April 28, 2022
The Ontario Lands Tribunal recently ruled that the Township of South Stormont must continue to treat the Raisin River Heritage Centre, 17283 County Road 18, St. Andrews West, as an important part of the township’s cultural heritage.
In his ruling on April 19, 2022, Tribunal Member Daniel Nelson insisted that there was no reason to remove the Centre’s heritage designation – which the Board proposed in January 2021 as a first step towards demolition of what expert witness for the opponents Julie Harris described as an “increasingly rare example of a former Catholic convent and school in Ontario.
Obviously pleased with the Tribunal’s decision, those fighting to save the Center realize that there is still work to be done to restore the former St. Andrew’s Convent to an important functional center in the Township.
“A huge challenge is the lack of land attached to the building,” said Jordan Munn, who started a petition to “Save St. Andrew’s Convent” that garnered more than 1,300 signatures in early 2021. The court hearing by township expert witness Rick Taylor pointed out that the five-foot perimeter surrounding the building would not even allow ambulances or emergency vehicles to access it. The septic tank is also located “somewhere” on the surrounding property owned by the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.
“We hope the school board will agree to provide the small amount of additional land that would make the building viable, perhaps through an easement or joint use agreement,” Munn said. He and Kae Elgie, past president of Architectural Conservancy Ontario, had encouraging meetings with school board officials about it last fall, he said.
The other challenge is finding an occupant and use of the building that meets the School Board’s concerns about student safety. Munn and Elgie’s meeting with school board officials discussed several possible solutions, including limiting the use of buildings outside of school hours or to people who have passed a police records check. “It will take some creative thinking,” Munn said, “but it’s not impossible.” Munn and Elgie look forward to continuing to work with the township and school board to find a solution.
The Tribunal recommended that the Township of South Stormont update the Centre’s designation by-law “to reflect the current requirements for these by-laws” under the Ontario Heritage Act. “It would be wonderful if the new bylaw had the same property dimensions as the original designation bylaw passed on December 28, 1979,” Elgie said. “This settlement referred to a 15,000 square foot parcel of land surrounding the convent. When the settlement was registered on title in 1980, the property mysteriously and sadly shrunk to just 5,000 square feet.