By Chet Greason
Residents of the community of Motherwell attempting to stop the demolition of a 149-year old home in their village are unsure of what happens next following a public meeting of West Perth Council in Mitchell on Monday, Sept. 10.
Motherwell community members have been taking the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA), the owners of the home and the land on which it is located, to task after they announced the current tenant was to be evicted and the home demolished earlier this year. They called on West Perth to designate the home as a heritage property under the Ont-ario Heritage Act, thereby making demolition significantly more difficult.
UTRCA has been acting as landlord for six homes in the Motherwell area since the land was purchased in preparation for the construction of a proposed Glengowan Dam. The dam has yet to be built, yet UTRCA still rents and maintains the houses it would potentially affect.
However, during a presentation at the Sept. 10 meeting, UTRCA General Manager and Secretary-Treasurer Ian Wilcox announced that the Authority will be revisiting the Glengowan Dam project this month, throwing both sides’ arguments into uncertainty.
“There is a staff proposal going to the Sept. 25 board meeting,” explained Wilcox in an interview following the meeting. “It is suggesting the 1985 board resolution to retain Glengowan lands in case of future need be reviewed and, secondly, that the Authority review all its land holdings in Glengowan to determine if it meets the objectives of the UTRCA regardless of whether or not the dam is ever built.”
In his presentation, Wilcox argued that it has always been the Authority’s intention to remove the house, that they have no funds available for repairs they say are needed, and that, should the home be historically designated, the septic and well would be decommissioned, the electricity disconnected, and the structure would simply be boarded up against damage and vandalism. Wilcox adds that UTRCA might be willing to sell the home itself, provided it be moved to a different location.
“If designated, the UTRCA is not in a position to invest in the home or to offer it as a cultural showpiece,” stated Wilcox in his presentation, urging Council to consider other options.
Following the announcement that UTRCA would be revisiting the Glengowan Dam project, Nancy Allen, a longtime Motherwell resident who presented the case for heritage designation to Council, said there was “some hope ... Trying to get the house designated as heritage property...it’s awkward, because we don’t own it,” she said following the meeting. “But UTRCA is a public organization...a conservation authority.”
She also expressed hope that the uncertainty of the house would save the tenant his eviction. “If the house isn’t demolished, there’s no eviction. The eviction is conditional on demolition.”
However, Wilcox maintains the eviction and the fate of the house are two separate issues. “Proceeding with a review of Glengowan as a project will not affect the eviction,” he said. “It is our opinion that heritage designation is a separate step that does not affect the tenancy.”
Some members of West Perth Council hoped the meeting would open up a dialogue between the Authority and the tenant, who has adamantly expressed his wish to stay in the house. Councillor Larry Wight said the issue carried too much “political B.S.”
“I’m just trying to open the floor between (the tenant) and Upper Thames, and leave us the hell out.”
Mayor Walter McKenzie agreed, saying the situation, as it currently stands, is “not a Council issue.”