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Norfolk council compromises on heritage features

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Norfolk County has cut a Vittoria business some slack regarding renovations to a historic church.

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The county’s heritage and culture division came to Norfolk council last week seeking enforcement of an order to restore designated features at the former Vittoria Baptist Church on Lamport Street.

The Good Bread Company bought the property several years ago as part of an expansion and has since moved in. During the renovation, a designated staircase rail, interior stained glass and two heavy doors were removed to a storage area.

Norfolk’s building department noticed the alterations this spring and issued an order to re-integrate the features by June 28. The deadline came and went, prompting a report to council on Nov. 5 requesting enforcement.

“Planning for the future of a strong, vibrant community requires knowledge of the past and an understanding of what we value in the present,” Melissa Collver, Norfolk’s director of heritage and culture, said in a report to council.

“Existing buildings, structures and landscapes often define a community’s unique identity and give it character and a sense of place. To help guide change, it is important to identify and protect the places in the community that have cultural heritage value.”

Instead of an enforcement order, council agreed to de-list the features in question. As a result, bakery co-owner Richard Posavad is free to deal with the artifacts as he pleases.

Mayor Kristal Chopp said this is a fair outcome.

She noted that Posavad took a heritage building that was languishing on the market and breathed new life into it. Chopp also noted the project remained under site-plan control for two years and that the renovation itself – which is substantially complete — began in 2015.

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“It shouldn’t take four years to turn an old property into a building,” the mayor said.

Posavad is relieved to have this complication behind him. Afterward, he said the renovation was an ordeal that cost nearly three times the original budget. Even so, Posavad said he would do it all over again, adding the property is “breathtaking.”

“I would probably say yes, with wisdom and experience,” he said. “It wasn’t so much a learning curve – it was straight up.”

The upper level of the church has been converted into a community meeting space suitable for concerts and the like. The former sanctuary featured a large mural of Jesus Christ but that too was taken down.

The mural was painted by W. Edgar Cantelon (1866-1950), an artist who chronicled hundreds of buildings, landscapes and personages from old Norfolk. Cantelon gathered the artifacts that form the core of the collection at the Eva Brook Donly Museum in Simcoe. This collection includes hundreds of Cantelon’s paintings.

Posavad said several people offered to take the mural off his hands. He told them they were welcome to it provided it was removed at their expense. No one followed up and — because the plaster wall was crumbling – the entire scene was taken down in pieces.

Numerous other designated features survived the renovation and have been incorporated into the bakery. These include the north, south and west exterior walls, the roof line with belfry, the pilasters and their capitals, the entablature, exterior stained-glass windows, and the dado.

The church was built in 1852 in the Greek Doric Revival style. The congregation that occupied it was formed in 1803 and was comprised of United Empire Loyalists. As such, the congregation was the oldest in Norfolk County until it dispersed several years ago.

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