Under cover of the bridge in West Montrose Sept. 15, residents can hear all about the effort to designate the landmark as part of a cultural heritage landscape.
Supporters of the covered bridge and its environment, who recently geared up as the Bridge Keepers to fight the creation of a gravel pit nearby, will host the event. Prof. Robert Shipley, who heads the Heritage Resources Centre at the University of Waterloo and has spent more than two years studying the “kissing bridge,” will discuss his work to date.
With the event on tap, Tony Dowling, co-chair of the residents’ association, was at Woolwich council Tuesday night requesting the road be closed that day between 6 and 8:30 p.m. The closure, which was approved, will allow the group to set up some 80 chairs inside the bridge.
He also invited councillors to attend the event in order to hear feedback from the community.
Another member of the Bridge Keepers, Hans Pottkamper, later asked for an update on the township’s study of a request to declare the area around the bridge as a cultural heritage landscape (CHL).
Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning, said staff intends to bring forward a report in the fall addressing Shipley’s findings.
The issue is complicated by the gravel pit application filed by Capital Paving. The Guelph-based company wants to extract aggregate from a 115-acre site near the intersection of Letson Drive and Kathleen Street, a request that could be at odds with the CHL designation.
Shipley has suggested council introduce an interim control bylaw to suspend any development in the area while the township establishes the heritage protections for the covered bridge and its surroundings.
Trying to separate the CHL process, the gravel pit application and an upcoming Ontario Municipal Board hearing into Woolwich’s new gravel pit evaluation process (official plan amendment 13) has proven easier said than done, Kennaley noted.
Capital Paving’s report on the heritage impact of its proposed gravel pit is “at odds with the Shipley report,” and somewhat at odds with the Region of Waterloo’s take on the impact, he added.
“That said … we acknowledge that Dr. Shipley was doing work on the cultural heritage landscapes well in advance of the Capital Paving application.”
The Heritage Resources Centre exercise got underway when a University of Waterloo group looking to include the structure on a national registry found that although the bridge has been standing for more than 125 years and is recognized as a historic site by Ontario’s Archeological & Historic Sites Board, it has never received a local designation.
What followed was a series of focus groups, public meetings and online surveys that investigated the bridge and surrounding area’s significance, and the amount of public support for historic conservation efforts. Under provincial legislation, a site must be deemed both significant and valued by the community in order to go ahead with cultural heritage landscape (CHL) designation. The university’s study showed the West Montrose site qualifies in spades, said Shipley.
Findings released in the spring show 98 per cent of respondents agreed the West Montrose area meets the CHL definition, with 92 per cent saying it is of provincial significance.
Built in 1881, the 198-foot span across the Grand River is Ontario’s last remaining covered bridge. At one time a provincial responsibility, the bridge is now owned by the Region of Waterloo, and remains one of Woolwich’s premier tourist sites.