City gives faith-based think tank the go-ahead to lease Balfour House

LGBTQ residents raised concerns last year about some of Cardus's past published material.

LGBTQ residents have raised concerns about some of Cardus's past published material

Cardus says it will spend more than $1 million to fix up the mansion, which is vacant right now. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

The city has given the nod for a Christian-based think tank to lease the historic Balfour House, which is currently sitting empty.

Cardus will work directly with the Ontario Heritage Trust on its plans for the stone mansion, which was built on the Mountain brow in 1836. Once the two sides hammer out an agreement, the city will negotiate a memorandum of understanding.

But overall, Cardus has the go-ahead to relocate its offices to 1 Balfour Dr.

"We've consulted with the community," said Coun. Terry Whitehead (Ward 14, west Mountain). "We consulted with heritage, and we even went nationally looking for tenants with Auchmar and Balfour House." And in the end, "the building is still vacant."

City council's general issues committee voted 11-2 Wednesday to let the deal move ahead. The Ontario Heritage Trust owns the mansion, but the city is the caretaker. Cardus approached the city last year to see about leasing it, and three months ago, councillors voted to give the research facility the exclusive right to discuss a lease.

That lease would include the condition that Cardus handle the capital costs, which the city estimates at more than $1 million. It will also stipulate that the arrangement generates money for the city, and that the public can use the grounds. Right now, residents occasionally walk their dogs there, said Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development.

The lease isn't popular with everyone. LGBTQ residents and allies spoke out last year about Cardus's history of publishing what they say is homophobic material.

"Some of the content that I have seen is homophobic, misogynist, racist and climate change denying," said resident Robert Brosius in a letter to council last year. "As one of your constituents, I urge you to vote AGAINST this proposal, and AGAINST dealing with Cardus."

President Michael Van Pelt said Wednesday that Cardus adheres to labour laws and the Ontario Human Rights code.

"We are a faith-based organization," he said. "We come out of a Christian tradition and we are not apologetic for that."

"We comply with (equity, diversity and inclusion). That is what we are obligated to do."

Scott Burn is the person who built the 24-room home, which is also called Chedoke House. It includes a grand drawing room, a dining room and a widow's walk. It also has a stable with a schoolroom overhead that doubled on Sundays as a chapel.

The mansion changed owners over the years, including the Brydges, Dewars, and Southams. Wilson Balfour Baxter gave it to the Ontario Heritage Trust in the late 1970s, and lived there until 2013, when she died. 

The city assumed stewardship of the building in 1979. That agreement expires in 2039.

Cardus is currently located in a historic building at 185 Young St., and previously had private negotiations with the city about locating at Auchmar Mansion.


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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