Our heritage deserves better

The challenge of maintaining a heritage building’s historical integrity can be daunting at best.

The challenge of maintaining a heritage building’s historical integrity can be daunting at best.

Restoration and maintenance of these properties is often expensive and during an economic period when taxpayers are loathe to assume any unnecessary expenditures, they are difficult to justify.

In the case of Tod House, the situation is even more complex.

Tod House is situated in the heart of a residential neighbourhood. Should the suggestions that it be used as a museum or an administrative centre for a heritage group come to fruition, neighbourhood concerns about increased traffic and parking would almost certainly arise.

Supporters of the current management model point to Tod House’s distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied house in Western Canada. That fact sets the stage for a conservation policy based upon expediency and makes the installation of tenants in the 162-year-old property seem reasonable. Those carefully selected tenants will, after all, safeguard the property, ensure that the house is heated and protect it from vandalism and neglect.

Still, there is another side to the argument that needs to be considered.

The first involves oversight. The group of archivists and historians whose committee once monitored Tod House to preserve the property’s heritage value was disbanded in 2005 and now that task falls to the bureaucracy of the district. The transparency surrounding the property’s maintenance appears to have been lost. The current tenants did little to mitigate that concern for transparency during our research for the Tod House feature when they consistently ignored our calls and eventually even disallowed photography on the grounds of the house.

Tod House already has a disturbing history of what one federal government report called “unsympathetic renovations” done by the private owners of the house prior to the government’s purchase of the property.

Take away the bureaucratese and what’s being said is that people living in the house have, in the past, renovated it with a disregard to what historical value might be destroyed. While the current lease restricts any more of these improvements, without supervision by a competent third party we can’t be sure that further harm, intentional or not, won’t be done.

That may not be a recipe for disaster but it almost certainly endangers the integrity of what should be considered a jewel of Oak Bay heritage. There are better ways to manage this property, ways that safeguard not only Tod House’s bricks and mortar, but its historical soul.