Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/6/2009 (2940 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The conundrum in question is the proposed condominium development behind the Osborne Village Safeway requiring the removal of homes at 166 to 180 Roslyn Road and four to six mature elms. What irks and boggles the mind is that 166 Roslyn Road, also known as Dennistown House, was intended to be protected under historic heritage status. It appears, however, that such status is meaningless since concerted efforts are now underway to have 166 Roslyn demolished for profit.
Designed by one of Western Canada's leading "Chicago school" architects, John Atchinson, Dennistown House provides one of the last remaining residential tributes to an age when Winnipeg was respected as a progressive, vibrant centre of cultural and business activity. Its architectural significance is outlined in the 1984 historical buildings committee report. "The strongest statement of Atchison's style from this period." Commercial buildings designed by the same architect constitute key elements of Winnipeg's Exchange District, a national heritage site.
The marvel inspired by these buildings is no less evident in Dennistown House, built in 1908 for the family of Justice Dennistown who, in drafting the original Workman's Compensation Act and serving as judge of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, contributed to the commercial and legal beginnings of this city.
Dennistown House is one of the last surviving manors from the early 20th century in the Roslyn Road area, most others having been demolished and replaced with high-rise condos. What renders this home any less significant than when listed as a heritage house in 1984?
It continues to be of architectural and historical significance, as it was 25 years ago, its character, condition and historical integrity remain. What exceptional circumstances now allow this historic home to be delisted and demolished to make way for condominiums?
Osborne Village is the most densely populated region in the country; adding more condominium development is comparable to diverting water to an already flooded river. The proposed design is neither in keeping with Roslyn West, nor is it practical, and begs the questions: Has an environmental assessment been completed and the impact on existing infrastructure evaluated?
Equally disconcerting are plans to remove healthy mature elms that have taken over a century to grow in a city that has lost 12,000 elms to DED in the last three years. Moreover, this development is unnecessary. As of April, 282 condominiums were available in Winnipeg, for all sizes and price ranges.
The delisting of Dennistown House has set an unfortunate precedent for other heritage buildings in Winnipeg, and renders meaningless heritage status designation in this city. According to planning, property and development policies and guidelines, "an application may be denied if the proposed demolition of a listed building is deemed unnecessary." From an ethical and practical standpoint, the demolition is unnecessary.
Dennistown House is a structure of architectural and historical integrity and value, whose potential uses are many and varied. Proposals for alternatives include conversion into a museum, bed and breakfast, youth hostel, or artists' studios, in keeping with the culture of Osborne Village. By contrast, the proposed 72-unit condo development promises to erase the identity of Roslyn West solely for the sake of profit. Imagination, not profit, must be the driving force to continue to build the dreams of our ancestors.
Indeed, a quote by John Ruskin included at the end of WPPD Annual Historical Buildings committee reports until 2000 highlights the essence of heritage status designation; namely the importance of heritage preservation to a community's identity, and the care with which designation is granted: "Therefore when we build, let us think that we build forever -- let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them and that men will say as they look upon the labour and the wrought substance of them See! This our fathers did for us."
Jennifer Lukovich is a research associate at the Centre for Earth Observation Science, University of Manitoba.