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Courtesy of the Hamilton Conservation Authority

Courtesy of the Hamilton Conservation Authority

The city’s heritage permit subcommittee is criticizing a plan to lower the Hermitage ruins, as depicted in this artist’s rendering, for making the remnants of the 159-year-old stone mansion look too symmetrical.

Hermitage ruins remake ‘too pristine,’ authority told

Heritage permit committee objects to ‘repaired’ look

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

They’re ruins and should look like it.

That’s the advice the Hamilton Conservation Authority is being given as it seeks a heritage permit to lower the crumbling walls of Ancaster’s Hermitage ruins.

Wilfred Arndt, a member of the city’s heritage permit review subcommittee, told authority officials last week their proposal to cap the lowered walls will make the remnants of the 19th century fire-destroyed stone mansion too symmetrical.

The plan would preserve the Sulphur Springs Road ruins’ distinctive arched entranceway but cut other sections to a height of 1.2 metres or less — down from about 11 metres.

“I’m in agreement that we need to do something to bring it to a safe level,” Arndt said. “The only thing that I find so offensive is it looks too pristine. It doesn’t look like a wall that was anything else other than nicely capped.”

Committee chair Michael Adkins also found the end result — or at least an artist’s rendering of it — resembles “the Hermitage repaired,” comparing it to Mayan ruins he’s visited.

“If you go to Belize, you can go on the ruins and you take your life in your hands if you climb on, or if you go to Guatemala and go toTikal. I’ve been to both. They’re exciting because they’re ruins,” he said.

“They’re trying to stabilize them, but they’re not Disneyfied and repaired too much.”

But authority staff said the Hermitage’s walls need to be capped once they’re lowered to stop water from seeping in and causing more erosion.

Chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said the authority is also concerned a more “rumble, tumble” design will make it easier for children and others to climb the walls, creating liability concerns if someone falls.

“We’re still struggling with your suggestions as to what makes it look not artsy, but old-fashioned, like a ruin,” he said. “How do we get that impression of a ruin and yet keep people from climbing on it?”

Committee member Joseph Zidanic said he believes liability concerns are the same no matter the walls’ height and may be greater once they are lowered and more accessible.

“What would be nice to see, especially on the corners possibly, is a staggered effect, rather than everything symmetrical and at the same height,” he said, suggesting some of the windows also be saved.

“It’s too clean, it’s too pristine. It’s too — it almost seems to be orchestrated.”

Firth-Eagland said afterwards he respects the committee’s opinion and believes the tops of the walls can be sealed in a way that keeps water out and retains their ruins look.

But he said the authority isn’t in a position to spend more on the project, estimated at $144,000 to $194,000, given calls by directors to keep costs at a minimum.

“We get it,” he said of the committee’s concerns. “They’re probably thinking like the average citizen. They’d like to see a little more wreck when it’s done.”

Firth-Eagland said the authority had hoped the committee would make a recommendation on the heritage permit but didn’t file the necessary paperwork in time for the meeting. It next meets on May 27.

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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