcome and lauded. For others, including people who only think in terms of selfish hoarding of money, it was disgraceful that the heritage building would be preserved for such a purpose. As one former mayor said: “One of the premier development sites for 5 star development and its going to be used for social housing… we need low rent housing but there are a lot more appropriate spots for it. Misuse of taxpayers money.” Yes, I remember that individual wanted to tear the place down and sell it to developers. He and his council colleagues had no time for history, and were proud to admit it. They are not missed.

Others say that it is not a heritage building, which is untrue, and that it is only good for demolition. Again, this is untrue. The building certainly needs work, but it has served the community since 1878 and was renovated to serve as a council chamber and court house not long ago. Perhaps the more interesting response to this initiative comes from the North Grenville Historical Society, as they have been effectively evicted from the location of the North Grenville Archives and are facing a challenge of literally fitting into the space being offered them by the municipality. They have to be out by the end of February, with only a couple of months notice, even though the project was being planned for some time previously.

But the real issue here is the role of heritage and history in the future of our communities. There is a long list of lost buildings and sites that could have become the focus of tourism. The very fact that many laugh at the idea that tourists would be interested in North Grenville, for example, speaks loudly to the ignorance and closed minds of people with no pride in their community’s history and legacy.

I have to believe that such people are in the minority. There are far more who give their time, energy and money to take care of their neighbours, to celebrate their community and work to make it even better. Attendance at Historical Society meetings, and interest in local history articles and publications indicates a far greater interest than would be imagined by listening to the (again, I use the word) philistines who only see life in terms of dollars and cents. But, in opposition to them, there are active, community-minded individuals and groups, including the community Associations in Oxford Mills, Bishop’s Mills, Burritt’s Rapids, and those who are setting up the ice surface on the South Branch (even if they still use the incorrect and unhistorical title for that body of water). These are the people who will protect our heritage for later generations. And they will be honoured for doing so.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hi David, I would like more information about the North Grenville Historical Society, such as the frequency of meetings, committees and fund raising.
    Considering joining as a member. Your past articles have peak my interest especially ‘the battle of evermore’

  2. I have often wondered why the old post office was demolished. That was such a beautiful building with its clock tower. Had it been neglected beyond repair? The Cenotaph was on the post office grounds then, as it is in most small towns. I would love to see the Cenotaph moved back to the grassy corner of Reuben and Prescott. Kemptville lost so many buildings in town due to the fire, but it is such a shame we have lost so many more since then through neglect.

  3. Preservation of Heritage was one of the top objectives when a community survey was done as part of the Strategic Plan a few years ago. It is unfortunate that our Heritage Advisory Committee is no longer in existence due to members leaving mostly caused by decisions taken around Council table.

  4. I agree that preserving old buildings of historical note is a worthwhile effort for small towns and big cities alike. However, it is important that history is told through a 360 degree lens. As Churchill may have said, “History is told by the victors.” We have seen over the past three years that not all monuments should be honoured in public and not all historical figures have been remembered with full disclosure.

    It is best to review history with objective eyes before honouring historic people or events.

  5. “The Old Town Hall” should remain “The Old Town Hal’.
    The current Municipal Council is out of touch with reality. Council needs to focus on the “Community’s Needs” not Wants. Remember, when they were running for office they wanted to build an indoor-swimming pool. Over the years we lost places (or buildings) where people could meet for different purposes, such as 12-step meetings. Back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s many meeting places were available where locals could get together to discuss their steps in recovery from addictions or mental health issues, just a place to meet and talk. Today these places are hard to find. Traditionally, meetings were held in Church basements. Today, churches, themselves, are having a difficult time to keep up with the costs of maintaining their buildings. I don’t understand why Council has not done anything to take over the public school on Reuben Street to make it available for subsidized housing or retirement living, or even informing us about the future of old High School on Prescott Street. Let’s fix up the Old Town Hall and make it available for the community. “Old Town Kemptville is slowly losing its historical character”, perhaps because we have a Council, who did not grow up here, and are perhaps unaware of Kemptville’s great ‘Agricultural and other cultural past. Kemptville already has its nickname “Modern Barrhaven”. That’s sad.

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