By: Emma Mullohand
There is more than a hundred years between the two structures that make up the CHCH building on Jackson Street West. While the back half of the television channel’s complex resembles something akin to the Starship Enterprise, at the front sits an inconspicuous limestone mansion that has been the home of some of Hamilton’s biggest entrepreneurs and dignitaries.
Built in 1850 for Tristram Bickle, the mansion, called Pinehurst, is a rare example of pre-Confederation architecture and history. Constructing the mansion was a significant undertaking.
“The masons were coming in [from Scotland] and [. . .] they were actually quarrying the buildings [from the escarpment] and putting [the stones] into the homes,” said local historian Robin McKee.
The house changed hands several times throughout the following years. It was passed down to Bickle’s son, later sold to a local Anglican bishop and eventually purchased by William Southam in 1891. Among other investments, Southam owned the Hamilton Spectator and the Ottawa Citizen newspapers.
After Southam’s death in 1932, Pinehurst was occupied by various groups, until CHCH began to use the building for its offices and studio in 1953. CHCH remained the owners of the property until late last year when it was announced that the property had been sold.
The mansion remains in excellent condition, despite its age. McKee credits this to the continued use of the building throughout the years.
“Prior to [its heritage designation] it was the will of the owner to keep [Pinehurst] or knock it down. I think part of the good luck . . . is that whoever owned it at the particular time adapted a use to it that made it still useful, so it was cheaper to use it than to tear it down,” said McKee.
Pinehurst became a designated heritage site in 2003, under the Ontario Heritage Act.
“Designation essentially protects series of features that are identified in the designation bylaw,” said Jeremy Parsons, a cultural heritage planner with the City of Hamilton. “For [Pinehurst] there’s a number of different architectural features that are protected, the front façade, the three dormers. . . the Mansard roof itself, the central bay. . . the columns, and . . . each side of the building. That essentially not only recognizes the importance of the property, but keeps the cultural heritage value intact,” said Parsons.
Despite a heritage designation, Pinehurst faces development pressures. One particular trend is “façadism” as McKee calls it. “Façadism is if you have a designated property and the building itself is in disrepair because of neglect. What happens is that the [developers] apply for a demolition permit and promise to keep the façade on the new building.” McKee argued that this type of development does not preserve the historical integrity of the building. “You can put anything onto a new building and make it look old . . . it’s fake.” However, McKee doesn’t expect that Pinehurst will be facing a demolition crew anytime soon.
“[Pinehurst] is well maintained. . . there’s no need for it to be torn down. . . it’s got good bones.”
And if worst comes to worst? “I’d tie myself to the door,” McKee said.
McKee’s connection with the CHCH building goes beyond admiration of its heritage significance. He spent 31 years working for CHCH as an audio technician during which he helped cover several major historic events such as the Tiananmen Square Protests and the First Gulf War.
“It was kind of neat to bring [the news] through Hamilton and send it to the people and inform them,” recalled McKee. It was not always easy getting the broadcast on air though, especially before the studio space moved to the larger, more modern addition.
“The studio for the newscast [prior to the addition] was ten feet by six, you had to go in and close the door…only then could you do the newscast,” said McKee. When Pinehurst was designated as a historic site, McKee was the one who wrote and placed the plaque that identifies the building as a designated historic site.
While the property has been sold and it is unclear what exactly the future holds for the CHCH building, it can likely survive a few more changes.
“Buildings last longer than people . . . [Pinehurst] is a footprint that’s been there for multi-generations,” said McKee.
From the stonemasons who built Pinehurst, to the TV station that calls it home, Pinehurst leaves more than just a geographic footprint. It is also a footprint from some of the people who helped, and are helping, to make Hamilton the city it is today.