Historical protection of Windsor, Ont., street curbs halts driveway construction

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
On the left, the historic curb being protected in Windsor, Ont. On the right, new curb, not under protection. (Google Maps)

In towns and cities across the country, street curbs are doing yeoman’s duties with little consideration or celebration by those in their community.

Not exactly so in Windsor, Ont., however, where the presence of 130-year-old stone curbs is considered a matter of cultural heritage and being protected by the city.

Consider it one of those moments when souvenirs from Canada’s past are discovered and not universally celebrated.

The Windsor Star recently reported that one couple, whose home sits behind those celebrated curbs, has been stymied by the heritage recognition, which is blocking their desire to build a parking lot in front of their home.

According to the newspaper, Karen Fisk’s application to cut away a piece of the curb to allow for a driveway is being opposed by the city’s heritage planner – who suggests destroying the curb would be an affront to a rare heritage resource.

“I think it’s horrible. Whenever I tell somebody about this, they just laugh,” Fisk told the newspaper.

The historically valuable curb is believed to be 130 years old, and would likely be among the oldest street curbs remaining in Canada.

A London, Ont., heritage guide notes that curb remaining on that city’s Prospect Avenue have rings used for hitching horses embedded within, which would date those curbs back to the 1890s.

(As it happens, Prospect Avenue falls within a region of London recently proposed as a heritage conservation area.)

Then again, does it really matter? Are old curbs really worth the hassle of maintaining them for all time?

To Canada’s benefit, there are thousands of protected buildings and features across the country.

There are a handful of national historic sites and UNESCO World Heritage sites, and far more heritage buildings protected and cherished by the provinces and individual municipalities.

There are some 1,100 properties of noted cultural heritage significance in Windsor alone.

Reasons for the heritage designation vary, from the type of architecture to specific qualities – everything from historic significance to unique window frames.

Sure enough, listed among Windsor’s heritage properties are the stone curbs that run along the 400 and 500 blocks of Kildare Road.

The reason for their inclusion on the list is simply noted as, “early streetscape elements.”

Those stone curbs are the only set listed on the list of heritage sites, which perhaps speaks to their uniqueness.

Then again, it could also speak to the meaninglessness of the feature. Is there much to be learned or remembered by protecting that curb?

The curbs do not currently have a heritage designation, but are among the many listed for potential designation.

The issue is set to be considered further on Jan. 12, and the Fisk family could appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board if the ruling doesn’t go in their favour.

They wouldn’t be the first to protest heritage protection.

The Ottawa Citizen reported in December that a section of the Broadview Public School that was built in 1927 is set to receive a heritage designation. The protection of the old school could deride a parent-led campaign for a new facility.

Two years ago, the Province of Prince Edward Island and the Town of Kensington clashed over a bid to make the local post office building a heritage site. Town officials balked at the idea because it could block development to the building – located at the town’s main intersection.

And as recently as this August, Hamilton moved to fast-track heritage designations for 17 buildings, and added 900 other addresses to the heritage registry list, in a bid to save them from construction or demolition.

For all the ancient stately homes of unquestioned historical significance, it would seem there are just as many properties of questionable status; properties that are saved by such designations. Every building has a story to tell, after all. And it would seem that old adage can be extended to street curbs.

If they are old enough.