Jun 16, 2014

Heritage on the Move

On Sunday June 8th, there was lots of excitement down in my neighbourhood in Mission. It was moving day for the McHugh House, our sixth oldest residential building, in its day, a farmstead on the edge of town.

Well it moved a bit closer into town. In fact, it moved about 70 metres closer travelling the distance of the narrow end of a block. And it did not take long.  Once the truck started to move, it was a faster drive to the new site than many commuters in Washington or Toronto travel the same distance by car.

The only excitement, other than this is not something you see everyday, was the small hole that opened up in the intersection just a few feet from the path taken. Watching the truck move forward and back, shifting the house so it could be driven up the curb, then positioned directly opposite the huge steel beams that would soon slip under the house then pull it over the new foundation, kept everyone in suspense.

The crowd was allowed to stand on the sidewalks as it passed by, clad in plywood sheets to stabilize it.  The brick exterior had been removed for weight reasons and I understand an expert was brought in from south of the border to consult. Have a look at the photo, you can see the side porch was still on the building.

The move was an excellent solution to a difficult problem.  The Church wanted a clear site for sale and the house could have been lost.  City Council authorized the funds to move the building and City staff worked to find a location.  As the house is attached to the new foundation, work is underway to find a user and funding for the operation of the building, which sites adjacent to the children's play area in the same park.

I have been involved in some instances where preservationists have said a building loses its historic character if it is moved.  In my home town the Dionne Quints House (for the younger readers, they were believed to be the first surviving quintuplets) was moved several times from Callander, Ontario to a major intersection in North Bay.  Certainly way more visible and the travelling public is now much more aware of the history the house represents.

I believe the McHugh House like the Quints home, will benefit from its new location. First, it obviously was saved from demolition. Second, being on 17 Ave SE gives it high visibility. Third, being located in the park provides greater synergy with public use and bodes well for the future use being integrated into a space that certainly needs more activation.

Next the house is a strong anchor for the corner, which again should enhance the future potential uses. Listening to the crowd watching in awe as the house moved past them just feet away, people were making lots of suggestions of what the house could be used for.  From a tea house to a community use or perhaps both were some of the suggestions. It is a community use that is first on the list and maybe there could be something that might generate some revenue to cover operational costs.

I come past this site every day on the way to City Hall.  It will take a week or so before I get used to seeing something on that corner and how Ivory soap, in the bar form not liquid stuff, came in so handy to slip the house off the trailer and onto the foundation. And now there are two of my favourite historical things across the street from each other.  The McHugh House and the Superior Autobody sign.

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