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Then & Now: Sudbury’s historic buildings are disappearing

But it looks as though the architecturally and historically significant St-Louis-de-Gonzague school building will be saved

D'Youville Orphanage was one of the oldest buildings in the city. Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act as a protected site, it was bulldozed 15 years ago.

A heritage designation does not ultimately save a building from the wrecking ball, but it does delay the process, puts up roadblocks to demolition, and ensures public debate with the objective to find an alternative to demolition. It also protects a building from neglect.

The orphanage, at 38 Xavier St. off St. Anne Road, was built as a French school in 1895 and it was owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. 

The Catholic diocese was concerned the abandoned building was a financial liability that needed an estimated $750,000 in repairs to be brought up to code. Attempts to find a funding partner to help renovate failed.

The diocese had to make a case for demolishing the heritage building, apply to the planning committee for a permit, and get permission from city council, a process that eventually took several years. 

There are umpteen buildings with fascinating histories in the City of Greater Sudbury, such as the former Mine Mill Hall on Regent Street and Old City Hall on Cedar Street, but only eight are protected under the provincial heritage act:

  • Church of the Epiphany on Larch Street
  • Flour Mill silos on Notre Dame Avenue
  • Bell Mansion on John Street
  • CP (VIA) Rail Station on Elgin Street
  • St. Anne Rectory on Beech Street
  • The (Azilda) Belanger homestead in Azilda
  • Capreol Railway Museum

One more building will be added to the list next month. City council is expected to designate the Art Deco exterior facade of the century-old École St-Louis-de-Gonzague at 162 MacKenzie St.  Originally called Central Roman Catholic School, it was later renamed in honour of Luigi Gonzaga, (a.k.a. St. Aloysius or St-Louis-de-Gonzague) an Italian Jesuit considered the patron saint of Catholic youth.

The school was built in 1914 and is the oldest school still standing in Greater Sudbury. The majority of its Catholic students were French-speaking and were instructed in French in defiance of Regulation 17, which restricted French-language education after Grade 2 until 1927.

Its most famous student is Alex Trebek, the long-time host of Jeopardy!, who died recently.

In August, the Uptown CAN (Community Action Network) Heritage Committee made a presentation to city council in support of designation for the unique exterior of the building. 

A report from the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals attesting to the building's heritage value was made at the November council meeting.

The motion to council, made by Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann reads, in part, "Members of the Uptown Sudbury Community Action Network, and a working group consisting of architects, historians, information technologists and archaeologists have, since June 2019, collectively lent their expertise in the research of supplied documents and community consultation that support a designation to protect the exterior of the building at 162 MacKenzie, and are requesting that the building be designated as a heritage building in order to protect its exterior from further neglect, deterioration and eventual demolition."

"This building and what it stood for in 1914 is significant for the francophone community and for the history of all Franco-Ontarians," Cortney St-Jean, Uptown Sudbury CAN chair, wrote in her letter to council. "It is a symbol of Sudbury's resistance to discrimination and our determination to work together to overcome adversity."

The citizens' group noted the school is architecturally unique in Sudbury. 

"The ornamentation of the main facade, with its projection and cornice, are exceptional in our city’s landscape ... (with) remarkable high-quality architectural values that are locally, municipally and provincially significant."

The CAN was concerned the privately owned building was scheduled to get a modern stucco facade that would be out of place in the neighbourhood.

The school was designed by Peter James (P.J.) O'Gorman, a prolific architect who, according to the Biographical Dictionary of Architects of Canada, dominated the architectural scene in Northern Ontario from 1914 to 1963. He designed many schools and churches including Sudbury Tech, Sudbury High, Wembley Public School, St. David's School and Christ The King Church.

The handsome red brick school closed in 1999 and was purchased by Autumnwood Mature Lifestyle Communities. Autumnwood president Joe DiPietro has been consulted and does not oppose the designation, said Landry-Altmann.

Autumnwood bought the French school and the adjacent English school, St. Aloysius, as part of its expansion plans for Red Oak Villa. St. Aloysius, built in 1923, was demolished in 2016.

Most of École St-Louis-de-Gonzague's interior remains intact but its gym was converted into the Sudbury Indie Cinema Co-op. The heritage designation in this case does apply to the building's interior.

In addition to the protected heritage buildings, the city recognizes seven buildings as "Listed" properties that have cultural heritage value or interest to the community. Property owners must give the city 60 days’ notice before demolishing these sites. 

The Listed properties are:

  • Copper Cliff Fire Hall (The city has started the process to add this building to the heritage register)
  • David Street Water Treatment Plant
  • Anderson Farm
  • Carrefour Senateur Rheal Belisle Cultural Centre (Blezard Valley)
  • Capreol Fire Station, 59 Young St., Capreol 
  • Fielding Memorial Chapel of St Mark (Thorneloe University)

Ed Landry, a senior planner with the city, serves as an adviser to Municipal Heritage Advisory Panel. 

"The 'Listed' process allows the city to celebrate and identify buildings of cultural heritage and interest," he said.

The volunteer panel meets four times a year and has been in existence since 2008. It is working on an inventory of city-owned heritage properties.

Heritage buildings are what make a community unique. Conserving heritage properties have helped to restore historic town centres, attract residents, businesses and tourists.

In many cases, private owners resist designation of their buildings because they see it as a deterrent to future development or sale.

Federal or provincial funds may be available to assist in conservation.

To encourage property owners, the province offers a property tax relief program in some municipalities. 

Unfortunately, Sudbury does not participate in this program that gives municipalities the option of providing property tax relief (up to 40 per cent) to owners of eligible heritage properties. The province shares in the cost of the program by funding the education portion of the property tax bill. 

Information on how citizens can apply to have a building designated is available from the city's website.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. She writes mostly about history for Sudbury.com. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program




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