This is a picture of the mill being dismantled.  Note the wooden beams and framing.

By George Naylor, Caledonia

On Saturday April 7th, I  went on Haldimand County’s website to check a few things out before going to the Citizens Meeting being held at Kinsmen Hall in Cayuga,  where I was hoping to speak.  On the Haldimand County homepage, I noticed a link to some information stating; “Notice of Intention to Amend Town of Haldimand Bylaw #403/83 Old Caledonia Mill.”

I clicked on the link to read the full notice regarding the Caledonia Mill, because I was one of the people who had objected to Haldimand County’s plan for tearing down this historic building, and replacing it with a facsimile professional office building.  I had previously spoken at two council meetings, along with other concerned residents about our objections to this ridiculous project, but council disregarded residents concerns, and voted unanimously in favour of the plan.

As background for those who are unaware, this proposal to “gift” the mill and land to the developer for a princely sum of $5, recognized that the old mill property was not sufficient to provide parking for a commercial enterprise.  Haldimand Council threw in a piece of parkland directly east of the mill to be used as parking, with an agreement to allow public parking on nights and weekends.

This is a picture of the east side of the mill.  Most of this fenced-in area is actually parkland, and this will all be office parking when the project is finished.

Council’s decision was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, but a compromise proposal between the petitioner and the county was agreed to, with a  modified proposal to make the east side parking slightly smaller.  The county then agreed to give further land on the west side of the mill to make up for the  loss of parking on the east side.   This new proposal actually increased the footprint of this development, with a greater loss of park and natural lands.  As a result of this compromise, the project was given the green light;  no more means of appeal for residents.

It looks like the county wants to transfer the heritage designation from the Old Mill buildings, to the land the Old Mill stood on. Why? The mill buildings are in the midst of being demolished as I write this. There must be some advantage or value for Haldimand Council to have the land retain this cultural heritage designation. As usual, it is impossible to know the motive.

I would suggest all Haldimand residents read this amendment proposal on the County’s website, but I will summarize the highlights;

“The Old Caledonia Mill property is associated with two notable men, James Little and Ranald McKinnon, both inextricably connected to the founding of Caledonia.”

“The site has historical linkages  which include defining, maintaining and supporting the character of the area, and the fact that the property is physically, functionally, visually and historically linked to its surroundings. In particular, the property retains its  relationship to the former Caledonia Mill – the last mill to be in operation along the Grand River using waterpower – which stood on the site from 1850 to 2017. The site remains an important connection to the early commercial and industrial history of Caledonia.”

“Remnants of the concrete flume  which brought water into the mill site are still visible.  The Old Mill Property has been a favourite spot for locals, tourists, photographers and artists alike to enjoy the simple pleasures of walking, hiking, cycling, and birdwatching.”

Now first understand that after the mill is dismantled, (don’t think for a second this building is just being demolished) and those huge timbers from the magnificent post and beam construction of the mill  are hauled away and sold (for as much as $100 per foot),  what will we Haldimand residents have to replace it?

We’ll have a sterile, modern professional office building, built in a residential area,  with narrow streets and no sidewalks, constructed on GRCA floodplain and parkland, but some of the parkland to the east will now be a parking lot. The mill race (the concrete flume  of cultural and heritage significance on the west side) will disappear, paved over for  parking on the west side.

This is a picture of the west side of the mill.  The fenced in area is mill property, and will be a paved service area, for maintenance, deliveries, etc.  The new parking will be on the wooded section immediately west of the service area, so the trees will be cut down, and the flume of cultural heritage significance will be paved over for more office parking. Does this kind of thinking seem familiar?

Remember the OMB compromise? That wooded space to the west of the mill will be gone, so less natural space for the locals, tourists, photographers, birdwatchers and artists to enjoy. Unless your thing is office buildings and parking lots.

We need to question Council’s logic of shifting the cultural heritage significance from the building to the land.

Ask yourself a few questions; what is the cultural or historical significance of a parking lot or an office building where the pyramids used to be?

There’s still a tower that leans in Pisa, Italy,  but the building’s brand new and the only way you can enjoy the view is from a dentist’s chair?

Closer to home,  what if Cottonwood mansion or Chiefswood, the home of Pauline Johnson did not exist in their restored forms, but were now commercial buildings? What if they weren’t available for public use, where we could enjoy the original architecture and the original construction, and absorb some very real and valid history?

There are some instances where land, rather than buildings, have historical, cultural and heritage value. The one that comes to mind is battlefields. Buildings and features around the battlefield have significance and should be preserved, but the land itself has historical significance.

Look at Vimy Ridge in France, the site of a significant WW1 battle Canadians fought and died in. The grounds and the cemeteries are maintained and honoured, and Canadians built a monument, not an office building.

How does Battlefield Park in Stoney Creek, the site of the Battle of  Stoney Creek in the War of 1812, and its restored and maintained Battlefield house sound as Battlefield Pizza? Going there anytime soon?

For the residents of Haldimand, this act of declaring the land heritage value after giving away the mill and allowing it to be torn down is a sham, and adds insult to injury for us all.

Want to know why there is this rampant favouritism toward development by Haldimand Council, and a rampant disregard for respecting Haldimand residents and their concerns?

Craig Grice, Haldimand Councillor in Ward 3 was heavily in favour of the old mill development, and appeared at a number of public meetings with representatives of Riverside Properties, the developers of the Mill property.  Mr Grice is required to release his audited election finance statement from 2014, as required by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Councillor Grice raised a total of $4,640, and $4,150 of those dollars came from Construction, Development and Real Estate Finance Companies.