‘Shocked’: Heritage group fights to save Lanark’s Glenayr Kitten Mill building from demolition

The Lanark Kitten Mill in September, 2023. – Submitted photo

A local heritage group is fighting for the opportunity to save a historic 1860s building in Lanark Village from demolition.

On Sept. 19, an “Order to Remedy Unsafe Building” was placed on 75 George Street (also known as the Glenayr Kitten Mill) ordering the demolition and/or remedying of “structural deficiencies” of parts of the building by Oct. 19.

The notice states that sections of the 1860s-era building “are in a condition that could be hazardous to the health or safety of persons in the normal use of the building, persons outside the building or persons whose access to the building has not been reasonably prevented.”

Members of Lanark Highlands Township Council and staff are limited in their ability to comment, due to the majority of the discussions regarding the order being in camera.

“It is still private property, owned by a private individual, so we can’t really make comments on what to do with it,” Reeve Peter McLaren told Lanarkist. “And it’s also a brownfield, so to do anything on the property you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars just to clean it up.”

But one group, the Lanark Heritage Preservation Society (LHPS), wants to try and make it work. They feel that the mill, which during much of the 20th Century was both a major employer and tourist attraction for Lanark Village (thanks largely to the popular fashions it produced) should be preserved and the building re-purposed to serve the needs of today and drive the economy.

Members of the LHPS include Bob Mingie, Linda Dunn, John Foliot, Susan Berlin, Heather Ford and Michael Rikley-Lancaster.

Two years ago, in October 2021, the LHPS commissioned an assessment of the building by a heritage specialist engineering firm, which is currently working on the parliament buildings restoration in Ottawa.

“The reason we chose that company was that those old stone buildings are structurally different from more modern buildings, and only engineers familiar with that type of construction are competent to say whether or not they are structurally sound,” the LHPS members said in a joint statement to Lanarkist.

The October 2021 report stated that the building was restorable, and a copy was submitted to the then-CAO of Lanark Highlands Township.

“Now a lot of damage has been done to the building in the last two years, so it’s possible that at this point it is no longer in shape to be re-purposed,” the LHPS said in their statement. “But we’d really like a re-assessment by the same heritage engineering company to see if that is indeed the case.”

On Sept. 6 of this year, “after months of trying,” LHPS signed an agreement with the current owner of the mill, Andrew Robertson, for a one-year option to buy the property. They then hired a project manager to assist with moving the project forward through tasks such as carrying out an environmental assessment; looking into options for water and sewage treatment; restoration costs; fundraising; working with community members; and developing a business plan.

Thus, when the board learned of the demolition order, members were “more than shocked.”

Robertson was equally surprised and upset by the order, as he also hoped the LHPS would be able to restore and repurpose the building.

“I’ve had two engineers in there to look at the property, and they said it’s stable,” Robertson said. “It’s built on a big solid rock. It’s not going anywhere. Yeah, the roof’s down, but that wood was rotten. It was rotten when I bought it…To me it’s safer now because all the debris is down on the ground. It’s not a mousetrap.”

Robertson had hoped to work with the township to stabilize the building.

“It’s an eyesore, I get it,” he said, explaining that he has neither the time nor money to restore the property and was happy to pass it along to the LHPS.

“I didn’t want to sell it to anyone who would just use it as storage like I do. I sold it to a group that’s interested in fixing it up. It’s one of the original buildings in that town and if the township comes in and knocks it down, they’re just going to have another eyesore. They’re not making anything better.”

Robertson has contacted a lawyer to fight the demolition order and allow for the sale to go through to the LHPS.

“They gave me a month to remedy the whole building. Who can put together a project like that in a month? I’m not happy with them. I thought they would work with me.”

If the LHPS is given the opportunity to bring their experts back in to determine if the building is still salvageable, as it was said to be in 2021, they would propose the following plan to the township:

  • Council would offer a one-year delay in carrying out the proposed demolition;
  • LHPS would close up the broken windows that at present offer potential access; that and the presence of the fence that was installed last fall would protect residents from harm;
  • During that year of grace, LHPS would determine if re-purposing the building is possible, and if it is, would work with the community to develop and carry out a plan to make the building once again the economic engine of the Village.

Why go to all this trouble?

The LHPS believes replacing a derelict site with a functioning, income-producing commercial building would spur the economy of the village as a whole.

“In fact, we have a local example of that: Clyde Hall had not only suffered physical decay, it had gone through a devastating fire before its restoration – and now it’s a well-known tourism attraction,” the group said in their statement.

They also point out that the re-purposing of historic buildings has provided many nearby towns with a major increase in municipal tax income. (For example, the old mill buildings in Almonte.)

“Not to mention that it would restore civic pride in Lanark’s important historic role,” the group added.

4 thoughts on “‘Shocked’: Heritage group fights to save Lanark’s Glenayr Kitten Mill building from demolition

  • I’m amazed at the owner’s comments. He has let this building fall into ruin then suddenly blames the Township? He neglected the building over all these years so I have no sympathy for him.

  • I am sorry but Robertson had a long time to get stuff like this done and has done nothing until now. This needs to come down and the only stone work is the front of the building. Make a monument and some seating with a garden by the water to honor it cause this town will never grow until the water and sewage gets put in. The fact that the LHPS thinks if they fix this building its going to bring money and people to Lanark is crazy. Clyde Hall is nice yes but has it brought money and people to Lanark not realy. Has it fixed any issues in Lanark No. Water and sewage needs to be put in before Lanark can grow for the better and until then the town will slowly die this will not help it.

  • We go through the village on many occasions and have cottages nearby.
    The mill site prior to its decay was quite pretty and it is of significant historical interest to those that know the history of the textile industry.

    Lanark could really turn it into a beautiful site rather than the eyesore it is now. I was happy to read that Mr. Robertson agreed to let them have a chance to make the restoration and he likely bought the site hoping he could do the same. It’s very much a diamond in the rough and might be what changes the entire mood of their village.

    We read the local paper and keep an eye on the local politics and community online. The town and area residents seem filled with a lot of negative energy and even the government officials and their family/friends that seem to support their opinions are short-sighted.

    Something is up in that town. People keep saying they don’t need and can’t afford water & sewer and that nothing can happen with many of the properties because they don’t have the infrastructure. Why are they saying that – are they actually educated? Are they going off 30 year old information? Your local government is what is stopping your town from being a showcase in Lanark County and from having the things that are needed in any civilized small town!

    My husband spent 30 years in civil engineering and travelled around the world working with other engineers designing projects for areas with a lot more challenges than your village has. Has the town ever considered bringing in someone from out of the region that has dealt with alternative systems including those used after major natural disasters have occurred and all their infrastructure was destroyed? Towns every year in this province and all across the country apply for funding for water and sewer projects and receive it. It might take several years to get but as it is considered a basic human need they do eventually get it for the asking. Why does the town council not want to see their buildings get restored? Why don’t they want clean/safe drinkable water? Why don’t they care about their pollution? What about the gravel pits that the town thinks they need to change zoning to accommodate?

    Does the town council have any idea who really votes for them and that they can set the stage for their community to allow or not allow any type of industry based on their official plan? Look at their ball diamond, they let if fall apart. Look at the arena, they let it fall apart. Look at all the things in their township that they don’t maintain or let go.

    Start digging up information about your council and asking a lot of questions. They are probably the towns own worst enemy. They are either unintelligent or just don’t care what happens to their village and surrounding township as long as they can say they run the show and have a way to suck money out of their community.

    Annie and Jim

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