The fire that destroyed the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club last Friday night was a devastating blow to those of us who work in the field of heritage preservation. Many people, when informed about the fire, were relieved. They said; “Well, that solves the problem.” But does it? Losing a structure like the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club to fire is as devastating a loss to the community as the demolition of the structure. Built heritage is a non-renewable resource. Once a one hundred and thirteen year old building is lost, it cannot be rebuilt. It is a resource that is valuable, especially in communities, like ours, that depend so much on the revenue generated by tourism.
Among other things, this fire highlights the fact that built heritage in Sydney is under attack. Within a quarter of a kilometer, the community has lost no less than six heritage buildings in the last year alone:
The Duchemin House at 70 George Street was torn down to make room for a larger and more modern residential care facility. This demolition not only ignored the wishes of the community, but disregarded community-created (and municipally enforced) heritage district by-laws. Three houses on Charlotte Street were just torn down to allow for the expansion of the Justice Centre. A house on the Esplanade, next to Governor’s, was lost in December to a fire caused by faulty Christmas lights. Finally, the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club was destroyed by fire in the midst an extended dispute over the future of the property with ECBC.
These losses are not only devastating to heritage activists, but to the community as a whole. If we continue to lose heritage properties at the rate of six a year, it will be only a matter of time before there is little heritage value left in the Northend and Downtown. It should not come as a surprise that cruise ship passengers don’t get off the boat to see a modern subdivision. They don’t get off the boat to see towering glass and concrete buildings identical to those in every other uninteresting metropolis across North America.
Our political representatives must speak out and support the heritage community in their words and their development and funding decision. So far they have been silent. Our own Councilor in the Northend has said nothing on the Yacht Club or any of the other pressing heritage issues in our neighbourhood. Mayor Cecile Clark recently cut the funding to, and in effect ended, the ongoing CBRM heritage property inventory – the critical first step in preserving the heritage sites that remain.
We, as a community, have come together many times and identified built heritage preservation as a priority, so why is this not a priority for our representatives?