Preserving history a tough task

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You’ll find them everywhere across the province: grand buildings of historical significance deteriorating to the point of requiring a hard decision. Sadly, that often means tearing them down – a tough choice that’s at times inescapable.

An example this past week was the demolition of the house – a mansion – built in Pictou by Edward Mortimer, who himself was a giant among the town’s founding fathers.

There were the anticipated cries of disbelief at losing such a historical landmark, one of great visible prominence where the harbour narrows, but as its current owner Wayne Harris pointed out, the deterioration had taken it beyond the point of saving.

Nova Scotians can find similar examples in every nook and cranny of the province. Anyone who has ventured to Canso in recent years will have noticed the longtime stated intention to save the old Commercial Cable building in Hazel Hill, a monument to the days of improving transatlantic cable communications. But the elements chip away at it brick by brick.

It’s tempting for lovers of history to criticize the ultimate dismantling of such architectural treasures. They preserve them in Europe. Yes, they do, but unquestionably at a cost.

The Mortimer building, later owned by Lord Strathcona, co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was purchased in the last century by the International Order of Odd Fellows and used as an orphanage and seniors home. It was more recently a fine restaurant, the Edward Mortimer Inn.

As Harris said of the decision to dismantle, years of abandonment made it subject to deterioration caused by moisture and mould – and, sadly, vandals.

Akin to the recent move across the province to save lighthouses divested by the federal government, one of the few ways to maintain such gems is community involvement – and investment.

But even so, in a province of relatively thin population and many such landmarks, any campaigns to save and preserve such heritage treasures would have to choose wisely.

Organizations: Canadian Pacific Railway, International Order of Odd Fellows

Geographic location: Pictou, Canso, Hazel Hill Europe

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  • Dan MacDonald
    January 13, 2013 - 13:48

    It's easy to discount "lovers of history" if you see no value in the maintenance of connections to our forebearers. The Mortimer/Strathcona mansion was of national as well as provincial and local importance. To slough it off as something unworthy of effort is culturally insulting. Yes, it would have to be done "unquestionably at a cost", but to slink out of the picture with a "not my problem" excuse more accurately reflects the definition of one who "knows the cost of everything, and the value of nothing". 'Lovers of History' are usually practical, down to earth folk. Give them a chance.