Is Auchmar Mansion Hamilton's next great museum? The city starts planning

Auchmar Mansion just moved a step closer to being Hamilton's newest museum.

City council voted once and for all Wednesday to keep the Gothic mansion in public hands

Auchmar Mansion has been vacant for years. Now that the city knows it's keeping it, it can start planning for its future. (City of Hamilton)

Auchmar Mansion just moved a step closer to being Hamilton's newest museum.

City council voted Wednesday to keep the grand historic mansion in public hands. That puts an end to years of secret conversations, thwarted plans, and anxiety that the Gothic estate would one day be sold.

All that's over, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger. This paves the way for the mansion to join the ranks of Dundurn Castle and Battlefield House as one of Hamilton's oldest attractions.

The city has looked at selling it before, but "I'm not on for that anymore," Eisenberger said. 

"At some point, we have to start looking at this facility and making it our own."

There have been years of uncertainty around the fate of the mansion at Fennell Avenue and West 5th.

Isaac Buchanan, founder of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, built Auchmar in 1852. The city bought it in 1999, but since 2001, it's sat empty.

The building needs about $20 million in repairs. Each year, the city spends around $25,000 to provide basic heat and upkeep.

Cardus, a right-wing think tank, has expressed interest over the years. At one point, the city issued a request for proposals for possible buyers, although some said that process was flawed.

Most recently, the RHLI 13th Battalion Auchmar Trust had a promising proposal. It wanted to make the house a heritage museum. It wanted a volunteer saloon, event space and a gazebo. But it was stumped by the $20 million renovation costs.

In the fall, the trust told the city that two of its board members resigned for health reasons, and the trust hadn't made much headway in fundraising.

Lloyd Ferguson, Ancaster councillor, moved a motion Wednesday to entertain future offers to buy Auchmar. John-Paul Danko of Ward 8, where Auchmar is located, seconded. Danko thought about it more during the debate and withdrew his support, and Ferguson's motion died.

"I have zero interest in this being sold," Danko said. He just wanted to hear about future offers.

But that pushed councillors to make a definitive decision – Auchmar isn't going anywhere, period.

"We've gone down this road so many times with Auchmar," said Coun. Maria Pearson of lower Stoney Creek. "If I today heard Battlefield House was up for grabs, there'd be no way."

City staff will now work on a plan for the building, including how it will try to afford the steep renovation costs.

Also on Wednesday, council approved a one-year trial that will see anyone with a library card get into museums free.

One day, Pearson said, "Auchmar could be one of them."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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