By Amanda Lorbetski
Belleville resident Mike Wilcox called on council recently to recognize the historical significance of the Moira Street West community’s buildings and its people.
It was 1987 when he and his wife moved into a quaint wartime dwelling on Purdy Street, said Wilcox. Twenty-six years later and the couple still calls it home.
The community featured wartime houses, those made accessible to veterans returning home from World War 2, he said. The small, low-income homes that once housed whole families still stand today, said Wilcox.
Known as The West Hill, it spans Wallbridge Crescent as well as Moira West, Elmer, Frank and Purdy streets.
The stories of residents still living here, many for over a decade, are being overlooked by the city, he said.
“It’s part of Belleville’s history you don’t hear much about. You hear a lot about the early days when things were settled. And, you hear about some of the movers and shakers of the period, but you don’t hear much about the average person that put their life on the line and came back,” said Wilcox.
But he is not alone in seeing the value of preserving an area’s history.
Chuck Barsony, an architecture professor and program coordinator at Loyalist College, spent 10 years with Heritage Belleville, an organization responsible for bringing the public’s historical concerns to council.
Barsony said buildings receive historical designations because their architectural features are significant to a time period in local history or the people and events associated with them.
He said a historical designation can either earn owners a piece of history or hurt them financially.
“It’s funny to hear that a resident would be saying that they want the historic designation to be applied to an area because in the past, a lot of residents take one of two ways of looking at it. They look at the historic designation as something that’s quite admirable to have and you have a certain amount of pride of the history associated with the residence or commercial structure what have you. Whereas others will take it and look upon it as an encumbrance to the ownership because when a structure is designated, it means that whatever work that’s done on it cannot be to the detriment of the appearance of the residence,” said Barsony.
Regardless of which viewpoint residents take, he said it’s only respectful for the city to preserve its historical structures.
Barsony said over the years, even resident political action hasn’t deterred the city from bulldozing some historically significant properties. He said take the tearing down of Belleville Collegiate Institute, for example.
“Not a lot and not enough,” said Barsony when asked if council is doing enough to preserve local historical buildings.
Greg Pinchin disagrees.
He is the special projects planner for the City of Belleville.
Pinchin said city records show no historically designated properties currently within the Moira Street West community.
“I don’t think it’s really prominent on people’s radar,” said Pinchin.
However, he said this should not stop people from seeking historical designations on their properties in the future.
Pinchin said Heritage Belleville is open to speaking with residents and going through their visual evidence.
“Just basically, show us what you’ve got,” he said.
Pinchin is not the only one who said they are interested in the building restoration process.
Belleville resident Shannon Banks lives on Frank Street.
She said an aging building across the road from her own home was recently purchased to be converted into apartments.
“That’s been a positive thing for this area ‘cause it was a really bad looking house,” said Banks.
Records show this was the former Children’s Aid Society, said Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County archivist Sharon White.
She said she has been in Belleville for 12 years.
Although not specifically familiar with the Moira Street West community, she recalled one story that stuck out in her mind.
“People just moved in not from Belleville and they said, ‘Oh, you know, we’re thinking of renovating our house. Do you have a picture of it?’ And we did have a wonderful picture of it with, you know, the woman in about 1890 in the long skirt and dressed nicely standing in front of the house and it showed the porch and they wanted to renovate the porch,” said White.
But, she said that a building’s old age is not necessarily reason enough to preserve it.
White said that those that are historically designated, when maintained, show an owner’s commitment to their community.
“I think it’s wonderful if they can be preserved and carried forward into the future,” she said.