Letter: An open letter to mayor and council on Old School demolition from new ratepayer

Time for concerned citizens to connect with the province on cultural heritage value of continuation school

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to Mayor Richard Stephens and the council of Central Manitoulin and has been reprinted here at the author’s request.

Dear Mayor Stephens and councillors of Central Manitoulin,

As a new taxpayer in Providence Bay, I attended the Central Manitoulin council meeting of December 17 via Zoom as an observer participant. My primary interest was directed towards the recommendation of the Central Manitoulin Property Committee to seek tenders for demolition of the Old School in Mindemoya. 

I am looking at this situation from a perspective of not having been previously involved although I have read, with interest, the articles published in The Expositor. As an overview, I see the core issue as a conservation issue first and all other aspects secondary to the core. Resolution must come to the core issue before others. In seeking guidance with this issue, I believe that it is necessary to look towards legislation pertaining to conservation, specifically the Ontario Heritage Act. While the Act came into effect in 1975, it was limited in scope. Thus, there were several revisions before culminating in a comprehensive change in 2005. This change gave the province and municipalities new powers to strengthen heritage protection. Of note is that Part IV of the Act states “the primary responsibility to identify and protect cultural heritage property continues to rest with the municipality. Provincial designation and stop powers are not substitutes for lack of action at the local level.” During the council meeting, I observed only two of the council members addressing the heritage issue while the others substantiated their vote of support for demolition by addressing economics and prime land concerns. The core issue of this situation was absent in any of the reasons provided. While the Act usually refers to private ownership of heritage properties, what comes to mind in this particular situation is that the municipality is the owner and the enforcer, having both the duty to preserve and the power to destroy. 

It would seem to be a conflict of interest and yet at the same time, should not be, given the primary responsibility of the municipality to identify and protect. The Act does provide an appeal process to preserve balance, one which mandates a Crown agency comprised of the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Conservation Review Board. This is a tribunal that hears objections to municipal and provincial decisions. 

Given the outcome of the Central Manitoulin council vote, is it time for concerned citizens to connect with the province to properly assess the cultural heritage value and provincial significance of the Mindemoya Continuation School? Is it time for concerned citizens to request that the tribunal provide the neutral space to adequately hear both sides of this controversial issue?

Judy MacAulay

Providence Bay