Sept. 2012

Brian Henley, September 2012

As Auchmar continues to await a decision, or series of decisions to decide the future of the home, and just as importantly its grounds, I think of Dundurn Castle and Park and the debate that surrounded the civic acquisition of that building and its grounds.

As early as 1870, the city of Hamilton refused the opportunity to buy Dundurn, the park and house. A second offer at a lower price was also turned down by the municipal leaders.

For the next twenty-five plus years, Dundurn was a hybrid – the mansion continuing as a private residence while the park was leased out on a seasonal basis for a wide variety of festivals, social events, political rallies, sports etc.

In 1899, it was announced that Dundurn was to be sold and the subdivision of the park into building lots for small workingmen’s homes and the possible demolition of the mansion was a strong possibility.

Put to a public vote on the option of the City of Hamilton purchasing Dundurn, the choice to buy Dundurn was accepted by the voters by a majority of more than two to one.

When constructed Auchmar was, and continues to be, the southern, mountain echo of Dundurn. As with Dundurn, Auchmar’s surrounding grounds were as important historically and as important for area residents and Hamiltonians generally.

Over the past forty years of my personal residence in Hamilton, the futures of many important historic and architecturally significant buildings have been matters of public concern. There have been losses and there have been buildings and areas which have survived.

The Birks Building at the corner of James Street South and the south branch of King Street East was the first major controversy regarding the demolition of a historically and architecturally important after the beginning of the 1970s. The loss of Birks Building was arguably the event which activated the community of Hamiltonians ready to work for the preservation of the city’s built heritage.

Over the next forty years, there have been many debates about important buildings and there have been major victories, despite the challenges, particularly economic, which were faced.

That list of buildings whose futures were uncertain, and which generated considerable public discussion include the former T. H. and B. Railway station on Hunter street, the former Canadian National Railway station on James Street North, the former Hamilton Public Library on Main Street West, the former Customs House on Stuart street and the former Bank of Montreal at Main and James streets.

In some cases, the City of Hamilton purchased the buildings involved, and held them until sympathetic buyers were located. Sandyford Place and the former Bank of Montreal building are prime examples of that process working well.

Auchmar faces an uncertain future at present. Auchmar the mansion and Auchmar that building’s important grounds both await a clear firm decision on preservation AND a future which would involve ready access to both by Hamiltonians in general.

What worked for Dundurn in the 189o’s and what the worked for many important Hamilton buildings in the post 1970 time period, could and should work for Auchmar.