The Town today published the terms of a settlement with the developer, Bob Forrest, which commits him to rebuild at his expense the historic Simpson Building which he ordered to be demolished on 9 October 2019.  

Forrest’s Main Street Clock Inc is to pay $100,000 to the Town as a penalty and will forfeit the $100,000 the Town had agreed to pay to Forrest under the terms of the May 2018 agreement.

The Town is to be congratulated for bringing this whole sorry business to a conclusion.

The Mayor, John Taylor, says this is a positive outcome for the downtown:

“Our main objective is to protect our heritage and continue to move forward with the development and revitalisation of our Main Street.”

I have no doubt Taylor values the Town’s heritage and that it is important to him. We know he also wants to get the whole length of Main Street moving and alive again. And that he vowed months ago that the unlawful demolition must have consequences. The question is: are they severe enough?

"Acknowledges and regrets"

Bob Forrest says he “acknowledges and regrets” that the building which once housed the apothecary of the first female pharmacist in Ontario was “taken down without proper permissions”. What weasel words!

We know he ordered the demolition because he would need to spend an additional $100,000 to make the old building safe after years of neglect. He baulked at this and ordered: 

“Take it down.”  

Forrest will now have to rebuild the Simpson House and this is to be welcomed. However, no matter how good the reconstruction, nothing can bring back the original and that is, for many of us, a matter of great sadness.

Dose of Anthrax

Forrest has been like a dose of anthrax to the Town, evicting business tenants and boarding up the retail units for years, sterilising the heart of our only Heritage Conservation District.

He has been brought to book but my own initial feeling is that the developer got off lightly. He may suffer some fleeting reputational damage but, crucially, he is not being prosecuted. If I were a councillor I would be making the case for prosecution.

Why?

Because the demolition on 9 October 2019 wasn’t inadvertent or a mistake. It was brazen and calculated. The rubble disappeared within hours.

Forrest knew exactly what he was doing and why. 

We shall find out more about the sequence of events which led to Forrest ordering the demolition in the Report from Peter Noehammer, the Town’s Commissioner for Infrastructure and Development, which is scheduled to go to the Council on 3 February.

Unanswered questions

In the meantime there are still many unanswered questions. 

What is the timetable for completing the building works? 

What has happened to the sale of the Forrest buildings? (the land at 184-186 Main Street was removed from the sale after the building was demolished.) Will Forrest still sell or will he hang on to them? What, if anything, is left of the May 2018 agreement?

The destruction of the Simpson building in the heart of Newmarket’s historic downtown was truly calamitous. But today’s announcement will put a line under a tragic episode in the Town’s history when a developer was inadequately supervised and was essentially allowed to pursue demolition by neglect. 

Will there be a deterrent effect on other developers who tear down historic buildings and see fines and penalties as a necessary cost of doing business?

We must hope so.

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This is how Newmarket Today reports the story.

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