Lack of heritage designation for Mackenzie Mansion was a mistake

Trevor's Take

Trevor Hutchinson headshot

By Trevor Hutchinson

A graduate of the University of Toronto, Trevor Hutchinson is a songwriter, writer and bookkeeper. He serves as Contributing Editor at The Lindsay Advocate. He lives with his fiancee and their five kids in Lindsay.

Trevor Hutchinson bemoans a recent decision by Council to reject the recommendations of city staff, and its municipal heritage committee, to designate the Sir William Mackenzie mansion at 1011 Portage Road as a heritage property. Photo: Ian McKechnie.

I have found myself still thinking about a recent decision made by Kawartha Lakes council. In a rather unusual move, the council voted to reject the recommendations of staff and the city’s heritage committee, to designate 1011 Portage Road, Township of Eldon — or as what most locals know as the Mackenzie mansion in Kirkfield — as a heritage building.

As a history and train buff, and as someone who lived at the property for an epic summer in 1983, I have long been interested in the mansion and its many histories.

As most people know, Sir Willam Mackenzie would go from being born in a log cabin to amassing (and losing) a great fortune primarily in railways and construction. When times were good, he built a summer estate that still stands today.

The new owners, Jeff and Stella Margolian, made a deputation before council, stating that a historical designation could affect their insurability of the property and as a result could nullify their mortgage.

This seemed to sway most of the councillors, who in a (somewhat rare) recorded vote, chose to overturn the recommendations of staff and committee.

Councillor Charlie McDonald was quoted as saying, “We shouldn’t be going around telling people what they can and can’t do with their property.”

Now I know McDonald to be a lifelong champion of this community as a business leader, a volunteer and now elected public servant. He is exactly the type of person we should have representing us. But he is wrong on this issue.

When it comes to heritage designation, all of which is mandated by provincial statute, telling people what they can and can’t do with their properties is exactly the job of a local government. It is the government’s job to protect and enrich our shared history for future generations. A building owner doesn’t own the history. It’s ours.

Despite evidence that heritage designation’s increase property value for an entire neighbourhood, they are always a hot-button topic. The October 2023 meeting of the Heritage Committee — composed of elected officials and appointed citizens — discussed the historical designation of four new properties and received official objections from the Trillium Lakelands District School Board for the historical designation of four of Lindsay’s older schools.

Do historical designations add some limitations and more procedure to an owner of a designated property? Absolutely. Do they prevent an owner from making any changes to the property or building? Absolutely not.

Our council does a great job, in my opinion, of representing the concerns of local citizens. Through many ways they are always listening to the voices of their constituents.

But in many cases, like heritage, planning or environment matters, they are also tasked with representing the constituents 100 years from now. And they collectively fell short on this one.

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