Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gathercole Arches Monument at River Landing in Saskatoon would seem pointless

Adding insult to injury on the heritage front is the City of Saskatoon’s recent Request for Proposals (RFP) for the design and construction of the Gathercole Arches within River Landing Phase I on the former Gathercole site.

The City’s plan is to construct a “monument” to be installed on 2nd Avenue at 19th Street “using salvaged carved stone pieces and miscellaneous masonry units from the former Gathercole building.”

The RFP does not state the monuments purpose but only that the finished product must “Clearly and accurately refer to the building from which it came.” (Page 2)

The City is careful not to say that the Gathercole Building had historic or heritage value. To do so would likely open the City up to further criticism for tearing it down. The RFP says only that the items salvaged “may be of historical value.”

The City is loathe to admitting anything more than that. It also contradicts the City’s official position on the matter.

The February 4, 2002, City of Saskatoon Adaptive Re-Use Assessment Gathercole Building – South Downtown Request for Proposals states:

“The City Administration has conducted a heritage evaluation to determine the heritage characteristics of the [Gathercole] building. The findings were as follows: That the structure has significant heritage merit; [and] That the key heritage characteristic is the exterior of the original building, in particular the south (riverbank) and east (3rd Avenue) facades with their symmetrical appearances and patterned brickwork.”

Evidence of the Gathercole Building’s heritage and historical value can be found from two of the most unlikely sources: land developers.

In their March 14, 2003, Expressions of Interest: Gathercole Building and Former School Board Lands, The Blairmore Spa and Resort Hotel Group said:

“The first goal of the Blairmore Spa and Resort Hotel Group is to save and restore the historic Gathercole Building.”

“The Gathercole includes some of the finest spandrel panels and masonry work in the province,” and is “an important heritage property”.

Mid-West Development (2000) Corp., in its The Quays Expression of Interest (March 14, 2003), described the Gathercole Building’s east and south wing facades as “valuable” and “architecturally attractive and historically significant”.

Support for the building’s importance didn’t end there.

Provincially the February 19, 2004, assessment by the Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation concluded that the Gathercole Building possessed historical, architectural and engineering significance on a local level. It also determined that the site was “not without viability”. Sadly, “The fact that the owner does not support renovation and that the property is now vacant, presents the greatest impediment to viability.”

In 1989, and again in 2004, the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee advised City Council that it did not support demolition of the Gathercole Building. Neither did the Saskatoon Heritage Society and Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Society.

In February 2005 the Heritage Canada Foundation declared the Gathercole Building the worst loss of heritage in Canada in 2004.

In Winnipeg, The Forks’ Heritage Interpretative Plan states: “Heritage resources are, by their very nature, finite and non-renewable; once they are lost or destroyed, they are gone forever. Accordingly, they must be preserved, protected and conserved if there is to be any chance of their being interpreted and enjoyed by future generations.”

In Saskatoon, however, demolition is the first step.

Saskatoon’s heritage strategy for River Landing is limited primarily to interpretation (plaques, information panels etc.); preservation is non-existent.

On September 7, 2004, City Council directed its administration “to proceed to develop a Heritage Interpretative Concept Plan” for the South Downtown.

In its report Administration wrote:

“Cultural heritage tourism is defined as travel concerned with experiencing the visual and performing arts, natural and built heritage areas, landscapes and special lifestyles, values, traditions, and events, and has become a major force in the tourism industry.”

“Through the implementation of a Heritage Interpretative Concept Plan, a ‘sense of place’ will be developed and the City of Saskatoon will be supporting tourism and generating economic returns.”

“Without such a plan, the site will lack a fundamental component that is required to develop a sense of place to promote and maximize site usage and activity in the South Downtown.”

AldrichPears Associates of Vanouver, BC was commissioned to prepare the plan on behalf of the City of Saskatoon and Meewasin Valley Authority. The cost was approximately $50,000.

When the report came to Council on May 2, 2005, the reference to “heritage” in the title had been deleted. The colourful document was called River Landing Interpretative Plan (April 14, 2005).

The interpretative goals and objectives outlined in the plan are to “Provide a sense of place by creating an emotional connection to the area’s history and legends as well as its landscape and natural history,” and “Connect visitors to the city and the region by interpreting site-specific features which focus on topics that are significant to the region.”

The River Landing Interpretive Plan (Page 8) ridiculously states that the Gathercole Building was “dismantled” rather than demolished. It also fails to mention the circumstances and controversy surrounding the issue. No doubt any plaque or information panel the City decides to erect in the building’s honour will avoid telling the truth about what happened and of the destructive shortsightedness the City Council of the day had.

With the loss of the Gathercole Building and pending demolition of the adjacent Legion hall by owner Remai Ventures Inc. any meaningful “sense of place” and tangible “connection” to the City’s historic south downtown past will be lost forever.

Without the context of the rest of the building the Gathercole Arches initiative seems pointless.


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