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Guelph well represented at Architectural Conservancy of Ontario awards night

As you may have read elsewhere in these pages, I was the recipient of an Architectural Conservancy of Ontario award. To say I am honoured would be an understatement. Gobsmacked is more apt.
As I tried to articulate last Friday at the splendid Arts and Letters Club in downtown Toronto,  what an honour it is to be rewarded for doing one’s job. That it came out of the blue made me that much more appreciative. To those that put my name forward, thank you very much.
• • •
The conservancy is a fascinating organization with a membership that cuts a wide swath. From amazing craftsmen (craftspersons?) who painstakingly restore architectural gems; to esteemed architects; to plain heritage buffs who see the great value in preserving the past for the future; all see conservation as more than bricks and mortar.
• • •
Guelph? You want Guelph? The evening was steeped in Guelph. Conservancy prexy? Susan Ratcliffe. Guelph. Adaptive reuse runner-up? Jeremy Grant. Guelph. Player in transforming old city hall into a courthouse? Ida Seto. Guelph. The Margaret and Nicolas Hill Cultural Heritage Landscape Award? Guelph.
Furthermore everyone has nothing but praise for our downtown. Then there were the architects who lost an architectural design competition for a new city hall. That they lost is one thing. That the city pitched the eventual competition winner overboard remains a blight on Guelph’s name.
We paid the price with a so-so city hall whose saving grace is the Winter Fair building facade and Market Square with its water feature in the summer and skating rink in the winter.
• • •
In accepting my award I gave a mini-speech. I am not sure what I said. I had a piece of paper with talking points. It went something like this:
Thank you very much conservancy for this honour; I am lucky to have a forum called The Guelph Tribune; I am lucky to have (and to have had) a small but mighty staff that appreciates the trials and tribulations of heritage conservation; I am also lucky to have Heritage Guelph and the conservancy to flag issues of the day and help engage residents in these matters.
I went on to say that whatever city or town audience members may come from, there are constant battles. You win some, you lose some. I used the now-gone Mitchell Farmhouse and Loretto Convent as examples.
Once upon a time, Mitchell farmhouse sat high upon a hill, surrounded by a stand of trees. Not only is the farmhouse gone but so is the hill. The site is soon to be home to Costco. A loss.
There was a similar battle to save the Loretto Convent, another building that sits high upon a hill. It remains and today stands tall as a museum. A win.
Costco, or convent as museum? Which, I asked, which will stand the test of time?
In my nervousness, I forget to mention the next pitched battle coming down the pike – Guelph’s proposed heritage conservation district. It’s shaping up to be a knock down, drag’em out affair. I can hardly wait.

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