Fate of Hermitage Hangs in the Balance

This Tuesday, the Heritage Permit Review Sub-Committee will decide the fate of the Hermitage Ruins, located in Ancaster, Ontario.

At issue is how much of the Hermitage will be saved.  The Hamilton Conservation (HCA) authority is proposing to reduce the surviving walls to a height of 3 feet, except for the area immediately around the main entrance to the mansion.

The HCA case for partial demolition of the Hermitage is based on safety and costs.

The safety argument is based on people jumping off walls seems a bit of a stretch.  If that is the standard for safety then the gates at Dundurn Castle will need to be torn down.

If the argument is that the walls may collapse then proper fencing around the structure (until proper restoration work is performed) should address any insurance concerns.

People, who knowingly climb over or under fencing that is setup to protect them from falling stones, should no longer be able to hold the Hamilton Conservation Authority responsible. This is why the City puts up fencing and signage around construction sites.

With regards to the money, the Hamilton Conservation Authority is a large organization with significant resources available to it, much more than the average home owner.

In addition to its own budget, it has access to further resources through its foundation (including the ability to fund-raise).  Therefore, there is no financial reason why the HCA cannot do full and proper restoration work.

Furthermore, the HCA has had stewardship responsibilities for over 40 years, lots of time for them to plan and set aside funds for proper restoration work.  The issue isn’t money or safety, its values. It appears that the HCA does not value the Hermitage Ruins, and if you do not value something, why would you invest in proper restoration.

When the HCA comes before the Committee on June 24th, it is my hope that the Permits Committee will stand up for our heritage and say no to any request for a partial demolition.

In my view, the job of the Permits Committee is to protect our designated heritage, not smooth the path towards it destruction.


Chris Erskine





Hamilton Artist Update: #H24

Hamilton Artist Update 20 – a weekly review of art related activities by Chris Erskine.

This week:

  1. June 3rd – Open House for the Heritage Inventory Project held at Whitehern Mansion
  2. June 6th – Final demolition of the James Street Baptist Church
  3. June 7th – Hamilton 24 Hour Film Festival


June 3, 2014: Open House for the Heritage Inventory Project

Hamilton City Staff held an open house for the report submitted to City Council a few weeks ago.  The report created rationale for what should or should not be designated as heritage buildings.  This rationale will apply across different communities that once had their own systems.  As a test, the city staff examined the downtown core to determine what buildings might be recognized.  As a result, nearly 1,000 buildings were identified as heritage designated worthy.


June 6, 2014: Final demolition of the James Street Baptist Church

As reported earlier, the developer appeared to be moving quickly to complete the demolition process and this assessment proved correct when the balance of the building was demolished on Friday.  Friends and twitter traffic noted the demolition.  A co-worker took the following photos of the demolition around 8 am on Friday morning.

Raise the Hammer covered the story but the comments still focused on the merits of the demolition rather than the process of approval.  It is still my impression that this demolition was ok by a few community volunteers and city staff.  I am not aware of any politician actually voting for its acceptance.  Again, it is my understanding that community volunteers gave a partial alteration permit to do essentially a partial demolition.  This label allowed the permit to bypass the Heritage Committee, the Planning and Economic Development Committee, and City Council. Thus no elected officially actually approved the decision.  It is also my understanding that the decision to accept this process was ok by city staff.  There is also the question of the list of conditions.  The Permits Committee set a list of conditions, but where and when were these conditions addressed by the above committees?

James Street Baptist Church - Friday morning
James Street Baptist Church – Friday morning


James St. Baptist Church Demolition
James St. Baptist Church Demolition
James Street Baptist Church Partial Demolition on June 6, 2014
James Street Baptist Church Partial Demolition on June 6, 2014


June 7, 2014: Hamilton 24 Hour Film Festival

On Saturday morning, we got our marching orders for the 2014 Hamilton 24 Hour Film fest.  This year’s challenge was to use the following items in a 5 minute or less film.

Line: Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

Prop: Watering can

Location: by Candle light

The kick off was held at the 41 King Williams on the 3rd floor.  It was very much twenties to thirties crowd.  I have since discovered that some of the other teams are very experienced.  I saw one photo of a team using a “Black Magic” 4K camera, these things are very expensive.  Also, some seemed to have access to professional editing equipment.  Meanwhile, I sat in Tim Hortons’s doing my film editing on my laptop.  I am very proud of my creative team and I believed we did a very good job, much better than I was originally expecting.  Hopefully we will make it into the top 10.  There were 35 teams at the start but only 27 submitted by the 9 am deadline on Sunday.  I can’t believe how tired I was from the storyboarding, filming, and editing.  Other members of the team felt the same way.  We find out the results this Friday.


Chris Erskine





5X5 Update 1: James St. Baptist Church

Five different shots, each lasting five seconds, using natural sounds.  James Street Baptist Church on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.

Chris Erskine



Letter to City Manager – Re: James St. Baptist

May 21, 2014

Attn: City Manager

I wish to express my concern over the recent approval process for a partial demolition of the James Street Baptist Church.

It is my understanding that the Heritage Permit Review Sub-Committee recommended the granting of a demolition permit based on the Developer fulfilling a number of conditions.

This Committee (made up of community volunteers), then directed City Staff to ensure that the conditions were fulfilled before allowing the partial demolition by the Developer.

It is also my understanding that the Director of Planning approved the permit without the decision coming before the Heritage Committee or City Council.  Apparently, there is a committee bylaw that allows for minor alternations to heritage designated buildings to be addressed by City Staff.

It is my view that recommendations by the Permits Sub-Committee (an advisory committee made up of community volunteers) should have their decision reviewed and approved by the Heritage Committee, the Economic Planning Committee, and then by City Council. I believe my view of the decision making process is supported by the mandate descriptions of each of these committees.

If my information is correct, then a bylaw intended for minor decisions was used to make a significant impact to a heritage designated building.  I do not feel volunteers and city staff should be placed in such a decision-making role.  Such decisions are the responsibility of elected city leaders.

Finally, I am concern that no elected officials reviewed the efforts of City Staff to ensure that the conditions were addressed.

While I support the James Street Baptist Church project, because the City deemed the building to be unsafe, I am concern over future demolition requests.  Elected officials could easily be bypassed by City Staff on such important issues as the Hermitage Ruins or the Kerr Buildings.

I would appreciate you looking into this situation, and if required, ensured that good decision-making procedures are established.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Hamilton Artist Update 18: Heritage Permit Review Subcommittee

Sorry for the long delay, but was sick for the past few days.

The issue facing the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) is whether they are going to step up to the plate and protect designated heritage buildings that speak to a time when Ancaster was known for its mineral waters.

Despite the significant decay of the structure, the Hermitage still sparks the imagination of visitors for a time when we were connected to the land and the seasons. Over the past two months, I have made several drawings (session 1, session 2) of the building over 2-3 hour sittings, and dozens of individuals and groups have told me how much they love the place.

What the HCA is proposing is the demolition of a heritage site that they are responsible for maintaining. A four foot wall does not save any of the designated architectural features. The only reason they are willing save a four foot wall is the cost to demolish completely the building is about the same.

The only thing more outrageous than the HCA proposal is the Heritage Permit Review Sub-committee willingness even to consider their application. The committee’s job is to protect designated heritage buildings, not to ease their path to destruction.

There was very little discussion about how the HCA should change their plans so that Georgian symmetry of the surviving building is preserved, nor saving the remains of second floor Italianate windows, or French windows below that once allowed access to a long gone veranda; nor saving the surviving ring beam that was once supported by corbels.

It appears that the only people on the committee who seem understand the purpose of the committee is to save heritage is Joseph Zidanic and Rebecca Beatty. Mr. Zidanic was particularly effective in pointing out that the HCA has owned the property since 1972 and commissioned many reports over the past 40 years, but they have done little more than quick fixes.

It times for the HCA to set up to plate and start properly taking care of the Hermitage; even if the Board doesn’t consider it part of their strategic mission of watershed management.

(The above comments were first published on the Raise the Hammer website).

Chris Erskine