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Restore our log cabin

Dan McCaffery's picture
Mon, 02/04/2019 - 08:54 -- Dan McCaffery

Put me down as one of those who supports the restoration of the 19th century log cabin in Canatara Park.

Sarnia has a long and sad history of tearing down historic buildings that goes back many decades.

I well remember a debate in the 1970s over whether an old house build by former prime minister and stone mason Alexander Mackenzie should be saved. In the end, it was razed to the ground.

Some would argue that it’s too expensive to retain these ancient structures. But I would suggest there’s money to be made by preserving them.

Just visit Charleston, South Carolina and you will see what I mean. People wanted to tear down its old buildings during the early days of the 20th century. Fortunately, the place was so poor that they couldn’t afford to demolish them. By the time they had enough money to do the job, they realized the old structures gave the place a charm that few other cities could replicate. Before long, they had passed laws protecting their heritage buildings.

Today, Charleston is a major tourist attraction because its community leaders had the good sense not to bring bulldozers into the city centre.

There are plenty of other examples, some very close to home. Petrolia is one of those. This splendid 19th century Victorian town is easily the most beautiful community in Lambton County, precisely because it has done so much to protect old buildings. When Victoria Hall was badly damaged in a 1986 fire, the community rallied to save it.

Today, it is the home to a lively theatre that draws visitors from far and wide. More than that, VPP is the town landmark. Petrolia without VPP would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower.

Go to Stratford or Niagara-on-the-Lake and you will see much the same thing. Their towns are beautiful because residents did not succumb to the temptation to bring out the wrecking ball every time a building got a little old.

In many ways it’s too late for Sarnia to replicate what has been done in those places. Too much history has been lost.

But that doesn’t mean we should destroy what’s left. If anything, it means we should be trying even harder to save our heritage buildings.

Those who say it’s too late for the cabin, that it has deteriorated too much, should remember what happened to the Lawrence House. That beautiful 19th century mansion at the corner of Christina and Wellington streets in downtown Sarnia appeared to be a goner after it was badly damaged by fire. But it was restored to its former glory. If it could be brought back to life, so can the Canatara log cabin.

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