Citizens ‘no longer see a way’ to save Campbell House

Archie Campbell's home as seen in July 2023.

A group hoping to save the home of the man who donated the land for Alvinston’s AW Campbell Conservation area “no longer see a way forward” to save the historic home.

That from the group Friends of Campbell Park, which was formed after the local conservation authority started talking about pulling down the aging, vacant house in the park.

In October 2021, staff at the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority came to the board of directors saying the farm house which Archie Campbell was born in – and had once been a museum reflecting rural life – was structurally unsound according to an engineer’s report and needed to be torn down.

But the plan was put on hold when Brooke-Alvinston council and people in the community objected. The group Friends of Campbell Park was formed hoping to save the heritage building. It initially secured the property and repaired the roof to stop any further damage.

But as time ticked on, the conservation authority grew impatient and the issue returned to the board table in September where the board agreed to seek a demolition permit for the property. At the time, staff warned council it could be liable for the cost of repairing and insuring the old building.

The demolition permit was denied by Brooke-Alvinston council. The SCRCA board then decided to appeal council’s decision.

In a social media post, Friends President Dawn McNally said some members of the organization met with members of Brooke-Alvinston Council and the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority recently “in an effort to put an end to misinformation and adversarial rhetoric and find a constructive path toward securing the building and undertaking critical structural repairs to prevent the loss of this rich cultural heritage asset.”

But, McNally said, it didn’t go well. “The concern about insurance and liability costs, both by the SCRCA and the municipality, has eclipsed any consideration of the cultural heritage value of the house and of Archie Campbell’s legacy.”

Kathryn Shailer of the friends group says the conservation authority hasn’t taken the steps set out in the Heritage Act to secure a building permit. Shailer contends the application should include a site map, photographs and a Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment conducted by a heritage professional.

Shailer says by dealing with the SCRCA’s request, without asking for the materials “this has opened the door to SCRCA to appeal the decision without providing the cited materials.

“We are distressed that major decisions regarding Campbell House have been made, both by SCRCA and the municipality with incomplete information.,” Shailer writes in a letter to council.

“Yes, we are all aware that the building needs attention as soon as possible…however, an inspection and assessment by a heritage professional has still not been conducted and would constitute crucial intelligence …without such a specialized assessment, statements about the safety, structural viability, and restoration costs are at best guesswork, at worst fearmongering.”

Conservation authority officials plan to ask the board of directors to move forward with an appeal on Dec. 7.
“We are now moving inexorably toward the demolition of Campbell House. It should not have come to this. AW Campbell House, located on the hill overlooking the conservation area, symbolizes the legacy of Archie Campbell’s contribution to conservation, agriculture, and the preservation of natural heritage in southwest Ontario. More than any other remaining building in Brooke-Alvinston, it represents the cultural history of our municipality,” she writes.

Brooke-Alvinston council is expected to talk about the issue Thursday.

Shailer, in her letter to council, says at the very least, if the municipality allows the demolition to move ahead, it should require the authority to provide some signage about Campbell to mark his legacy.

But she adds “a plaque is not enough.”