Susan Harison and her young family bought an old brick house on Hwy 26 in 1985 with the idea of replacing the broken windows, removing the dry rot, and insulating the place, staying awhile and reselling when the house was livable. Today, some 40 years later, Susan is still in the house with no intentions of leaving. What started as a project that she hoped she could afford became a labour of love and is now a source of great pride.
The exterior of her house has been designated a heritage house under the Ontario Heritage Act, which gives her assurance that the house will be conserved for future generations. This pre-1900s, one-and-a-half storey, Ontario Gothic-revival style, three-bay house on an acre of land, is the last building standing in the former Bayview settlement where once there was a post office, tavern and hotel, store, blacksmith shop, and church, on the gravel road between Meaford and Owen Sound, at the intersection of present-day Highway 26 and 11th Line.
Susan and her partner Bruce Gordon were presented with an official heritage plaque on August 18 by Mayor Ross Kentner during a reception at the house with Mayor Kentner and the Meaford Heritage Advisory Committee.
Susan has long forgotten the idea of selling the house. She loves the house and she is committed to preserving it. “Many people worked hard to build this house,” she said. “I feel like I am the steward – it’s for me now to take care of it.”
Susan acknowledges that she has a particular appreciation for old things. Renovating an old house and preserving its character are not always the easiest option, nor the most economic route to take. “We were a young family,” she said. “We did what we could afford. We tried to use things that were appropriate to the age and style of the house. We even went into an old school in Thornbury when it was being torn down to salvage all the old trim.
“We did what we could. Why do we have to tear down everything in the name of progress?”
The designation follows a long process wherein the heritage committee’s application for designation underwent reviews at various levels of government, according to committee member Janis Sideris. The history of the house, the property, and the Bayview Settlement were extensively researched to verify details presented in the application. Kentner said he is grateful that the Meaford Heritage Advisory Committee took on the task of applying for heritage designation of the Harison house.
According to the Designating Heritage Properties: Ontario Heritage Tool Kit, “a municipality can pass bylaws to formally designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest. Formal designation of heritage properties is one way of publicly acknowledging a property’s heritage value to a community. At the same time, designation helps to ensure the conservation of these important places for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
The document states: “There are six key steps to designating an individual property under section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act. These include: identifying the property as a candidate for designation; researching and evaluating the property; serving Notice of Intention to Designate, with an opportunity for objection; passing and registering the designation bylaw; listing the property on the municipal register; and listing on the provincial register.”
Mayor Kentner encourages anyone considering applying for heritage designation to contact a member of the Meaford Heritage Advisory Committee. “Many people believe that they would be painting their way into a corner if they applied for heritage designation,” he said. “I don’t believe that is the case. It can be costly to preserve the historical features of old houses but it is important that we do. Remember we are standing on the shoulders of future generations.
“As more people take more interest in heritage, I am confident that different levels of government will be looking for ways to assist owners of heritage houses. I am sure we will come up with ways support people when attempting to preserve them.”
Members of the Meaford Heritage Committee are: Mayor Ross Kentner, Councillor Harley Greenfield, Liz Harris, Vic Michener, Jim Sullivan, and Janis Sideris.
For more information and a copy of the Ontario Heritage Tool Kit, go to http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/heritage/heritage_toolkit.shtml