Hillarity House

Just last month there were murmurs that America was experiencing a national clown shortage: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/exclusive-national-clown-shortage-approaching-article-1.1616801

It is safe to say that we are not experiencing the same north of the border.

One only had to attend the Aurora Historical Society’s 2014 Annual General Meeting to see how one group of clowns has turned a National Historic site in our town into a National Hysterical one.

In 2012 Parks Canada conducted a National Asset Review of over 2,000 structures declaring only 33% to be in poor or very poor shape.

However an independent review by Opus International Consultants Ltd estimates that irreplaceable cultural assets were found to be the most neglected, with almost two-thirds or 61% requiring about $230 million worth of repairs and maintenance work.

Here is a CBC article on the subject:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/parks-canada-buildings-in-worse-shape-than-claimed-internal-report-1.2531987

Hillary House is not owned and operated by Parks Canada so as Aurorans we don’t have either a Parks Canada assessment or an objective report to inform us as to its condition.

Given that the Historical Society has admitted it is incapable of maintaining the site and the town has decided to extend a $60,000

Museum Grant which will constitute the core source of funding for its 2014 operations a proper facilities assessment is required A.S.A.P.

During my delegation at the town’s final budget meeting ( https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/walking-dead-aurora/ ) I proposed that a facilities assessment by the Canadian Conservation Institute be conducted as a pre-requisite to entertaining any grant for the purposes of operating that site.

Details of the service can be found on their site here:
http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/ourservices-nosservices/typesservices/fac-install-eng.aspx

There are cost recovery methods for this service which only serves to deepen my disappointment that the Aurora Historical Society would have proceeded with such an assessment on their own.

After making a list of concerns from visiting the site at the Annual General Meeting I have begun to seek confirmation that Hillary House is being operated in compliance with the town’s bylaws.

On Tuesday, April 24, 2012 a zoning bylaw was approved for changing Hillary House from mixed use to institutional.

It is By-law No. 5420-12 and can be found as item 6 here:
http://www.town.aurora.on.ca/app/wa/mediaEntry?mediaEntryId=59971

It has been recognized by the town that Hillary House has changed its use, so one naturally assumes that the Aurora Society has applied for a change of use permit and that one has been approved before commencing with hosting several events at the site.

There’s one small disconnect.

No change of use permit exists.

Hillary House @ 15372 Yonge Street is still listed as a a single family dwelling, which it hasn’t been that since the 1980’s.

Strangely enough a change of use permit to even operate a museum, let alone a national historic site was never filed.

WTF?

This certainly contradicts best practices laid out in a Heritage Conservation Brief compiled by the University of Waterloo which states: Regular communication and site visits greatly benefit the code compliance decision-making process

You can read the full document here:

https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCcQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fuwaterloo.ca%2Fheritage-resources-centre%2Fsites%2Fca.heritage-resources-centre%2Ffiles%2Fuploads%2Ffiles%2FBuilding%2520Code%252028-04-06.doc&ei=RcAYU8eNLJG1rgGzyYDwAQ&usg=AFQjCNHIEvmXu2WoEw6sZi6mes4j9_RLWw&sig2=AsHN4G4edruoP-TqDA8MTg&bvm=bv.62577051,d.aWM

The University of Waterloo Heritage Resource Centre is accessible here: https://uwaterloo.ca/heritage-resources-centre/

At the Annual General Meeting the Historical Society boasted about bringing Hillary House “alive” and showcased the fact that the site was now being used for film and television shoots, larger public gatherings as well as wedding receptions.

This suggests to me that without seeking the proper approvals the Aurora Historical Society has put the cart before horse and have potentially exposed a national historic site.

I know from working on several film and television productions that the sensitivity the locations department has to have with respect to safely operating in historic buildings. I can’t fathom how an independent feature and a television show were accommodated at the site.

Then there’s the question about using the site for larger gatherings and receptions.

It’s interesting that advertised on the Aurora Cultural Centre’s website is the following disclaimer: * We regret that the Centre is unable to accept bookings for weddings and wedding receptions.

You can find it here: http://auroraculturalcentre.ca/our-spaces/red-gallery/

The Church Street School has seen a full retrofit, complete with fire suppression system, accessible entrance and a multitude of other measures so how is it exactly that Hillary House, which enjoys none of these measures is allowed to book weddings?

During both the 2013 and 2014 Annual General Meetings it was pointed out that an adequate security system was not in place.
That the reason it was not acquired was it cost too much money (approx. $10,000) and although there were acts of vandalism on site the board obviously decided that not to action this item.

It was also pointed out that Hillary House does not have a fire suppression system.

Looking around myself and the entire aspect of public safety at Hillary House currently let alone security of the site itself seems highly suspect.

Having been one of the first to arrive for the Annual General Meeting I was surprised to find the front steps completely covered in snow and ice.

No attempt had been made to clear them.

I spent 4 or 5 minutes kicking away the snow that had formed so that myself, as well as an elderly lady with mobility issues that was just arriving could make it into the house safely.

Once inside I asked a board member if there was a bag of salt available to put out, and he diapered but never returned with one. The steps remained a hazard as everyone else arrived for the meeting.

Inside the Ontario Fire Code under the section on Fire escapes:

2.7.1.8. (1) Exterior passageways, exterior stairways and fire escapes in occupied buildings shall be maintained in good repair and operational and kept free of snow and ice accumulations.

This seems like such a no brainer, that requires such a minimal amount of effort but it wasn’t done.

It now begs the question does Hillary House meet Fire code ?

The Code, revised in 2007 states:

Compliance with mandatory building codes does not usually provide adequate fire protection for irreplaceable buildings and collections. Museums are encouraged to contact the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in their area (usually the local or provincial fire marshal) to ensure compliance with prescribed standards before opening to the public.

Considering that the Aurora Historical Society has not had an open line of communications with the town’s bylaw department and that they have dragged their feet applying for a change of use permit to operate in a fashion consistent to their uses what confidence is there that an adequate and up to date fire safety plan and measures are in place at Hillary House?

It is abundantly clear that The Aurora Historical Society has self-imploded.

They are in dire straights and even contemplating a transfer of ownership of Hillary House to the Ontario Heritage Trust.

On top of that there was the whole real-estate deal floated in front of the town that proposed offloading the house to be included in an unsustainable Heritage Theme-park.

As Charles Caleb Colton said “A harmless hilarity and a buoyant cheerfulness are not infrequent concomitants of genius; and we are never more deceived than when we mistake gravity for greatness, solemnity for science, and pomposity for erudition.”

It is hardly business as usual over at Hillary House, and as a town we have been mistaken as to what has transpired there.

It is well past the time to send out the clowns and clean house.

This isn’t a laughing matter for our town anymore.

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