Much has happened since my last blog, comparing the sorry state of the Petch log house in Aurora with its near neighbour, the Richardson House, a bit farther south on Leslie Street. The Petch house, seemingly abandoned after it had been moved from its original location, was in striking contrast with the Richardson House which was then under restoration and which had found an appropriate new use.
Over the last few months, a group calling itself Friends of Petch House launched a website and carried out a successful campaign to save the house. The Town of Aurora has taken this project on under the guidance of log construction specialist Peter van Nostrand. It will be re-erected at the entrance to the Aurora Arboretum, although its use there has yet to be determined.
Like any other preservation project, this one has caused controversy. There are currently several blogs out there which contain personal attacks against the Friends. It’s unfortunate that public debate has descended to these levels, but the anonymity of cyberspace seems to have made it so.
Having said that, however, the current debate raises very important questions. What about other buildings which may be equally significant? Why don’t they have Friends? In Aurora’s case, what about all the others buildings which have been lost or are under threat as the Town expands relentlessly eastward?
The Wells House is a perfect example—a structure as early as the Petch house and all the more remarkable because of its fine interior woodwork. Its loss is a case of demolition by neglect. Several years ago, the Heritage Advisory Committee studied this building carefully and gained Town Council’s support to encourage its owners to restore at least part of it and integrate it into whatever new development was planned on the site. This has worked well for the Richardson House. Without the full cooperation of sympathetic owners, however, projects like these cannot succeed. Buildings can be left to vandalism and decay, and there is little a municipality can do.
This is happening right now to the Lundy house, at the northeast corner of Bayview and St. John’s Sideroad. The building is slated to be restored within a planned housing development, but has been boarded up for years, subject to the same blight which destroyed the Wells House.
There are other examples too, going back over nearly twenty years: the Simpson House west of Bayview and north of Wellington, Gairlands on the grounds of the Magna headquarters, the Hartman House at the southwest corner of Wellington and Bayview, for example In the case of Gairlands, the Town and the Aurora Historical Society were able to save several fine mantelpieces and other pieces of woodwork. Gairlands and the Hartman House were both associated with one of Ontario’s most important early politicians and reformers. Now these houses are nearly forgotten. To add insult to injury, the woodwork which was carefully removed from Gairlands and reinstalled in the old Aurora Museum now languishes in storage.
To the southwest, the future of the Graham-Wood House, at what is now Allaura Boulevard and Edward Street, hangs in the balance. Behind its modern stucco and mid-twentieth-century renovations lies one of York Region’s earliest timber-frame buildings.
Fortunately, there are success stories too. The Hartman School, one of Ontario’s oldest, was rediscovered under layers of aluminum siding and has been rehabilitated by private owners. Ballymore farmhouse has been lovingly restored and is a focal point for the subdivision at the northwest corner of Bayview and St. John’s Sideroad. Two farmhouses on Bayview, south of Wellington, are at different stages of restoration as they too are being integrated into modern developments. A magnificent early barn has received the same level of careful attention.
Every historic property needs a champion, an investor and an appropriate modern use. For the most part, it will be dedicated individuals, groups, and corporations who will decide whether a building survives or not. Various levels of government may play a significant role, but cannot be the sole protectors of heritage.