Friday, August 7, 2009

The Hunt farmhouse demolished in St. Catharines

Grant LaFleche wrote in "Demolition will be bittersweet", (St. Catharines Standard, May 26, 2009):

"When the wrecking ball makes its first pass through the old red-brick farmhouse, Margaret Pulford won't be anywhere nearby.

She has made her peace with the fact that the home of five generations of her family will soon be reduced to rubble. And she couldn't be happier that it is making way for a new St. Catharines hospital.

But that doesn't mean Pulford will be able to watch the death of her family home next month.

"It's the memories. The memories of your home. Those are always special," Pulford said, standing outside the farmhouse near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and First Street. "I won't be able to watch that. I just couldn't."

Sometime between June 2 and June 29, the house, which dates back to the late 19th century, will be torn down as part of the site preparation for the new hospital.

Once it and the nearby barn have been removed, construction crews will begin the four-year process of building the 970,000-square-foot, 375-bed acute-care hospital, which is expected to open in early 2013.

The house was the heartbeat of a 45-acre farm - first a dairy farm and then a vineyard run by the Blundell family, including Pulford's mother.

The two-storey building was subdivided into two homes, one where Pulford's grandfather lived and the other where Margaret Pulford and her husband, Ross, stayed.

They lived there for 38 years and raised their two children, Pulford said.

"About 15 years ago I pulled the grapes out," Ross Pulford said.

"The price of them was going down and down and the cost of keeping them was constantly rising."

Although the couple lived in the house, it was actually owned by Margaret Pulford, her two brothers and sister and their parents, Dr. Douglas Earl Hunt and Jean Hunt.

When the family was approached to sell the house in 2003 to make way for a hospital, Pulford said the decision turned out to be easier than expected.

"My parents, and especially my father, were absolutely thrilled that a hospital was going to be built here," Pulford said.

"They were even going to make a special parking space for my father, who was still practising medicine up till about two months before he died three years ago."

Even though the family agreed to sell, it was difficult to grasp the idea that the house would eventually be knocked down.

Fortunately for Pulford and her husband, it has taken years for the new hospital to reach the point where construction could begin.

"We were constantly being told we were going to have to move out," Ross Pulford said. "We had something like seven going-away parties. Our friends started to laugh because every Christmas we would say this was going to the last one in the house. And they would say, 'Oh we've heard that one before.'

"It took a long time, but it was good for us because it allowed us to get our heads around it."

Eventually, the hospital project moved forward and last month it was official -- construction would soon begin and the house would come down.

The Pulfords have since moved into a new home and visiting "the farm," as they call it, is an event tinged with a little melancholy.

"It's amazing how much it is already started to fall apart with nobody living here," Pulford said. "The barns look ready to fall down."

While the home will be destroyed, its history will be preserved, said Lisa Morley, the communications co-ordinator for the new hospital project.

"We're not sure yet exactly what will be preserved, but certainly some of the brick and the beams," she said.

The materials will be incorporated into the hospital building. There will also be a display in the hospital featuring some of the more historically interesting artifacts from the house, she said. "

R. Bobak wrote in "NHS should find a way to save the old farmhouse", (St. Catharines Standard, May 30, 2009):

"Re: "Demolition will be bittersweet", May 26, 2009

It's regrettable that the Niagara Health System can't be bothered to find a creative way to preserve the Hunt farmhouse and incorporate it into its hospital site plan.

What, is it in the way of a couple of parking spots?

Saving some old bricks and beams is not the same as saving the structure. The farmhouse is an authentic link to Niagara's agricultural past; it provides historical context as the surrounding farmland is redeveloped.

Is this not heritage worthy of preservation?"

below: The Hunt farm property (centre-left) was located on the west side of First St. Louth, between the CN railroad tracks and Fourth Ave. The farmhouse stood facing First St. Louth, opposite the T-intersection with Burbank Dr. (see red arrows in centre) [click on any photo to enlarge!]
below: closer view of the Hunt farm, two barns, and long shed

above: same aerial view, with site completed and in service. The farmhouse footprint was smaller than the width of the new entrance road. It could have easily been restored and remained at the corner of the parking lot, repurposed for some other viable use - office space, meeting rooms, cafĂ©, etc. 
below: Jun.2, 2009 - Looking at the front of the Hunt farmhouse, from the south-east. below: Jun.2, 2009 - same view of the house, from a little further back, showing its close proximity to the road in front, First St. Louth.

above: same view, Aug.7, 2009. The solid brick house has been demolished by the NHS government health agency. Obviously, the heritage of this Niagara home wasn't worth preserving. What a shame. No cucumber trees here for local Liberal MPP Jim Bulldozer Bradley to 'save'.
above: same view, Sept.28, 2009 -  red truck parked where the house once stood. Thankfully, a new parking lot now occupies the 'massive' (!) footprint which had once been taken up by the farm house. Obviously, the old house was just in the way - of several parking spots - can't have that!! As can be seen, there was enough room there that the farmhouse could have easily remained to serve a new purpose.
below: Jun.2, 2009, looking at the Hunt farmhouse from across the street. (Burbank Dr. is at the far lower right). If the opportunity had been approached creatively, this heritage house, with its small footprint, and with such close proximity to the street, certainly could have been restored and maintained as a functional outbuilding on the new hospital site. No one bothered to raise a concern for saving the structure; the "green" proud mayor of St. Catharines, Brian McMullan, said nothing.
above: same view, Aug.7, 2009. The site where the Hunt home sat has been levelled, along with the mature trees that surrounded it. Note the two chestnut trees, which stood near the street, right in front of the Hunt house, now appear severely damaged.
below: Jun.2, 2009, closer view from the corner of Burbank Dr. and First St. Louth

above: same view, Aug.7, 2009
below: Jun.2, 2009, view from south-east

above: same view, Aug.7, 2009
below: Jun.17, 2009

above: same view, Aug.7, 2009
above: Sept.22, 2009 - there is a new parking lot at the right where the house had stood.
below: Jun.17, 2009, view of the front of the house

above: same view, Aug.7, 2009
above: same view, Sept.28, 2009 - the house was bulldozed for a few parking spaces. The trees by the road are now dead.
below: Jun.17, 2009, looking at the Hunt farmhouse from the north-east. Note the mature pines cut down and laying at the north side of the house.

above: same view, Aug.7, 2009
above: same view, Sept.28, 2009 - a nice new parking lot covers the location where the farm house had stood
below: Jun.17, 2009 - the north-east corner of the farmhouse is at the left; this view shows the proximity of the farmhouse to two of its outlying barns, which were north-west of the farmhouse.
below: Jun.17, 2009 - a closer view of the barns as seen looking west from First Ave. Louth.

Above: Aug.7, 2009 - exact same view of where the now-bulldozed barns, seen above, stood.
Above: same view, Sept.28, 2009 - a new parking lot has now taken the place of the barns and field, as well.
Below: a last closer look at the north-east corner of the old Hunt farmhouse, as it was on Jun.17, 2009.

above: a last closer look at the south-east corner of the Hunt farmhouse, as it was on Jun.17, 2009.
Photos above and video below by R. Bobak.


Russ Stout said...

Does anyone know how much the NHS paid for the property of the new hospital?

R.Bobak said...

Still no answer on the question of how much the 'publicly-owned' NHS paid for the land! Why is this information so hard to obtain?