Brooke-Alvinston denies demo permit for Campbell House again

Archie Campbell's home as seen in July 2023.

It appears there will be a legal battle over Campbell House.

The fate of the historic farm house at Alvinston’s AW Campbell Conservation Area has been hanging in the balance since Oct. 2021. The St. Clair Region Conservation Authority says the long-neglected home of the man who donated the land for the park is now beyond repair. The conservation authority wanted to demolish it in 2021. But the board of directors put the decision on hold after a community group – Friends of Campbell Park – sprung up hoping to save the historic building.

But after waiting two years, SCRCA board members agreed to ask Brooke-Alvinston for a demolition permit. But the request was turned down by Brooke-Alvinston council. That prompted the SCRCA’s board to say it would seek to overturn the decision at the Ontario Land Tribunal.

On Nov. 14, Brooke-Alvinston Mayor Dave Ferguson, the Adminstrator, Janet Denkers, two members of the Friends of Campbell Park and SCRCA officials met to talk about the issue. The conservation authority said it would cost about $13,000 to secure the building for the three years, the amount of time the Friends group wanted to try to raise money to renovate the building. The authority added it would cost over a half million dollars to repair and maintain the building without public access and over $1.3 million to turn the building into a museum in the future- both ideas floated by Friends of Campbell Park. The conservation authority said Brooke-Alvinston would have to foot all of those bills.

At council Thursday, Councillor Frank Nemcek said the conservation authority was basically forcing council to back track and issue the permit to avoid a legal battle – a move he termed as “disgusting.”

But when it was time to decide if a demolition permit should be issued, only Councillor Don McCabe and Mayor Dave Ferguson were on side with the idea. McCabe made a motion to issue a demolition permit and, when the other councillors would not offer to second the motion so it could be voted on, Mayor Ferguson did.

McCabe said there had been “a long history” of ignoring the building’s maintenance by both the conservation authority and the municipality.

McCabe criticized the Friends of Campbell Park saying they lacked urgency to start working towards concrete solutions such as setting up a non-profit group to raise money to pay for any repairs.

He added allowing the demoliton of a building which had outlived its useful life would avoid a legal battle “where the only people getting rich would be the lawyers.”

But when it came to a vote, Councillors Nemcek, Craig Sanders and Jenny Redick voted against issuing the permit, seemingly putting the wheels in motion for a legal hearing at the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Redick hopes a legal battle can still be avoided but she didn’t want to give up on a piece of Alvinston’s history.

“When you think of Alvinston, there’s a bunch of things, but, you think of Campbell’s Park and you think of the Campbells – it’s just something that’s part of us. I would really like to see it restored some how, some way; that you’re not tearing it down right away.”

Dawn McNally, the president of the Friends of Campbell Park, was in the council chambers for the decision. “I didn’t think it would go this way. I thought they wouldn’t all just bow down to the conservation authority and say, ‘well, we can’t do anything about it,” she told The Independent after the meeting. “But obviously, those three councillors are speaking for the community.”