August 23, 2019

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Neighbours protest possible demolition of historic mansion

Residents of Winnipeg’s Crescentwood neighbourhood are sounding the alarm that a stately, historic mansion may soon crumble beneath the blows of a demolition wrecking ball, possibly to make way for a condominium complex.

The home, located at 514 Wellington Cres., has been the site of a protracted battle between Jeff Thompson, whose numbered company owns the property, and area residents desperate to save it. Thompson is a prominent local businessman who purchased the property for roughly $1.25 million in April 2015.

Built in 1909 and known as the Gordon Residence, the 8,000-square-foot mansion has been home to numerous prominent Winnipeggers over the years, including former Free Press owner-publisher Victor Sifton and former senator Douglas Everett.

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Residents of Winnipeg’s Crescentwood neighbourhood are sounding the alarm that a stately, historic mansion may soon crumble beneath the blows of a demolition wrecking ball, possibly to make way for a condominium complex.

James T. Gordon House at 514 Wellington Cres. is an 8,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom home which was built in 1909. It has been home for  some of Winnipeg’s most affluent families, including meat-packing-plant owner J.T. Gordon.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

James T. Gordon House at 514 Wellington Cres. is an 8,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom home which was built in 1909. It has been home for some of Winnipeg’s most affluent families, including meat-packing-plant owner J.T. Gordon.

The home, located at 514 Wellington Cres., has been the site of a protracted battle between Jeff Thompson, whose numbered company owns the property, and area residents desperate to save it. Thompson is a prominent local businessman who purchased the property for roughly $1.25 million in April 2015.

Built in 1909 and known as the Gordon Residence, the 8,000-square-foot mansion has been home to numerous prominent Winnipeggers over the years, including former Free Press owner-publisher Victor Sifton and former senator Douglas Everett.

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said for decades the home was protected from demolition, but that changed in 2014 when the city revised its heritage bylaws.

"For 40 years the city recognized this home as having immense historical significance, but now it has no official protection from demolition. We have repeatedly challenged the city to explain this change. To date, Heritage Winnipeg has never received an official response," Tugwell said.

The grand old Gordon residence:

Original owner of the home James T. Gordon 

Built in 1909, the Gordon residence—located at 514 Wellington Cres.—is representative of the large homes constructed in the Crescentwood area at the dawn of the 20th century.

The original owner of the home was James T. Gordon of the meat-packing firm Gordon, Ironside and Fares.

Built in 1909, the Gordon residence—located at 514 Wellington Cres.—is representative of the large homes constructed in the Crescentwood area at the dawn of the 20th century.

The original owner of the home was James T. Gordon of the meat-packing firm Gordon, Ironside and Fares.

William R. Bawlf, son of Nicholas Bawlf, who founded the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, owned the property in the 1920s. The family—which lost most of its fortune in the stock market crash of 1929—lived there until the late 1930s.

Victor Sifton, owner and publisher of the Free Press, lived in the home until his sudden death in 1961.

Douglas Everett, a former senator, lived in the house into the 2000s.

The current owner, businessman Jeff Thompson, purchased the property in 2015.

Whether the building had protection would be a secondary concern to area residents if the current owner was committed to saving it. However, in 2016, Thompson revealed his intention to demolish the home and erect a condominium building in its place.

Those plans did not materialize and to this day the property remains zoned for a single family residence.

But the City of Winnipeg confirmed Tuesday that Thompson's company applied for demolition and building permits earlier this year. The permits were approved and issued April 25.

Typically, demolitions must take place within 30 days of the permit being issued, although it’s possible for city officials and the property owners to agree on an extension.

It remains unclear if an extension has been granted in this case. There is currently a movie being filmed at the property, which has led area residents to suspect the demolition will begin after the shoot wraps.

The residents first learned of the newly-issued permits — which grant permission to tear down the building and build a two-storey, 3,500 square-feet home in its place — last week.

Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg executive director.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg executive director.

'For 40 years the city recognized this home as having immense historical significance, but now it has no official protection from demolition. We have repeatedly challenged the city to explain this change. To date, Heritage Winnipeg has never received an official response' – Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell

Christine Skene, a spokeswoman for the area residents who’ve banded together to save the property, said they’re not convinced Thompson has shelved plans for a condo development at the location.

Skene and other neighbours are concerned that once the building is knocked down, the company will try again to get the property rezoned for a multi-family development—something area residents are overwhelmingly opposed to.

Christine Skene, spokeswoman for area residents, says they’re not convinced Thompson has shelved plans for a condo development at the location.

JEFF DE BOOY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Christine Skene, spokeswoman for area residents, says they’re not convinced Thompson has shelved plans for a condo development at the location.

"Our first request would be for it to stay single family. But if that absolutely can’t happen, then we would consider giving approval to converting the existing building into a three or four unit condo. The key thing is the building has to stay," Skene said.

"That building in that spot is what we want, to say nothing of the garden and the trees. It’s a very unique property in a fragile neighbourhood that should be protected. It’s history, it means so much more than just a house. And once it’s gone, it’s gone."

The Free Press spoke with Thompson Tuesday afternoon. He declined to answer any questions posed to him and accused the reporter of trying to "stir things up for a story."

Since the initial plans to demolish the building came to light in 2016, area residents started a petition called "Save 514 Wellington" that remains open and active. To date, more than 4,400 people have signed.

Once the opposition to Thompson’s plans from area residents became known, Skene said they found buyers — who were committed to maintaining the home — willing to purchase the property from Thompson for the same price he paid.

That offer was declined, Skene said.

"He’s been telling everyone the building is trashed inside and the truth is it’s not. They wouldn’t be renting it out for movie shoots if it was. The building is beautiful inside, it’s minty. It doesn’t need to come down," Skene said.

"We have been meeting as a community. We’re in the process of trying to contact everyone we can to get this stopped, whether it be legal action, public demonstration, whatever. This would be a huge loss for our city.

"The group is outraged. We’re mobilizing. We’ve got all kinds of things we’re trying to do to get the word out."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 6:18 AM CDT: Fixes typo

June 10, 2019 at 11:03 AM: Clarifies a numbered company owns the property.

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