This morning I was supposed to get up early, but I fell back to sleep quickly and dreamed of talking to my father at the old house at 569 South Street in Cowansville, Quebec. My Dad and I never carried on many conversations when I was a teen, because he saw one way and I saw the other. But, this morning there he was back in the old electrical shop looking for a screwdriver.
He was happy to see me, as was I, and he explained to me that my grandmother’s house was being sold along with the huge lot they had. After she passed away I never saw the house demolished and was glad I didn’t. Each time an older home comes down my heart breaks for the history that it once had.
Decades ago in Cowansville they tore down heritage homes on Main Street to make way for street and property improvements. My father was an alderman, or echevin, as they called them in those days. In the hours leading up to the decision at council I was merciless. My father threw his hands up in the air after each argument and called it progress. That night, at age 14, I stood up to the Cowansville Town Council and told them how they were going to regret the decision. These homes were stately mansions of the past and I know a lot of folks regretted it years later. But, it still did not stop them from tearing down the Robinson home near Sweetsburg for a retirement home a few years ago. Some even suggested that the heritage protestors trying to save the building were ‘anti- seniors’.
Desperately wanting to keep the peace in my dream with my father I asked him if they were going to take down the huge trees on the property and he said he didn’t know. Deciding to get to the nitty gritty I asked him the big question. Why? Again, the familiar words of ‘being a man of progress’ was his answer. Not wanting to argue, I told him that older buildings were more than just old bricks and mortar. They have a story, they have a soul, and so many have been lost to developers and decay. But in reality most of them move inanegative position because of lack of interest in their preservation. He looked at me with that Arthur Knight corner smile and said that I had not changed.
I thought of the history in my grandparents home and knew my father would not change his mind. I asked him if he knew that as of August, 2020 the city of Halifax has lost 40% of its historic buildings in 11 years. Out of 104 buildings that were inventoried as heritage assets in 2009; 43 had been demolished.
You also have buildings that are in the “demolished by neglect” category. A common excuse is that the properties are beyond saving and not worth the air in the sky to remain standing. A question I would like to ask these owners is: How long have you owned it and who is responsible for this run down state? Generally the owners have owned it for quite a length of time and they are guilty of its condition. In most cases some owners of older properties are in favour of supporting heritage– except when it comes to them.
In the end the Knight house came down on South Street along with my maternal grandfather’s stately mansion on Albert Street- the Cowan home ( one of the founders of Cowansville) years later. All I have left in the Townships are the memories and the stories I tell.
My Dad in his councillor career was most proud of getting an artificial lake ( Lake Davignon) put smack in the centre of town. I, on the other hand, remember the family gravestones at the Union Cemetery. I think of the Anglican church vestry named after my Grandmother, memories at Legion Branch #99 that my grandfather helped found, and a street named after my father. I consider myself a progressive town councillor however l live by the mantra: “Progress is not tearing down everything that’s old and building something new”. After all, tearing down is easier than building up. This year let’s think about protecting heritage of any kind so that future generations may enjoy the history and the memories.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities ( Citizen Jane)
Everyone was young once I guess.
1935..6 miss marion phelps
Back row l to r …archie boyd , alvin teel , willard barrette , joyce cassidy , lorna stowe , joy lee , arthur knight , eric smith , leonard lickfold , doris craigie ,, donna isaacs , dorothy corey
Front row l to r ..shirley hamilton , barbara seale , mary gordon johnson , phyllis buchanan , reid pickel , bill shanks , joyce lickfold , arlene corey , betty henry , dempsey forster , jack barker , donald boucher