Should this pre-Confederation, yellow brick home be razed to make room for a road?

A growing number of people in southwestern Ontario are holding out hope they can save a pre-Confederation home from being bulldozed, and will make a last-minute appeal to local politicians next week.

A developer wants to raze the building, known as Elgin Hall, to make way for a subdivision in Mount Elgin, a small hamlet east of London, Ont. On Aug. 9, local residents will ask councillors with the Township of Southwest Oxford to save the building from demolition by giving it special heritage designation.

“It was built by oxen carrying bricks from a brickyard in London in 1850,” said Garth Turner, a former member of Parliament and cabinet minister who has family ties to the home. “It’s very historic. It’s gorgeous, Georgian architecture.”

Mt. Elgin Development Inc., along with GSP Group, is proposing to build a 175-lot subdivision in the hamlet, including six new local streets.

One of those roads would run through the Elgin Hall property.

“When I became aware that it was going to be demolished, oh, my goodness, it was heartbreaking,” said Turner.

Garth Turner in 1953 in the parlour of Elgin Hall. Turner’s great-grandfather, Ebenezer Vining Bodwell, was the first owner of the home and the first member of Parliament for South Oxford. (Submitted by Debbie Kasman)

The home was first built for Turner’s great-grandfather Ebenezer Vining Bodwell, who was South Oxford’s first MP in John A. Macdonald’s government and also the superintendent of the Welland Canal from 1875-1879. 

Turner, an investment advisor who has worked to save heritage buildings in the past, offered to buy the property from the developer but was rebuffed, he said.

“It’s steeped in Canadian history,” said Turner, whose mother was born in the home and married on the front lawn. “It is definitely a part of the evolving heritage and creation and birth and infrastructure of early Canada. I think it needs to be preserved.”

Elgin Hall was constructed for Ebenezer Vining Bodwell in 1850. He was the first member of Parliament for South Oxford. (Submitted by Debbie Kasman)

‘Crime against history’

“It would seem to me that an enlightened developer would take a gorgeous old historic landmark and incorporate it into a new subdivision,” said Turner. “Maybe as a community centre, maybe as a restaurant, but the main thing is not to tear the thing down and turn it into an access roadway.”

“I think it’s a crime against history.”

CBC News contacted Chris Pigeon with GSP Group, the listed agent on the proposal for the subdivision, but he refused to comment on any efforts to save Elgin Hall.

“It’s a large yellow brick house, which I’m actually kind of partial to, but there’s a number of other yellow brick houses, probably of the same vintage in the community,” said Township of Southwest Oxford Mayor David Mayberry.

“We see old houses, barns, being removed somewhat regularly as a building that serves a more current need is established,” he said. “Does the community actually really want this and to what extent are they prepared to either directly or indirectly invest in it?” 

It is up to council to decide whether the home is in good enough shape to save, said Ward 3 Coun. Valerie Durston. 

“Am I willing to save it? It’s not up to me,” she said. “We’ll see what happens. It certainly is up in the air at this point.” 

London Morning6:52Should progress march on at the expense of history?

London Morning caught up with investment advisor Garth Turner to find out why he’s trying to stop a developer from tearing down a two-story yellow brick building in Mount Elgin.

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By Jon Doe