Residents react to Mortimer House demolition

John Brannen
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Outrage, acceptance at loss of historic building

Mortimer House in Pictou shown mid-demolition.

PICTOU – The historic Mortimer House, a landmark of the Town of Pictou, is in the final stages of demolition.

The property has changed hands in the over 200 years of its existence and owners included the famed co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Lord Strathcona. It was also used and enlarged by the International Order of Odd Fellows as an orphanage and nursing home.

Dan Macdonald, an actor and director from Pictou was outraged when he learned the building had been partially demolished. “I saw the picture of the building on The News’s website and thought, ‘Dear God, it can’t be true’.”

Macdonald knew about the storied history of the building and its famous owners and couldn’t believe no one had come forward to protect the building.

“The idea that no one has done anything to stop the building from deteriorating is disturbing,” he said. “The building was an iconic piece of Pictou’s character. It was an important building to Nova Scotia, the Maritimes and Canada.”

Beth Henderson, coordinator of the Pictou Historical Photo Society lamented the loss of Mortimer House.

“It’s sad to come across the causeway and see the icon of Pictou’s past gone,” said Henderson.

She hopes the history and story of the building will live on it the photographs, many of which the Historical Photo Society possesses.

The building and property’s current owner, Wayne Harris, took possession about six months ago when the building was foreclosed.

“It had been abandoned for at least four years,” he said. “There was no heat, no power, it was wet and mouldy. The simply was too far gone to be saved.”

Harris said the plumbing and interiors had been removed or damaged beyond repair. No one had come forward to offer to save the building or grant the building heritage status.

Vandals had been caught by the RCMP damaging and putting graffiti on the building for the past few years.

For Harris, it’s about moving forward and using the land without the building.

“I’m sitting on nine or 10 acres of prime land on the water,” he said, indicating the building was becoming a barrier to progress. The land could be used for condominiums or other land development.

Still, some are not satisfied.

“I’m going to investigate,” says Macdonald. “I don’t know how the federal or provincial government couldn’t step in to save the building.”

Henderson understands that every building cannot be saved no matter how important some feel it is. “The retention of historic properties and the circumstances involved are decided by the property owners,” he said.

Organizations: Mortimer House, Canadian Pacific Railway, International Order of Odd Fellows Pictou Historical Photo Society RCMP

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Canada

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  • Dayle Crouse
    January 07, 2013 - 12:55

    As someone who is in charge of keeping the past alive, I think the bottom line is a way of thinking. No one person can be expected to keep places like the Mortimer House up and running. However, we must stop with the attitude of the past is the past. Look at European Countries where there homes dates hundreds and hundreds of years old. The community, from a private level up to government need to see that these places make up who we are. Many people may not know that Pictou has the highest concentration of original Scottish Architecture in the world, outside of Scotland. Aren't we always looking at ways to capitalize on our uniqueness? Or are we trying to be a cookie cutter community and deny our heritage?

    • john fraser
      January 07, 2013 - 13:29

      I agree Dayle. The current architectural trends are atrocious. If there was one building worth keeping in Pictou it was this one.

  • Paula Benson
    January 07, 2013 - 06:54

    It is sad that that such a beautiful structure has been lost, BUT several attempts at business ventures failed since the IOOF sold the property and neither the federal nor the provincial government (essentially our tax dollars) can be expected to support the PAST - Pictou needs to move into the FUTURE and hopefully Mr. Harris wil keep in mind the history behind this site - wouldn't it be nice if some of the original stone were used in the new construction - a commemorative element. I believe a new structure will attract new people to Pictou and be of more benefit in tax dollars than an old structure supported by your tax dollars. Having said all this, I do appreciate the history and beauty surrounding the property and some other properties in the Town of Pictou that are "withering." Pictou must, however, grow, and if there is a property with potential in that direction, let it happen.

  • glad its gone
    January 07, 2013 - 03:08

    I have walked past this building in the summer. It looked horrible. Windows were boarded up and spray painted everywhere. Frankly it was very creepy. I understand it is history and once was a wonderfull building but it was extreamly over due. It might look good from the causeway but thats it. It is good nice of land to have that building there anymore and gives the old folks living beside it a little releaf its gone im sure. Just like many other pictou building need to be torn down, makes room for something nicer.