While attention in the US is focused on Hillary’s run for the White House, Aurora has its own house with Hillary’s name on it.
Ever since I moved here the Aurora Hysterical Society have gradually reduced their focus from the entire town’s history to this one house. An entire 180 degree turn from their mission statement.
Unfortunately instead of acting like a National Heritage site Hillary House sits the majority of the time a lifeless shell because the shrinking society has no business plan in place for its operations.
Sadly, after having attended the Society’s 2016 annual general meetings any signs of meaningful change doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
One small step forward was the announcement that past president John MacinTired is no longer involved with the society’s operation. It was during his recent watch the society haemorrhaged considerable funds as it tore itself apart trying to operate a National Historic site, care for a historic collection and create a new Heritage Centre. Spreading efforts so thin resulted in failures on all fronts.
Let’s start with Hillary House which remains in a perpetual state of disrepair. I understand an engineering study has yet to be conducted to assess the condition of the building’s foundation, something that was outlined in their 2010-2013 strategic plan.
But forget about structural issues even addressing their fence proved to be beyond them.
In April of 2012, almost 4 years ago, a zoning bylaw was approved for changing Hillary House from mixed use to institutional. Yet a change of use permit was not applied for until I brought it to the attention of the town over 2 years ago.
This prompted the society to “respectfully ask” the town to waive that permit fee:
Obviously adhering to things like bylaws and budgeting for them are too much of an inconvenience for this group. Hell, the society confirmed at their 2016 meeting that this permit is still not in place.
Also of interest in that same report to council is that they were curtailing activity to promote Hillary House as a rental venue until these issues are resolved.
I respectfully disagree, as their website has an entire page promoting rentals and the listing they maintain on the Museum Ontario website also has a page dedicated to rentals until 2018.
I’m unconvinced that Hillary House meets municipal fire code, have fully addressed issues of accessibility or carries the adequate insurance to cover rentals that include use of their kitchen.
But let’s back away, slowly, from Hillary House and revisit some of the society’s recent other endeavours.
The Aurora Collection? Well the Town of Aurora had to assume ownership of that as well as hire a professional curator to care and manage it. You know for doing the things the Historical Society continually boasted they did, like a professional inventory and storing artefacts so they aren’t infested with bugs.
The Aurora Heritage Centre? Well it doesn’t exist. After securing considerable grants and renovating the building it has since become a “Cultural” Centre. An arms length outfit now pushes back against the town claiming the loss of “perceived revenues” because they can’t rent out the one room in the entire building that is used as museum space for exhibits.
And while all of that was slipping through their fingers they actually had the audacity to come to the town begging for more. The Town, not the Historical Society, spent over $20,000 to hire a consultant to learn that there was absolutely no viability for a fantastical heritage themepark, the collective brain fart of it current and past presidents.
After all this surely one would expect this society to regroup and set their sights on more reasonable and achievable goals.
We learn from this latest annual general meeting that they want to move and restore a shed onto the Hillary House property, because, well they need storage.
No costs have ben identified with this relocation project, but even more strange is that the actual location on the property hasn’t even been identified as where they wanted to place it was to close to utilities. And then there’s the whole issue of floodplain which will require an assessment by the LSRCA.
But fuck logistics, and the fact the Society isn’t exactly rolling in $ to burn because once this shed in place they will be able to celebrate like a scene out of StepBrothers:
Another large-scale project on their immediate wish list is to build a parking lot at the rear of the property. Something they haven’t been able to do up till now because, well they don’t happen to own the property.
Who owns it you ask?
And yes of course the Historical Society is fully expecting the town to throw the deed to them instead of, oh I don’t know trying to raise the $ to buy it.
Because parking is the answer to all of Hillary House’s problems. The National Heritage site that fronts onto Yonge Street, serviced by Viva and York Region Transit. But yes, it’s parking that is the culprit.
As is the claim in this March 2012 Auroran that Hillary House has been in any way reinvented:
It’s some dramatic reinvention when even the Historical Society itself doesn’t hold their own events at Hillary House. The Last two annual general meetings have been offsite, when the paltry sum of 20 some-odd people could easily be accommodated in the ballroom. And not a single one of their annual Hillary House balls, named after the god damned house, have been held in the house because it is too small a venue.
There is a complete lack of clarity as to what Hillary House can function as and an equal lack of leadership from the society itself to achieve goals to that end.
So with all this I was curious as to Clr. Thom’s recent motion.
Unfortunately Thom sees the solution as simply begging upwards to the Feds. Although the liberal government has promised to restore $25 million the Harper government made to Parks Canada, the Mayor’s comments at the close of this Banner piece emphasizes how this isn’t some magical fix.
I’m not exactly sure what homework Clr. Thom has done on the issue given that he didn’t attend the 2015 AGM, or any of the previous ones.
The Mayor is an ex officio member of the Aurora Historical Society board. If all it took was a letter don’t you think he would have penned one by now?
This isn’t a problem where town councilors appealing to some other level of government for funding to throw at it will make it disappear. It needs to be accountable for its own house, in this case the tax money it is pouring into Hillary House.
The Historical Society is not a department of the town, it is not a line item in the budget, yet the town extends a sizable grant to the Historical Society every year. They are already penciled into the 2017 budget cycle.
I delegated on this exact issue as part of the town’s 2014 budget process. In that designation I proposed that a facilities assessment by the Canadian Conservation Institute be conducted as a pre-requisite to entertaining ANY and all grants for the purposes of operating Hillary House.
When The Auroran reported on that budget meeting expectations were set:
That discussion has still not been had.
A business model and blueprint have not been provided.
It is not enough to hope this group will somehow assemble a feasible plan.
It should be a pre-requisite.
Council needs to, in the words of Frank Underwood: “pay attention to the fine print”