Regina heritage building with Louis Riel connection headed for the wrecking ball

·4 min read
The Burns Hanley Building at 1863 Cornwall St., in Regina, Sask.  (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)
The Burns Hanley Building at 1863 Cornwall St., in Regina, Sask. (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)

City council has voted in favour of demolishing a downtown Regina building with historic connections on the condition that its facade is preserved and maintained for use in future developments.

The decision to grant a demolition permit marks the end to a months-long debate on the fate of the Burns Hanley Building, which is more than a century old and located at 1863 Cornwall St.

It's a designated heritage building in the city's Victoria Park Heritage Conservation District, but fell into disrepair.

Debates around the future of the Burns Hanley Building centred around the city's decisions to not use its power under the Heritage Property Act, as well as decisions by the structure's owners, Harvard Developments, to ignore much-needed repairs that resulted in what advocates called "demolition by neglect."

At council, conversations around the building routinely devolved into discussions on trust, and whether Harvard Developments could be held to its word.

"Council is being asked to trust Harvard to get this facade back up in a preserved way. I just don't have any confidence they'll do it," said Coun. Bob Hawkins on Wednesday.

'The building is unsafe'

The Burns Hanley Building sits on the site once occupied by St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, which was built in 1883.

That church was where Louis Riel's body was briefly kept after the Métis leader's execution in 1885, before it was sent to Winnipeg.

The Burns Hanley Building was constructed on the site in 1912.

In July 2021, Harvard Developments applied for a permit to demolish the building, citing its deteriorating condition.

However, reports presented to council showed that the deterioration was the result of repairs not being completed.

A 2019 engineering report by JCK Engineering found the building had undergone years of sustained water damage due to a damage roof and broken pipes.

The report recommended $200,000 in repairs that would have helped to stabilize the building.

JCK Engineering/City of Regina
JCK Engineering/City of Regina

No repairs were carried out, and two years later another report found that water damage was so severe, and the condition were so poor, that engineers were unable to inspect parts of the structure.

"The building is unsafe and should not be occupied for any reason," the report concludes.

Due to the extensive damage, the repair estimates skyrocketed to $4.7 million. That includes structural repairs, shoring up walls, and removal of debris and hazardous material.

How Regina got here

Council deferred on demolishing the building and referred the topic to the province's Heritage Review Board.

In April, the board presented a recommendation that the City of Regina and Harvard Developments consider a redevelopment agreement that includes the preservation of the facade of the building.

If the facade was not preserved during the demolition of the building, then the agreement could be negotiated to guarantee the reconstruction of the facade, the report said.

JCK Engineering/City of Regina
JCK Engineering/City of Regina

Reconstruction was the option that Harvard preferred and it's the option that city council ultimately approved on Wednesday, after a final decision on the building was delayed twice this spring.

An effort by Coun. Bob Hawkins to have an independent third-party expert weigh in on the city's options, and a motion by Coun. Daniel LeBlanc for the city to direct Harvard to brace and fence off the facade while it demolishes the rest of the building were both voted down by the majority of councillors.

What comes next

Harvard will now be required to register the use of the facade on the title of the land.

Company representatives have previously told council that it will take apart the facade brick by brick and store so it can be used in a future development.

On Wednesday, Coun. Hawkins expressed doubt about whether that would come to pass.

"I simply believe that bricks will be lost in the process of deconstruction," he said.

"The storage will be difficult, bordering on impossible, and will in all likelihood go on for years and probably more than a decade, and that the reconstruction process itself will be problematic."

Harvard Developments president and CEO Rosanne Blaisdell told council in May that the company would like to begin demolition of the building within 30 days if the motion was approved.

Harvard's initial application did not have a proposed redevelopment plan, despite a city bylaw requiring one.

Instead, Harvard said its initial plan was to fill in the basement of the demolished building. It plans to acquire neighbouring properties before developing a high-rise tower.

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