Manitoba

City steps in 'at 11th hour' to stop demolition of 110-year-old Crescentwood mansion

Efforts by concerned neighbours and local history buffs have led the City of Winnipeg to halt, at least for the time being, the demolition of a 110-year-old mansion in the Crescentwood neighbourood.

City of Winnipeg may extend heritage status for Crescentwood area to preserve history: councillor

This old Wellington Crescent home was slated for demolition but the city has paused that plan. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A 110-year-old mansion slated for demolition won't be torn down for the time being.

On Thursday night, the City of Winnipeg rescinded the demolition order obtained by the owner of 514 Wellington Cresc. in Crescentwood.

The move follows efforts from neighbours and local history buffs to preserve the building. They feared the home would be demolished Friday.

Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said the city is considering whether to extend heritage conservation district status to the entire Crescentwood neighbourhood as it did with Armstrong's Point in April. For now, all demolition permits in the area have been shelved.

The decision can be appealed within 14 days, a city spokesperson said.

"There is imminent danger that we're going to be losing some historical pieces that are quite critical in the neighborhood," Orlikow said.

"Before we go much farther we're just asking all property owners to just take a pause until we have the opportunity to work together [with the] neighborhood to try to find out what those guidelines will be."

Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said she was thrilled to learn the demolition won't go ahead.

Cindy Tugwell said the home was bumped off a list of 300 homes being considered for heritage status when a city bylaw changed five years ago. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"We don't ever want to get to the 11th hour like this, but what a celebratory feeling when the city comes through and says, 'Enough, we're not going to allow this," said Tugwell.

Heritage Winnipeg helped organizers mobilize and ask for special protections for the home, she said.

"What we want to say to Winnipeggers is if you're not going to do the right thing and it's not fair then you need to just walk away, and that's what we're hoping this developer will get from all of this."

Protesters block tractor

The two-storey mansion, built in 1909, was previously on a city inventory list of homes up for heritage status consideration, said Tugwell. But it and about 300 other homes got bumped off the list when the heritage bylaws changed in 2014, she added.

The building is now on the city's "commemorative list" under the Historical Resources bylaw, a city spokesperson wrote in an email. The list recognizes heritage buildings for their architectural or historical significance — but it doesn't impose restrictions on changes or demolition.

Students from St. Mary's Academy and a group of adults showed up with signs outside the home Friday morning to protest the planned demolition. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The mansion housed a number of notable Manitobans over the years, said Christine Skene.

"This is an iconic house in our neighbourhood," said Skene, who lives on Kingsway and is a member of Save 514 Wellington and the Crescentwood heritage district conservation committee.

"It's representative of our connection to an earlier time."

Former South Winnipeg MLA James Thomas Gordon and Winnipeg Grain Exchange president William Richard Bawlf both called it home during different periods, according to the Manitoba Historical Society.

Concerned locals formed Save 514 Wellington and staged a protest outside the building Friday morning after demolition fencing went up Thursday.

Protesters blocked the back lane to the home with several vehicles so a tractor, presumably assigned to the demolition, couldn't access the backyard of the home. But they cleared out after Tugwell said police, who had been called to the scene, determined the contractor had the right to leave his machinery in the yard.

"It makes me question, if there's a stop order and he can't do anything, then why would you want to have [the machinery] sitting there?" Tugwell said. "My concern is if he doesn't follow the stop order … and goes ahead and starts demolition."

Protesters blocked the back lane with vehicles. (CBC)

A flaw in the city planning process is responsible for the precarious situation the Wellington home finds itself in, said Skene.

"Just because you're an owner and you can do anything with it doesn't mean you should," she said.

"This home was on a protected list for many years."

Skene worries the current owner wants the building out of the way so they can build a condominium complex. She's also concerned the owner might defy the suspended demolition order.

'Precious buildings'

Heather Cram, who lives on Dorechester Avenue a few blocks over, has been pushing to save the home since 2014. The landscape architect was instrumental in getting Armstrong's Point declared a heritage conservation district.

She thinks Crescentwood is also deserving of heritage status and hopes the demolition suspension sticks.

The proposed area under consideration is bordered by Academy Road to the north, Stafford Street to the west, Grosvenor Avenue to the south and the Assiniboine River to the east, the city said. The nomination includes all structures, built features and "character-defining elements."

"I hate to see our heritage destroyed, and this is one of our precious buildings in Winnipeg that should remain forever," Cram said.

"Every little piece that disappears on us is a loss of our legacy and another story that we need to have for generations."

Organizers said 4,500 people have signed a petition against destroying the home.

Members of Save 514 Wellington said the home is an iconic part of the neighbourhood that deserves to be protected. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

More from CBC Manitoba:

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Marianne Klowak

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.