No doubt the officials of Sandbanks Provincial Park are resting easy, satisfied in the completion of their four year project to demolish the Hyatt and MacDonald houses, but in fulfillment of what misguided purpose?
To “rewild” this historic corner of Prince Edward County or build new roofed accommodation in their place?
In an old established cultural landscape such as the County, rewilding is an illusionary objective that replaces our tapestry of architecture and agriculture created by generations of industrious people, with a new, subjective, one-dimensional landscape of planted trees bordered by tourist traffic. The demolition of the last two remaining vacation hotels (formerly farmhouses) at Sandbanks is part of Ontario Parks’ remorseless and largely unmonitored erosion of the County’s cultural heritage, as is the tree planting program in farm fields that simultaneously wipes away the County’s long agricultural legacy and reduces food security.
The brutal expropriation of the privately owned Hyatt and MacDonald properties 50 years ago to create the park held out the promise of public access through public ownership.
Alas, 40 years of neglect by Park officials was seen as justification for demolition. Now, neither residents nor visitors will ever be able to enjoy them as part of an enhanced park experience. Both houses were soundly built. There was no reason why they could not be carefully repaired for new uses and stand proudly into the 22nd century, 250 years old and shining a light on the past.
Why is the loss of historic buildings from the landscape so disorienting? We go about our daily lives, meeting, shopping or doing business along Picton Main Street, for example, only subconsciously aware of the backdrop of buildings that contain the patterns of our activities. Buildings anchor the landscape, whether Main Street or the Sandbanks shoreline. Their familiarity is simply reassuring. If half a dozen buildings in a row mysteriously disappeared overnight on Main Street leaving a gaping hole or, as actually happened in 2010, the landmark spire of the Methodist Church was pulled down, we would miss the sense of age and time, as much as the sense of place. Our visual memories of the buildings would soon fade to unrecoverable, and we would be left with only a sense of loss. Just so for the Hyatt and MacDonald houses. We can still (just) recall an image of these houses, but not for long.
This September’s wanton and senseless demolition by a remote, unimaginative, and inflexible bureaucracy has robbed future generations of any awareness of this rich vacationland cultural legacy.