Ellis daughters offer tearful plea during Blair Gowie discussion

Blair Gowie owners trust potential buyer

A hush fell over Oak Bay council chambers when Pamela Ellis’ daughters got up to speak.

The two women had sat quietly for two hours listening to a debate about subdividing the property that includes the Samuel MacLure house that had been their family home.

Ellis passed away nine months ago.

But after one speaker implied that Blair Gowie had intentionally been allowed to fall into disrepair so as to make a heritage revitalization agreement more appealing to council – the sisters came to the microphone.

“(I find it) extremely disrespectful to suggest that we would allow our family home to fall apart for financial gain,” Judy Tsimon said, brushing away tears.

“It goes against everything we were (taught.)”

Tsimon and Gill Ellis had sat amongst the crowd of more than 100 that spilled outside chambers and heard introductory remarks by municipal administrator Mark Brennan. He outlined the draft heritage revitalization agreement negotiated with prospective buyer Bruce Wilkin.

Plans are to slice off a 12,000 sq. ft. lot at the north side of the property.  Wilkin and partner Ann Hillyer will also renovate the exterior of Blair Gowie, a 1916 MacLure mansion at 2031 Runnymede Ave. Brennan noted that the duo have not yet agreed to a provision that no further subdivisions of the property be allowed.

The sisters, who have never spoken publicly about the potential subdivision,  listened to opponents to the proposed HRA. Neighbour Ewa Lupin spoke at length, questioning why the heritage-designated garden was not mentioned in the draft and wondering aloud whether suites were going to be built in the house.

Oak Bay archivist Jean Sparks spoke about the danger of setting a precedent by allowing a section of the heritage-designated property to be removed from that designation – a concern that was discounted later by Patrick Frey, a former director of the provincial heritage program.

Tsimon said Wilkin knew her mother and was keen to live in the home, a point he and Hillyer have made at previous meetings. Tsimon added the renovation work would be in accordance with her mother’s wishes.

Gill Ellis said they had discussed the project with their mom, a “pragmatic” woman who was in favour of the subdivision and renovation.

As chair of the discussion, Coun. Allan Cassidy ended the two-hour debate after the sisters spoke. Whether the draft agreement between the municipality and Wilkin and Hillyer will be approved will be up for debate at the next municipal committee of the whole meeting on May 2.

vmoreau@oakbaynews.com