THE ONGOING BATTLE FOR HERITAGE IN THE COUNTY

In September 2010, this community watched in horror as an 1875 former Methodist Church was demolished on Picton’s Main Street. The destruction of the building was rated as one of the top ten heritage losses of that year by the National Heritage Trust of Canada. Today, the site remains a weedy, vacant lot – a sort of perpetual heritage crime scene and tribute to thoughtless development.

 

Last week, Sandbanks Park officials achieved their agenda of demolishing two heritage homes – the Hyatt house (circa 1869) and the MacDonald home (circa 1878) despite repeated requests from our Mayor and Council, the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee, and other heritage groups including the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, to meet onsite to explore creative, alternative options. We wanted to discuss the re-imagining of the buildings as additional accommodation for visitors and park staff, as restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, interpretative centres and exhibit spaces to meet both the needs of the park, visitors and residents. Those meeting invitations were declined, and on September 9th, both buildings fell victim to demolition crews hauling the materials to a landfill site. Park officials now say they are open to a meeting – about commemorative plaques.

The park’s disrespectful attitude showcases a longstanding issue that dates back to its expropriation of properties in the 1970s. Many local families – including my own – remember the heavy-handed “take or leave it” approach to negotiations. The Lakeshore lodge was left neglected until vandals burned it down. The Hyatt and MacDonald homes, originally scheduled to be restored as part of the park’s management plan, were also abandoned. After 40 years of their own neglect, park officials now argued that the buildings were beyond restoration and represented a public safety hazard. This too is untrue.

Inexplicably, park officials have spared the hog barn at the MacDonald property as a property worth preserving. This is good to know. Hog barns at the park are “keepers” – even though heritage homes are not.


So, what can be done now that these homes are lost to history? Those of us involved in this heritage battle over the last decade feel strongly that there are a number of steps which need to be undertaken.


Our local government should demand – not request – a meeting with the Minister responsible for parks, the Hon. David Piccini, our local MPP Todd Smith, park officials and the community to develop a new and more equitable relationship. Currently, the park operates as a separate kingdom within the municipality. While we all recognize the economic spin off from its over 700,000 annual visitors, there is also a cost to the community from congested road traffic, litter and garbage, noise, and other inconveniences from such a heavy influx of tourists over a short season.


Local officials have for a number of years wanted to have a surcharge added to park gate admissions so there is a direct financial contribution to the municipality. We feel there should be a minimum $2/per person heritage fee as well that assists the community in maintaining and restoring its many heritage properties and cultural landscapes. Directed into a community fund to support heritage projects and initiatives, this would be a significant step forward in repairing the park’s dismal relationship with the community around it.


We also believe the entire ministry process to amend its park management plan – to allow for demolition – should become a case study documenting the many badly – flawed steps that characterized this bungled approach.


Finally, we believe it is now time to form a strong local chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, an idea discussed over a decade ago when we watched the demolition of the former Methodist Church on Picton’s Main Street. There is a chapter based in Belleville. But like many heritage organizations in the area, it is small, volunteer – based, older, and under-resourced. It is timely to create a County chapter to serve as an umbrella group for the many local organizations struggling to preserve heritage in all its many forms – historic homes, conservation areas, museums, town halls, cemeteries, and churches.


This is a watershed moment. And these are just three ideas of many that can be undertaken – because we cannot continue to do what we have always done in the past. It is time for a bigger, bolder vision of this special place that aligns with the vision and statements in our new official plan, and to develop a practical, thoughtful plan to achieve them.


For more information, visit our website at https://saveheritagesandbankshomes.com/

Peter Lockyer

Save Sandbanks Heritage Homes

Save Sandbanks Heritage Homes

Historic Prince Edward County, Ontario is home to many heritage buildings and cultural landscapes all contributing to its special appeal as a major international tourism destination. And yet the community continues to struggle with preserving its special spaces. In recent decades, there have been many efforts to save heritage buildings and properties from neglect and demolition. While there have been some successes, there have also been many significant losses. 
 
A current battle is to save two historic homes located within the Sandbanks Provincial Park – a major destination for over 700,000 visitors each year. Park officials want to demolish the Hyatt and MacDonald homes (circa 1870s) as early as September, 2021 despite earlier plans to restore them to meet ongoing visitor needs. Many community residents are urging officials to delay demolition until other development alternatives can be carefully considered. Will this fight be a victory for heritage conservation….or another tragic loss to the county’s dwindling inventory of heritage assets? We will soon find out.

CKWS TV BROADCASTS THE HISTORY MOMENTS SERIES

Beginning every Monday afternoon from March 2 – May 25th 2015, CKWS TV
in Kingston will be broadcasting The History Moments series – short
video vignettes on local history themes. 

Over the next 13 weeks, excerpts from the five series produced by
History Lives Here Inc. will showcase popular history stories on early
settlement, founding industries, prominent people and significant
events, which have shaped the history of Eastern Ontario. The series
airs on ‘Ws Daily, the station’s current affairs show which airs
weekdays from 5 – 6 pm.

The series kicked off on Monday, March 2 with an interview with series
producer Peter Lockyer discussing the project, plans for a new series
scheduled to be launched this fall in Kingston, and his introduction of a
segment on the Fox Sisters of Prince Edward County, two teenagers who
are credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement in the
1840s. Katie and Maggie Fox claimed they could communicate with the
after life through a series of knocking sounds they interpreted. The
idea didn’t seem so preposterous in an age when American inventor Samuel
Morse had demonstrated how a series of telegraph clicks could be
communicated across vast distances and translated into messages. And in
an era when so many families were suffering the loss of wives in
childbirth, and children from a wide variety of diseases for which there
were not yet any cures, the Fox Sisters provided hope to a grieving
nation. The girls became an instant sensation making $150/night
conducting demonstrations of their abilities in lecture halls across the
country. In reality, the Fox Sisters were frauds able to make their
knocking sounds by snapping their toes on hardwood floors. Yet they were
also gifted clairvoyants who told skeptics and families things about
their loved ones they could not possibly have known by tricks alone.
Today, Maggie and Katie Fox remain two of the greatest historical
figures from the rich past of Prince Edward County.

Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County 200th Birthday News Release For January 11, 2015

The Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County celebrated at the iconic Fairmont Royal York Hotel as a sold out crowd of 400 guests and dignitaries including Ontario Premier, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, former Conservative prime minister, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, marked Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th birthday on Saturday, January 10th, 2015.  TVO host Steve Paikin served as Master of Ceremonies of the event celebrating Canada’s first prime minister, and the chief architect of the country.  

Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda, Ontario Premier, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, artist Ruth Abernethy and former Conservative prime minister, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell

The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a stunning, larger –than – life bronze statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, entitled ‘Holding Court.’ The work by renowned Canadian artist, Ruth Abernethy, depicts Macdonald as a young lawyer addressing a jury at his very first court case in Picton, Upper Canada on October 8, 1834. Macdonald won the case successfully defending himself against an assault charge occasioned by a practical joke. Four months later at the age of twenty, he graduated from the Law Society of Upper Canada as an attorney – the beginning of his career in both law and politics. 

Artist Ruth Abernethy by her statue of Sir John A. Macdonald

The sculpture will be unveiled in downtown Picton on Canada Day 2015. Picton and neighbouring communities in the area – known as the Quinte area to local residents – were a formative part of Macdonald’s early years. Throughout his life he often referred to himself as a “Quinte boy” and reflected fondly upon these years as some of the best of his life. The artwork celebrates the largely untold story of Macdonald’s youth, his humble origins as the only son in a family of Scottish immigrants who moved to the Quinte area in the 1830s, and his persevering efforts to develop his legal career.

Bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald

David Warrick, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County, thanked all of the event supporters for joining the festivities and celebrating the life of this remarkable Canadian. “Sir John A. Macdonald was a gifted orator, politician and statesman. He lived in very challenging times, and suffered a great many personal tragedies. But he helped forge a coalition of nation builders who collectively created our country. He changed the course of history. We owe him our great thanks for the legacy he has left us.”

Marilyn and David Warrick, artist Ruth Abernethy and Richard Gwyn, author and biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald

The Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County is a non profit organization established to commemorate and celebrate Sir John A. Macdonald’s younger years as the most famous resident of Prince Edward County, a small island community of about 25,000 people near Belleville, Ontario.

To learn more about The Macdonald Project, visit our website at www.macdonaldproject.com. or contact David Warrick, Chair of the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County, Email david.warrick@me.com  

Please follow us on twitter @youngSirJohnA

MURRAY CANAL CELEBRATES 125TH ANNIVERSARY!

About 100 people attended a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the official opening of the Murray Canal on Saturday, October 18, 2014.

Organized by the Murray Canal Organization in partnership with History Lives Here Inc., the event was developed to mark the anniversary year with a celebration of this historic site. The volunteer organizers hope to make the event an annual one tied closely to other regional activities such as the development of the Macdonald Heritage Trail to be launched in 2015, and the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County, which will install a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Picton on Canada Day 2015. Next year is the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth and celebrations are planned across the country.

Macdonald’s was Canada’s first prime minister and remains the area’s most famous citizen. He spent much of his early years in the Quinte area living in Napanee, Hay Bay, and Picton, and often reflected fondly on his years as a “Quinte Boy”.  The new Macdonald Heritage Trail will link sites stretching from Kingston through Napanee, Bath, Hay Bay, Prince Edward County, Belleville and Quinte West – including the Murray Canal – through a visitor site map to be made available next year.

Sir John A. Macdonald actually opened the Murray Canal twice – once on October 6th, 1886 for its preliminary opening and again on April 14th, 1889 when it officially opened to marine traffic. For those who attended this last ceremony, the event must have been a special day as the project took nearly 100 years to complete.

In the first days of Loyalist settlement in the 1790s, land was set aside for its construction with an additional 3,000 acres to be sold to pay for the project. Over the decades, war with the Americans and the constant threat to shipping and sailors off the dangerous shores of Prince Edward County, kept the issue of the canal construction front and centre in area politics. But while there were many surveys of the proposed canal route – there were at least five surveys undertaken in 1824, 1833, 1837, 1845, 1866 and 1881- there was no construction. Over time, the threat of war with the United States subsided, and steamships replaced the great age of sail. Railways were the rage, and the issue of constructing a canal to link Presqu’ile Bay with the Bay of Quinte remained a largely local concern. Infighting among local groups over the canal route didn’t help matters.

Still construction of the canal remained a persistent concern championed by the timber industry and local politicians like James Biggar, and Joseph Keeler, the MPs for Northumberland and Mackenzie Bowell of Belleville, a minister in the Macdonald governments. Their lobbying efforts paid off and work started on the canal project in August 1882, and after many challenges and delays, the canal opened in the spring of 1889.  One hundred vessels passed through the 8.5 kilometre canal in its first year of operation. Upon completion, the canal project had cost $1,272,470 to build – about $32.6 million in current dollars. Today, the Murray Canal remains a safe and scenic route for boaters and an important part of our history.

The 125th Anniversary of the Opening of the Murray Canal

On Saturday, October 18th, 2014 starting at 1 pm, the Murray Canal District Organization will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Murray Canal in 1889. The event will take place on the site of the official opening in 1889 at Twelve O’Clock Point Rd. on the northeast side of the canal crossing at Carrying Place.

The canal has a long history and land was set aside for it during the first days of Loyalist settlement in the 1790s. Pressure to build the canal built during the War of 1812 as the route became an important supply line for the British, and saved days of dangerous sailing for the great vessels of the era. Afterwards, the timber trade in the Trenton area also encouraged local lobbying efforts to have the waterway built. While there were many surveys of the site, the Murray Canal became less of a concern for federal authorities. Steamships replaced sailing ships; the threat of war lessened; and railways were the rage. 

But nonetheless, the local residents of Prince Edward County, Hastings and Northumberland wanted the canal built and they got their way in October 1889 with John A. Macdonald official opening it.

We plan to mark the day with a re-enactment of Macdonald’s official opening together with historical tours of the canal. Parking at the site will be limited and we plan to bus folks from nearby parking areas. 

THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HISTORY – The 1884 Lazier Murder Trial Re-enactment

On Friday, July 11, 2014, the stately courthouse in Picton was jam packed with visitors hungry to witness history – the re-enactment of an infamous murder trial that took place in Prince Edward County in May 1884.

The trial of two local men for a botched robbery and murder at Christmas 1883 in Bloomfield is deeply steeped in County lore.  With an inflamed community seeking revenge, 12 County men serving as jurors had to weigh circumstantial evidence, shoddy police work, high emotions among citizens, and the fate of two accused men – George Louder, a 23-year old bricklayer, and Joseph Thomset, a 35-year old fisherman. In the end, intermittent boots tracks from the crime scene to their homes at West Lake sealed their fates, and the harassed jury pronounced them guilty of murder although they recommended mercy that never came.

Despite a determined campaign by local ministers, and prominent citizens who supported the men’s claims of innocence, Louder and Thomset were hanged at 8 o’clock on the morning of June 10th, 1884 in the gallows that still stand in the cell block area of the courthouse.  Louder died first. But Thomset struggled for a full fourteen minutes. Both men left behind heart-wrenching letters proclaiming their innocence to their families and their community.

Although there were other murder trials in the decades, which followed, there was never another hanging in Prince Edward County. Haunted by this certain miscarriage of justice decades before, local juries simply refused to convict as the story of Louder and Thomset’s grisly fate persisted in local folklore. Did we hang the right men? Not likely. It is just what we did in a rush to judgment in other times.

The trial re-enactment was a fundraiser for the Macdonald Project, an initiative to create a bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald, the County’s most famous citizen, as part of national celebrations of the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2015. Macdonald was prime minister of Canada at the time, and constrained by legal precedents of the period from intervening in the case despite the appeals for clemency.

For the small volunteer Macdonald Project Committee, the sold out trial re-enactment was further proof that “history sells.” We believe that the bronze sculpture of Macdonald created by Ruth Abernethy, one of Canada’s foremost portrait artists, will be an enduring attraction to Canadians discovering the story of our first prime minister and the chief architect of Canada. The story of Macdonald’s time in Prince Edward County is largely unknown and the area can lay claim to the early years of John A. Macdonald who always considered himself “a Quinte boy.”

The life-size sculpture of Macdonald will be installed in downtown Picton on Canada Day 2015.   To learn more, visit www.macdonaldproject.com

Re-enactment of the Lazier Murder Trial: Prince Edward County 1884

Re-enactment of the Lazier Murder Trial: Prince Edward County 1884 LIVE

Friday, 11 July 2014 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM 

Picton, Ontario | Picton Courthouse

In December 1883, Peter Lazier was shot in the heart during a bungled robbery at a Prince Edward County farmhouse. Three local men, pleading innocence from start to finish, were arrested and charged with his murder. Two of them — Joseph Thomset and George Lowder — were sentenced to death by a jury of local citizens the following May. Nevertheless, appalled community members believed at least one of them to be innocent — even pleading with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to spare them from the gallows.

The Lazier Murder explores a community’s response to a crime, as well as the realization that it may have contributed to a miscarriage of justice. Robert J. Sharpe reconstructs and contextualizes the case using archival and contemporary newspaper accounts. The Lazier Murder provides an insightful look at the changing pattern of criminal justice in nineteenth-century Canada, and the enduring problem of wrongful convictions.  In 2011 Justice Robert Sharpe wrote a book about the infamous double hanging that took place in Picton in 1884.  The book was called The Lazier Murder, Picton Ontario 1884.  The outcome of the trial was controversial at the time, and remains that way today.  

Justice Sharpe, a Prince Edward County native, gave a fascinating presentation about the trial at the Regent Theatre soon after the book was published.  A re-enactment of the trial has been in the works for some time and is now planned for July of this year.  Justice Robert J. Sharpe (OCA) author of The Lazier Murder: Prince Edward County, 1884, will preside at the re-enactment of the trial in the courthouse where it all took place.  Did they get the right men?  You be the judge.

The re-enactment takes place on Friday, July 11, 2014 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm at the historic 1834 Courthouse in Picton where the actual trial took place.  After the re-enactment participants are invited to tour the gaol and gallows where the men were hung.  A reception follows at the Waring House where Huff Estates wine and county fare will be served and Justice Robert Sharpe will answer questions about the trial and re-enactment.  

Tickets are $125/per person with a charitable receipt issued for a portion of the ticket price. To order tickets go to Eventbrite.ca / Find Events / Picton, Ontario / Lazier Murder Re-enactment

Proceeds support The Macdonald Project to create a bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald presenting his first case as a young lawyer in Picton in 1834 in the very same courthouse. Visit www.macdonaldproject.com for more information.