On Sunday, October 31st, a group of approximately 50 area residents gathered at a meeting near the village of Lanark to discuss the possibility of restoring the George St 1860 stone building that was once home to the famous Glenayr Kitten Mill. According to organizers the discussion at the meeting was productive with plenty of ideas to go around.
Attendees were shown a documentary film on the restoration of a number of buildings and facades in Canada’s oldest town, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia and the economic return of their work in increased tourism and property values. One of the meeting’s leaders, John Foliot informed everyone that the Lanark building is privately owned but discussions were in the works with the owner to seek an option for the community to buy it. If an option is obtained, the volunteer group will proceed with the incorporation of a non-profit community Board: The Lanark Heritage Preservation Society. The audience was told that the creation of an incorporated non-profit entity opens up potential funding sources, including Federal, Provincial and private foundation grants and loans. There are no plans to seek municipal funding.
Prior to the meeting, the organizers, with the building owner’s permission, had arranged to have an engineer who specializes in heritage restoration inspect the stone building. Their report confirmed the original walls are structurally sound, but the roof has sustained significant damage and should be tarped before winter to avoid compromising the viability of the walls. The municipality completed their own inspection recently with their chief building official and fire chief and it revealed that even though the roof on an attached wooden structure was severely sagging, the complex did not represent any safety or fire risk to the public. According to a statement release by Reeve Peter McLaren on October 29th, this meant that council was in no legal position to order any remediation.
When the audience was asked for feedback and suggestions on the future of the building, they quickly compiled a large list of potential uses which included such things as
- Mix of small businesses: artisans, bakery, ice cream, café/tea room/etc.
- farmers market
- maker’s space
- pop-up retail space
- Long-term care facility / Assisted living center
- seniors center
- medical center
- affordable housing
- day care center
- support services for young families
- a safe public space
- future site for library
- future site for museum
- concert/performance space
- potential movie site for film production
Hometown News caught up with Lanark Highlands councillor Ron Closs who attended the meeting. He said that he was pleased that people are showing interest but stated one of the biggest stumbling blocks was the private ownership of the property. He agreed that a heritage status on the building would bring funding opportunities and stated there would be some resident opposition to using any municipal budget dollars on the effort. We also reached out to the building’s owner for comments but received no response.
The meeting leaders promised to keep those who wished to receive more information as it becomes available, up to date on future plans.