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Guelph Mercury Editorial

History is not over

Sue Richards - July 21, 2004

I have a framed penny hanging over a hole in my porch wall beside the front door. It was minted in 1919, the same year that my house was built. Although practical in a decorating sense, the penny also serves to remind me that my dwelling was built well before I was born and in all likelihood will be standing long after I'm down for the count.

It's true that I (more or less) own this piece of Guelph. But it is also evident that I am one of many who have a vested interest in this property.

My home, like everyone else's, plays a role in the streetscape, neighbourhood and overall vibe of Guelph. Provided I and the next owners do the required maintenance, this house will continue to make history every day it stands.

If I tire of the upkeep responsibilities, I could tear down my 85 year old home and replace it with a bright orange, straw bale constructed adobe with solar panels, grey water system and a personal windmill. It would stick out like a sore thumb but so what. It's my house so I can do what I please.

Or can I?

For the last few months, I've been feeling pretty "itchy scratchy" over decisions our mayor and her council alliance are making about the future of our city. I couldn¹t quite put my finger on the exact source of my mood until I cracked open my copy of The Rise of the Creative Class by economist Richard Florida. There was my answer, in a single sentence, on page 315. "History is not over."

Instantly, I was taken back in time to Centre Dufferin District High School, and Miss Stone's grade 11 history class. Prior to this point in my education, I was a fan of historical studies. I loved those guys who set off to find out if the world truly was flat. All those early shoppers sailing over to the orient for silks or dropping in on the coast of Africa for some spices had me reading under my covers way past my bedtime. Bejeweled queens with the foresight to secretly fund these crazy jaunts into the unknown rocked my world. True, some of those adventurers perished on their quests and the money invested was lost in the deep blue sea. But nothing risked is nothing gained.

Miss Stone, true to her name, made history class so regrettably lifeless that my ears folded in on themselves. After scraping by with a C, I stayed clear of the subject matter for the rest of my academic career. My late-night rendezvous with voyagers and seafaring men came to an abrupt end.

Thanks to our current city council and their stunning lack of vision on three projects that involve the cultural heritage of our beautiful city, my historical interest has been piqued again.

The groovy, art deco, downtown Post Office, built in the 1930's, has been recommended as the future home of a much needed new main library. Councillor Dan Mozier lead the motion that prematurely shelved this project before the full financial picture was explored or prudent, long-range plans could be made.

The stone facade of the old Market Building crafted in 1857 precariously sits between demolition and restoration as a feature of the new civic administration centre. From all reports, it appears the tight eight pack on council see no value in historical beauty.

Loretta Convent, constructed in 1852 and a potential new home for the city's overcrowded museum, was derailed by a motion from Councillor Peter Hamtak that stopped the process before the number crunching began. It appears that Pete does not want to be confused by the facts.

Together these three structures hold over 360 years of Guelph history under their collective belts. The inherent value of these properties should make our city mothers and fathers rub their hands together in proud delight. Instead, they wring their palms in penny-pinching, short-sighted angst.

I have a photo of myself standing on the steps of the Parthenon. In the background, you can see workers doing maintenance on scaffolding that surrounds the enormous structure built in the 5th century B.C. No doubt this work is costly and constant for a building that serves no function other than an esthetic appendage for Athens and a testament to a former time. In all likelihood, the Parthenon has been threatened many times by blind, tightwad politician types over the centuries. Still, can you imagine the disgrace if the Greek government said, "Enough of all this non-stop repairing crap. It's time to bring in the bulldozers and make a parking lot!"

The world would be aghast.

The historical structures gracing Guelph's landscape do not belong to our present city council. These edifices belong to all members of our population, past, present and future. They have stood the test of time. They must remain intact.

Please, raise my taxes. I want to live in a beautiful city with an excellent central library housed in a significant, downtown building. I want our visitors to tour a museum whose very walls hold a special history in each stone. And when I pay my taxes in person, I want to enjoy the experience of walking into a building that beautifully reflects our founder's vision.

History is not over, Mayor Quarry. You and your pals are making it.

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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