Open Letter to Terry Cooke: Please Intervene to Save Brantford Heritage

As a member of the YMCA Brantford Governing Council and the Chair of the Canadian Urban Institute, Terry Cooke is well-positioned to put a stop to the destruction of 41 Victorian buildings on Colborne Street in Brantford.

By Mahesh P. Butani
Published March 09, 2010

Dear Terry,

It is getting increasingly clear, as Brantford's heritage crisis on Colborne Street unfolds, that one of the organizations which finds itself at the centre of this unfortunate event is none other than the YMCA, an organization of which are a member of the Governing Council.

This is a public appeal to your good conscience and urban awareness to intervene in this crisis. It is my hope that as an outstanding member of the governing council of the YMCA, you will advise your organization in bringing a resolute end to the blasphemy that is occurring in Brantford.

As this Memorandum of Understanding (PDF link) from the City of Brantford website clearly shows, the decisions made on Colborne South are not just morally and ethically flawed, but would not hold up against serious public scrutiny. It is now also re-opening some very old questions.

The messy outcome of this parochial approach has put in jeopardy the future of 41 historic buildings. It has also ended up making a mockery of federal funding meant to boost the economy. Further, the misapplication of expropriation powers to demolish historical assets used here could now be used as precedence by other municipalities, if they are inclined to act in a similar manner with their buildings.

It is beyond comprehension that an organization as venerable as the Y could get itself entangled in a deplorable situation that has the potential of decimating Canada's heritage.

Terry, as the Chair of the Canadian Urban Institute, you, more than most at the Y, have to be acutely aware of the forces that create true urban rejuvenation, and those that lead to crinky illusions of progress.

We know from our own recent urban past that the approach which Y has taken is fatally flawed. It is this flawed proposition that has empowered the Brantford City council in staking out an adversarial position with many from Brantford and across Canada who care enough to know that history matters.

Continuing on this foolish path is simply not acceptable and no longer an option for self-respecting Canadians.

Have our political and cultural lives reached such a low point where some in our midst have come to believe that it is only by expropriating private properties with taxpayers money, destroying built heritage, and then handing over the flattened lands to a private non-profit organization for free, with zero tax-assessment, that we are able to build a sustainable model of urban revitalization for the next generation?

For every Haussmann, there are two dozen examples of renewal-by-fiat that have failed miserably. These glaring failures - many in Canada itself - are on account of the fact that we in Canada have lost the instinct to rebuild our cities with any deeper meaning.

As an example of how shortsighted policies can lead to an expanding spiral of twisted thinking - here is what Mary Welsh of Brantford, who is anxious to raze Colborne South, has to say about our built heritage:

A sound business rule has always been, when something becomes a liability, get rid of it!

In contrast to the above position, is a living example from Copenhagen of what can be achieved by making built heritage a partner in progress. Here is a look at how a for-profit company turned what Mary calls a liability into an asset (PDF link) - Carlsberg City.

It is only by leaving a small footprint on our past that we can take meaningful leaps into the future.

As reported yesterday in the Spectator, "Ontario wants a bigger share of the billions of dollars in revenue from out-of-country students, to help generate funds for cash-strapped colleges and universities."!

This is the new reality of our province. In these times, is destroying our built heritage to build gyms the way to attract foreign students?

Foreign students from various countries who know more about the implicit benefits of coexisting with heritage are watching thesse hijinx unfold on the Internet in real time.

Laurier Brantford, after saving over 14 heritage buildings, has become an inadvertent ally in the worst possible heritage faux pas any educational institution has committed in the world.

Laurier was smart to backtracking on this issue to retain its viability in the eyes of its students. However, it just couldn't resist muddying the waters of Academic freedom while itself caught blinded in the public glare!

Veritas Omnia Vincit. Truth conquers all, so the Laurier University's motto tells us. Now, if only, we can find it fast enough in Brantford!

For the Y, there are many way out of this snafu. The first is to offer an apology to all those it has caused much grief and whose time and energy it has ended up wasting by the pursuit of a patently foolish strategy.

The next is to invite professionals from all walks of life, especially the field of psychology, to ascertain as to how things came to this point, just to ensure that such events do not occur again.

And lastly, is to tell the people of Brantford that the Y indeed respects the heritage of our country, and in a renewed spirit of collaboration, is inviting relevant ideas from them which can truly lead to the revitalization of the spirit and form of Colborne.

Without your timely intervention, the Y may have an extremely difficult time extracting itself from this mess.

Mahesh P. Butani is a non-architect, and a developer by default. He is involved in re-developing properties in downtown Hamilton; and has an MA in Arts Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC (1986), and bachelors in Architecture from Bombay, India (1982). Currently he is not an architect in Ontario on account of not having enough Canadian Experience; and does not qualify to teach as he carries too much baggage to fit into the Canadian education system. He refuses to be re-trained to fit in, on a matter of principle, and is a passionate disbeliever of icons and self-regulation of professions in Canada - but still maintains his belief in collective self-organizing behavior; and feels that the large swath of intellectual brownfields across Ontario are far more harmful to the economy than the brownfields left over from deindustrialization - and in response has set up a social network called Metropolitan Hamilton. http://metrohamilton.ning.com/


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By Craig B (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 10:55:03

"A sound business rule has always been, when something becomes a liability, get rid of it!"

Not sure where Ms. Welsh got her business training. Whoever it was, they have failed.

Businesses need liabilities in order to survive. On a balance sheet, every liability has a corresponding asset and every asset has a corresponding liability. (Owner's equity is a liability, don't ever let anyone tell you differently).

A good businessperson will look at an entity and see the potential of its assets. A bad businessperson looks at an entity and sees fear, uncertainty and doubt related to the liabilities.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 12:42:54

Craig B: Not every liability has assets attached to it, so I would ask where did you get your training from.


Just because someone is a business person does not mean that they actually have had training in accounting. In my travels, this is more true then false. Many people start businesses, yet never have had any formal training in bookkeeping or accounting and in fact, in the trade of accounting, we, have to fix the messes that many of the BUSINESS people start.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-03-09 11:43:54

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By blue collar (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 13:23:44

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By MarieJ (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 13:26:53

115 Colborne Street, held the FIRST office of YMCA in Brantford. Upper floor. Just one of the 41 slated for demolition this week, or next. At this second it is, and many others are being torn apart and gutted. Architecturally and historical aspects have been and are being removed and sent to a landfill, and or being salvaged by some company unrelated to our city.

NOTHING is going to our Historical Museum, or Museum's of Canada. Waste, it's all going to waste or to whoever sells it for a good buck.

115 Colborne Street, a bit of the history we're destroying; http://www.flickr.com/photos/autumnsangr...

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By MarieJ (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 16:47:49

Would you like to know how corrupt things are? Would you like to know the lengths the PRO demolition sorts will go?


I was even logged in today for a good few hours till I left for lunch and tried to log back in, and I also mentioned the Native Land Claim that is VALID and RECOGNIZED FEDERALLY as 95 Colborne Street, ONE of the buildings slated for demolition. Shortly after I posted your article and THAT comment about the Native Land Claim, BAM. Disabled.

I have had an account on fb since 2006/2007. I HAVE NEVER been treated like this before. Ever.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 18:03:35

MarieJ: I am so sorry that you have been treated very unfair, it would seem that you have upset the powers to be. The people need to hear and read the truth and well, see what happens when you speak the words,


Hang in there!

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By M.P.B. (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 18:16:46

MarieJ: There are automatic filters that are triggered to protect accounts from spam - this can happen from excessive links, cross-posts etc. Do look into this further at: www.talesfromthe.net/blog/?p=27

excerpt from above site:
"...When you trigger a warning, there are some simple steps to that usually keep things from getting worse, and protect you in case they do. And even in the worst case, most of the people who have had their accounts disabled have had them reinstated..."

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 21:24:19

Would you like to know how corrupt things are?

Um, do you really think the town of Brantford, Ontario managed to strong-arm Facebook into disabling your account because they don't like you criticizing them?

Time to step back and regain some perspective I think.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 21:34:40

Correct me if I'm wrong. I seem to think I've heard about this demolition plan for a good long while. But I don't recall hearing the same level of protest and anger before Brantford city council finally voted in favour of the plan. Once the council made their decision, only then did dissenting voices start being heard. Is this a case of the anti-demolition side speaking up far too late ala too little too late, or was I simply out of the loop?

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 21:36:42

MarieJ I think M.P.B may be on to something in your case.

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By MarieJ (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 23:16:17


I could have been disabled for I donno what, besides what I said about the Native Land Claim, and identifying exactly what building one of them are. And the fact I posted THIS article on our group.

It is coincidental... because what the heck else did I do? I posted ONE link in all of the hours between 11am-2pm on facebook, on the group. I did not post it anywhere. Or anything, anywhere else. All I have done was respond to a few comments on the fb group and my own profile.

I am not saying the powers that be have or have not done anything to be sure, but the apple does not fall far from the tree. The timing. And you are aware it does not take much to get banned on facebook these days? Oh back in the day you could report pervos who were creeping on you and your friends, and fb would say "leave the group or chatroom, we can do nothing". But now they disable everyone left and right. Some for valid reasons others for reasons never given, that are never obvious or understood by those disabled who appear a month or so later back on fb once their account is released.

You are aware me speaking out at all, pisses people off right? I do not have to say they are morons or idiots for believing all 41 buildings were vacant and abandoned for decades (being that there is PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF and DOCUMENTED PROOF IN OUR PHONE BOOKS SAYING OTHERWISE) to become one of the loathed. All I have to do is support my facts with evidence, and it appears to anger people. I have done nothing wrong.

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By Richard Gambicourt (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2010 at 00:13:47


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