Council unanimously grants heritage designation to Dr. Oronhyatekha home

London city council voted unanimously Tuesday to give heritage designation to the former home of Dr. Oronhyatekha.

The city's move to commemorate Dr. Oronhyatekha is long overdue, says Coun. Maureen Cassidy

In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Oronhyatekha was involved with the Independent Order of Foresters. (City of London report)

It was a win for history buffs and architecture lovers alike as London city council voted unanimously Tuesday to designate the home of Indigenous physician Dr. Oronhyatekha as a heritage site. 

Dr. Oronhyatekha, who was also a key player in the city's burgeoning insurance industry, built an Italianate-style home at 172 Central Ave. in the late 19th century.

He lived there for years while serving as physician to the Oneida Nation of the Thames and to non-Indigenous patients in London — something that was unusual for the era.

"His life is really an example of bridging a gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and I think that's a very important thing for us to recognize in this time of truth and reconciliation," said Coun. Maureen Cassidy.

The city's move to commemorate Dr. Oronhyatekha is long overdue, said Cassidy, given that commemorative plaques already hang at Oxford University — where he studied — and at Tyendinaga — where he died. 

"The fact that the significance of this individual has been overlooked here in London is something we can rectify now, and it's a long time coming," she said.

(City of London report)

Challenges with preservation

Coun. Michael van Holst warned that preservation won't be without its challenges.

In a tour of the building, van Holst said he noticed cracked and rotten support beams, and a lack of footings under supporting walls. 

"The structure seemed to be quite unsafe, and I'm not sure we'll be able to keep this building in its form," said Holst, warning that the preservation process may not be able to keep the building in its current form.

Van Holst also floated the idea of dedicating $1,500 in funding to a playwright who would develop a dramatic work based on Dr. Oronhyatekha's life — a motion that did not receive a seconder.

Coun. Tanya Park spoke to both parts of Van Holst's concerns, pointing out that designating a heritage building doesn't mean putting it in a "hermetically sealed container."

She added that she would also be open to funding a play about Dr. Oronhyatekha, if the matter was raised at an appropriate committee meeting.

"I do think more local recognition is of critical importance," said Park. "It's a real shame we haven't done that here locally and I think we can really elevate that going forward."