Residents fight to save heritage house in Lakefield

·3 min read

LAKEFIELD — Opponents protested Thursday outside of a historic house in Lakefield that is scheduled to be demolished.

The house at 44 Bridge St. was built in about 1860, according to Tom McAllister.

“There’s only two stone buildings in the village of Lakefield and this is the largest one. It was built by the owner of the original grist mill on the west side of the Otonabee (River), so this is a historical building that goes right back to the founding of the village,” McAllister said.

“The guy that bought it from him five years later went on to be a city councillor for about 10 years and then, at that point, the village reeve. One guy that owned it was a history teacher at Lakefield College School … another guy was a dentist. It’s been part of the fabric of the community for 160 years.”

The current owner of the home is Habitat for Humanity, he said.

“They bought it for $750,000 in 2018 and they put it on the market because they had this opportunity for a 41-unit building on Leahy’s Lane down in Peterborough,” McAllister said.

“Where it stands right now, is they had received a conditional offer that expires today.”

He said he’s unsure whether the prospective buyer has waived conditions and made the offer firm, or if Habitat for Humanity will remain the owner.

“Right now, it’s in flux. We would welcome the opportunity to have a chance to sit down and speak with whoever the owner is, whether it’s still Habitat or whether or not there’s a new owner, to see if there is some way of preceding so that this irreplaceable piece of Lakefield’s history is not lost,” McAllister said.

The building should have been included on Selwyn Township’s heritage registry, which would provide some protection with 60 days of notice required before demolition, he said.

“But, unfortunately, for whatever reasons, it was not added to the registry and so the view of the building office was that when the application for demolition came through, because it’s not on any protected list, sure we’ll issue a demolition permit,” McAllister said.

The municipal heritage committee has citizen members and two township representatives, including the township’s building and planning manager Robert Lamarre, he said.

“When you wear two hats, one as the chief building officer of the township, and one as the staff member on the municipal heritage committee, when you’re sitting in that meeting, which of the two hats are you wearing? Because those hats are hugely in conflict,” McAllister said.

Another member of the committee put the property forward as a potential addition to the registry in October, he said.

“Rob was sitting in the meeting and didn’t bother mentioning to him that a demolition permit had been issued two months before,” McAllister said.

“If we’d known in October, imagine what the community could have done in terms of trying to get organized and have conversations with the current owner and so forth if we had just known. There was no for sale sign put on the property so the community didn’t know it was in play.”

McAllister said he’s not trying to blackball anyone. “It’s just that the people that had the information didn’t share it either by oversight, but quite frankly, more likely by design,” he said.

“Ostensibly Habitat for Humanity were either told explicitly or implicitly that the site was viewed as having no historical significance and we want to make it really clear to either Habitat if they continue to own it ,or if there’s a new purchaser, that the community feels very strongly to the contrary.”

Marissa Lentz is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: mlentz@peterboroughdaily.com

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner