'It saddens me:' Charlottetown historian worried about recent demolitions

A Charlottetown historian is concerned that recent demolitions of older homes are part of a worrying trend — but a city official says in most recent cases, the homes were empty and not 'an asset' to the city.

In the last month, three older buildings have been torn down - but a planning official says they were empty

Historian Catherine Hennessey is worried about the recent demolitions of older homes in Charlottetown. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

A Charlottetown historian is concerned that recent demolitions of older homes are part of a worrying trend — but a city official says in most recent cases, the homes were empty and not "an asset" to the city.

Two homes on Water Street, thought to date to the19th century, were torn down in December and last week, a duplex that is at least 100 years old at 54-56 King Street came down too.

"It saddens me because we're complacent, we're complacent about it," said well-known heritage activist Catherine Hennessey.

"It hurts me because like one little house, a home nobody cares about that they'll just let it pass by. Once you start putting one after another after another you're changing the ambience of the community."

Greg Rivard, chair of the city's planning and heritage committee, says development is a balancing act. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

But Greg Rivard, chair of the city's planning and heritage committee, said many of the recent demolitions were neglected buildings.

"These homes were either empty, falling apart," he said. "I don't think that we've encountered one of these homes yet that we considered to be an asset to Charlottetown. While they were old, they were also empty, they were also gutted. They just weren't in good shape."

Balancing development with heritage preservation

Hennessey says she is concerned about the streetscapes of the city being ruined and wants to see stricter rules around development. 

"I think the city has to start looking inward and decide what they want to do," she said. 

"Strengthen the heritage bylaw. I think if you understand that we are marketing a special little treasure I think you have good reason to preserve."

 Rivard said that in the past three years the city has issued four demolition permits in the city's "500 Lot Area," the heritage protected area south of Euston Street. He said any demolition in that area requires an inspection of the property. 

"The heritage officer does go out, reviews or inspects the building, and we do give it a rating system," he said. "If indeed the rating is much higher than we thought then the heritage board may elect to not issue the permit or recommend that we make the house a designated property."

We are marketing a special little treasure- Catherine Hennessey, heritage activist

But if a building is not in the 500 Lot Area, or designated a heritage property, there aren't many reasons a permit wouldn't be issued.  

These two homes on Water Street that were demolished in December were believed to have been built sometime before 1900. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The 500 Lot plan is currently under review and Rivard said that review will include a look at either loosening or further restricting the rules around development. He said it is key to plan correctly going forward. 

"It's difficult because there's that balance between yesterday and tomorrow and … any downtown core has to continue to develop at the same time," he said. "Charlottetown is unique and we recognize that and I love that. But it's difficult to grow and maintain at the same time, so it's trying to make sure that any construction that takes place, any development  is smart development."

About the Author

Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a video journalist in P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC N.L.