A community and a conservation authority are fighting over the fate of
an 1869 log cabin in Georgetown. At issue: What to do when fate puts
heritage buildings in the hands of agencies with other-focused mandates
How do you decide if a building is worth preserving?
In Halton Hills, near Georgetown, a log cabin built around 1869 sits in
a dilapidated state on Credit Valley Conservation property. The white
clapboard Fallbrook homestead was home to Scottish pioneer farmers and
The conservation authority wants it removed. A group of concerned
citizens is fighting to restore it.
Credit Valley Conservation wants to renaturalize the Fallbrook property.
It says preserving cultural heritage – old buildings and the like – is
not its responsibility under the Conservation Authorities Act, while
care for the natural environment – wetlands, wildlife and water – is.
This doesn't make much sense to Irene Carroll, who lived in the
Fallbrook cabin as a child. Her father, from Scotland, was the farm
manager and lived there until 1979.
"I still return to Fallbrook to walk around the area," Carroll says. "It
gives me a feeling of peace, as though this little part of the country
will always be safe from the bustle of daily life."
Sandy McKay sees in the modest building the history of his forbears, who
owned the property until 1943. He objected to a heritage-impact
assessment that found that the cabin – likely one of the earliest
pioneer houses in the area – had merit for its craftsmanship and square
cut logs but was of little historic value because "no significant
persons or events" were associated it. "It hit right home to the gut,"
says McKay, who is a nurse among the Inuit in northern Quebec. "These
were simple farmers... who worked themselves to the bone, opening this
land. And their contribution, in a collective sense, no matter how
modest, is worthy of recognition."
While Credit Valley Conservation owns the homestead, it must apply to
the town of Halton Hills and the Niagara Escarpment Commission for
permission to dismantle the building.
All conservation authorities include some kind of cultural heritage –
buildings, archeological sites, hedgerows, or other patterns humans make
on the landscape – says Dan Schneider, a senior policy adviser for the
Ontario Ministry of Culture.
"It's increasingly artificial to separate so-called natural heritage and
environment from cultural heritage and the environment made by humans."
Conservation authorities don't have to be responsible for heritage in
all cases, because it is not at the core of their mandate. "They'd
rather look after water flow and quality, but that doesn't mean cultural
heritage has to be sacrificed."
Credit Valley intends to "deconstruct" the cabin, which is listed as a
heritage building on the Halton Hills Heritage Register. The building
would be "meticulously recorded," carefully taken apart, and rebuilt
elsewhere or donated for salvage to be reused in another heritage
restoration project, according to a letter it sent out last year.
"We've applied for a demolition permit to take the home down," says Judi
Orendorff, director of lands and conservation areas for Credit Valley
Conservation. "It's a health and safety issue and a liability for us."
She says it would cost about $100,000 to restore the cabin – which has
been unoccupied and left increasingly derelict since 2001 – and make it
safe to use.
Buildings already have come down on the property. A pioneer barn, made
from pines harvested from the farm, was demolished, as well as a
mid-century stone house belonging to O.D. Vaughan, a former owner of
Fallbrook and vice-president of T. Eaton Company.
Carroll and her husband, John, appealed to Halton Hills council in
December and were given six months to devise a fundraising plan to
restore the cabin. They set up Friends of Fallbrook, but when they asked
Credit Valley Conservation for help in devising a business plan, they
were told it was their own responsibility.
"What's frustrating is that we have to come up with a plan for their
building, which they can reject, instead of participating with us," says
John Carroll. "We would like to see this as a partnership."
For Friends of Fallbrook, the best outcome is restoring the cabin on its
current site. It's also one of the principles of heritage conservation,
"Especially with these humble buildings, it's not just how they were
constructed, but their real history and relationship to the site, how
they are oriented to a river, what the views were."
Some 10,000 children from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School
Board already use the property, which includes a barn and other
buildings, for outdoor education. "There is a future for this house
where it sits," says John Carroll.
He disputes the authority's argument that it is not in the business of
heritage preservation, and assembled a partial list of nine Ontario
conservation authorities that include buildings of heritage or cultural
Among them: the Iroquoian Village at Crawford Lake (Conservation Halton)
and Black Creek Pioneer Village (Toronto and Region Conservation
Ken Whitbread, manager of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, suggests
the community group enter a long-term lease with the conservation
authority and take over management and upkeep of the homestead.
"But they think the town and government agencies should do all of this –
we're supposed to save it, but in the long term it's better if a
community group has a commitment to it rather than a distant commission
or authority running it."
The Carrolls, McKay, and their supporters see preserving Fallbrook as
part of the public good. Among the new uses they suggest: an educational
centre for students visiting the conservation area; a "living museum"
with period furnishing and costume; an artists' or writers' retreat; and
making it a "green" or ecological model home.
"I want others to have this sense of wonderment when they visit the
farm," says Irene Carroll.
"How can students and hikers visiting the property relate to the history
of their ancestors when all there is left are a couple of modern-looking