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Friday, January 17, 2020

Owen Sound Council Approves Plan To Demolish Historic St. Mary's Rectory

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

Parishioners overwhelmingly supported demolition plan, due to high costs of restoration.

An application to demolish the 19th century rectory at St. Mary's Church in Owen Sound has received council's consent.

City council approved a community services committee recommendation at its meeting Monday to provide conditional consent to an application from St. Mary's Catholic Church parish to demolish the rectory at its church property on 15th Street East and endorse, in principle, the proposed design of a new one.

The rectory at St Mary's Church was built in 1872. The building is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and required council's consent on the application to demolish.

This is the first time city council has allowed the demolition of a designated property under the Ontario Heritage Act, according to a staff report.

Approximately 90 per cent of parishioners -- from Owen Sound to Tobermory -- voted in favour of the plan to demolish the historic rectory, a city staff report explains.

Coun. John Tamming, who sits on the community services committee, says while he values preservation he voted in favour of the demolition application for a number of reasons -- parishioners support it, and it is a privately-held asset.

"I find it very hard to prohibit the demolition of a privately-held asset if no money from the city is coming to help them out. That is an indirect form of government expropriation without compensation," Tamming explains. "Not only is the rectory a privately held asset, it is a personal residence for priests ... it's a personal home. And if the hand of the state starts in effect to dictate where people live and how, that should give us pause."

Neil Devlin, chair of the St. Mary's building committee, says the cost to restore the rectory was tabbed at over $4-million. To demolish and build a new one will cost less than half of that. 

Devlin says when he joined the parish building committee three years ago he was determined to save the building, but the costs involved dictated a different direction.

"This is not a happy conclusion," Devlin says. "We're glad council can see the dollar signs. That's really what it came down to. We cannot ask our parishioners to raise $4-million."

"It's not a happy conclusion, but I think it's the best route going forward."

The proposed new rectory would be built in the same general footprint at the 15th Street East property, with an extension to the south. It will connect to the church through a glass passage. 

Devlin says the new rectory will honour the former structure in a variety of ways. The old original front door will be utilized in the new building. Bricks will also be salvaged from the original rectory and used to reconstruct portions of the new facade and exterior elements.

"Any design concept we can work into it ... we're going to do," Devlin says. "It's the history of the parish."

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