Ottawa

Somerset House, Wallingford-Back Mine make list of Canada's endangered places

A downtown Ottawa landmark and one of the country's largest former quartz mines have been named to an annual list of endangered historic spaces in Canada.

Both sites now have preservation plans in place

Somerset House, left, and the Wallingford-Back Mine, right, have made the National Trust for Canada's annual top 10 list of the country's most endangered historic spaces. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

A long-neglected Centretown landmark and a former Outaouais quartz mine have been named to an annual top 10 list of endangered historic spaces in Canada.

Somerset House and the Wallingford-Back Mine both appear on the list released Thursday by the National Trust for Canada, a charity that advocates for the preservation of Canadian locations with historic value.

The saga of Somerset House has been a "decade-long story of demolition by neglect," executive director Natalie Bull said in a statement about the property at the corner of Bank and Somerset streets.

Landmark partially collapsed in 2007

Built in stages beginning in 1896, Somerset House has been home to a dry goods store, a hotel and most recently the Duke of Somerset pub.

After it partially collapsed in 2007, owner Tony Shahrasebi refused to fix it — leading to a protracted legal battle with the city that eventually ended with TKS Holdings, Shahrasebi's company, being required to pay the city $650,000.

In 2016, the city reluctantly gave the demolition of the building's four easternmost bays the go-ahead after engineering reports suggested they could not be safely restored.

A new redesign was approved this May, but not before staff forgot to inform the project's new architectural firm that they were supposed to use bricks that would replicate Somerset House's original look in a portion of its reconstruction.

Despite the error, the requirement to use replica bricks was ultimately scrapped so that work on the derelict property could finally begin.

A view of the proposed redesign of Somerset House from Bank Street, looking southeast. (Chmiel Architects)

Mine overrun with tourists

The Wallingford-Back Mine, meanwhile, was once one of the country's largest quartz, mica and feldspar mines.

Closed since 1970, the mine became a popular under-the-radar draw for tourists who would skate on its turquoise ponds in the winter and marvel at the natural beauty of its cliff faces in the summer.

However residents living nearby grew frustrated with tourists using private roads, making noise and leaving litter strewn around the site. 

The Quebec government considered demolishing the mine before the mayors of the MRC de Papineau unanimously approved a plan in April 2017 to erect permanent barriers to keep people out.

At the time of that decision, municipality prefect Paulette Lalande told Radio-Canada that dynamiting the mine was now "out of the question."

The mine is located about 60 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

Two other Ontario sites — the Black Horse Pub and Pig's Ear Tavern in Peterborough, Ont., and the Davisville Junior Public School/Spectrum Alternative Senior School in Toronto — also made the list.

The National Trust of Canada has been issuing annual lists of endangered spaces since 2005.

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