The Importance of “This Old House”

During the past few weeks I have forsaken my usual Tantramar beat for a visit to London, England. While there, the local press featured a story with an important historical twist. The giant department store chain, Marks and Spencer, was in the process of digging the foundation for a new building, when all work was forced to stop.

It was discovered that the site was once occupied by an ancient Roman shopping mall! A team of archaeologists, historians and technical staff were quickly assembled, to assist in the unearthing of the ancient foundations. Each item was photographed and measured, and all debris carefully sifted for surviving artifacts.

What emerged was a fascinating picture of merchandizing and trading during the Roman occupation of Britain. Carbon dating and further scientific studies will now be able to pinpoint the precise time period of the mall and provide valuable insight regarding life in Roman Londinium.

I am always impressed with the way in which some jurisdictions proceed with historical and architectural preservation. In the example just cited, the various partners cooperated for the greater good of all. London will be the richer for their having done so.

To catch up on local news following my return, I scanned back issues of the Tribune Post. Three stories with an historical bent caught my attention. By the time this Flashback is read, Heritage and Citizenship Week will be over. Both the town of Sackville, the Tantramar Heritage Trust, along with many other organizations are to be congratulated on the creative way in which the week was recognized.

Also on a positive note, the week witnessed the unveiling of ten bronze plaques placed on historical buildings and sites in the centre of town. One distinguishing characteristic, not only of of Sackville, but of Dorchester, Port Elgin and surrounding areas lies in our architectural heritage.

The third story by Tribune reporter Katie Tower raised the issue of the demolition of the former Drury Lane Restaurant adjacent to Fort Beausejour. Was this old house of historical significance? As many will recall, the modern exterior of the building masked the fact that it was in reality an early one-and-a-half storey farmhouse. In a subsequent letter to this newspaper, Barbara Fisher noted that it was probably built by one Gaylord Silver and can be dated c.1782 through its inclusion on a late 18th century map in the Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia.

Unfortunately, it is now too late to do anything about this building. In order for it to have been saved, or demolished with care and attention, precise information should have been available to clarify its importance. How might this have been done? Fortunately we have an example close at hand.

For the past several years the Municipality of Cumberland, in conjunction with the Cumberland County Museum, have been building up a registry or inventory of architecturally and historically important buildings. While the task is far from complete, an impressive start has been made. Were the Gaylord Silver House on the other side of the provincial boundary there is a good chance that it’s history would already have been researched and on file.

No one would be so rash as to suggest that all old buildings are worthy of preservation. Far from it! However, in order to ensure that historically and architecturally significant buildings are not flattened at will, a registry of such structures is required. Here is a Millennium Project worthy of endorsation and action by all historical and heritage organizations in the region. The challenge is before us all.