Bob Forrest’s calculated and deliberate decision to order the destruction of one of Newmarket’s most historic buildings is without precedent in Ontario. And he got off with a smack on the wrist.
The Town decided not to prosecute, reaching agreement with him without going to Court. He was very lucky.
On the evening of 9 October 2019, the Simpson Building in the Town’s historic Main Street was unlawfully demolished. The storied building, dating from the 1840s, was the apothecary of Ontario’s first female pharmacist, Anne Mary Simpson. It lay smack bang in the middle of the Town’s only Heritage Conservation District.
I contacted each of the 54 Ontario municipalities with Heritage Conservation Districts (HCD) and heard back from every one of them. Many, like Newmarket, have a single HCD. But at the other end of the spectrum we have Ottawa and Toronto with 20 each.
I wanted to know if any of these municipalities had ever brought a prosecution under S42(1)(2) of the Ontario Heritage Act and/or S8 of the Building Code Act for an unlawful demolition within a Heritage Conservation District. (Click on the "Read more" link below.)
Only two reported unlawful demolitions in their Heritage Conservation Districts where prosecutions were brought under the Ontario Heritage Act. But even in those cases the circumstances were very different from those in Newmarket.
Forrest knew exactly what he was doing. As part of the process for securing planning permission for his condo in the middle of the old downtown he ended up commissioning not one but two Heritage Impact Assessments on his Main Street properties. He was aware of the historic importance of the building.
Looking back, what happened was an avoidable tragedy. However, a new report from the Town’s planning staff gives us hope that nothing like it will ever be allowed to happen again.
The Town’s new Heritage Planner, Patricia Cho, pledges to beef-up the enforcement of the Property Standards By-Law
“to better ensure compliance with heritage provisions”.
The report tells us heritage buildings should be protected against demolition by neglect. In future, planning staff with cultural heritage expertise will accompany enforcement officers when inspecting heritage buildings.
This deserves a round of applause but it must be carried through in practice.
The shocking truth is that Bob Forrest’s empty heritage buildings on Main Street were allowed to decay for years before our very eyes. We got used to seeing blue tarpaulins flapping in the wind, supposedly protecting the interiors from the elements.
Since those days we have mercifully seen a change of guard in the Planning Department. And the former Mayor, a keen supporter of Bob Forrest’s condo plan, is now MP for Newmarket-Aurora and out of things.
I see grounds for optimism.
The Ontario Heritage Act says:
Erection, demolition, etc.
42 (1) No owner of property situated in a heritage conservation district that has been designated by a municipality under this Part shall do any of the following, unless the owner obtains a permit from the municipality to do so:
1. Alter, or permit the alteration of, any part of the property, other than the interior of any structure or building on the property.
2. Erect, demolish or remove any building or structure on the property or permit the erection, demolition or removal of such a building or structure.
The Building Code Act says this:
8 (1) No person shall construct or demolish a building or cause a building to be constructed or demolished unless a permit has been issued therefor by the chief building official.