- Written by Gordon Prentice
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.
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.
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.
This is how Newmarket Today reports the story.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Canada’s centre-right newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, tells us their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can’t live in Canada so long as they are “senior members” of the Royal family.
“If they were ordinary private citizens, plain old Harry and Meghan from Sussex, they would be welcome. But this country’s unique monarchy, and its delicate yet essential place in our constitutional system, means a royal resident – the Prince is sixth in the line of succession – is not something that Canada can allow. It breaks an unspoken constitutional taboo.”
The editorial refers to the Nickle Resolution of 1919. It was because of this resolution that the convicted fraudster Conrad Black had to renounce his Canadian citizenship to become a peer and join the House of Lords.
I am very much in favour of the Nickle Resolution. I have always been against so-called “name-changing” honours – the Sirs and the Dames and the Lords and the Ladies.
Clearly, there must be ways for the nation to recognise extraordinary achievement and merit and valour but name-changing honours shouldn’t be part of the package.
A small discreet lapel badge would suit me just fine.
Dump the titles
The Globe and Mail advises their Royal Highnesses to dump the titles and become, presumably, Harry Mountbatten-Windsor and Meghan Markle.
Some commentators question whether they would be entitled to settle in Canada. John Ibbitson quotes a leading Vancouver immigration lawyer who recommends the lead applicant for permanent residence should be Megham because of her previous Canadian connections. (She spent time in Toronto while filming Suits.) He suggests that Harry is a bit on the old side (at 35) and doesn’t have the skills that Canada needs.
That is a load of old tosh. Canada embraced me despite my age and obvious imperfections.
The press is now full of stories about where the Sussexes will live. I am pretty sure it won’t be Newmarket even though the Town touts itself as being one of the best places to live in Canada.
Wanyee Li from the Toronto Star’s Vancouver Bureau has come up with a list of desirable properties in British Columbia but I see one from Toronto has sneaked in. For $16.9 million Harry and Meghan could buy a place in The Bridal Path, the city’s most exclusive address.
But that would mean having that old rogue and scoundrel Lord Black of Crossharbour as a neighbour.
Can’t see it.
Update on 16 January 2020. From the Globe and Mail: The awkward truth about Harry and Meghan in Canada. And from the Toronto Star: Harry and Meghan are welcome, but on our terms. And from the UK's Guardian: Prince Andrew: Home Office "recommends downgrade of security".
Update on 17 January 2020: From the Globe and Mail: Conrad Black moving out of family estate as owner decides what to do with property. From the Guardian: Harry and Meghan's UK home shut up and staff moved elsewhere. From today's G&M. The Banks never miss an opportunity... HSBC is, of course, headquartered in London (England). And on 18 January 2020 it is announced that Harry and Megan will no longer use the His/Her Royal Highness handle but stick with the less elevated Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Yesterday Newmarket councillors unanimously declared a Climate Emergency.
They promise to reduce emissions and transition towards a low carbon economy.
They vow there will be no more hot air in the Council Chamber.
But the declaration was enough to get local climate activists from Drawdown on their feet, giving a standing ovation to bemused councillors unused to this kind of adulation.
I remember the old days when Mayor Van Bynen was in the Chair. Obsessed with process and procedure, he would sternly warn deputations that no applause was allowed. But yesterday was different. People were actually applauding councillors!
The new Mayor, John Taylor, goes through a long list of things the Town is doing to become eco-friendly. It is an impressive list. We can expect four electric buses soon on Davis Drive, courtesy of York Region.
Ward 5 councillor, Bob Kwapis, wants to know from the lead deputant, Debbie Fletcher-Queen what everyday things people could do to help save the planet that, perhaps, may not be immediately obvious to them. Debbie hesitates and then says something about food waste. The Mayor suggests cutting back on eating meat and I immediately find myself thinking if there’s a photo of him out there, at a BBQ, tucking into something sizzling, straight off the grill.
Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh – who is on the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority – tells us we can expect longer and wetter Springs and hotter summers. The authority is importing trees from the south as they will be more likely to survive up here as the climate changes. For me it was one of these “how interesting” moments. We learn the boundaries of the flood plains are being redrawn to reflect the new reality.
The word “emergency” implies urgency. So I am hoping our new MP, former Mayor Tony Van Bynen, picks up the baton and makes the climate emergency the centrepiece of his next substantive speech in the House of Commons which returns on 28 January 2020.
I walk 4km home through the snow and ice, feeling virtuous. And pleased with the Council.
Update on 23 January 2020: Newmarket Today reports that pairing the word "climate" and "emergency" in the same sentence riles some folk in Newmarket. And Councillor Grace Simon has second thoughts about the appropriateness of the term "climate emergency" and switches sides.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
It is now three months since the developer Bob Forrest ordered the demolition of the designated heritage building at 184-186 Main Street South and we are still waiting for the report from the Town’s Commissioner of Development and Infrastructure Peter Noehammer.
What on earth is causing the delay?
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee, members considered a letter from local resident, Elaine Adam, who posed a series of questions about the demolition:
“What actions will the Town take against the developer to make sure that consequences are severe enough that other developers will not repeat this? Is this an illegal act, is it criminal, have the proper legal authorities been involved? What safeguards are in place to protect the adjacent buildings? Why does Mr Forrest have his properties for sale even though there is an investigation by the Town and there is a Stop Work Order in place?”
The Committee Chair, Billie Locke, asked for an update and got one that was short and to the point with no elaboration. The Town’s Senior Planner, Adrian Cammaert, says there is an open and ongoing investigation and
“that is pretty much all I can say”.
No-one tries to prise any more information from the taciturn planner. No-one asks when the investigation is expected to wrap up. Or how many people are working on it. Why is everyone so incurious?
Take it down.
Shortly after the unlawful demolition I spoke to Jacques Carrier, the man who tore the old building down. He told me - in the presence of one of the site supervisors from Prime Design Build - why it was demolished and who ordered it. No-one from the Town has since approached me and I conclude from this the facts are not in dispute. Nevertheless, the Town seems to be agonising about what to do next. The Mayor, John Taylor, vows there must be consequences but we don’t know what he has in mind other than a full rebuild and he won’t tell us.
Let me be absolutely clear. The Town should prosecute Forrest.
The demolition of a designated heritage building in the heart of a Heritage Conservation District without permission from the Municipality is very, very unusual. In fact, I am still trying to find a close parallel.
Last month I contacted over 50 Ontario municipalities who have 134 Heritage Conservation Districts between them. I wanted to know if there had been any unlawful demolitions of designated buildings within any of their Heritage Conservation Districts and, if so, whether a prosecution had been brought under the Ontario Heritage Act or Building Act or both. So far, I’ve come up with one case from Markham where the owner demolished a residential property at 249 Main Street in Unionville’s Heritage Conservation District without approval. The owner pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000.
So far as I can tell, most prosecutions involve illegal alterations of buildings – not their wholesale destruction. In Hamilton, for example, with seven Heritage Conservation Districts, there have been no prosecutions for demolitions – only for alterations such as driveway widening and window replacement without the necessary heritage permit.
Next door to us in Aurora a prosecution has been brought for the demolition of a non-designated property on the Town’s Heritage Register without the Council’s consent. But, importantly, this was not within Aurora’s sole Heritage Conservation District. The case is now before the Courts.
The Town will be hosting a workshop on heritage issues on 27 January 2020 from 9am – 12 noon in the Council Chamber at 395 Mulock Drive, Newmarket. It is open to interested members of the public. It will be run by Community Heritage Ontario.
There will be lot of very unhappy people if we don't know by then what the Town intends to do about the unlawful demolition of the Simpson Building in the heart of the old downtown.
Photos above right. Before and after.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Since records began 138 years ago, 17 of the 18 hottest years globally have occurred since 2000.
It looks like 2020 will also sizzle.
As I tap this out Australia is on fire. I worry about what’s happening. I have relatives down under and one has already seen 250 acres of his property go up in flames, destroyed in moments by a raging bushfire.
Walter Bauer, the excellent Green candidate for Newmarket-Aurora in last October’s Federal Election tells me that during 2016, our worst year for fires in Canada, about 1.2 million hectares burned. So far, the Australian bush fires have consumed almost 6 million hectares.
Arctic melting fast
Climate change is not some future threat. It is happening right here and now and the pace of change is accelerating. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the planet as a whole.
In 2016 the Arctic land surface temperature was 2.0°C above the 1981-2010 average and a staggering 3.5°C increase since the record began in 1900. In 2018 we saw temperatures in the Arctic 20 degrees Celsius above we would normally expect. In the Far North roads are buckling and the infrastructure is failing as the permafrost thaws.
But for most of us it is out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.
In June 2018 I was down in Toronto at the ROM for a stimulating but unsettling one-day symposium on Canada’s Far North. Michael Byers, 51, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, told us 50% of Arctic sea ice had disappeared in his lifetime. We are now seeing the loss of 13% of sea ice every decade.
Sea ice will soon be gone
The climate scientist Peter Wadhams believes we shall see an ice-free Arctic much sooner than we think. There is only one quarter of the ice left in the Arctic (measured by extent and thickness) as there was 30 years ago.
Wadhams’ gentle and matter-of-fact delivery only underscores (at least for me) the horror and significance of what is happening in our own back yard in the Arctic. And yet, pathetically, there is next to no public debate about the consequences and what it will mean for us in Canada.
Many of the statistics here come from an article I read a couple of years ago by British academic, Jem Bendell, who predicts near-term societal breakdown as storms, floods and fire become run-of-the-mill, overwhelming agriculture and degrading marine eco-systems. His article was too apocalypic and doom-laden for my taste.
...and then we see these terrible fires across Australia, continent-wide, leaving no sanctuary for animals nor people.
Bigger than Brexit
I look forward to hearing more from the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who is moving on to become the UN special envoy on climate change at the end of this month.
He has a big job on his hands. Bigger than Brexit.
Saving the planet.
Debbie Fletcher-Queen and David Kempton from Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora will be making a presentation on the climate emergency to Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole on 13 January 2019.
Screenshot from the Guardian
Update on 6 January 2020: as of today 8.4 million hectares have now burned. This is from the Guardian and shows the area burned superimposed on a map of southern Ontario:
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