County to outline strategic policies to province over Hyatt and MacDonald houses

The Macdonald House. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)
OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

Options to preserve the historic Hyatt and MacDonald houses at Sandbanks Provincial Park will be requested through the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. 

During Tuesday’s regular council meeting, Prince Edward County Council approved a motion put forth by Councillors Ernie Margetson and John Hirsch to send a letter to the Ministry outlining the County’s strategic priorities and planning policy to ensure building preservation, and to pursue a protection strategy for the provincially-owned heritage assets for the future benefits of residents and visitors to Prince Edward County.

Mayor Steve Ferguson said he sent a letter to former Minister Jeff Yurek sometime in February, adding he fully agrees with the matter. 

Peter Lockyer spoke in place of Liz Driver, who was on a call with the Minister regarding the houses at the time of Tuesday’s deputation.

Lockyer, a member of the Save Heritage Sandbank Homes, said the mission of the group is to “save and repurpose the Hyatt and MacDonald houses to enrich the visitor experience at Sandbanks Provincial Park and to preserve and promote Prince Edward County’s Cultural Heritage.” 

“We want to bring people together to open a dialogue with Ontario Parks about potential new uses for the houses. We aim to work collaboratively with Ontario Parks to identify third parties who would be interested in investing in the houses,” he explained. “It is often the case that the future of a heritage building hangs by a thread, but intervention at a crucial moment changes the dial from demolition to saving and repurposing. Our group believes that this is just such a moment for the Hyatt and MacDonald houses; and we thank Councillor Margetson and Councillor Hirsch for bringing forward their timely motion about the Sandbanks houses.”

Lockyer said the demotion, which has been delayed several times for various reasons, is currently on pause until Sept. 1 at the earliest to “protect roosting birds and bats and to avoid the summer tourist season.”

Peter Lockyer. (Jason Parks/Gazette staff)

He also noted the new Minister, David Piccini, who represents the Northumberland-Peterborough South riding, is involved in conserving and repurposing local heritage and has been a part of projects in Cobourg and Port Hope.

“He also understands the importance of engaging with citizens and councils regarding plans for provincially-owned heritage properties, demonstrated by the fact that he is currently undertaking a public consultation for a historic site in Cobourg, asking his constituents to ‘imagine what we can do’ with the Brookside Youth Detention Centre,” Lockyer told.

Through August, Lockyer said the group collected survey results from residents and visitors, both in person and online, which resulted in 95 per cent support of repurposing the locations. 

He added more than 90 per cent believe the repurposed houses would add to the visitor experience and the same percentage of respondents believe the houses would provide an economic benefit to both the County and Sandbanks Provincial Park. 

“It seems that all kinds of people value the Sandbanks homes – people with long roots in the County, newcomers, and visitors alike,” Lockyer said. 

Sarah Sinclair is also a member of the Save Heritage Sandbank Homes, adding how significant the preservation of the homes, built in the late 1800s, would be to the community.

“These century-old homes are at risk. It is not enough to acknowledge the architectural value of the buildings, which has already been established, or require the political will of voices stronger than my own,” she said. “Instead we must also convey why these houses matter in a way that can never be captured by a few words on a commemorative plaque.”

Philip Evans, Principal of ERA Architects, also spoke to the motion, encouraging council to look further into the preservation of the two homes.

Evans spoke to council in May providing information on the organization who began investigating the value of rural buildings in order to explore alternative economic models to leverage the assets they had under a cultural lens. 

“We’ve seen thousands of examples of this across the province; new uses for old buildings and investment in people and their values in their community help pay for the cost to fix these buildings. It is a building like this that helps to define what diversity in places that exist in this County.”

After Evans’ initial deputation to council on March 15, Edwin Rowse of Heritage Architect confirmed demotions plans were delayed until Sept. 15 at the earliest after Division Court Judge, David Corbett, agreed to a Judicial Review between proponents looking to restore the homes and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. 

Lockyer said Ontario Parks announced a new program in May where the province will work with partners in the private and not-for-profit sectors to develop innovative ideas for new recreation experiences at provincial parks that will enhance the visitor experience. He added this initiative would be supported by a $6 million government investment. 

“Our group’s request to Minister Puccini is simple and reasonable: pause demolition while you work out the details of the new program and consider how innovative programs from third parties could provide an alternative to demolition of the Sandbanks homes,” he said.