LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Objection to repeal of Locomotive #17’s heritage status

Seaway News Staff
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Objection to repeal of Locomotive #17’s heritage status
Locomotive #17

Manon L. Levesque, CMO, City Clerk, Clerk’s Division

The Corporation of the City of Cornwall


Objection to Repeal of By-law 134-2006 (Locomotive #17)

I am writing this as a private citizen, but full disclosure, I am a member of Heritage-Patrimoine Cornwall (HPC) and a life member of the SD&G Historical Society.  My opinions/views are based on what I have read, what I have experienced, what I have witnessed.

I am objecting for seven reasons.

1.  The Process was flawed

Administration and Council did not appear to be up to speed about the de-designation process. No one person could speak definitively about the process and its repercussions.

On January 11, 2021, there was a motion passed by Council for Administration to look into sending Engine #17 to Smiths Falls. HPC was not informed.

On February 3, there was a motion passed to send Engine #17 to Smiths Falls.  A contract/covenant was entered into with outside parties, with stipulations and a penalty clause.  HPC was not informed or consulted. The last time HPC was consulted was in 2020 when they were asked the location preference for the engine:  the present location, near the Civic Complex, or the Benson Centre.  HPC submitted a preference for its present site, giving the same reasons for its move there from the Water Treatment plant location.  If a move was absolutely necessary, the Benson Centre was a second choice because it too was in close proximity to the rail line the engine used to traverse.

The moratorium motion of April 12 was introduced to give an interested group a month to update their alternative proposal.  It was withdrawn on April 26 in the mistaken belief that this interested group would be given more time (three months) to update their alternative power point presentation.  As it turned out, they have only been permitted to make a written objection to the de-designation. No presentation to Council, as promised.

There was a request made on March 24 of HPC to give their opinion regarding de-designating Engine#17 to enable its move to Smiths Falls – after the contract was made, after the motion by Council to gift the artefact to Smiths Falls and after agreeing to pay for the approximate $50,000 cost of the move.  HPC held a special meeting on March 29 (their monthly meeting was scheduled for April 8) in order to make a deadline given of April 5 to give their opinion.  If none was received by that date, it was to be assumed that they were in agreement with the aforementioned motion.  HPC unanimously opposed the de-designation if it was tied to the move to Smiths Falls.  The HPC opposition was not noted in any of the debate.

There seemed to be confusion as to how the de-designation process was going to proceed.  It was not clearly explained by anyone.

It was said that the contract entered was not binding.  However, the Smiths Falls museum was already preparing a bed for Engine#17 and searching for the removed parts.  There was an expectation that it would arrive by the end of May.

2.  The Councillors did not have a fair assessment of the situation.

They could not do their due diligence because they were not provided with complete and comprehensive information.

Not one of them sought information from HPC or questioned the HPC opinion on the de-designation.

A representative Councilor has not attended HPC meetings for some time, affecting communication between HPC and Council.

In addition, the turnover of a City rep from the Planning Division (three in the last while – all who have been excellent and helpful) has some effect on effective communication.

It is noteworthy that I know of only four Councilors who have been near the HPC archives.  Two were Council reps assigned to the committee, one came for research purposes and one came briefly to seek assistance with a proposed project they were interested in.

3.  The significance of the artefact was not and could not be fully realized.

From the Notice of Intention to Repeal:

“It has been proposed that the Locomotive be donated to the Smith Falls Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario where it be appropriately refurbished and displayed.  It will be held in a place of honor with appropriate signage to indicate its importance to Cornwall’s history.”

What a sad state of affairs that a community 100kms away would be holding Engine #17 in a place of honour realizing its importance to Cornwall’s history.  And Cornwall apparently does not!!!

Engine #17 represents Cornwall’s golden industrial past. Cornwall has a wonderful, unique and fascinating history that sadly few people know about.  Sometimes it is necessary to have a touchstone to start the conversation going.  That touchstone to the past could/should be the Engine.  It could be a landmark to let the public know that nearby is information of interest.

HPC is a mandated advisory committee on heritage matters for the City.  It is advisory only.  It does not fundraise.  Information is collected and provided to City Council.  Council then acts on that advice, one way or another. In 2006, the City Council accepted the extensive report that HPC provided on the Engine and decided it to be worthy of designation. With designation comes an expectation of care.  When owners of designated properties are negligent, the Administration reminds them of their obligation (e.g. Grammar School 39 Fourth St. East). The City is the owner of the Engine.

HPC also does public education.  An annual Heritage Fair is held in February. Informative meetings, seminars and workshops are held.  They hosted the annual provincial Heritage Conference in 2014, where Cornwall had a chance to shine, particularly with its brownfield developments.  In 2019, a special public meeting was held at the Library.  The guest speaker gave a presentation on Cornwall’s Industrial History.  It included the importance of Engine #17 to that history. City Councilors are welcome at all these events but rarely partake.

4.  Neglect of the artefact

From the Notice of Intention to Repeal:

“While many Councils have acknowledged the role of the Locomotive in the City’s history, no commitment has been made to refurbish the locomotive or locate it in a more accessible place.

In 1971, Engine #17, along with its sister Engine #4, was given to the City as a gift.  They sat on Domtar property, with no care given, rusting away. It was stated in the Report of April 26 that there was no obligation by the City to care for it. Well, if that was the mindset from the beginning, that really set the tone for the subsequent years.

In 1981, Engine #4 was scrapped because it could not be salvaged.  However, Engine #17 was spruced up a bit and put on display at the Water Treatment Plant. Donations were requested and donations were forthcoming. I believe the Kinsmen Club of Cornwall even donated $20,000.

In 1991, another 10-year span, with little or no maintenance happening, a former street railway employee repainted it.

In 2005, it was moved to its present site, located inches from where the rail line it used to traverse ran. At the time, it was located adjacent to the Tourist Bureau.

In 2006, it was designated, an action whereby there was an expectation that the City, as owner, would care for it.

World Changers, a group of volunteer teens from the United States working with Chuck Charlebois, painted Engine #17, as one of their many projects in the City to improve properties. There was no consultation with HPC.  House paint was used and improper colours were chosen. The paint did not stand up to the elements for very long.

Yes indeed, many Councils have acknowledged the role of the Locomotive in the City’s history, but they obviously did not fully comprehend that role.  Lip service was paid, but not care.  Care has been initiated by others. If a proper maintenance plan by the owners had been devised, the artefact would not have reached its present state.

There is a file on Engine #17 in the HPC archives in the Cornwall Room of the Cornwall Public Library.  It includes the reasons for designation and its maintenance history.  There are photos.  There are reports on repairs needed, paint requirements. There is an extensive report on its lead content.  The Ministry of Environment indicated strict guidelines must be followed to rid the lead.  In 2013, it was estimated that it would cost $50,000 to stabilize the engine by sandblasting off the lead paint and protecting it immediately with a clear coat.  Subsequent repairs and painting could commence with a maintenance schedule.  Money was put in reserve to cover this.

It was mentioned in the yearly HPC budget submissions, including explanatory notes.  A reserve fund was set up. That reserve fund was recently removed, without informing HPC. Now $50,000 has been found to cover the cost of moving it.

When HPC enquired as to whom they should provide reports to, it was discovered that none of the City Departments had taken ownership. Engine #17 had been an orphan for quite some time.

Yes, Engine #17 is presently in a sad state.  Its neighbours are not particularly fond of it. It is an embarrassment to everyone. Is that why it has been delegated to leave? But it could be resurrected. If the City can resurrect itself from the blows it has received, why could they not spare a little care for the Engine?

The last relic.  Not the prettiest, but the last.

5.  Confusion as to who the different local parties are and are frequently referred to interchangeably

There is a difference between Heritage-Patrimoine Cornwall and the SD&G Historical Society. Confusing the two leads to misunderstanding.

The HPC (a mandated Municipal Committee connected to the Planning Division) is an advisory committee on heritage matters for the City. Members are appointed after each Municipal Election.

The SD&G Historical Society, who have a partnership with the City, is made up of people interested in history, focusing on local history.  They are partners with the City in the running of the Community Museum. The Society owns the artefacts, the City owns the museum building.

Not part of the preceding two groups is a separate group that wished to make a presentation before City Council. Let’s call them Engine #17 fans. In a communication with them it was assumed they were making a presentation on behalf of the Heritage Committee.

Because of shared interests, members of these groups may belong to more than one group and know which “hat” they are wearing when in conversations.



6.  Communication was flawed

It was surprising that any communication that occurred appears to have been only with an outside organization, the Smiths Falls Museum.

It was said that there were no local groups willing to come forward to take on the project. I beg to differ. There were groups that were willing. There is no evidence that any of them were contacted. In fact, some of the interested parties had gotten together to work as one.  However, Covid 19 had significant ramifications on their work.

It was said that there was no evidence of any fundraising efforts. In fact, preliminary work on funding had been undertaken.  However, an aggressive fundraising campaign was deemed out of the question and inappropriate due to the pandemic.  There were already major fundraising efforts underway (e.g. Arts Centre, Children’s Treatment Centre) and some groups even found it necessary to put their fundraising efforts on hold or abandon them altogether. An additional group seeking funds did not seem to be prudent. Besides, after 50 years of neglect, surely another year would not matter. So, why the sudden rush?!

In addition, in order for a local group to proceed, it would be necessary for them to partner with the City, as the City was the owner of the artefact.  It has been difficult for interested parties to find an appropriate time to propose anything to Council to be able to progress with amenable plans as the subject was deemed “too contentious”. Why, or how could these people proceed if the major partner was absent?

Communication with HPC appeared to be an afterthought. (See Objection 1)

7.  History repeating itself

When I saw that the City Council had decided to send Engine #17 to Smiths Falls my immediate reaction was rather visceral.  It immediately conjured up memories of the filling in of the Canal, the demolition of the Capitol Theatre and the erection of the salt tanks on the waterfront. All handled behind closed doors, all resulting in the displeasure of the public and all of which placed the politicians involved in a bad light.

So much confusion, so many flaws. This all could have been handled in a much more convivial manner.

February is Heritage Month in Canada.  It is so ironic that City Council, in the month of February, moved to send Engine #17 as a gift to Smiths Falls, and to add insult to injury, are paying for the move.

Carole Libbey

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