By Alan Pickersgill
When city councillors sit down to debate and decide the future of the Wilson farmhouse, they will have to confront an unpleasant truth.
Although it hasn’t fallen down yet, the house is dead. The city killed it by neglect. The developer of the Northern Heights residential subdivision took advantage of the city’s indifference and made sure the house could not, and would not, survive.
It is difficult to talk about who is responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves, because responsibility seems the wrong word to use.
Irresponsible captures things much more aptly.
When they were laying out the subdivision, they could have put the roads and houses anywhere. The developer consciously chose to put them where they are. Straight streets at right angles to each other. Had they put Webster Street any closer to the front door of the farmhouse, the right turn lane would have been in the living room.
The city has a very good parks and recreation department. There are beautiful, well-maintained parks all over the city. Except in the Northern Heights subdivision. Someone was asleep at the switch when the design blueprints for Wilson Farm Park were signed off.
If the idea was to capture the ecological heritage of that corner of Guelph, they would have planted some trees here and there. Maybe a couple of gentle hills would have broken the monotony. Parents of the King George school students did a better job of landscaping their playground, for heaven’s sake.
It takes much more than words on a sign to preserve the value of lost farmland. No effort was made to integrate the neighbourhood with the farm. No effort was made to create a park environment that reminds us of our agricultural past. Instead, they pointed the house’s backside at the park.
In many ways, keeping the Wilson farmhouse is like keeping your aging granny on life support in the futile hope that one day she’ll look young and pretty again. The difference is that if granny was put on her death bed by uncaring caregivers, someone would be charged with failing to provide the necessities of life. Someone would suffer the consequences.
A neighbour called it a “neglected house that does not fit into its surroundings.” Maybe it is, but 10 years ago the exact opposite was true.
It was given to the city in 2005 as part of the residential development approval process. Back then we were in the final dark days of the Quarrie administration. We had already lost the Mitchell farmhouse in the west. It is obvious now that despite lots of wonderful words, no strong protections were put into the agreement to take over a small part of the Wilson farm.
Who will wear the consequences of condemning this historic building to a lingering death? The city? Most of the politicians who ran the show back then were voted out of office.
The developer? He should, but has probably dodged the bullet. The neighbours who bought a broken promise when they purchased their homes? So far, they are the only ones being told to grin and bear it.
Those of us who would protect heritage buildings? We must start paying attention long before reaching the point of no return.
When councillors take their seats around the horseshoe next Monday, they should do so with all the solemnity of a family gathered in a palliative care room.
Their choices now are limited by the consequences of choices made (or avoided) a decade ago. Will they pull the plug on granny’s respirator or accept the economic, social and environmental burden of keeping her alive?