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New home proposed for lot next to historic Steward House

A proposal to build a home on a severed lot at 507 Butler Street is leaving at least one local resident with questions.

A proposal to build a home on a severed lot at 507 Butler Street is leaving at least one local resident with questions. 

The house is to be built on land that is part of the William and Susannah Steward historical site at the corner of Butler and John Streets in the Old Town. 

William Steward was an African American teamster and carpenter. He and his wife Susannah bought the lot in 1834. By the middle of that decade, Niagara’s Black community was about 400 strong and owned about 10 per cent of the lots in the town.

The 1.5-storey home was part of what became known as Niagara’s coloured village, a community of former Canadian slaves, Black Loyalists and African American refugees. The majority of the Black families lived south of William Street between Regent and Simcoe Streets. 

The Niagara Foundation purchased the Steward House, which had experienced many changes through the years, to rescue it from development. The group completed the exterior in 2006, restoring it to its earlier form. 

In 2003, the house was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, covering the exterior facade, the structure of the house, and the chimney. Three years later the property was zoned institutional with the intention of creating a museum or research facility on the property.

In 2008 an application was put forth by the foundation to sever the lot behind the house. That application was turned down by the town’s committee of adjustment because it was too small.

Bruce Harvey, a former member of the Niagara Foundation, bought the property in 2009. He currently rents the historical home to a tenant. 

Harvey was given approval under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2013 to sever the lot as long as the town’s municipal heritage committee approved the design of any house built there and the committee of adjustments accepted the severance. 

The town held an online open house Monday to present information about Harvey’s applications. Representatives from NPG Planning Solutions of Niagara Falls, under contract with Harvey, outlined his plans. 

NPG’s representative stated that the required heritage impact assessment, planning justification report and streetscape survey were already on file with the town. 

In order to build on the lot, Harvey has three applications on file with the town. One is to rezone the property from institutional back to residential. The second one is to attain consent to sever the open lot behind the historic house. The third is to receive a heritage permit to accept the design of the proposed dwelling. 

The third condition would also require a temporary protection plan to ensure that any excavation for the new construction would not adversely impact the significant built heritage of the existing house. 

Reached at his home Tuesday, Harvey indicated that the 1.5-storey house he is proposing for the severed lot is only 20 feet high, which is actually lower than the peak of the existing Steward House on the property. And the lot he is severing is larger than the one that he proposed to sever back in 2008, which was turned down.

“The footprint of the house,” Harvey said, “is 35 feet wide by 40 feet deep. It’s 1,700 square feet. And its design fits in with the design of the surrounding houses on John Street.”

The lone participant in the open house Monday was Old Town resident Paul Shepherd, a former president and current director of the Niagara Foundation. 

Shepherd questioned NPG about whether or not the entire property was actually protected under a heritage designation. 

NPG’s Mary Lou Tanner explained, “There are actually two designations on the property, the first deals with the structure, the second deals with the land area as it relates to archaeological resources. As part of the preparation for this application we’ve had three stages of archaeological assessment completed in order to meet the requirements of the province, the region and the town.”

Turner explained that the designation related to the land in question is not on the land but instead on any archaeological finds that may have been historically significant. She went on to explain that the stage three dig conducted by North Bay-based Horizon Archaeology, attended and observed by the NOTL Local in October 2020, turned up nothing of significance. 

“The region and the province confirm whether or not a stage four dig is required,” she said, “and  stage four was not required.”

Harvey read to The Local the letter he received in May from the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Cultural Industries following the work completed by Horizon.

“The William Steward site does not meet the criteria as having cultural heritage value and interest. As such, it is recommended that the William Steward site should be considered cleared of further archaeological concerns.”

Harvey added, “All they found in the dig was basically the dump site of William Steward. It was bits of nails, bits of porcelain, just garbage. They didn’t find anything of interest.”

Shepherd was the only resident to speak up about Harvey’s proposal during the open house. At the end of the meeting he said he was hoping to see the results of the stage three archaeological survey, and Tanner offered to send him that report at a later date.

The next step in Harvey’s application will be a public meeting scheduled to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Pre-registration is required through the clerk’s office to attend in person. 

Mike Balsom

About the Author: Mike Balsom

With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years
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