Sustainable communities that can weather the ups-and-downs of the global economy will have to build on their regional historical heritage. In 2007, when the Village of Fort San was designating the sanatorium buildings as heritage, local MLA Glen Hart commented, “Far too often in this province we are too ready to tear buildings down – buildings that people from other countries, particularly Europe, would be astonished that we are not preserving … And I think future generations may want to ask why we didn’t do that”.
The mission statement of the award-winning Calling Lakes Planning District Commission, which includes Fort San, is suggesting change, saying, “We will strive to find a sense of balance in the environment including land and water, rich historical, cultural, heritage and economic dimensions of our communities.” But the transition from the old business model based primarily on expansion and greed to one committed to heritage and sustainability won’t come easy. Sometimes there is a “chill” in communities as those who depend on local businesses remain shy or afraid to speak out on the importance of celebrating local heritage. Sometimes business transactions aren’t that transparent so local people don’t find out what’s happened to historic sites until it’s too late.
Fort San’s heritage redevelopment was challenged from the start. Public property is to be disposed of through a process that includes other government departments, municipalities, First Nations and only then private developers. With no provincial departments wanting the property one might have expected it to go to the municipality where it existed, Fort San. Instead it went to the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle, which then turned it over to private developers, which could be seen as “jumping the cue”. Fort San has since changed hands several times and concerns persist that it’s being valued for land speculation rather than for heritage redevelopment.
A CLEAR VIEW
The latest owner is Echo Valley Resorts owned by the Chaplin family, which also owns ClearView Development and the local Woodland Rona store. One might be encouraged of their commitment to heritage from reading on Stone Ridge’s website: “rich with history, Fort Qu’Appelle is home to a number of significant landmarks including the original 1897 Hudson’s Bay Company store, the Qu’Appelle Tuberculosis Sanatorium (Fort San) and the Treaty 4 Governance Centre”. On their ClearView website, it says “the family at ClearView is about giving back”, highlighting “Local products. Local employment for trades people. Local charities.”
The Chaplins have preserved the Hudson Bay Co. store in downtown Fort Qu’Appelle. They recently bought the historic Hanson-Ross Pottery studio. They tried to purchase the 100 year Old Central School which the Town instead designated as heritage to be refurbished as the non-profit Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts.
The Hudson Bay building has sometimes benefitted the local community and the arts but now houses the corporate offices for Stone Ridge and ClearView Development. One of ClearView’s new projects is Camp Gilwell where the historic, refurbished Dr. Seymour house, build in 1881 and used by the Boy Scouts since 1929, quickly went under the wrecking ball to make room for a lakeside subdivision. This is a shame; with some imaginative commitment to the cultural planning approach embraced by Towns in the region this unique building might have housed a tourist-attracting museum highlighting the central role that Seymour played in the province’s public health, including Fort sanatorium and Medicare. This is no small story; before his death Dr. Seymour was Canada’s representative on public health at the League of Nations.
We can’t continue to miss these opportunities to highlight heritage; if we lose the building we quickly start to lose the important story that goes along with it. Fort San holds a big Saskatchewan story and it was taken over by developers who were fully aware of its heritage designation and of the Village’s Official Community Plan. Yet, in spite of ClearView’s promotional blurb about heritage, it’s unclear what’s in store for Fort San. Why has no re-use plan yet come forward?
I tried to get an answer. While waiting for a return call from the owner I spoke to ClearView’s Director of Development who told me “I’m not at liberty to say at this point”. I decided to look for myself and drove to the grand Fort San site to find it barricaded with a blue metal fence. The historic plaque put up in 1978 about “The Fight Against Tuberculosis” was difficult to locate behind the metal fence. A “No Trespassing – Violators will be prosecuted” sign hung overhead. A huge wood beam blocked the road into the three large heritage buildings which weren’t easily visible behind the overgrown trees. Roofs were clearly in disrepair, with some eaves broken and falling down. Some windows and doors were covered with plywood, while many others were broken or simply left open. It looks like a pillaged site.
I decided to talk to people in the Village and found that in the fall of 2010 the Heritage Conservation Branch made several observations and recommendations to ClearView to protect the Fort San heritage buildings. The owner was contacted by the Village in the spring and again in the fall of 2011, setting out the responsibilities to maintain the grounds and preserve the buildings. Based on what I saw, these recommendations have been ignored. The owner has even indicated that he now wants to demolish one of the designated buildings, the Nurses Residence, which is falling into disrepair.
DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT
Such “demolition by neglect” is not socially or legally acceptable; the Heritage Property Act is clear about this. Section 31 says: “Where, through neglects or lack of maintenance, the integrity or existence of the designated property is placed in jeopardy, the council of the municipality in which the property is situated may, by order, require the registered owner of that property to undertake any specific repairs or other measures that the council considers necessary to preserve the property.”
The municipality then gives “14 days written notice of its intention to issue an order”. If there is no objection or referral of “the matter to the review board”, an order is issued providing “a period of at least 90 days for the registered owner…to comply with the order”. If the owner “fails to comply”, the municipality “without further notice may perform the repairs”. The municipality is then “deemed to have an interest in the land” and “may register an interest based on the costs” and “may charge interest to the registered owners”. If the property sells “the costs and interest incurred are to be repaid to the municipality”.
Just prior to completing my research, owner Jim Chaplin returned my call. From that conversation it became clear that a reuse plan, which he described as a probably a “Resort Conference Centre”, is in the very distant future, perhaps “ten years”. Also, he gave me no indication of plans to maintain the buildings in the intervening period. Chaplin said he couldn’t do anything about the vandalism. It seems that stewardship of this important provincial heritage site is lacking or non-existent.
The unique history of the Fort Sanatorium calls out for some sensible and sensitive awareness of history and heritage and the working of this into the fabric of social and economic development. There is a move underway in many parts of the province to incorporate cultural planning into local economic development. The rich history of the Qu’Appelle Valley, and the preservation and redevelopment of the Fort Sanatorium presents a unique opportunity for this new perspective to be applied. What will be the next “chapter” in the saga of the grand but presently abandoned Fort Sanatorium?