50 years of heritage activism in Durand


Call it a case of making history, while trying to preserve it.

The Durand District Association celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday after having participated in numerous heritage activism actions over the years. The organization is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of its kind in Canada. And he is considered a model of community participation in civic affairs.

On Saturday evening, the 300-member non-profit incorporated group will host a special outdoor movie night, toasting half a century of heritage preservation while pledging to new goals for the future.

Unsurprisingly, the event will take place at Durand Park, on Park Street, the site of one of the association’s greatest victories. It was on this site that a high-rise building project in the 1970s was scuttled in favor of green spaces. The association convinced the city to buy the property and turn it into a park.

Other successes have included St. Mark’s Church which was purchased by the City of Hamilton in 1994 to save it from demolition, amid fears in the neighborhood that a high-rise building would be built in its place. Unfortunately, Saint-Marc’s repurposing plans stalled for nearly three decades. But three months ago, the city announced that a $4.6 million contract had been signed to transform the building into a community center that would host, among other things, meetings of the Association du quartier Durand. Construction crews are currently working on the property.

Sandyford Place, a row of mid-1800s terraced houses on Duke Street looked condemned in the 1970s. But the association helped thwart a developer’s demolition plans and it is now a series of condos rich in heritage and classified as a national historic site. Among other accomplishments, the association also organized to help prevent the closure of the Central Public School built in the 1850s on Hunter Street.

“The long and short is that I think they are amazing. To have been around for 50 years doing this work is amazing,” said Shannon Kyles, president of the Hamilton branch of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario (ACO ).

“The association is a shining example of what needs to be done. If we want to save anything in Hamilton, we have to look to the Durand Neighborhood Association as our model.

A poster of the Association du Quartier Durand's heritage activism efforts.

Le Durand is a neighborhood known for its affluent residents and has some of the finest residential architecture in the city. There is Ballinahinch at the start of James Street South, Inglewood on Inglewood Drive and Ravenscliffe on Ravenscliffe Avenue. Gateside on Aberdeen – the former home of the Hendrie family and a mansion that has been visited by members of the British royal family – has recently undergone a massive restoration and looks amazing.

But there were victims, before and after the creation of the association.

The Thistle Club, whose history dates back to the mid-1800s on Robinson Street, was razed in 2004 to make way for a condominium project. Members are unhappy with the partial demolition of James Street Baptist Church and the lack of progress in improving the site to make way for a condominium tower.

The association is also concerned about the high-rise towers planned as part of the Television City condo project. The historic Southam House mansion on Jackson Street, used by CHCH television for many years, will be saved. But neighbors aren’t thrilled with plans for two towers over 30 stories looming overhead.

Probably the greatest loss of heritage occurred in the late 1930s, when the magnificent 56-room Wesanford estate was demolished to make way for a 20-house study between Caroline, Bay, Jackson and Hunter. Wesanford was built in the 1890s by textile magnate WE Sanford and was one of the most lavish homes in the country.

Posters of the Durand Neighborhood Association's heritage activism efforts.

The Blink Bonnie Estate at 136 Bay Street South was built in 1902 and converted into magnificent apartments in the 1930s before being demolished in 1968. Today a high-rise apartment building stands on the site also known as Blink Bonnie.

This building was part of a wave of development in Durand and throughout the city that continued into the 1970s with large high-rise buildings along Bay, Hunter, Duke, and Bold streets. “There was no end in sight,” says Diane Dent, who founded DNA in 1972 and has since left the neighborhood.

In the early 1970s, she was a pediatric nurse from Toronto who had just moved to the area with her husband, Dr. Peter Dent. She didn’t like what she saw with all the development around her. She garnered support from residents and sought advice from City Comptroller Herman Turkstra.

“I told him that you can’t do much if you’re not organized,” Turkstra recalled. “I encouraged them to create a neighborhood association.” Neighborhood associations had begun to appear in the United States in the 1960s, but the concept was little known in Canada at that time.

So Dent pursued the idea, collaborating with entrepreneurs Colin Glassco and Spence Allan as well as heritage advocate Grant Head, among others. Judy Pigott, of the Pigott building family after whom the Pigott Building on James Street is named, became treasurer.

“They’ve done a magnificent job of building an organization,” Turkstra said. “And it got to the point that if a developer showed up at city hall with a proposal for something in the Durand district, the first question asked was, ‘What does DNA have to say? on this subject ?'”

“DNA is absolutely a prototype for how neighborhoods should organize themselves.”

But there is change in the air as the association enters its next 50 years. The new president, Chris Redmond, 40, is much younger than most who have carried the torch before him. He holds a doctorate in public policy and owns Café Durand on Charlton Avenue with his wife Christine Larabie. They have lived in the neighborhood for 15 years.

Current and former Durand Neighborhood Association board members, left to right, Judy Pigott Hendry, Diane Dent, Chris Redmond, Roberta Harman and Erica Ippolito.

“I think the neighborhood changes just as the city changes,” he says.

“We have seen a lot more young families in the Durand in recent years. There’s a lot more action on the street. When we moved in, we were among the only people in our mid to late twenties.

Many young people have found ways to become DNA board members and have differing opinions on how the association should define itself in the future, he says.

“Heritage is always a big issue, but we added things like climate change, social causes, things like that…I’m really interested in how the association can build community and bring people together,” he said.

50th birthday movie night

What: With the computer-animated film “Sing 2”

When: 5 p.m., Sat., Sept. 17 (rain date Sept. 24)

Where: In Durand Park, 250 Park St. S. The film begins at dusk


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