Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay conservatory would 'broaden scope' of heritage registry, committee says

Thunder Bay's heritage advisory committee wants the Centennial Botanical Conservatory to be recognized as a culturally important landmark, by being placed on the city's heritage registry.

The city's heritage committee wants the conservatory to be officially recognized as 'culturally significant'

Thunder Bay's Centennial Botanical Conservatory is something the city can't afford to lose, according to a citizens group that advocates for the facility. (City of Thunder Bay)

Thunder Bay's heritage advisory committee wants the Centennial Botanical Conservatory to be recognized as a "culturally important landmark." The conservatory was built over 50 years ago to celebrate Canada's 100th birthday, and to offer residents a peaceful place to enjoy a range of plants.

Now, it could be placed on the city's heritage registry. 

"It's a magnificent building, and its diverse plants originate from around the world," said Matt Szybalski, a member of the committee, noting that many of the plants there today derive from their original plantings over half a century ago.

The rock garden incorporates over three tons of amethyst, granite and other fieldstones from the Lakehead region.

Szybalksi said the building wouldn't be recognized so much for its architecture, as many of the city's heritage properties are, but more for its cultural significance. "It's not just [about] old, impressive buildings," he said. "It broadens the scope of what can be added."

Properties on the city's heritage register are afforded extra protection in the case of demolition. If someone were to apply to demolish the conservatory, the committee would have 60 days to recommend to city council that the building become a "designated" heritage site, meaning it would then have permanent protection under city bylaws.

A non-designated heritage site, he said, offers a safe interim step to formal designation.

We 'can't afford to lose' it

Sharon Sidlar, the chair of the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory volunteer group, said the property is a "beautiful site" that residents "can't afford to lose." She listed a number of renovations the property should undergo, and said multiple sections in the building are "not open right now" because they've been deemed not to have met the city's building code.

Issues like these, she added, make it important for the property to be on the heritage registry.

The volunteer group has conducted extensive research on the building's history in the lead up to the committee's proposal. To have it put on the registry would be an "affirmation of our beliefs that this a valuable resource in our community," she said.

"Our team has worked really hard to make sure that people appreciate what we have."

Sidlar said "a lot more research has to be done" on the building before it can be formally designated, however. "We're happy to have it on the registry [...] at this point in time."

Szybalski said a official proposal will soon be written and submitted to city council.

"It's going to take a few months," he said.