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City urged to buy Manotick heritage buildings

Rideau Valley Conservation Authority eager to sell historic buildings

Patrick Dare, The Ottawa Citizen, July 24, 2006

The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority is turning to the City of Ottawa to buy the collection of heritage buildings it owns in Manotick.

The conservation authority will be moving into a new headquarters being built in the city's Beryl Gaffney Park, at the intersection of old Highway 16 and Rideau Valley Drive. The conservation authority did a "needs analysis" that concluded its 60-member staff has outgrown its collection of offices in several heritage buildings in Manotick.

Ottawa City Council has agreed to provide the land and lend the agency the $5.6 million for the construction project, to be completed by the summer of 2007. Now the conservation authority wants the city to buy the old buildings in Manotick and will hold a public meeting on Aug. 3, during which the recommendation for the buildings will be discussed. It's not clear how much money the conservation authority will be asking for the buildings.
Watson's Mill is a landmark heritage site owned by the conservation authority since 1972. The mill was built in 1860.

[Photo] Watson's Mill is a landmark heritage site owned by the conservation authority since 1972. The mill was built in 1860. Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

The buildings are not of great commercial value and one, Watson's Mill, doesn't even have city water and sewer service. But the buildings have great heritage value. Watson's Mill is a landmark heritage site owned by the conservation authority since 1972. The mill was built in 1860 by Moss Kent Dickinson, one of Rideau Township's leading early citizens, and his partner Joseph Currier.

The consultants' report says the mill "is important as one of the best-preserved examples of stone mill architecture in eastern Ontario." Another of the historic buildings is Dickinson House, which served as Sir John A. Macdonald's campaign headquarters for the elections of 1882 and 1887.

The other three buildings in the cluster of Dickinson Square are Carriage Shed, the Ayers Building and Weavers House. Most of the buildings are used for offices.

Together, the buildings have developed into a public square for the village of Manotick, the consultants note.

Councillor Maria McRae, who sits on the board of the conservation authority, said the agency and its consultants got a clear message that people in Manotick want the buildings to remain in public ownership because they are such unique properties.

She said the conservation authority has been carrying the costs of these heritage properties for years, bills running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. She's hoping that the city, heritage groups and federal and provincial governments can now help out.

She acknowledged the city may be reluctant to spend any money purchasing these heritage properties from the conservation authority, but she argued the agency must get the return that it can because municipalities other than Ottawa have put some of their money into the properties.

At a very minimum, Watson's Mill must be kept in public hands, said Ms. McRae.

"To not have these buildings in public ownership would be a big mistake," said Ms. McRae.

Councillor Jan Harder, of Barrhaven, said if the city is going to be asked to take on new property ownership responsibilities, there must be tenants for the buildings whose rent will cover the costs of maintaining the buildings and to ensure the properties don't deteriorate.

The conservation authority report on Dickinson Square says that sale of the properties, including Watson's Mill, to private developers, should only be considered as a "last resort option," if the city shows no interest in buying the properties.

The public meeting on the Dickinson Square buildings will be at the Manotick Arena, 5572 Doctor Leach Dr., on Aug. 3, beginning at 7 p.m.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006

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