Nfld. & Labrador

Shannie Duff 'felt sick' by 25 Winter Ave. house demolition

A former city leader and outspoken advocate for heritage preservation in St. John's, Shannie Duff, says the demolition Monday of an old merchant-style house on Winter Avenue shows a lack of political will to protect such structures.
It took less than an hour for an excavator to level a 130-year-old home on Winter Avenue in St. John's on Monday. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

A former city leader and outspoken advocate for heritage preservation in St. John's, Shannie Duff, says the demolition Monday of an old merchant-style house on Winter Avenue shows a lack of political will to protect such structures.

She also warned that many other structures with similar historic value are at risk of a similar fate.

"I felt sick," Duff said during an interview Tuesday with the St. John's Morning Show, a day after the 130-year-old home at 25 Winter Ave. was flattened in a matter of minutes by an excavator.

Duff was a longtime member of council and deputy mayor, and served as mayor for a period in the early 1990s. She was also a longtime member of the city's heritage advisory committee.

She believes city council could have done more to save the house from demolition, and says the hurried way in which the property was razed was part of an attempt to blunt a growing debate about the property's fate.

"It was done very quickly, brutally in order a stop a dialogue which was starting to get some rethink of that demolition permit," she said.

Not a designated structure

She said the city has lost a very important 19th century merchant mansion even though council could have used its authority under the City Act to intervene, or simply accept, the recommendation of the heritage advisory committee to deny the demolition permit.

"It absolutely shows a lack of understanding … of the importance of our heritage, and certainly a lack of political will, and that really distresses me," she said.

The house was not a designated heritage property, but Duff said it was highlighted in reports compiled in 1977 and 2003.

"The fact that a property does not get designated officially by the city does not mean that it is not a valuable heritage property," she said.

Duff said she's been lobbying for another comprehensive review of the city's inventory of older properties, and to give heritage designation to those of special significance.

City council approved a motion during Monday's meeting to do an inventory and to begin a discussion on whether or not certain properties should be given special designation.

Duff called council's action a "small step."

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