Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Local heritage proponents who support retention of at least parts of the Cooper site were alarmed on Tuesday to find a portion of old railway track on the site that has been identified for possible heritage designation being dismantled.
The section of unused track was located on the grassed area immediately next to Downie Street and north of the existing CN rail line, and was removed to accommodate construction of an additional laneway into the newly expanded Downie Street parking area.
Cynthia Venables, a member of the Heritage Stratford advisory committee that is seeking protection for the Cooper site under the Ontario Heritage Act, told the Gazette she was stunned when a "concerned citizen" sent her photographs Tuesday afternoon showing the track being taken apart. It is one of many heritage components on the site that her group is passionately trying to save.
"There was nary a hint of (the work)," she said.
Stratford's director of Infrastructure and Development Services, Ed Dujlovic, admitted there was a misunderstanding with regards to what specific attributes the heritage committee was advising be designated, noting the committee has also listed for preservation a portion of the separate narrow gauge track that runs from the east end of the site and into the former locomotive shops.
He said he had spoken with staff in the building department and acknowledged that "they were confused that the recommendation was for all the tracks."
The section of rail line removed dates back to roughly 1910. Other sections of the track over Downie Street and into the Cooper building have previously been removed.
"It's just regular track that was there that came out," Dujlovic said. "Just a small section."
The director also chalked up the situation to bad timing. City council approved the Downie Street parking lot improvements, including additional spots for vehicles and tourist buses, on Sept. 8. The next night Heritage Stratford approved a series of heritage findings related to the Cooper site, but didn't pass a formal recommendation for designation until Oct. 14. That same night council approved a tender for the parking project.
Venables said she was especially upset that the city did not in advance contact Heritage Stratford as well as the other local heritage groups that have a keen interest in the property. If that had of happened, she added, they would have been able to remind the city that the track was part of the possible heritage designation.
"It would have been very simple for planning staff, knowing there is a designation in the wings, to have informed us about what's going on," she said. "If there had been open and transparent communication then none of this crisis would have occurred."
Chair of Heritage Stratford, Dave Gaffney, echoed those comments, adding that, as head of the advisory committee, he should have been made aware prior to any work that would alter the Cooper site.
When reached Thursday, representatives from the Grand Trunk Railway Site Heritage Committee and the Stratford-Perth branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, both of which are advocating to keep parts if not all of the former CNR building, expressed similar concerns about what happened.
Alan Waddingham of the Grand Trunk committee said he too was "disappointed" the city didn't reach out earlier to the heritage groups, and added his group's primary focus, in addition to preserving at least three bays of the building to store a locomotive, is saving the gauge track.
Rick Huband, of the architectural group, questioned how Heritage Stratford - a municipal advisory committee - was missed.
"You would think that one part of the city could communicate with another," he said.
City director Dujolovic said the lack of communication was unfortunate.
"It got missed," he added.