'That's not progress': Stittsville farm's last inhabitant blasts developer's inaction

The last inhabitant of a founding family's farmstead in Stittsville is speaking out after the property's new owner, Richcraft Homes, failed to meet a deadline to move a heritage barn.

145-year-old barn at centre of heritage dispute between city, Richcraft Homes

The 145-year-old Bradley-Craig barn in Stittsville is one of the last remaining farm structures in the Ottawa area built in the 19th century. (Mandy Hambly)

At 86, Norma Craig has grown accustomed to seeing the landscape change around her, and insists she's not the sort to dwell in the past.

I feel they should have maintained it because it's the type of barn that's unique. There's none like that anymore.- Norma Craig

Nevertheless, Craig has grown increasingly concerned about the fate of an old dairy barn on Hazeldean Road in Stittsville, where her ancestors settled more than 200 years ago.

The big red barn, now 145 years old, is about all that's left of the farmstead where Craig was born and lived most of her life. In recognition of its place in local history, the city designated the barn under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2010.  
Norma Craig, 86, was born on the farmstead where her ancestors settled 200 years ago, and lived there most of her life.

Then two years ago, Richcraft Homes, which now owns the land, got permission from city council to dismantle the Bradley-Craig barn and carefully reconstruct it at Saunders Farm, an agricultural tourism site in Munster famous for its haunted hayrides.

But Sunday's deadline for the developer to act on its promise came and went, and the barn, which is deteriorating swiftly, remains where it's always been.

Loss of heritage 

"I feel they should have maintained it because it's the type of barn that's unique. There's none like that anymore," said Craig. "If they tear it down its heritage [is] gone."  

According to city heritage experts the barn is indeed a rare example of 19th-century Ontario farm architecture, with its heavy timber framing and high clerestory windows built for light and ventilation. It was constructed in 1873 by well-known barn builder John Cummings.

Craig sold the 50-hectare farm 12 years ago after her husband Eldon, with whom she shared dairy farming duties, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and went to live in a long-term care home. He died at 91, around the time Richcraft was granted the right to move the barn.
Norma Craig, shown here around the age of seven, has fond memories of the farm where she grew up. (supplied )

The Craigs kept 50 brown Swiss cows and grew corn and other cash crops on the farm.  

"It was a hard life but a good life," recalled Craig. "Eldon wanted to die [on the farm], but it wasn't possible." 

Richcraft has promised to keep the 19-century Gothic Revival farm house on the site, and in the last few weeks a for lease sign appeared on the front lawn.
Norma and Eldon Craig at home in their Stittsville farmhouse before Norma sold the property 12 years ago. (supplied )

'I have lots of memories'

"I have lots of memories of the house, playing in the attic," Craig laughed. "I can see milking time when we used to do it by hand, and squirting the milk in the cat's mouth and she'd lick it off her face."

The city filed a property standards order last March requiring Richcraft to conduct much-needed repairs to the old barn.

Lawyers for the developer are scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22 to fight allegations Richcraft has neglected the property. 

Richcraft's plan to build big box stores where the barn still sits doesn't sit well with Craig.

"That's not progress," she said. "I really worry about them taking all that good soil. My father looked after it, Eldon looked after it, and it fed us when we were children and it fed my children. How are we going to feed ourselves? That's what really bothers me."

CBC was unable to reach anyone from Richcraft Homes for a comment Monday.