Heritage community frustrated by demolition of Chelsea pioneer house

Frustration is building in Chelsea, Que., after a small pioneer house, built in the mid-19th century, was demolished by the National Capital Commission without permission from the municipality.

NCC not required to apply for municipal permit, Quebec culture ministry says

The demolition of a pioneer house, built between 1845 and 1855, has some in the heritage community frustrated by a lack of communication. (Google Map)

A small pioneer house built in the mid-19th century was demolished by the National Capital Commission (NCC) without permission from the municipality of Chelsea, Que., which has left behind a foundation of frustration.

"It was one of the oldest houses in the municipality and one of the oldest residences in the Outaouais," Michel Prévost, president of Société d'histoire de l'Outaouais, told Radio-Canada in a French-language interview.

"It is always a great loss when we see one of our oldest buildings disappear."

Behind the gates installed at 272 Chemin de la Montagne, the building — constructed between 1845 and 1855 — is in ruins. Next to the gate, a notice from the municipality's demolition request committee is still posted, saying it will meet on July 28 to consider the building's demolition.

NCC doesn't require municipal permit 

Deputy Mayor Jean-Paul Leduc said Chelsea had received a request for a demolition permit from the NCC, and the committee planned to study the request.

The committee would have notified Quebec's Ministry of Culture and Communications before a final decision was reached, but it didn't have time to meet before the building was demolished, Leduc said.

According to the ministry, the NCC, being a federal entity, isn't required to apply for a municipal permit and therefore the culture ministry was not informed of the demolition.

In an email to Radio-Canada, the NCC said the buildings located on the property were in "poor condition" and presented a risk to the health and safety of the public.

Asbestos and lead-based paint were also present in the building, it added.

"Buildings on NCC grounds, including Gatineau Park, are subject to federal law. However, out of courtesy, we advised the Municipality of Chelsea of ​​our intention," the Crown corporation wrote.

Next to the gate at 272 Chemin de la Montagne, a notice from the municipality’s demolition request committee remains posted stating it will meet on July 28 to consider the building’s demolition. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

The NCC carried out a site analysis and a federal heritage assessment and as a result, "the buildings were not designated as a federal heritage site."

The NCC then obtained permission to demolish the buildings with the sole condition of keeping the logs in good condition for future projects.

For Leduc, the NCC's answers are unsatisfactory. 

"When you apply for a permit, you follow the procedure," he said, "The federal government has certain rights, but there was a lack of communication.

"I really hope we learn from that and have some discussions before demolitions take place."

From the historical society's perspective, Prévost said the NCC usually tries to be sensitive when it comes to heritage buildings.

'Please, better protect your buildings'

Not having been able to visit the building himself, the heritage specialist suggests it could have been too decrepit to restore.

He believes Chelsea also deserves a share of the blame, despite the province maintaining there's little a municipality can do to prevent a federal agency from demolishing its buildings.

"The building was listed in the inventory of cultural heritage in Quebec, but the inventory does not provide any legal protection. [...] If this building was so important for the Municipality of Chelsea, one can wonder why it didn't enshrine it as a heritage building under the [Quebec's cultural law]," he said.

"There is a message for all the municipalities of the Outaouais: please, better protect your buildings which are registered in the cultural heritage inventory, because that avoids situations like the one today."

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