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Authority stands firm on plan to lower Hermitage ruins

Let ‘nature take its course’ if permit denied, councillor says

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton Conservation Authority will make a last-ditch attempt to satisfy the city’s heritage permit review subcommittee on a plan to lower the crumbling walls of Ancaster’s Hermitage ruins.

If that doesn’t work, at least one authority director is suggesting it may be time to let the remnants of the 19th Century fire-destroyed stone mansion collapse on their own rather than sink more money into the project, budgeted at $144,000 to $194,000.

“They’re ruins. I don’t want to spend the money,” Flamborough councillor Rob Pasuta said.

 “I’m to the point, why don’t we just put a 10-foot fence around it, a heavy chain link fence, not even a gate, put it far enough way, pull the props off (the walls) and let nature take its course?”

The plan preserves the ruins’ distinctive arched entranceway but reduces other sections to a height of 1.2 metres or less.

But members of the permit review committee objected in April that a proposal to cap the lowered walls will make them “too pristine.” They also urged the authority to consider staggering heights and saving some window features.

Sandy Bell, manager of design and development, said staff has since offered to vary wall heights a bit more and retain stone edges at the top of the walls in places.

It’s also possible to keep jagged edges on two outbuildings once they’re lowered, he said, but the authority doesn’t have the budget to keep the walls higher on the main building, as some of the committee members want.

“We’re trying to find a spot where both of us can be comfortable,” Bell said. “They maybe don’t have the same concern for dollars as this board does.”

Director Santina Moccio said she’s concerned delays in getting the project underway are putting the public at risk.

While presently fenced, the ruins are a popular spot for ghost enthusiasts and people have posted web images of trespassers atop the walls, which lean precariously in places and require wood bracing to keep them from toppling over.

“My concern is safety,” Moccio said. “The longer this thing is up, the more chance there is for someone to get hurt or worse.”

Authority chair Brian McHattie suggested council may intervene if the two sides can’t agree on the plan, which also needs a permit from the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

The heritage subcommittee next meets on June 24.

“Let’s go back one last time, and it’d be the last time,” McHattie said. “City council may have a role to play should they wish to do so, so that may be an option.”

Built in 1855 as a summer home and hobby farm by George Leith, a wealthy Scottish immigrant, the Hermitage was later owned by his eccentric daughter, Alma, who let barnyard animals wander inside the mansion.

After it was destroyed by fire in 1934, she lived in a one-room cabin built inside the ruins’ walls until her death in 1942. The authority acquired the site 30 years later and successfully applied to have it designated as a heritage property in 1990.

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