Restoring / Protecting Amherstburg’s Heritage
Restoring / Protecting Amherstburg’s Heritage
Research tells us that Amherstburg’s history is third on a list of things residents like most about the town. And it sure is a competitive point of difference versus other towns in the county. Unfortunately much of its history has been hollowed out. Often to create more parking lots.
Amherstburg has a volunteer Heritage Committee that monitors and oversees heritage recognition. I went before the Committee on June 24 to request that our bookshop (67 Richmond) receive a Heritage Designation. It’s not often that someone restores a building in Amherstburg and proactively requests a designation. My verbal presentation was well received (see my script below) and the Committee approved it unanimously. It’s not permanent yet. There is a formal process the town goes through. The provincial Heritage Act requires that Council approve for the Committee to publish an intent to designate which broadcasts to everyone that the town is considering it. This will allow owners and others to appeal it if they so desire. There are other steps as well, but we are optimistic that our recommendation will be approved.
Today there are only 42 designated properties in Amherstburg. You would recognize ones like Park House, Salmoni Building, Gordon House, Bullock’s Tavern (Artisan Grill) for sure. There are also well over a hundred Heritage Properties of Interest. That gives them some protection but not near enough. Most of the more protected Designated Properties were approved in the late 70’s, early 80’s. Lately they have been very few and that is worrisome.
The T.H.R.I.V.E. Collective has identified that History will be the topic of one of its White Papers. I look forward to working with the Heritage Committee and town administration to create that White Paper - the town needs a more aggressive approach to restore and save its heritage. If you wish to be on the team that helps create the White Paper go to thriveamherstburg.com and join the Collective.
Here’s my successful pitch to the Committee:
Mr. Chairman, Committee members, Councillor Simone
Thank you for letting me delegate to the Heritage Committee about 67 Richmond.
My name is Richard Peddie. Along with my wife Colleen we have lived in Amherstburg for over 12 years now.
We love the town and aspire for it to be even better.
To help do that we created a company called Black Dog Entertainment. Named after our two Giant Schnauzers. I apologize if they bark while I am on this call.
We created the company because we wanted to go beyond our philanthropy and our participation in the Amherstburg Community Foundation. The mission of our company is to increase the economic, social and cultural health of Amherstburg.
Our first investment is the River Bookshop. Why a bookshop? We believe that healthy communities need an independent book shop. One that educates, inspires, engages and entertains the community. We decided to call it the River Bookshop. The history of bookshops goes back to shops in Scotland hundreds of years ago. As a long time marketer I knew that it was important that our building needed to fit our old fashion “bookshop” name. So when 135 year old 67 Richmond came available we jumped at it. We knew that with investment we could restore it and make it compliment the built form of historic Amherstburg.
And it’s original use tied into what exactly what are trying to do with our bookshop. In the late 80’s sociologists came up with a concept they called the “third place”. First Place is where one lives. Second place is where one works. And third place is where people go to gather. To exchange ideas. To meet others. It also has to be safe, accessible and welcoming.
When C.M.S. Thomas built 67 Richmond in 1885 he opened a drugstore. What was a drug store 136 years ago? An original “third place”. He called his store The Richmond Street Drug Store. It offered a broad variety of goods and services. “Prescriptions, - promptly prepared in hours”. A choice of perfumes, liquor, tea. Today if you go down our stairs to the basement. A basement that looks like it is right out of Dickens' “Tale of Two Cities” you will see a old drugstore inventory sheet nailed to the wall.
Mr. Thomas ran that store for 49 years. I am sure that during all that time it was a very popular Third Place where, yes, residents did conduct business, but they also came to catch up with neighbours and share thoughts and ideas. We love the building’s original use as we believe it ties in exactly with what we are trying to create at our bookshop. A welcoming, safe, interesting place for residents to visit and gather.
Now the building has had many tenants over the years. And the years and neglect were not kind to it. The roof leaked badly and needed to be replaced. Mould had broken out on the second floor. One could crush rotten wood beams with bare hands. And the place had an ever present sewer smell. The outside was in better shape but over the years the two windows on the Ramsay side had been covered over. And the large front display windows had been replaced with much smaller ones.
So we reopened the 2 east windows to be historically correct while letting more light into the shop. We replaced the 3 small front windows with much larger ones. Inside? Sadly there was nothing to save. One always hopes to pull up the existing flooring and find the original floor; but sadly no luck. The only thing we could save were the Walkerville bricks from the furnace stack which we repurposed into a fire place.
Regarding the inside, our instructions to our architect were to create a “Victorian new and now” interior. And with our lighting fixtures, blond wood shelving and flooring, black library ladders; and a creative children’s area we think we have done just that.
If you haven’t seen the upstairs I would love to show it to you. Maybe we could host a future Heritage committee meeting there? It is an event space called the “Hole in the Wall”. Named after a direct water passage between Amherstburg and the United States. Definitely used by rum runners and maybe freedom seekers from the US decades earlier. Our space has a roaring twenties, Rum runners, Great Gatsby feel to it. With historic photos from both the Freedom Museum and the Marsh Collection.
It also includes a small kitchen, washroom, fireplace and a sophisticated audio visual system making it a very flexible event space. (FYI one can rent it out).
As in most old buildings 67 Richmond wasn’t accessible to people requiring mobility devices. The original shop had 4 steps at its entrance. We eliminated 2 of them by moving the front door further into the room. We took care of the other two with a Stop Gap ramp. A ramp already used over 2500 times to increase accessibility into businesses across Canada.Today moms with strollers, people with wheelchairs and delivery men wheel right in. We also put in an accessible washroom.
Today we love how our shop has turned out. And so do our many visitors from all around the county. The media coverage and daily positive feedback has been tremendous. Rewarding even. And importantly, Amherstburg has another restored jewel to reinforce its historic reputation.
But right from the start it struck me as strange that a beautiful 135 year old building wasn’t protected. As we understood it we may have been able to tear it down.
So today I would love for your committee to designate it as protected heritage building. We would also love an historic plaque on its outside. And would be happy to pay for it.
Colleen and I hope to own 67 Richmond for years to come But some day it too will pass on to new owners.
So please protect it so it will be a town jewel for years.
Thanks for letting me tell you our story
(End of the delegation to the Committee)
Please come down to visit us at the River Bookshop. Check our our historic restoration, and our beautiful David Creed Mural on the Ramsay wall. And take your time browsing our shop for your next great read or a puzzling 🧩.
In the mean time, Black Dog Entertainment is working to create even more reasons to live and visit Amherstburg. Always with the town’s history in mind
Colleen and Richard