Leacock House heritage de-listing vote splits committee


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The fate of one of Winnipeg’s oldest heritage buildings is unclear, after a call to allow its demolition left a city committee deadlocked.

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The fate of one of Winnipeg’s oldest heritage buildings is unclear, after a call to allow its demolition left a city committee deadlocked.

Social services organization Marymound, which owns Leacock House (442 Scotia St.), is asking the city to remove the structure from its list of historical resources, so it can be torn down to make room for a long-planned transition home.

Marymound had originally hoped to convert the current building into a home for youth struggling with mental health challenges, substance misuse, trauma and other complex needs. However, it concluded the 1878-built structure would be far too expensive to renovate and ill-fitted for the intended purpose.

“For this type of program… the space is really incompatible. (For example), we have this beautiful staircase… (and) it is rife with risk to die by suicide in that space. To make it suicide-safe was, as one person said, just architectural gymnastics. So the house itself is not fit for that need,” Nancy Parker, executive director of Marymound, told council’s property and development committee Thursday.

Parker said Marymound must also ensure it directs donations toward projects that directly serve youth, not heritage preservation. She said the group was not able to obtain heritage grants to cover the extra costs.

“To renovate this building now, for any purpose, is just too expensive. We have huge needs in our community that demand our service… It borders on unethical for me now not to direct our money to core service development.”

Marymound officials believe renovating the existing heritage building would cost more than double the price of building new. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the soaring construction costs that followed, the organization estimated it would cost at least $4.7 million to renovate, while protecting all of its character-defining elements.

By contrast, a heritage advocate suggested far more work is needed to try to save Leacock House.

“Let’s be clear today that the de-listing means demolition… it (would) be imminent demolition… This is architecturally significant (and) one of the oldest (structures) in the city of Winnipeg,” said Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.

Tugwell accused Marymound of taking “the easy way out,” suggesting alternate uses for the building that would preserve it are still possible.

“I think it’s important that they recognize the 140 years prior that people have looked to save this property… Built heritage is for everyone in Winnipeg, not just for the person that owns it.”

Committee members failed to reach a consensus on the matter Thursday, casting a tied vote on removing the historical listing.

The matter will now go forward to full council with no recommendation.

Couns. Sherri Rollins and Matt Allard voted in favour of removing the heritage protection; Couns. Shawn Dobson and Evan Duncan were opposed.

“I do believe that this is presenting itself as a bit of an obstacle to the welfare of children in this city… I do agree (the structure is) a beautiful example of the Queen Anne style… but I, for one, will place my vote backing Marymound and the kids (it serves),” said Rollins.

By contrast, Dobson noted the group has a large property and suggested it could build the transition home at another spot while leaving Leacock House intact.

“I think that, because it’s so old and it’s such a historical resource, we have to think to the future and keep resources like that or we will lose them forever,” said Dobson.

In an interview, Parker said the group can’t simply add a new build elsewhere, partly because it also can’t afford to maintain Leacock House, which suffers from leaks and other disrepair.

“We can’t afford to maintain the building and we can’t afford to renovate the building — full stop,” she said. “To renovate (would cost) millions and we’re not seeing any heritage money that is applicable.”

The current historical listing protects the exterior of Leacock House and many interior features, including original tin ceilings, wood finishes, main staircase and curved glass windows.

City council is expected to cast the final vote on the matter Feb. 23.


Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.


Updated on Thursday, February 2, 2023 6:20 PM CST: Updates image

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