- by Aly Boltman

Two weeks ago, just before we were to leave for our family vacation, Denis Langlois of The Sun Times messaged me to say that a demolition permit for Branningham Grove was before Owen Sound Council (again.)

Denis has consistently been the one who has kept me in the loop about "all things historical." He has managed to maintain his enthusiasm and integrity throughout the years. He's always followed the leads and has known when to show diligence. Were it not for Denis following up on a tiny little throwaway mention in Grey County Council's minutes about an unimportant "culvert" replacement, the now award-winning, irreplaceable Chatsworth heritage bridge would be dead and gone. Denis knew how to ask the right questions, how to find the right people to champion that cause.

So when Denis asked if I was going to go back to council to fight for Branningham Grove a third time since September 2008 (and the third, almost entirely new council to face and educate), I said no. I said no right away. I said no for all the wrong reasons. I said no because I am, admittedly, defeated.Branningham-overlay

Eight years ago, when I first went to council, they were unanimous (an almost unheard of state) in their decision to designate (protect) Branningham Grove. Within weeks, that decision was diminished through some staff input to the Community Planning & Heritage Advisory Committee. After a year or two, and a second presentation to an entirely different council, Branningham Grove was put on the heritage register only. This meant the building now had some significance, and council would have 60 days to decide to comply or disagree with a demolition permit in future.

All the promises made by the developer to adaptively reuse or rehabilitate the building weren't kept, bylaws weren't enforced, and the purposeful neglect of Branningham Grove began in earnest after many years of beloved stewardship by the former owners, particularly Steve Gavaris and the Toms family.

For almost ten years, while I researched extensively and turned the tide on Branningham's "supposedly" sordid past, making a proven, written case for both the architectural and cultural historic value of the building, I've watched that beauty rot. I've watched the eastern edge of the city go from bad to worse while our downtown continues to be gutted. I've watched the developers walk away from the project all together to invest across the street instead, where it was easier to tear down healthy, critically endangered butternut trees (along with all the others) and then have the audacity to name the new box store development "Heritage Grove." As Josh Richardson said to me recently, "You can't even make this shit up."

Over these ten years, I've seen Grey County tourism/Grey Roots develop the Saints & Sinners exhibit, the Saints & Sinners Trail, Festival, etc., so clearly articulating what makes our region different, so clearly breathing life back into the Corkscrew City.

A better, smarter, homegrown sinner there never was than Mag Matthews.

And her local hallmark, her summer sporting house, the very thing that kept her coming back to Owen Sound all of those years while she developed her fortune and reputation (now in its third century) in the north and the U.S., is about to become gravel. And shortly after, the hill it stands upon, the pond, the trees and 130 years of history will also be decimated, I am sure.

A lot has changed in ten years – I've had some major job transitions, and my family has grown. That family comes with joy and challenges, as all families do, but ultimately I'm working hard (and finally, effectively) to put them first. I have a book on the back burner that I'm trying to write. I pull it out when I have some time here and there. I have gardens that need tending, a community to support, and a very full life to live.

Ultimately, a decade has taught me that if my city is not even going to blink about losing its only downtown school (Dufferin), the only thing keeping youth in our core, the only walkable school to serve our low income families; if we as a community are willing to collectively sigh and say "boy that's too bad, let's put out our shingle as the penultimate retirement community on Georgian Bay instead" – I know it's time to let go of Branningham Grove. What's broken cannot be fixed. What's decayed can no longer be renewed. Leadership needs to be built and nurtured. Direction needs to be taken boldly. Humans need to learn from the past and harness what little they have of their resources to move forward and call it progress, rather than just calling it a day.

My soul is calling it a day today, a cumulative, reticent and painful response to a lack of progress in our midst and the realization that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

I read a great quote, recently. It said "The biggest concern for any organization is when their most passionate people become quiet."

That statement applies to communities, too.

Many thanks to all of you who signed petitions, sat in council chambers, wrote letters to council or editorials, sent me encouraging messages over the years, helped research, listened to research findings, or even just valiantly hoped that things would get better.

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but that day simply isn't today.

Until the wrecking ball arrives, let's all hold a thought for what could have been. Please SHARE this post, because it's important to me that people know where things stand now, and why. For better or for worse.



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