Protecting the past for the future in Southampton

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The need to raise awareness and protect streetscapes from inappropriate development is a major concern of heritage boosters who gathered Aug. 3 at the launch of a new book in Southampton, hosted by The Southampton Cultural Heritage Conservancy.

Michael Hills, long-time Southampton Arts Society volunteer, recounted the history of the Arts School building, where he meeting was held. It was built in 1887 as a Mechanics Institute, a library for working-class men.

Only the librarian, James Howe, could lend out the books, which had to be returned promptly in pristine condition to avoid severe penalties.

Hills illustrated his talk with a photo of James Howe in his Victorian library, and an original artefact – an 1887 periodical from the Mechanics Institute library.

The Institute became a public library in 1896, and then in 1912, Howe donated the library to the town of Southampton, on the condition the building be used only for cultural purposes. It has served as the Southampton Art School since 1957.


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The background, stories, and wealth of photographs featured in his book ‘Hilborn’s Guide to Old Southampton’ were revealed as The Southampton Cultural Heritage Conservancy director Dr. Sheila Latham interviewed local author Robin Hilborn.

Hilborn said he was shocked to discover that 14 houses with heritage plaques have been demolished since 1990 and this news prompted comments, questions, and concerns from citizens who asked what could be done to help protect heritage homes from demolition.

Hilborn said that “Listing” houses on the Heritage Register provides a 60-day waiting period prior to demolition (during which houses can be moved or considered for designation under the Heritage Act).  But all efforts failed in the case of 6 Huron Street North last fall showing that designation is the best way to protect a building.

The need to raise awareness and protect streetscapes from inappropriate development is a concern, especially because some owners believe the myth that restoration is too expensive.
Audience members shared their experiences that it is much cheaper to restore an old house than to demolish and build from scratch. The recent restoration of the former dentist’s office on Albert St., next door to the Southampton Art School, is an example of what can be done.

Saugeen Shores Coun. Cheryl Grace, Chair of the town’s Municipal Heritage Committee, invited all to participate in the upcoming opportunity to comment on the Official Plan Review Aug. 19 (6:30 to 8:30 pm) at the Town of Saugeen Shores Municipal Offices in Port Elgin.

The evening concluded with Conservancy director Latham presenting Hilborn with The Southampton Cultural Heritage Conservancy Award of Excellence for his book, which was officially launched at the meeting.

Hilborn was also thanked for his valuable contributions to the community including serving as a Director of the Bruce County Historical Society; preparing indexes to the Weichel and Krug research collections and early local newspapers for the Bruce County Archives; and publishing four books about this area’s rich history.

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