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This article was published 14/6/2019 (672 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
An emergency order stopping demolition crews from tearing down a century-old mansion on Wellington Crescent has triggered a lengthy process to designate Crescentwood a heritage conservation district.
As demolition crews were preparing to level the Gordon House at 514 Wellington Cres., City of Winnipeg planning, property, and development director John Kiernan nominated Crescentwood for HCD consideration on June 6.
The nomination suspended demolition permits at 514 Wellington Cres., and suspends all future demolition or alteration of structures and built features within the working boundaries of the Crescentwood HCD. More than 120 individual properties are included within the boundary.
In late April, City administration identified Crescentwood as a candidate for HCD status in a report to city councillors and said it would continue to explore nominating the area. However, the demolition permit for 514 Wellington, issued shortly after the April report, and the presence of wrecking crews on the lot kicked the process into high gear.
"The fact that a major historical piece in that neighbourhood was imminently threatened to be demolished pushed the process out faster," Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said. "They were going to come forward with the recommendation regardless, but they had to do it a little bit faster because of the imminent threat."
The Gordon House was built in 1909 and has been the primary residence for a number of prominent Manitobans. James Thomas Gordon (1858-1919), a legislator and executive with the Winnipeg Exposition Company, the Dominion Exposition, and the Winnipeg Livestock Exchange, was the first occupant of the mansion. More recently, the late senator Douglas Donald Everett (1927-2018), lived in the home until 2016, when it was purchased by Jeff Thompson of Leader Equity. The more than 8,000-square-foot home is assessed at $1.2 million, according to the City of Winnipeg property roll, and is a commemorative historical property.
A request for comment from Thompson was not returned. The emergency conservation order can be appealed to the standing policy committee on property and development, heritage, and downtown development, on June 24.
Christine Skene, a Crescentwood resident and member of the Save 514 Wellington committee, was part of a group that protested the demolition of the house prior to the emergency conservation order being issued, and pledged to picket outside the demolition fences until a piece of heavy machinery was removed from the grounds.
"I think it’s time and the City should be getting the message that heritage is important to everybody," Skene said. "That doesn’t mean saving every old building; it means saving the important ones and the ones that are important to a community, a neighbourhood."
Mary Hall, who lives a few blocks away in River Heights, said her family chose Winnipeg as their home because of the heritage elements in the city and the sense of culture and community.
"With a building like this, once it’s gone, then it’s gone and there’s no bringing it back," Hall said. "We are proud Winnipeggers and one of the reasons we are is because of the culture, the history and the people."
Skene said there’s widespread support across Winnipeg to preserve 514 Wellington and other historically significant parts of the neighbourhood. She said the Peanut Park Heritage Conservation District committee has been working for years with the City to establish Crescentwood as a HCD.
"By having the director nominate us, we’re now ready to go," Skene said. "So it will be a couple of years of hard work, in that there’s a public consultation process, and all kinds of exercises and efforts to define what level of heritage conservation we need. So we’re ready for that."
A spokesperson for the City said the nomination of the neighbourhood has no impact on any other permit processes or other property rights, and only demolition applications are suspended. Property owners in the affected area will receive direct mail explaining the nomination and next steps. The City will also foot the bill for a heritage conservation district study and plan, estimated to cost up to $100,000.
Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said it’s a huge relief to know the City will be covering the costs. According to a City administrative report, when a community group makes the application for nomination, that group also has to pay for the study.
"That’s why I was so thrilled," Tugwell said, adding it’s a big ordeal for non-profits and community groups to raise money for studies. "For (the City) to come forward and say something like that is very proactive. Of course, the nomination was initiated by the possibility of 514 Wellington being demolished. So it took something terrible and really gave it a great positive spin."
Tugwell said Heritage Winnipeg will be working collaboratively with the City and community moving forward.
As consultation begins and the definition of heritage in the area is established, Orlikow said there is a possibility the community could reject an HCD designation, and he’s keeping an open mind to all the views represented in the neighbourhood.
"I do believe that heritage has an incredible value to Winnipeg, not only the neighbourhood," he said. "So, I do support preserving it as we can, but I also respect the fact that we do have private ownership rights, so I have to work with that balance in mind."
It could take at least two years to move through the HCD study, plan, and adoption process. However, Orlikow would like to see that wrapped up in half the time in order to resolve some of the longstanding disputes in the community.
"I believe providing more clarity for people who want to buy in the neighbourhood and who own buildings presently will resolve a lot of conflicts," he said.
More information about the heritage conservation district bylaw is available online at https://winnipeg.ca/ppd/Heritage/Districts.stm
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.