Sec­tion of House slated for re­moval

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - BY TARA MAC­DON­ALD News Staff

South Glen­garry coun­cil is ex­pected to ap­prove a re­quest by the Glen­garry Fen­ci­bles Trust, a group ded­i­cated to the preser­va­tion and re-use of the Bishop’s House of Glen­garry, to de­mol­ish a sec­tion of the his­toric house in St. Raphael’s later this fall.

“To put it sim­ply, I feel this is a very ironic po­si­tion that I’m in,” re­marked Trust pres­i­dent Brenda Bax­ter when she ad­dressed coun­cil re­cently. “Be­cause three years ago, as a group, the Glen­garry Fen­ci­bles Trust was ar­gu­ing very pas­sion­ately to save the Bishop’s House and here I am to re­quest a de­mo­li­tion per­mit for part of the house.”

The ad­di­tions that are slated for re­moval have lit­tle his­toric value, ex­plained Ms. Bax­ter. “The sec­tion to be de­mol­ished in­cludes the tail sec­tion at the back of the build­ing which was added in 1939, along with an in-fill sec­tion with no foun­da­tion, a shed and some alu­minum-sided sec­tions which were put on in the ‘80s.”

The Mu­nic­i­pal Her­itage Com­mit­tee has ap­proved the de­mo­li­tion ap­pli­ca­tion, re­lates town­ship Clerk Kelli Cam­peau.

The com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion was to be pre­sented to coun­cil Septem­ber 4.

Since ac­quir­ing the build­ing in 2016, the Trust has worked tire­lessly to re­store the Bishop’s House to its for­mer glory in hopes of re-es­tab­lish­ing the build­ing as a vi­tal part of the com­mu­nity. Plans in­clude a tea house, in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre, a con­cert hall and a concierge’s suite. Es­ti­mates place the planned ren­o­va­tions at roughly $2 mil­lion.

Work­ing with Dry Stone Canada, the Trust be­gan restor­ing the re­tain­ing wall which was orig­i­nally built in the Bishop’s col­lege gar­den in 1826. In 2017, the Trust part­nered with Parks Canada in a cost-shar­ing agree­ment to dou­ble the amount the group had al­ready fundraised for a to­tal of $200,000 for the re­place­ment of the roof, win­dow re­pairs and the re­moval of “un­sym­pa­thetic al­ter­ations” to the build­ing. The veran­dah has also been re­moved; it will be re­placed by an ex­act replica later this year. Passers-by will now be wel­comed with a new cus­tom-made sign that has been com­mis­sioned from lo­cal artist Noella Cot­nam.

One of the old­est and most his­toric houses in Canada, the Bishop’s House, the home of “Big Bishop” Alexan­der Mac­Donell (1762-1840), is an el­e­ment of the St. Raphael’s Ru­ins Na­tional His­toric Site. The spa­cious stone house was re­put­edly built by François-Xavier Roche­leau in 1808 while the larger, match­ing stone wings were added by ar­chi­tect Raoul Joseph Gar­iépy in 1924 when the build­ing housed Iona Acad­emy, On­tario’s first in­sti­tute of higher learn­ing.

Over the years, the House was used as a pres­bytery for priests and a dor­mi­tory for girls. It housed the first print­ing press from which com­mu­niques went forth to Up­per Canada and in the 1980s to mid 1990s was used a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre by the for­mer Mount Carmel House.

By the late 1990s, the House was all but for­got­ten and left to face nearly two decades of ne­glect and de­cay. By 2015, the Catholic Dio­cese of Alexan­dria-Corn­wall had de­cided that the build­ing should be de­mol­ished. But the de­mo­li­tion ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected by the town­ship.

After more than a decade of fight­ing to pro­tect the land­mark, an agree- ment was fi­nally reached with the Dio­cese by which the Trust took pos­ses­sion of the three-storey ed­i­fice March 31, 2016 for $2.

TARA MAC­DON­ALD PHOTO

HOLY GROUND: “For mem­bers of my liv­ing his­tory unit, who recre­ate and ed­u­cate the pub­lic on early Glen­garry his­tory and what life was like dur­ing the War of 1812, the Bishop’s House is Holy Ground,” said Jim Mullin, a liv­ing his­tory reen­ac­tor with the Glen­garry Light In­fantry Fen­ci­bles. “Ma­jor re­cruit­ment and train­ing of the Glen­garry Light In­fantry took place right here at the orig­i­nal home, which pre­dates the War of 1812. The home gives liv­ing his­tory reen­ac­tors a nod of ap­proval from the reg­i­men­tal for­bears as well as from Fa­ther Mac­donell him­self.” He is shown here with Brenda Bax­ter.

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