April 28, 2022
The Ontario Land Tribunal recently ruled that South Stormont Township must continue to treat the Raisin River Heritage Centre, 17283 County Road 18, St. Andrews West, as an important part of the cultural heritage of the Township.
In his judgement released April 19 2022, Tribunal Member Daniel Nelson emphatically stated there are no grounds to remove the Centre’s heritage designation — something Council proposed in January 2021 as the first step toward demolition of what the objectors’ Expert Witness Julie Harris described as an “increasingly rare example of an early Catholic convent and school in Ontario.”
Obviously pleased with the Tribunal’s ruling, those fighting to save the Centre realize there is still work to be done to once again make the former St. Andrew’s Convent an important functional centre in the Township.
“A huge challenge is the lack of land attached to the building,” said Jordan Munn, originator of a petition to “Save St. Andrew’s Convent” that gained over 1,300 signatures in early 2021. At the Tribunal hearing the Township’s Expert Witness Rick Taylor pointed out that the five feet perimeter surrounding the building would not even allow ambulances or emergency vehicles to access it. The septic system is also located “somewhere” on the surrounding property owned by the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.
“We are hopeful the School Board will agree to provide the small amount of additional land that would make the building viable, possibly by an easement or joint-use agreement,” said Munn. He and Kae Elgie, past chair Architectural Conservancy Ontario, had encouraging meetings with School Board officials about this last fall, he said.
The other challenge is finding an occupant and building use which will meet the School Board’s concerns about school children’s safety. Munn’s and Elgie’s meeting with School Board officials discussed several possible solutions, including limiting building use to outside school hours, or to people who have passed a police records check. “It will take creative thinking,” said Munn, “but it’s not impossible.” Munn and Elgie look forward to continuing to work with the Township and School Board to find a solution.
The Tribunal recommended that South Stormont Township update the designation bylaw for the Centre” to reflect the current requirements for such bylaws” under the Ontario Heritage Act. “It would be wonderful if the new bylaw had the same property dimensions as the original designation bylaw passed December 28, 1979,” said Elgie. “That bylaw referenced a 15,000 square foot parcel of land surrounding the convent. When the bylaw was registered on title in 1980, the property mysteriously and sadly shrank to just 5000 square feet.”