Heritage preservers recognized for their efforts
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Jun 06, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Heritage preservers recognized for their efforts

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert editor@stratfordgazette.com

There's perhaps no one more fitting than Lutzen Riedstra to receive an award for heritage preservation.

It was, after all, his job for nearly 30 years.

The former head archivist and administrator of the Stratford-Perth Archives, a job he held until 2007, was presented with a James Anderson award Tuesday in the category of cultural heritage. Yet, impressively, it wasn't Riedstra's tenure at the archives that earned him the special honour, bestowed annually by Heritage Stratford, but rather his long and impressive list of volunteer achievements.

He has been an active member of the Stratford Perth County Heritage Foundation (formerly the Perth County Historical Foundation and, before that, the Avon Valley Historical Society) since 1979, and led the group's historical walks through downtown Stratford.

He was responsible for having erected the provincial plaque about the founding of Stratford located near Lions Pool and also provided the historical background for the Tom Orr plaque near the bandshell, the Normal School plaque and the Tom Patterson plaque near the Festival Theatre. He also wrote the signboards placed around the downtown and in Queen's Park about the City Hall, Market Place and other locally significant locations.

In the late 1990s Riedstra was a member of the city's flag and coat of arms committee and was a key contributor to the design of the new coat of arms and flag issued by the governor general. He assisted the Stratford and District Horticultural Society with the relocation and restoration of the Freeland Fountain to Memorial Gardens and wrote its accompanying historical information board.

"There's more, but I think you get the idea," laughed Heritage Stratford member Allan O'Neill, who presented Riedstra with his award during a short ceremony at the Upper Queen's Park bandshell. "Lutzen has had a long and distinguished involvement with heritage matters in and around Stratford."

The James Anderson awards were established by Heritage Stratford in 2006 to recognize the achievements of individuals or groups in heritage conservation. Anderson, Perth County's first archivist, was a well-known and respected figure who helped start the Stratford-Perth Museum and archives, and led the charge to save several historic buildings, including City Hall and the Gordon Block downtown. He died in 1994.

Riedstra, who today works at Western University in the faculty of Information and Media Studies, said he was honoured to receive the award. He worked with Anderson for many years at the archives and considers the esteemed heritage advocate one of his mentors.

He praised Anderson for his dedication, and suggested his greatest strength was his passion.

"I've tried to live up to that passion as well," he added.

Also recognized with a James Anderson award this year, in the built heritage category, was local builder Frank Santini, who purchased and restored the old Empire Hotel and converted the space into condominiums.

The building, at the corner of Downie and St. Patrick streets, was constructed in 1906-07 and had 50 rooms which provided accommodations primarily for rail travelers. As the years past and people started traveling more frequently by car, the need for the hotel lessened, and eventually it closed. For periods in the 1970s and '80s the building housed a bar and adult entertainment establishments. It was vacant at the time Santini showed an interest.

"I was very fortunate, in my opinion, because I love old houses and buildings," Santini said upon receiving his award.

He noted when he purchased the corner building it was decrepit, and many people felt what was needed was a wrecking ball.

"But I saw something in it that was just too beautiful to let go," he said, adding he's pleased to see so many people today share his love and appreciation for heritage in the city.

Santini also thanked past and present councils for seeing value in these types of heritage properties and for supporting builders through incentive programs.

The awards mark the end to an eventful year for Heritage Stratford.  In July, the group launched a new plaque program to recognize individuals of significance as well as their place of work or residence. The first to be honoured was Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb and phonograph, among others things, and who for a short time worked on the Grand Trunk Railway. The plaque is displayed at 46 Ontario St. – Slave to the Grind – where it's believed Edison resided.

According to Heritage Stratford chair, David Gaffney, the group is planning to unveil further plaques in the program either late this year or early next.

Heritage Stratford also led the charge this past year to have the Discovery Centre renamed back to the Stratford Normal School.

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