City looks at loaning RHLI trust $20M to restore Auchmar

The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) 13th Battalion trust has been given one more reprieve in its dream for the Auchmar Mansion — even though it has just $10,000 out of the $20.5 million it needs to make the project happen. The city will look at loaning the rest.

If it doesn't work, Cardus is waiting in the wings

The RHLI 13th Battalion Auchmar Trust needs $20.5 million to restore Auchmar and make its vision a reality. The city will see if it can loan the money. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city is looking at loaning the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) 13th Battalion trust $20.5 million to try to make its museum, saloon and public park dream a reality. But some councillors say it's time to give other organizations a chance.

The 13th Battalion Auchmar Trust wants to turn the 1852 mansion into a gift shop, chapel and park, among other amenities. It has a final business plan, says Sgt. Brian Buckle. But it's not quite sure where the required $20,485,227 in capital money will come from.

City council's general issues committee voted Wednesday to see if there's public money to loan the trust. But not everyone was a fan.

"We've had a number of extensions already," Mayor Fred Eisenberger said. "At some point, we have to at least open the door to others who may have an interest to be able to put their presentation on the table."

Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor said he wasn't ready to give up. 

Auchmar Mansion has been vacant since 2001. (City of Hamilton)

"I want to give this opportunity every chance we can," the Ward 8 councillor said.

If this doesn't work, another organization is waiting in the wings.

Cardus, a religious right-wing think tank, wants to lease the building. Cardus has been interested since 2014, when the city entered talks with the organization but kept its identity under wraps

But councillors liked the trust idea better. 

Tom Jackson, Ward 6 councillor, said he had a good feeling about the trust proposal. And Whitehead said it's a good use of what he's called "the Dundurn of the Mountain."

"Can anyone argue that this isn't one of the more significant buildings with respect to the history of this community?" he said Wednesday.

The fate of the vacant building at 88 Fennell Ave. W. has been an issue for years.

Regiment founder Isaac Buchanan built the Gothic mansion in 1852. The city bought it in 1999, but since 2001, it's sat empty. It needs millions in repairs, and the city is already paying hundreds of thousands a year to maintain it. 

The trust wants to spend $4,524,204 fixing the mansion, and another $2 million furnishing it. It would spend $5,673,694 on the garden wall, and in the first phase, $3,407,380 on the coach house.

Buckle said the goal is to gather government grants and fundraising with the help of a professional fundraising firm. This will be easier with an approved business plan, he said.

"As soon as we get the green light from council," he said, "we are ready to launch."

The 13th Battalion Auchmar Trust envisions the following:

  • A Claremont community park.
  • A RHLI heritage museum at Auchmar House.
  • The volunteer saloon.
  • The Gibson Inn and Regimental Chapel.
  • The Old 13th drill shed.
  • The Isaac and Agnes Buchanan Education Centre.
  • The Routh Centre.
  • The Friends of Auchmar Gift Shop and Gazebo.

Whatever happens, said trust vice-chair Richard Moll, the building needs to stay in public hands. 

"Once it's gone into private hands, you will lose the will of the entire west mountain," he said. "(People) want to see this succeed. They will be utterly crushed to see Auchmar in the hands of a business that will not do what we will."


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