GRAVENHURST - Now torn down and out of sight, the Albion’s main street balcony is not out of mind for one local protestor, nor the estate.
Local resident David Bryce has taken up the mantle and will be protesting in front of the Albion Hotel weekly until the historically designated structure is rebuilt. The balcony was removed Nov. 17 due to its deteriorated state and the safety concerns for pedestrian traffic on the main street.
Photo by Neil Etienne
After about a year of debate, deliberations and attempts to keep the structure in place, the balcony was finally torn down Nov. 17 due to safety concerns over its deteriorating state.
Albion Hotel estate handler Cheryl Keates, daughter of the late owner Marilyn Dyck who purchased the building in the earlier 1980s, says she hopes to see the balcony return but the pressing issue of safety couldn’t be ignored any longer.
“People have to understand safety trumps heritage,” she said. “We didn’t want to take it down but what it comes down to is safety or heritage and I guess that’s the crux of the issue.”
Keates was given an order by the town to demolish or repair the balcony, but the estate’s funds wouldn’t allow for reconstruction.
“If I get an order from the town, I have to comply,” Keates explained. “I personally would love nothing more than to restore the outside of the building and the balcony to its original state, not like the one that just came down, but the original; the estate just doesn’t have the funds.”
David Bryce admits he may be alone in his lamentations over the heritage-designated structure’s removal but he says he intends to protest once or twice a week until it’s replaced.
“It’s been an appalling situation from start to finish,” Bryce said, adding he doesn’t think the town or the heritage committee should have permitted the demolition. “They’ve demonstrated they have no regard for heritage.”
He said he believes the town has ignored its heritage bylaws by allowing the demolition and as such “They should just repeal all the bylaws; they don’t follow them anyway.”
Keates agreed it had been a long process, but added that compromises and alternatives were investigated, from finding grants or funding to rehabilitate the balcony or shoring it up to last through the winter, but ultimately removal was the only recourse.
“Nothing would please me more than to restore that front to what it should be, but I’m not the owner of the building and the estate can’t afford that right now,” she said.
That does not mean there hasn’t been plenty of activity at the hotel. Keates, who has spent the bulk of the past two decades working in New York and Toronto, only just returned to Gravenhurst last year to deal with the estate.
“I think as an outsider my perspective is probably the same as a lot of people’s; it’s an eyesore (the hotel front),” she said adding since returning, she has spent a great deal of time and money renovating the interior, improving apartments and taking care of other safety issues in the century building. “But I see great potential; I don’t see obstacles I’m just seeing the opportunities.
“I’m calling it the new Albion; I want people to get past the stigma and see this as a welcoming place to come,” she added. “It’s going to take some time, but we are successfully getting there.”
The hotel had been listed for sale earlier this past summer and that ended in October. Keates said the state of the balcony and the facade has been a “stumbling block” to selling, but that is something she is starting to reconsider as well.
“That’s not to say it’s not still for sale, but I see a need to re-evaluate,” Keates said, adding she has had several offers on the building but none that inspired selling.
“I want to re-evaluate the potential; I’d love to keep it, but financially, I don’t know if I’ll be able to.”
She added she appreciates Bryce’s attention to the issue.
“Someone like David Bryce has a passion for heritage and to me, that’s a good thing, that’s OK,” Keates said. “It is an historic building and my hope would be that the balcony is returned; to me, it’s not something that’s been put to rest.
“I’m willing to work with anyone to make the building what it should be,” she added.
Bryce said he will continue to protest in front of the hotel, once or twice a week, until the balcony is returned.
“It should be rebuilt; I’ll keep picketing, I’ll keep on shooting my mouth off until it is,” he said. “I don’t think anything much is going to happen but it’s not going to stop me.”