Saturday, July 23, 2005

Selective Heritage in a Crumbling Culture

Loyal readers of the London Fog will likely remember my outraged posts concerning Fanshawe Pioneer Village and the free handouts they eventually received due to council's continual generosity with other people's money. Although the crumbling relic, as I so fondly refer to the nearly abandoned structure, sees only 28,000 visitors annually, including 10,000 students, the city recently dished out an extra $300,000, with the verbal promise of additional increased funding for the next five years, so long as the village embarks on a successful fundraising campaign and doubles their attendance over the next ten years. It should also be recalled that this funding was largely justified and granted in relation to threats by both city administrators and village staff claiming that demolishing the relic would cost more than keeping it afloat. From the plea press:

It will cost $1.7 million to close Fanshawe Pioneer Village, more than what the city has contributed to its operation over the last 10 years. And the city would be on the hook for the bulk of that cost, city administrators say in report to board of control today.

[..] The village estimates the economic impact of closing at $2.5 million, including $300,000 in lost tourism revenue, $395,000 in lost wages and $1.3 million in lost artifacts.

Well, yesterday I was visiting the city's homepage, and I came across this:
London’s heritage and museum sector received a $75,000 boost from the City of London as Landmarks London announced its 2005 grant recipients. This year’s grants were awarded to help local heritage sites promote and develop heritage tourism in London.

“We value London’s heritage, culture and arts and it’s clear the heritage sector plays a key role in attracting visitors to our city and in promoting a better understanding of our community’s history to Londoners,” says Acting Mayor Tom Gosnell. “That’s why the City is pleased to support a diversity of heritage landmarks through this granting process.”

“Over the past few years the city has provided Landmarks London with funding to improve the quality of the overall experience for the cultural heritage visitor. Today’s announcement is significant in that it allows museum and heritage organizations to continue their excellent work. ” says Victoria Stasiuk, Landmarks London Coordinator. “In some cases, these municipal dollars have helped organizations identify and receive funding from other levels of government and the private sector.”
And just guess who is on the list of recipients? Fanshawe Pioneer Village gets $15,000 for their "Sesquicentennial Costuming Project." They are still receiving more of our money from the city, even if it is indirectly. Other looters include the London Regional Children’s Museum, for True North Strong and Free: Arts, Heritage and Science in Arctic Canada, Secrets of Radar Museum for Phase II of the Lost Voices project, Heritage London Foundation to expand the use of Elsie Perrin Williams Estate and Grosvenor Lodge, London Museum of Archaeology for the Lawson Revitalization Project and Heritage London Foundation to support All That Has Value and Transmission: Still Life. Total sum = $75,000.

The Elsie Perrin Williams Estate was also in the news today. The shameful appropriation of other people's property and the shady business deals just never stop in this city:
The $1 million the city pockets from the sale of the old central library on Queens Avenue will be used to pay down the debt of the new library, if London's board of control has its way.

In making its recommendation, the board this week rejected a bid by heritage enthusiasts to use the money to establish an endowment fund to maintain the city-owned Elsie Perrin Williams estate.

[..] It was Williams's wealth, left to the city, that was used to build the old library. The new library board will be asked to find an appropriate way to acknowledge Williams's contribution.

Coun. Judy Bryant, who led the push to use the sale proceeds for an endowment fund, was disappointed.

"If we can't show the public how important philanthropy is and that we've acknowledged it, then people will stop making those donations," Bryant said.

Heritage London Foundation also sent a letter requesting $500,000 be used for an endowment fund and capital improvements.

But Bryant was encouraged when the board said it will ask city council to review its funding level to maintain 11 city-owned heritage buildings.

"City council has to look after what we have and protect those properties," Bryant said. "But I do think the city has improved and is starting to realize we have to do something or we'll lose these treasures that makes us different and attractive."

Williams, heir to the Perrin Biscuit Co., left a $1-million trust fund to the city when she died in 1934. The fund and her 27.5-hectare estate were to be used for a park and museum, but city officials went to court and eventually the legislature to break the will and use the estate for a variety of civic projects, including the library.
Wow! Bryant should reconsider her use of the word philanthropy in this context. In the first place, the money used to fund these 'city-owned heritage buildings' year after year is not rightfully theirs to give away but can only be awarded by forcing residents to produce the cash, whether they agree to such uses of their earnings or not. In addition, it is a shameful piece of London history that they city fought the wishes of a benefactor in court so they could use the money as they please, not as it was willed. We have encountered such behaviour before in connection with the library when money willed for Landon and Central branch libraries was 'borrowed' to finish the concrete Rotary Reading Garden.


Redphi5h said...

No one cares about your lousy rip-off city.

Lisa said...

Those of us who are ripped off do care actually. Of course, we should move elsewhere, but where do we go? We'll be ripped off everywhere.

Pietr said...

Hello.My name is Soreheaduk and I think I may care about London Ontario,so I will say this:
someone should remind that crappy criminal that he was not given the money or the place personally.
It isn't his.
This is not debatable.

Publius said...


Indeed, you'll be ripped off anywhere you go, the question is how much? In Toronto we get ripped off about as much as you do, but we have better architecture and a better night life. It's not just being screwed, it's how well you're screwed.

Former Londoner said...

Not exactly true that you will get ripped off anywhere. In Edmonton we are not ripped off nearly to the same degree that I remember in London.

While I love the city, the history,and people, I moved just in time for my kids to get an education in a public school system that did not resemble a communist re-education camp.

Anyone remeber when Tom Gosnell was elected mayor in the '80's and suddenly the city installed paving stone at every intersection in the downtown core....

CharLeBois said...

Lisa, I feel your London pain. I've just moved back to Ottawa and am so glad to be done with that city. It was always unclear to me what London got for all that tax money. The city is a mess.

However you're wrong about getting ripped off anywhere. Up here in Ottawa, we rip off everyone else and it's great. Thanks to the NCC - a federally funded crown corp that's sole responsibility is blowing money on the City of Ottawa - we're on the gettin' end!

Thanks to the ROC, I drive along pristine parkways with no stops, bike home along side walks that have granite curbs costing untold fortunes, and ski endless pristine winter trails in the secure knowledge that some hicks out in AB had to pay for it all. Hah! I think I could get used to this socialism thing...

Former Londoner said...

When I moved out west in 1992, London seemed to be thriving and prosperous with expansion everywhere. New construction was everywhere when the rest of Ontario was out of work. Edmonton in contrast was just coming out of the slump caused by the National Energy Program and you could see it just by driving down the streets.

On my last visit to London in 2001 I was astonished by the contrast. The place is falling apart. What was once brand new retail real estate occupied by trendy establishments seemed like slums a decade later. The famous Miracle Mart on Commissioners and Wonderland was a dirty discount store. In fact, they seemed to be everywhere.

The new market downtown was nice-looking, but some of the old favourites were gone. Richmond Row was more like Skid Row. The stupid Galleria Mall - mostly empty. Novack's was doing well, though.

I didn't have time to look over the residential areas, but judging from the commercial areas - the city is in trouble financially.

Now in Edmonton, on the other hand, most of the eyesores that stood out are now gone. Even though our mayor looks like the Turtle Guy from Master of Disguise, the city is moving ahead. If only London...

Patrick said...

As a former Londoner, I can echo the many comments from others like me. London now looks like a basket case compared with the new home---Calgary.

London always seemed to me to be run by the modern version of the Family Compact: a small cabal of quasi-Liberals leavened with politically-correct lefties. Gutless, too, in the face of developers and rapacious self-promoters like the hospitals and the university.

Its current sorry state, so ably documented by London Fog, is a direct result of the spoils system that passes for municipal politics.

I was involved to some extent in the Springbank footbridge replacement fight a few years' ago. There one saw politics as it really was. It took serious work to get a replacement. One of the "Free" Press regular columnists got into a shouting match with me over it. Also, one councillor (female) tried to take the opportunity not only to scrap the bridge entirely, but to sell off the golf-course for social housing---and screw the neighbours and the local property values.

The Labbatt Centre, the Library building fiasco, the new market troubles---on and on they go, all evidence of the fact that the city's inflated sense of its own importance and worth has driven common-sense out the window, in so far as the actions of Council are concerned. Civic pride is one thing: civic delusion, so well-developed in London, is quite another.

Of course, the reaction of the London establishment to comments from ex-Londoners is simple: "we are better off without such trouble-makers!". One often sees ostriches on the steps of City Hall!.

gm said...

People of London and former Londoners! do not depair the Soviet council is hard at work uniting our money and the priorities of the supreme council.
We are all in this together, to create a grand city in which no one is accountable and every wish is fulfilled!

(the above was not at all serious, except London is a soviet city canadaian style)

steph said...

i agree with you lisa about the waste that happens in london. perhaps city council should sell the plasma tv they have in chambers and stop renovating floors in city hall they have already re-done 3 times in the past 6 years, that might free up some cash, and then maybe london would have granite curbs like ottawa