Tehkummah ponders its heritage

TEHKUMMAH—Tehkummah Council is scheduled to revisit the development of a Municipal Heritage Committee at its next meeting on May 5. A motion was passed in September 2014 to provide a draft bylaw for its implementation; however, with the pending municipal election and other matters, the item was left off the agenda until March 2015. Following a presentation at that meeting by Michael’s Bay Historical Society representative Doug Tracy, and a lengthy discussion, the issue was again tabled, this time until May.

Councillor Paul Bowerman expressed his frustration that a committee had not been implemented. “Last council sat down and we made a resolution to set up a possible heritage committee,” he said in March. “Michael’s Bay was not going to be the main issue because of the legal problems. I’m not just talking about Michael’s Bay. I’m talking about the heritage of the township.”

The historical Michael’s Bay townsite remains a topic of controversy and confusion. As reported previously in this newspaper, the future of the Michael’s Bay property has been in legal limbo since the property was seized by the RCMP on behalf of the Belgium government as the proceeds of crime following a trial in Belgium involving the illegal sale of cattle steroids. Michèle LaRose of Public Works and Government Services Canada confirmed that measures have been taken to ensure the properties are well managed. “The department has begun the process of assessing the properties and discharging the federal crown’s obligations to local First Nations,” she stated. “This process involves analysis that may take several months.” The properties may ultimately be made available for sale to the public through public listing on the Multiple Listing Service.

There is a lack of clarity surrounding the cemetery or burial sites at Michael’s Bay. One site was registered in 1992, but it was registered on the wrong hundred-acre lot. The township still has to look after the cemetery, Mr. Bowerman feels. Councillor Laird Leeson asked why they couldn’t get an amendment and have it registered in the right spot. It seems that while federal legislation requires the government to maintain cemeteries that are under their jurisdiction, they first require proof that it is a burial site, which could mean an archaeological investigation.

Mr. Bowerman is concerned about the possibility of graves being desecrated within the Michael’s Bay town site and wants something done to prevent this. “Action has to be taken,” he said. “Everybody knows about it.”

Reeve Eric Russell noted that a heritage committee would involve the entire township. “It’s your old barns, buildings, lots,” he said, asking guest Doug Tracy if his sole interest was Michael’s Bay.

Mr. Tracy assured council they were interested in a committee that would “take care of all the heritage that we have in Tehkummah.” An advertisement placed by Mr. Tracy in this newspaper on March 4 invited people to join Michael’s Bay Historical Society. “A delegation by MBHS President Ben Lentir attended the March 3 Tehkummah Council Meeting to discuss the forming of a Tehkummah Heritage Committee,” he wrote. “This new committee will oversee all Tehkummah’s historical artifacts, buildings and Michael’s Bay townsite. Also will have the Michael’s Bay cemeteries fixed up and maintained with a safe pathway to each cemetery so our pioneers will be honoured.”

Mr. Tracy suggested to council that a heritage committee be struck to look after the barns, buildings, museum and other properties, adding Michael’s Bay “when things settle down.”

Councillor Ron Hierons noted that it was unfair to exclude Michael’s Bay from the mandate of a heritage committee due to legal concerns. “For us to implement something and disregard Michael’s Bay because it’s tied up in the courts right now, I would have a hard time doing that. Michael’s Bay, Tehkummah, South Baymouth—they’re all under the same umbrella.”

Mr. Bowerman said that this conversation has been going on for some time. “I was in on that original conversation,” he said. “This is years ago. We were talking about the barns, the graves.” He noted that there are unmarked graves on a South Baymouth property that was expropriated by the township and that these are also not protected.

Mr. Bowerman feels strongly that a heritage committee should already be gathering the necessary information from the municipality’s older residents who may still have some firsthand knowledge. “The way I look at a heritage committee is to collect our history,” he explained. “And I get the impression tonight it’s a no. But for me, I would like to see everyone who has information like that to collect it. Why not in preparation for a heritage committee collect the right information and make sure it’s the right information and it gets down on paper.”

Councillor Lorie Leeson agreed. “I think what you’re saying, Paul, is you don’t need a committee to do all the collecting for when the committee is actually formed.”

Reeve Russell suggested that no one was opposed to the formation of a heritage committee but that more time was needed for research on requirements and to see what becomes of the Michael’s Bay property.

Mr. Tracy suggested that “every township has to have a heritage committee. It’s right in the Act,” he said. The actual wording of Section 28 (1) of the Ontario Heritage Act states, “The council of a municipality may, by bylaw, establish a municipal heritage committee to advise and assist the council on matters relating to (the designation of individual properties), or (the designation of heritage conservation districts) and such other heritage matters as the council may specify by bylaw.”

The committee’s role is an advisory one. Municipal Heritage Committees can advise council on the identification and designation of properties with heritage or cultural value; on applications to alter, demolish or remove properties; on applications to repeal designation bylaws; and on easements or covenants. Property owners should remain actively engaged throughout the entire process.

Tehkummah ratepayers should educate themselves on the role and authority of a municipal heritage committee and submit their support or concerns to the municipal office in writing. The issue will be an agenda item at the May 5, 2015 council meeting.