ACO Port Hope in Uphill Battle to Save Historic Hospital that Treated WW1 Soldiers

By Bruce Bowden

Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) Port Hope has a fight on its hands – one worth every ounce of our commitment and best efforts.

You know the David and Goliath story?

The ACO Port Hope Advocacy Committee is standing up tall and proud for the grouping of heritage buildings at 65 Ward St. under threat of demolition by an outside for-profit company looking out for its bottom line.

Those buildings include the first hospital of 1913, the second larger hospital of 1916, a service pavilion dating to 1916 and the hospital addition of 1921.

The first hospital, formerly a private dwelling, treated more than 200 WWI soldiers during 1915 alone. Brave souls who fought hard for our rights and freedom. And the second hospital, constructed for the most part with funds raised by residents of Port Hope, served as a significant recuperative centre for wounded soldiers and veterans during and after the war.

Port Hope Hospital annex tent, manufactured by J J Turner. Photo Courtesy

“Both buildings display a high degree of craftsmanship and architectural merit and were later adapted for use as a nursing home,” said Bruce Bowden, chair of ACO Port Hope’s Advocacy Committee. Unfortunately, the current and previous owners have allowed these buildings to sit empty for years leaving them in disrepair.

“We want them to be restored and redeveloped to be of functional use in our community,” Mr. Bowden said. “We want to collaborate. We want to celebrate our history now and in the future. Once these buildings are gone, they are lost forever. Remember the old post office. Please don’t let these buildings have the same fate.”

That’s why ACO Port Hope applauded Port Hope Council’s unanimous motion on April 11 to initiate heritage designation of the property.

The original Hospital was opened in this house in 1913 on Hope Street.
Photo Courtesy

Local heritage architects, including ACO Port Hope past president Phil Goldsmith, have brought several concept drawings to the current property owners, Southbridge Care Homes Inc., to propose ways to repurpose the property for use as their planned long-term care home with 160 beds, in keeping with the site’s heritage designation.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Southbridge Care Homes Inc., headquartered in Cambridge, is in the business of long-term care. It owns more than 30 long-term care and retirement communities across the province. So if redeveloping the Ward Street site to heritage specifications is going to cost the company more dollars than it had planned to spend, that’s a red flag.

Southbridge also has threatened to leave Port Hope altogether should designation of the site take place.

Southbridge has spun a tale of job loss and insufficient long-term care beds in town to serve our aging population in the years to come.

In Port Hope, Southbridge owns Regency Manor, which has 60 long-term care beds, and Hope Street Terrace, which has 97 beds. Southbridge has stated that the new long-term care home will be a consolidation to make the current care homes more efficient as one new facility.

To be clear then, the increase in beds for Port Hope residents is only three beds. Will there be a lot of new jobs created to operate a facility that plans to increase its bed count by only three beds? And would the Ward Street project open up construction work for a big company that likely has builder contracts already in place?

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC), however, have a legal process in place for public hearings and consultation to protect residents before closing long-term care homes or moving beds out of the local area.

Southbridge threats are empty ones.

However, Port Hope Council has flip-flopped its position, apparently siding with Southbridge. Council plans to vote June 19 on Southbridge property rights to develop the site with “certain conditions” by reversing the site’s heritage designation.

Council can approve the demolition of a heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act, but to try to deny the building is worthy of designation doesn’t make sense, especially as we understand there has been no site plan approval application to assess the proposal from Southbridge.

There is no doubt the building should be designated. All research by Heritage Port Hope and ACO Port Hope proves the buildings meet provincial regulations for designation.

“The company wants to demolish the larger old hospital building and proceed with its plan to build the long-term care facility – despite the fact that our proposed concepts for the site we believe with some internal flexibility from Southbridge could both meet provincial guidelines and preserve the building,” said Mr. Goldsmith who has worked on hundreds of restoration, intensification and adaptive reuse projects.

Port Hope Hospital, opened at the corner of Ward and Hope streets in 1916.
Photo Courtesy

“Sadly, Southbridge, even if they could make it work, and they could, as a business and owner they do not have to. They do or should, however, have a moral responsibility to preserve our heritage. It is destructive to the cultural history of Port Hope that they would insist there is no flexibility in their model to create a win-win project for the whole community.”

ACO Port Hope has donated more than $500,000 in recent years to help revitalize the historic buildings which house the many businesses in the downtown core. Should the 65 Ward St. site be designated, Southbridge would be entitled to apply to Port Hope ACO for grants and low-interest loans to help defray the costs of preserving and maintaining the heritage features of this remarkable property.