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Links House, Kitchener National Historic Site
Catherine Thompson | July 7, 2017

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From Issue No. 259 | July 11, 2017

KITCHENER — The potential for a clash between competing heritage interests is brewing as the Region of Waterloo pursues plans to demolish two homes in the Victoria Park heritage district to create more space around Schneider Haus.

The region, which owns the historic Schneider Haus at 466 Queen St. South, bought two neighbouring homes at 474 and 484 Queen St. S. almost 30 years ago.

Since then, the homes have been rented to tenants and used as offices. Vacant since 2014, the region now wants to demolish them.

The demolition would give Schneider Haus, the oldest home in Kitchener (it was built in 1816), a more prominent frontage on Queen Street; restore more of the feel and look of the original farm setting; and give the museum more room for programming, especially for large groups, said Kate Hagerman, the region's supervisor of cultural heritage.

Over time, the region has added several outbuildings to the museum property, which have added to the experience at the museum, but reduced the open space around the house.

The two lots would increase the museum's total land by about 25 per cent to 0.35 hectares. The region would put a traditional farm garden in the lots, reducing the need for groups to cross busy Queen Street to reach the existing garden, which would remain. The region has budgeted $400,000 for the proposed changes.

Both Schneider Haus and the two neighbouring homes sit in the Victoria Park heritage district in Kitchener, which was put in place "to protect and enhance groups of properties or neighbourhoods that collectively give an area special character," according to the city's website.

Demolishing the houses would require city approval, and the Victoria Park heritage plan specifically discourages the demolition of homes in the district. "The policies and guidelines of the Victoria Park heritage conservation district are quite clear," said Leon Bensason, Kitchener's co-ordinator of cultural heritage. "These properties were identified as contributing to the significance of the heritage conservation district."

The houses, built in the 1920s, were part of the third wave of development around Victoria Park, Bensason said. "They've been there for the last 90 years," he said. "We typically have not supported the demolition and removal of heritage properties that are in good condition and that contribute to streetscape of the heritage district."

The idea of a heritage district is to protect not just a building or even a group of buildings, but a whole area, he said, and allowing the demolition could set a precedent. "Once you begin to lose homes, you lose one, two, three, four, you begin to lose that understanding of how the area developed," he said.

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