Inventory of Ancaster Pre-Confederation buildings goes ahead
The heritage buildings of Hamilton are the foundation of our distinctive local culture, and our unique historical identity as Steeltown – a gritty and colourful heavy industrial centre – surrounded on three sides by realms of indigenous and very early Upper Canada settlement. Ancaster, close neighbour of the City and now a delightful part of it, is the third oldest Police Village in Ontario, incorporated in 1792-3. The history and heritage of Ancaster, and its building stock, have become a vital link to the mosaic of structural and cultural evolution in the Hamilton region up until today.
Recognizing this, 20 local volunteers fanned out all over Ancaster in summer 2020, inventorying the numerous still-standing residences built before 1867 in the Town. Many buildings older than 160 years have been demolished by developers (astoundingly, five were torn down in the past year alone in the heart of the Heritage Village District), or were removed from the local list by boundary changes since the last wholesale inventory nearly 50 years ago. Still, 100 pre-Confederation buildings remain in place within the borders of Ancaster. The buildings inventoried by the volunteers will be photographed and documented for their style of architecture, structure, building materials, location, significant heritage features, and of course their construction date. The data will be presented to the City Heritage Committees and City Council in the coming fall and winter for updating of Hamilton’s assemblage of historical buildings. By doing this, the City will be enabled to preserve the history and heritage structures of Ancaster in a more organized way.
The project was initiated and sponsored by the Ancaster Village Heritage Community (AVHC). We’re a fairly new organization in Town, but we’re active (some might call us hyper!); we have a sizeable and highly skilled Board of long-time Ancaster residents; and we aim to preserve the quality of life in Ancaster through collaborative efforts with influencers who carry weight and share the interests of our membership. The pre-Confederation inventory project is supported by Councillor Ferguson and Council, and has been strengthened by advice from City Heritage staffer Alissa Golden. Laurie Brady from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario has been professionally managing the project, and along with Alissa Golden has provided the bulk of the training for the volunteers. The volunteers themselves are a very engaging, lovely and committed group, passionate about our heritage, who tend to be well-educated and bring to their mission lengthy professional backgrounds in spheres such as corporate management and governance, engineering, architecture, the legal profession, public policy, and other fields closely related to heritage preservation.
We started small. Originally AVHC was set up by local residents late in 2019 to respond to traffic cutting through the narrow streets in the Village and Maywood neighbourhoods. But we soon discovered that plans are in place to demolish more heritage buildings and replace them with densely occupied new developments along Wilson Street, some of which are already under way. This, of course, will increase the traffic pressures through Town and in the nearby neighbourhoods; and not only that, but it will certainly change the character of the Town even more than has already happened. Accordingly, our focus expanded from traffic to include heritage site preservation; to address the City’s problematic demolition Bylaw 09-208 (evoking the Brandon House travesty, the stalled James Street Baptist Church development, and the twice-burned heritage Long-Bisby building on the Sanatorium site); and we also entered into evaluating new development as well, to ensure it abides by the zoning bylaws and the Ancaster Secondary Plan – all of which issues profoundly affect neighbourhood life.
The heritage inventory project is an important dimension of our AVHC mandate to preserve the cultural landscape and quality of life in our precious Town. As Laurie Brady said, “Leading a group of community volunteers through an inventory project is a new experience and ideal opportunity for me, and such a pleasure. This Ancaster group is fun, talented, enthusiastic and ambitious, with a voracious appetite to learn all about local built heritage.”
Below is a photo of many of the inventory volunteers assembled for photography training at the Seniors’ Achievement Centre in Alberton Aug. 12, 2020.