North Saanich heritage home considered for demolition

The Denham Till Park residence, as it’s known, was transferred to the district in 1973 after the death of Dora Madeleine Till

Tearing down Denham Till House is problematic

One of North Saanich’s only registered heritage homes is in such bad shape that the municipality is considering demolishing it.

The Denham Till Park residence, as it’s known, was transferred to the district in 1973 after the death of Dora Madeleine Till. Her will stipulated the property — seven acres and a house — be preserved as public property, a bird sanctuary and be called Denham Till Park. Until recently, the house has been home to a park caretaker. the last tenant moved out in 2013 and it’s currently unoccupied.

In a recent staff report on the condition and future of the house, Eymond Toupin, Director of Infrastructure Services, says the municipality has to date spent $41,000 on repairs.

Now, following a recent bid process to seek contractors to further repair the building to make it habitable, council is considering its options.

According to the report, only one bid was received and it came in at $340,000 — well over the district’s budget of $150,000.

That raised a few eyebrows around the council table Monday night, Oct. 3.

“I’m disappointed at the state the house is in,” said acting mayor Murray Weisenberger, “and the blame, I suppose, can rest with many councils … for letting it deteriorate.”

Prior to 1998, the district required resident caretakers to keep up the house. After 1998, there was a standard tenant agreement in place, requiring the district to perform any work required. In his report, Toupin said “the property has been managed with minimal operational capital investment in the building or grounds.”

Now, the district faces a few options, from demolishing it (the cheapest option) or various ways of paying for repairs.

Repairs are required, stated Toupin, as the house does not currently meet B.C. Building and Health and Safety codes.

Yet tearing it down is problematic, as the house is on the district’s Heritage Register. While that status does not prevent the house from being torn down, some councillors felt it should give it some level of protection.

“This report is a 180-degree change from the last discussion,” said Coun. Celia Stock. “But $340,000-plus to do the work is somewhat shocking.”

she suggested if the house is taken down, perhaps the district can use the money in their budget for repairs, to put up an interpretive sign about the family and the park.

“I voted to restore the house the last time,” Stock continued. “Heritage is important.”

Coun. Jack McClintock said he also voted for the renovations, thinking they wouldn’t be as costly, adding the lone bid amount is “too much.”

Yet, he stated he wanted a clear message from the public before he would give the nod to demolishing the house.

Councillors debated other uses for the house if they decided to repair it, including use for refugee families. That option was questioned by staff, stating it might defeat the purpose of integrating newcomers to the country, as it is quite isolated.

The idea of exploring grant money to help fix the building was also considered.

Council voted to wait before making a decision, to allow them to look into other options and to hear from the electorate. They plan to debate the future of the Denham Till residence at a future committee of the whole meeting.