Early Guelph neighbourhood gets heritage designation

The City of Guelph has announced an area of the city that once featured an electric rail line and homes with some of the best examples of masonry and stove carving in the city has officially received a heritage designation.

Guelph's Brooklyn and College Hill areas now protected under Ontario Heritage Act

McCrae House, the birthplace of doctor, soldier and the poet behind In Flanders Fields, is located in Guelph's first heritage conservation district.

Guelph now has its first heritage conservation district.

Nearly a decade after it was first suggested, the Brooklyn and College Hill area has been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, city staff announced Thursday.

New guidelines will apply to 160 properties in the district, the city said.

"There's a lot of people who, this might be their first introduction to what's known as Brooklyn," senior heritage planner Stephen Robinson said in an interview with CBC News Thursday.

"It's a fairly old neighbourhood of Guelph. Even by the 1850s, it was being established as a residential area for mill workers on the south side of the Speed River," he said, about why the city was interested in having it designated.

"The nickname of Brooklyn actually came when New York City was building its Brooklyn Bridge to a community across a river. The nickname kind of stuck here as it's Guelph's Brooklyn."

Coun. Leanne Piper said there was also support from the people living in the area for the designation.

"The reason it came first is because the community came forward, requested the district and initiated the process," Piper said.

Residents fear increased costs

Guelph's Brooklyn and College Hill area has been designated a heritage conservation district under the Ontario Heritage Act

Robinson said the process did take longer than originally planned. Despite receiving "very little negative feedback," council's decision in September 2014 to pass a bylaw creating the heritage conservation district was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

Three neighbours argued there were other areas of the city more deserving of a heritage title and that had more public support.

As well, they raised concerns that even minor work on homes would need extra permits to be completed. Property owners need a heritage permit to change, build or demolish any building or structure or remove trees larger than 20 cm in diameter "that contribute to the heritage value or visual character of the district."

During an Ontario Municipal Board hearing in October, residents said there were at least two cases where selling homes in the heritage district was made more difficult because of the designation. As well, they argued homeowners would face increased costs for renovations, upkeep of their homes, and insurance.

In its November ruling, the OMB said those appealing the bylaw to name the heritage district "did not provide evidence to demonstrate any potential economic impact."

Piper said the city also addressed concerns that some homes were being included in the boundary for the district that weren't relevant. In particular, homeowners on James St. E, just south of the Speed River, objected to being included. The city agreed and amended the bylaw.

In the end, Robinson said, "The community seems pleased with the outcome."

McCrae House, covered bridge included

The south shore of the Speed River in Guelph is part of what is historically known as Brooklyn. (Google StreetView)

The district includes a large portion of Gordon Street, from just north of College Ave., and the University of Guelph, across the Speed River and ends at the boundary of Royal City Park, just before Wellington Street.

The green spaces on both sides of the covered bridge are also included. McCrae House, the birthplace of doctor and In Flanders Fields poet John McCrae, is also located inside the newly designated district.

The area is historically significant for the city. Properties in the area boast some of the best examples of masonry and stone carving in the city.

As well, Gordon Street, which was once Dundas Road, was where the electrical rail line for the Toronto Suburban Railway was located. That railway ran from Guelph to Keele and Dundas in Toronto.

Other districts possible

The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport website shows Kitchener has four heritage districts - Civic Centre Neighbourhood, Upper Doon Village, Victoria Park and St. Mary's - and Waterloo has one, the MacGregor-Albert Neighbourhood.

Piper says she expects Guelph will get more heritage districts in the future.

"I think places like The Ward [are] going to want a district, St. George's Park is going to want a district. I think other neighbourhoods are going to start knocking on City Hall's door and when's our turn," Piper said.

Robinson said he is now looking at other significant areas in the city, including the downtown core, Douglas Street, the Exhibition Park area and the neighbourhood known as St. George's Park.

"I'm working on eventually bringing a recommendation to council as to what other areas of the city we should consider for our next heritage district," he said.