There were more questions than answers for the crowd of about 100 people who gathered inside the West Montrose covered bridge Tuesday evening to hear about efforts to designate the area as a cultural heritage landscape.
Prof. Robert Shipley of the University of Waterloo told the crowd that the bridge and its surroundings meet the criteria of being significant and valued by the community.
In April, Shipley made a similar presentation to Woolwich Township council, recommending the township go ahead with the designation.
“They would have to find a very strong reason not to designate this, since there’s a lot of evidence that shows it meets the criteria and it’s of provincial significance,” Shipley said Tuesday.
Shipley’s talk was hosted by the Bridge Keepers, a group opposed to plans for a 115-acre gravel pit near the bridge. The Bridge Keepers also screened a video outlining their concerns about impacts on tourism, the Mennonite way of life, water quality, the environment and the loss of farmland.
While the township is trying to examine the pit application and the cultural heritage landscape (CHL) designation separately, the two could be at odds with each other.
Shipley couldn’t answer the question that was on the minds of most people at the meeting: would the CHL designation stop development of the pit?
Shipley’s work in the area started five years ago, long before the pit application was filed. He argued that council’s decision should be made in light of the fact that the area has been identified as a cultural heritage landscape.
“It hasn’t been designated as such by the municipality, but they have the evidence in front of them,” he said.
Woolwich Township staff is studying Shipley’s findings, and is expected to report back to council in the fall.
Shipley noted that there are few models for the township to follow as it studies the CHL designation. The policy has only existed since 2005 and there are just a handful of CHLs in Ontario.
“The Township of Woolwich may well be in the vanguard of this,” Shipley said. “They don’t have a lot of examples to choose from; they have to make this decision courageously, by themselves, because there aren’t any places like this.”