Brantford's Embattled Buildings on the Brink

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 07, 2010

When you want to beat your head against a wall at the retrograde thinking that often governs Hamilton, just remember that it could always be worse:

Forty one buildings in Brantford's small downtown core - some as old as 170 years old - could be rubble on Tuesday if the town's council votes, as expected, in favour of the demolition.

"I am hopeful that on Monday night, the council will unanimously agree to demolish these buildings so that we can get a fresh start," said Mark Littell, a councillor. "These buildings are in a terrible, terrible shape ... they need to go."

Lloyd Alter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario has asked the Province to intervene and issue a stop work order if the vote goes as expected.

Mixed-use Victorian housing and commercial block in Brantford, slated to be demolished. (Image Credit: Michael Cumming)
Mixed-use Victorian housing and commercial block in Brantford, slated to be demolished. (Image Credit: Michael Cumming)

Hamilton's experience with the Lister Block saga suggests that the Province is reluctant to intervene directly to block a local council's decision; but that there may be opportunities for the Province to help broker some kind of compromise agreement that preserves the buildings but removes some of the risk for a developer nervous about tying their business to renovation and adaptive reuse.

The problem on Brantford's Colborne Street is that there isn't actually a developer looking to make a profitable investment in demolition and new construction. The only party actually interested in the property is YMCA Brantford, which wants to build a recreation facility on a quarter of the land that will be freed up once the buildings are demolished.

The city hopes that the prospect of a contiguous greenfield downtown will attract the attention of Brantford's developers, who are used to building that way on the suburbs.

Demolishing Victorian building stock was a bad idea in the 1960s, '70s and '80s when Hamilton was busy doing it throughout the downtown core. It's utterly unconscionable today.

It's the logic of clearcutting, which replaces "a messy warren of interlocking spaces and relationships" with "a less stable and less viable monoculture."

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By blue collar (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2010 at 13:21:43

Do you wonder why there is no developer to jump in and save these buildings?
How about it being a rat infested crumbling eyesore?
Here's an idea...why don't you handwringing complainers get together, pool your hard earned bucks and buy these crack-dens for
preserving this "Heritage". This is not a family friendly zone,
it's a sickening collection of squalor.
Since we , the taxpayers of Brantford, have to look at this mouldering mess, why not take a poll, and see what the citizens have to say.
On a personal note, I'm getting pretty damn tired of people sitting in Hamilton wagging their fingers at us .

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 07, 2010 at 13:33:25

I'm getting pretty damn tired of people sitting in Hamilton wagging their fingers at us

Yeah, whatever you do, DON'T EVEN THINK of trying to learn any lessons from a nearby city that already did what you're doing and doesn't want you to make the same mistake.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 07, 2010 at 14:45:17

Do you wonder why there is also no developer to jump in and buy up the land after the buildings have been demolished?

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By bubba hump (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 07:53:51

i don't care if you are from brantford, hamilton, or timbuktu, you can have an opinion, especially if any provincial or federal money does come through.

that said, i think that WLU is also interested in developing the area, not just the YMCA as you state. (Correct me if I am wrong.)

WLU has been the biggest reason Brantford's downtown has improved from Shitsville to Poopyville. One day maybe it will be Fartsville or even better. But without getting rid of these eysores, there really isn't a chance of that.

The question I always ask is - what is your suggestion? The city expropriated the buildings so they can either rebuild or demolish. I'd like to see a rebuild that stays in character with the history of the area.

Private developers will line up once the demo is complete - even in a city like Brantford, there is money to be made in property, and somebody will take advantage of that.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 08:01:22

what is your suggestion?

Restoration and adaptive reuse. For buildings that are still structurally sound like the buildings on Colbourne St, that's the best way to create value, proven in cities around the world. Demolishing these buildings doesn't work. Like z jones said above -- we should know! We've been doing it for decades.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 08:03:06

On a personal note, I'm getting pretty damn tired of people sitting in Hamilton wagging their fingers at us.

Hey, cut us some slack. It's not very often we come across a city making stupider decisions than our own.
What you should be embarrassed about is the fact that we CAN sit here in Hamilton wagging our fingers at you.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 08:17:43

Here's an interesting article from the National Post regarding those buildings:

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 08:19:00

Pretty sure WLU is already building two large campuses on other property.

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By arcadia (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 13:47:09

it begins:

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 14:35:35

check the poll question at CHML:

You mean to tell me that someone at CHML actually typed the words "follow Brantford's lead" without deleting it and telling their boss to get real?? And over 70% of CHML listeners have clicked 'yes'??

I'm calling UHAUL. See ya.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-06-08 13:39:01

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 11, 2010 at 08:38:49

Pretty sad. It looks like those buildings are gone.

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