Ian McCallum's CITY SCOPE

By Ian McCallum
St. Thomas Times Journal
Sunday, October 5, 2008

It may now be of little consolation, but if nothing else the report from the Ontario Heritage Trust to former Minister of Culture Caroline Di Cocco is a resounding affirmation of the veracity of those individuals who valiantly battled to preserve Alma College from the wrecker's ball.

This corner has obtained a copy of the report, authored by the Honourable Lincoln Alexander, which Di Cocco and her successor Aileen Carroll withheld from the public for more than two years. And for good reason.

In April, 2006 the Executive Committee of the OHT resolved that Alma College, including the chapel, music building and amphitheatre "is a property of cultural heritage value or interest of provincial significance. The report further recommended "the Minister should encourage the municipality to continue to work with the owner, (Ontario Heritage) Trust and Ministry of Culture staff and other stakeholders to find a creative solution to the preservation and adaptive re-use of the property."

It encouraged the ministry to direct its staff "to assist the owner and municipality by determining if there are any provincial sources of funding, or other incentives that could assist in the stabilization, repair and long term conservation of the college."

And for more than two years the ministry did its damnedest to ensure these findings would never see the light of day, let alone be acted upon.

It took a Freedom of Information request in June of this year by Alma watchdog Dawn Doty to finally pry the document from the steely grip of the culture ministry.Why would the minister want us to know she should "encourage the municipality to refuse any request for demolition or substantial alteration that would destroy the building or heritage attributes," as is advised in the report?

Furthermore, should Alma be threatened with demolition or alterations that would compromise the heritage character, integrity and attributes of the property, "it would be appropriate for the Minister to designate Alma College using the powers prescribed under section 34.5 of the Ontario Heritage Act."

The Ministry of Culture, under two separate ministers, steadfastly refused to enact any of these recommendations and, what is worse, denied public access to the report whose resolutions may very well have resulted in Alma remaining a vibrant participant in the St. Thomas landscape for many years to come.

The Honourable Lincoln Alexander concluded his summary to the ministry with words of optimism - "Thank you for your efforts to preserve Ontario's built heritage.

The inertia of Di Cocco and Carroll is an embarrassing slap in the face to Mr. Alexander and every individual who begged the ministry to step forward and embrace heritage leadership.