Council passes by-law to designate Colchester Schoolhouse

by Sylene Argent

Essex Council adopted a Bylaw to designate the 1881 Colchester Schoolhouse, located at 195 Bagot Street, as being of cultural heritage value or interest, under the provisions of the Ontario Heritage Act.

  The By-Law will be served on the Ontario Heritage Trust and be registered against the property in the proper land registry office, and notice will be published.

According to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture website, Heritage Designation is a public acknowledgment of a property’s value to a community, while helping to ensure conservation of such properties for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

  With the designation status, any alterations to the property that may affect its heritage assets are not permitted, unless Council consents.

  At the Monday March 15, regular meeting, Council directed administration to authorize a Notice of Intention to Designate the Colchester Schoolhouse.

  Notice of intention to designate the property was served in the local papers, and no objections were received within the 30-day period, the Report to Council on the matter notes. As there were no objections, Council can pass a by-law to designate the property.

  A municipality may designate a property to be of cultural heritage value or interest, through a by-law, if the property meets the criteria the Report to Council adds. The criteria includes the a property meeting one or more of the following criteria: the property has design or physical value; the property has historical value or associate value; the property has contextual value.

  Rita Jabbour, Manager of Planning Services and Town liaison for the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee, explained in her Report to Council the Colchester Schoolhouse, in her opinion, meets all three of the criteria.

  The Colchester Schoolhouse has design and physical value because it is a rare, unique, and representative example of a style, type, and construction method. The Schoolhouse has historical value because it yields, or has the potential to yield, information that contributes to an understanding of the community and culture. In addition, it has contextual value because it is important in defining the character of the area, is historically linked to its surroundings, and is a local landmark.

  At the beginning of the Monday, December 7 Essex Council meeting, Town Clerk, Robert Auger, announced Council had given direction to administration to disclose in open session the intention to declare 195 Bagot Street, also known as the Colchester Schoolhouse, as surplus to the needs of the municipality.

  Potential developers James Flynn and Kim Lewis later attended a Council meeting to explain their interest in the property. They hoped to have a facility providing year-round accommodations, staffed as required, as an extension of the Grove Hotel. The lot was proposed to house 14, one-bedroom individual cottage units that would be around 500 square foot a piece, while preserving the Schoolhouse.

  After hearing concern from the public and a desire from the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee to have the site designated and to defer the sale, at Monday, January 18 meeting, the majority of Council voted in favour of asking the potential developers of the site to give a deadline extension for the agreement to the end of March, with the matter to be tabled at the second meeting of that month.

  The deal ultimately fell through, with the developers later returning with a different accommodation proposal along County Road 50 instead.

  “Heritage Colchester” was formed during this time, with the help of many individuals, including Perry Basden. The committee is in the process of creating a plan for the 1881 Colchester Schoolhouse. The group also intends to look after other heritage matters in the small hamlet that has a rich history, extending well beyond the formation of Canada.

  At a recent Essex Municipal Heritage Committee meeting, Chairperson, Laurie Brett, spoke of the historical significance of the Colchester Schoolhouse, which included:

• The Colchester Schoolhouse was built in 1881, the same year free, compulsory education for all children was mandated.

• The current facility was not the first school. The original was built on the same lot in 1856.

• It was used until the 1960s, and sold as a private residence.

• The Town of Essex acquired the property in 2008.

• Essex Council “Listed” the Colchester Schoolhouse as having historical value in 2016.