John Ireland loves history and he came to realize that he was surrounded by it, where he lives on Mill Street in Lindsay.
The area was the original centre of town, predating Kent Street.
The neighbourhood was home to one of Lindsay’s first banks (The Bank of Upper Canada) and of course St. Mary’s Catholic Church and its rectory, to name just a few.
Motivated by his success in helping spearhead the Urban Canopy project (in collaboration with Fleming College) Ireland took it upon himself to try to have the Old Mill area designated a Heritage Conservation District, as allowed for under Ontario’s Heritage Act.
That’s currently defined as the area bordered by Lindsay Street and the Scugog River.
In consultation with city staff, Ireland – a child services consultant — has created a petition that he is in the process of taking to residents in the area to gauge local support for the idea.
According to Debra Soule, the City of Kawartha Lakes’ arts, culture and heritage officer, there are many benefits to heritage designation.
“Heritage Conservation Districts contribute to our quality of life, demonstrate community pride and give the city a competitive edge – heritage districts are sought after destinations for visitors, creating unique tourism and shopping experiences.”
She says these districts also “reinforce neighbourhood identity, create self-awareness, promote social cohesion” and provide a tool for residents to manage growth, so that “a neighbourhood’s most cherished characteristics are not lost.”
The area has always had historical names (Purdy’s and Pumpkin Hollow) but those names are mired in old concepts of economic discrimination and/or Protestant-Catholic intolerance and were historically pejorative.
Ireland decided to promote the ‘Old Mill Historic Area’– an idea that was inclusive, was a clear nod to Lindsay’s historical past and put to rest old area names that were a vestige of discrimination and exclusion.
The City of Kawartha Lakes currently has two designated heritage areas: historic downtown Lindsay and the Oak Street area in Fenelon Falls. Ireland will present his Old Mill petition to council on May 15.
Should city council decide to proceed, the matter will go through a series of steps that are required under the provincial Heritage Act.
The matter would first go to the city’s Heritage Committee which would then have to recommend a budget for further study.
A consultant would then be hired to study the history of the area and determine if the area has sufficient merit to qualify as a Heritage Conservation District.
This study, based on what the research yields, would also recommend the proposed boundaries for such a district. Public consultation is another key required component of this process.
Designating historic downtown Lindsay and Oak Street in Fenelon Falls took just over two years from the call for proposals in July of 2015 to the passage of the Downtown Lindsay Heritage Plan in 2017.
According to Ward 1 Councillor Rob Macklem, the council lead on the Culture and Heritage Task Force, “Downtown Lindsay and Oak Street are our first two heritage districts done simultaneously. I think the process went very well and was well received with significant public input and support.”
Macklem has also noticed an increased interest in heritage in City of Kawartha Lakes.
The plan, no doubt, has its detractors. Some homeowners might worry that the endeavour might result in higher taxes and place restrictions on a homeowner’s ability to modify the appearance of their property.
While there is some academic research that indicates that historical designations can have a modest positive effect on price (during upswings and downswings in the market) the worry that a designation would prevent homeowners’ ability to modify their properties is largely unfounded.
According to Soule, “Heritage Conservation District designation does not prevent future changes or new development in a community. However, it does require that new development fits in and is compatible with the character of the area.”
She adds that such a designation does not affect the interior of properties or property use, since it pertains to the exterior, and usually only the street-facing aspects or the façade of a property.
“Property owners can still make changes or add to their property, or demolish a non-contributing structure, as long as these changes do not negatively affect the heritage attributes of the area” and so long as it complies with the Heritage Conservation District plan, says Soule.
This includes ensuring that property owners obtain a heritage permit to ensure these conditions are met, she adds.
Other critics worry that such a designation is the tip of the spear of gentrification – a process of renovation and improvement to a district to push it to conform to so-called middle-class standards.
Ultimately, this is a process that can sometimes lead to the displacement of lower income residents.
To address those concerns and ensure that his efforts are inclusive, Ireland has developed a petition for homeowners and one for renters.
The homeowner petition includes an option for them to express interest in having their property ‘listed’ as a house of potential cultural and historical interest – a program launched by the City for all residents last December. Ireland’s goal is to ensure everyone is adequately consulted.
For Councilor Macklem, heritage is an inclusive concept in its very definition.
“We are fortunate to have social strategy and housing plans in place” for lower income residents of Kawartha Lakes.”
“Culture is human achievement regarded collectively by people, heritage is the evolution of culture. It’s my opinion (that) maintaining the character of the city, appreciating its history, does not constitute gentrification nor would it lead to such actions.”
For more information on the Old Mill Historic Area initiative contact John Ireland at email@example.com.