By Bruce Bowden
If you drive by the site on Ward or Hope street today, the historic hospital is practically invisible, hidden by fencing and overgrown shrubbery. It does indeed present the appearance of a derelict building, lost to view; apparently of no value; what folks of the heritage trade term: demolition by neglect. The image is meant to contradict our goal that it is to be repurposed, preferably to serve our Seniors and Long-Term Care.
That perspective has been voiced in a letter to the municipality from the Royal Canadian Legion’s, Ontario Branch Command. Co-signed by the Provincial President and the Chairman of Long-Term Care, this letter of support is a notable intervention from an organization that has long advocated for long-term care. They urge that the heritage of the Ward hospital buildings remain intact “through cooperative working by ACO Port Hope with Southbridge Care Homes.” Their closing sentence: “By retaining the image you will be honouring the history just as we know you honour the men and women who served…”
The Legion’s letter is indeed an unusual intervention by a national organization in a community matter that thereby emphasizes that this is not merely a local property dispute.
The historic Port Hope hospital is a beautiful building that has deserved a happier fate. Its architects, Ellis and Ellis, designed two buildings at that intersection, and another two schools on Pine St that also face each other. Their twinned placements have been integral to the town’s landscape – an example of effective planning. This site’s history, about which we now know so much more than previously, is the most remarkable of the four buildings.
Designation records this truth. However, that does not complete the matter. The discussion then moves on to a building’s restoration, or its adaptive re-use, or to retention of components, or to designing visual triggers to public memory. For this story, and after this challenging public debate, the issue of how we retain memory to build positive outcomes out of it is crucial.
Southbridge has repeatedly stated that designation means that it must walk away from this property, to find another in this town, and thereby to delay their development. No-one has wanted that outcome. Designation itself prevents nothing, not even a decision to demolish. However, it does quite correctly compel a conversation with the municipality.
The historic hospital building deserves to be re-purposed. Two recent purchase offers for the vacant designated Pine St. school emphasize that this objective has merit, and at least one of these demonstrates the viability of doing so. Interview insights regarding the RBC building on Walton St. also reinforce our view that heritage is our town’s signature come-on, not our restraint. Our municipality faces ripple effects on all sides of this public discussion.
Please attend the meeting on September 4th and show your support for the historic Port Hope Hospital and fellow ACO Port Hope members.