01 August 2016

Watch it tumbling down, tumbling down...

Gee, but it's hard when one lowers one's guard to the vultures.

They began tearing down the old school next to our home last week. It was an ugly scene. The first part to be destroyed dated from 1875, when it was known as the St Marys Collegiate Institute. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, it was an impressive structure for so small a town. As the town grew, so did the school, with each extension less attractive than the last. An argument can be made that the devastation began long before the excavators showed up.

My wife put it best in a letter published earlier this year in our local newspaper:
Where were its advocates when the destruction started and the first of its many abysmal additions took form? Each a tumorous growth, defacing and deforming the once elegant building into a grotesque lump of bricks, as a mass it attracts no sympathy. The final insults now come through acts of vandalism committed by clueless, aimless, aggressive teens. But then, why should they care about this school when preceding generations did not? Children learn by example.
The building spent its last days as Arthur Meighen Public School, named in honour of the prime minister who had been educated within its walls. The nicest thing I can think to say about Meighen is that he considered Shakespeare the greatest Englishman of history. Meighen was a better speechwriter than politician, which is to say that he demonstrated real talent in putting words on paper but was otherwise a bastard. Fellow Collegiate alumnus Rev Dr Charles Gordon recognized him as such. Of course, we Canadians know Gordon as "Ralph Connor," the novelist who one hundred years ago dominated bestseller lists.

I lie. We don't remember the man – not even in St Marys.

The father of David Donnell, recipient of the 1983 Governor General's Award for Poetry, taught at the Collegiate. Fellow poet Ingrid Ruthig was a student during the years it was known as North Ward Public School. My daughter, Astrid, attended in its final days as Arthur Meighen.

Time passes.

Last week I saw a roof constructed in the nineteenth-century by local carpenters destroyed by a monster machine from the United States. I saw joists cut from trees that had grown in the time of Lord Simcoe being smashed to bits.

I turned away as a woman shed a tear at the loss.

Shame on me?

Shame on this town.

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  1. So, so sad. Some of the most beautiful buildings in Detroit came down with very little thought. Most were replaced with parking lots. And now Detroit will be the city of sports arenas.

    1. You'd be amazed at the percentage of our tax dollars that goes to our hockey pads and pools, Patti. And now, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is at the trough asking for a million over the next four years.

      Population of St Marys: 6655 (2011 census)

  2. Yes, indeed. A tear needs to be shed for such short-sighted demolitions. We see it happening everywhere. Instead of maintaining these old buildings, they are allowed to deteriorate until past the point of reasonable return, when they are ripped down (at great cost)and then replaced by multi-million-dollar boxes with absolutely no soul. Last year we were in Tacoma, Washington, and were thrilled to see a group of turn-of-the-century brick warehouses in the old industrial district rehabilitated as university buildings. Beautiful Union Station, once facing the wrecking ball, was saved by long-sited city planners, and is seeing new life as office and event space. Tourists and commercial renters bring revenue into the area, and the renovations cost much less than demolition and rebuilding would have. A nod to history, to practicality, and to overall aesthetics. Sadly, most municipalities aren't as creative. And, as you point out, the path to eventual destruction is paved by ill-considerd alterations and "improvements". Barb/Leaves & Pages

    1. Ok so maybe we should all leave these old sites to grow weeds, piss off other neighbours and become destinations for todays misguided youth. Or maybe one can think about what was on the site prior to this schools construction and consider how to help the future generations? Also, FYI this school has no heritage rating or characteristics as such. And also, FYI the Asbestos is removed when its removed and is non existent after demolition.

    2. I can't say that Barb is suggesting "we should all leave these old sites to grow weeds, piss off other neighbours and become destinations for todays misguided youth," Kevin. What I can say is that in the half-decade that the old Arthur Meighen Public School fell into private hands this is precisely what happened. I've written you - presuming you are the same Kevin currently developing the property - that the site came to look post-Apocalyptic. I disturbed one member of Town Council in comparing it to something from The Walking Dead. Apparently, it was all too apt.

      Prior to the school's construction, the site was woodland. Much as I'd like to see it return to that state - if only to make up, in some small way, for the devastation of Ardmore Park - I recognize that this isn't a possibility. So, let's work together to make something that will be a true asset to the community, something of which our grandchildren be proud.

      I'm all too aware that the school had no "heritage rating". I always counted myself amongst those who, with sadness, thought the school should be torn down. (That said, I believed that the gym should've been. On this, my wife and I disagreed... she was all for the entire building being razed.)

      Your bringing up Asbestos is interesting. I hadn't mentioned it, but the subject is important. The photo that leads off this piece was taken amongst a gathering of neighbours, some of whom held handkerchiefs and dishtowels to their mouths. They were worried about just the very mineral you identify. I didn't have the heart to tell them that their handkerchiefs and dishtowels were futile.

      I blame the Town.

  3. You shouldn't blame the town, you should be blaming the school boards who were the ones to make decisions regarding additions put on that building. As an alumni, it makes me very sad- I recently went back to St. Marys after some 10+ years away and was absolutely shocked at the empty now seemingly abandoned lot--that is not an improvement. Ontario does a piss poor job of maintaining old buildings I should know, my home was built in 1890 and we do everything we can to maintain it's historical character and charm but that alas, always costs at least twice as much and wiping it all away with a sledge hammer would