Canada is turning 150 this year, but the future of a set of Hamilton buildings that predate the confederation remains cloudy.
Last week, Hamilton’s city council’s planning committee voted in favour of demolishing units 18-28 King Street East, and to demolish all but the facades of buildings 18-22 facing Gore Park. The plan is to turn the strip of pre- and immediately post-confederate buildings into a five-storey rental or condo property with commercial space on the ground level.
Built between 1840 and 1875 by renowned architect William Thomas, the Victorian-era row houses remain a staple in Hamilton’s heritage and streetscape.
“[The buildings are] part of the original Gore Park plan and integral to the street life of that area. They’re three to four storeys and because they’re pre-confederate and early Victorian style buildings, they actually fit well with the streetscape,” said Thomas Allen, the architectural journalist behind Rebuild Hamilton.
“[The demolition is] something that’s concerning because all that old, original charm that was once there is now all in danger,” he said. “That’s a scary thought to a lot of historians and a lot of people that live in Hamilton because they wouldn’t want to see the character of Gore Park vanish.”
The demolition has been up for debate since 2013, when the buildings’ owners applied to demolish the strip of buildings. At that time, Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr worked in favour with the developer to save the building’s facades. However, upon the developer’s disinterest, he pressed city council to approve the buildings as heritage property, which was successful
Although the buildings are slowly deteriorating, they remain structurally sound. Several groups around the city are protesting the destruction of these historic buildings, including Friends of the Gore, an ad-hoc committee who “oppose complete or partial demolition of 18-28 King Street East and support city council’s unanimous resolution to designate them under the Heritage Act.”
“The buildings serve as an important connection to our history, but they also provide a very real and modern contribution to the urban landscape of today,” said Ned Nolan, member of Friends of the Gore. “People today are gravitating to old, revived buildings because of their character, craftsmanship, beauty and unique ways in which they interact with the street at a human scale.”
The demolition is not scheduled to begin for another few months, as the city has to approve the development plans. The developer has to withdraw the objection of heritage designation, but groups around the city are hoping to see the province step in.
“The buildings serve as an important connection to our history, but they also provide a very real and modern contribution to the urban landscape of today.”
Member of Friends of the Gore
Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP and Ontario NDP leader, wrote to Ontario Culture Minister, Eleanor McMahon, in an attempt to ask the province to take immediate action in order to save these heritage buildings from demolition. The letter reflects on the historical significance of the buildings, and urges McMahon to take action.
“It is clearly time for a renewed conversation at city council about heritage,” said Nolan. “I believe the Ontario Heritage Act gives municipalities the power they need to create a presumption of heritage preservation on all our old buildings, and I think this should be seriously explored by council.”