Cottage belonging to 'father of standard time' must be saved, locals say

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Cottage belonging to 'father of standard time' must be saved, locals say

Cottage belonging to 'father of standard time' must be saved, locals say

It doesn't look like much from the outside — an abandoned building with boarded-up windows and doors.

But some Halifax residents say the summer cottage belonging to the so-called "father of standard time," Sir Sandford Fleming, is falling into disrepair and needs to be saved.

The building at 30 Dingle Rd. in Sir Sandford Fleming Park on Halifax's Northwest Arm hasn't been lived in for years.

The municipality, which owns the 1½-storey building, has been keeping the heat on. Staff have also hired an architect to assess the state of the building and report back on what it might cost to restore it.

A solution can't come fast enough for Iris Shea. The amateur historian and member of the Mainland South Heritage Society said she's frustrated that the building has been neglected.

"It's a shame," Shea said. "It's very sad to see it like this."

She said there hasn't been much maintenance done to the building, and it looks "old and tired."

Neglect is in the details

Even the date on the blue municipal heritage plaque next to the front door is incorrect, Shea said.

The plaque says 1847, but Fleming bought the property in 1871, she said, and he would have built it for his gardener around that time.

Fleming's name is also misspelled. There is a 'd' missing from the word Sandford.

Halifax architect Sydney Dumaresq — who recently finished conserving the neighbouring Dingle Tower, which his grandfather designed — said Fleming used the property as a summer retreat for his children and grandchildren.

Dumaresq called the property, which had gazebos, a barn, ponies, a bridle path, a boathouse, beaches and a little cottage, a "paradise."

It would have been "a magical experience," he said.

Generous gift

Fleming eventually deeded much of the approximately 120-hectare parcel of land to the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in trust for the municipality.

It was a generous gift, Dumaresq said. 

"Imagine where we'd be without that park," he said. "It's just a vital part of our community now."

Fleming is believed to have died in the cottage.

The building is worth saving, Dumaresq said, because it is one of the "only physical mementoes" left of Fleming.

Father of standard time

Sir Sandford Fleming is often called the "father of standard time" because he invented the world's time zone system.

He was also chief surveyor for the Intercolonial Railway, Canada's first national infrastructure project.

Fleming also designed Canada's first postage stamp, and put his own creative twist on it.

"Somehow he convinces the postmaster general to put not a picture of the king, but a picture of the beaver — a rodent — on the three-penny stamp," Dumaresq said.

Restoration plans

Dumaresq said he wants the building to be restored and something done on the site to tell Fleming's story so that the people of Halifax can appreciate what a "visionary" he was.

Shea wonders if the cottage could be designated a national heritage site as a way to access money for restoration work. Or perhaps a benefactor would come forward, she said.

Spokeswoman for the municipality, Tiffany Chase, said until the city has assessed which repairs are required and the possible costs, it's too soon to talk about the possibility of restoration work.

Fireplace embedded with amethysts

The building itself has some unique features, including a steep roof that hangs over the veranda and small triangular dormers that jut out from the upper floor.

Inside is a beach stone fireplace that stretches from floor to ceiling. Shea said it used to be embedded with pale mauve Nova Scotia amethysts, although many have been stolen over the years.

They were hard to see with the naked eye, she said, but they "glistened" whenever the sun shone through the windows.

Take an audio tour of the cottage here: