Linda F., Queen's Square | August 4, 2015
This is a good time to highlight some significant Cambridge architecture that has been preserved, usually by a combination of hard work on the part of people from heritage organizations and often, good luck.
Luck came in the guise of the three Cambridge downtowns maintaining many of their older buildings instead of sweeping them away in the postwar boom of the 60s. Cambridge has also been lucky for those home owners, developers and architects who have recognized the historical value of their property. There are plenty of lucky examples, among them the Georgian homes on Chillago Road, the former Galt aircraft school building on Water Street that is now an office building, and many other buildings throughout the city. You’ll likely have some favourites: as a librarian, I’m glad that all three Carnegie library buildings are still around.
The hard work is exemplified in the preservation of the Preston Public School, now used as seniors’ housing. The battle for Central School led to the creation of Heritage Cambridge (now ACO Cambridge), a hard fought double victory.
The fate of the Galt City Hall was also a close-run thing. Former nurse and later councillor Helen “Nell” Donaldson is credited with having the vision – and the ability to persuasively share that vision -- to initiate and help carry through the 1965 renovations that helped preserve that historic building for future generations.
Bigger, more industrial buildings are harder work to preserve. Examples of the adaptive reuse of such buildings include Carlos Ventin’s development of the Galt Woollen Mill, the former Baptist Church now used by the Cambridge Community Players, the Galt Knife Factory which is now the Grand River Brewing Company, and the American Standard building which is being transformed into condominiums.
Much of the heavy lifting to save larger buildings has been done through cooperation among individuals, organizations and local government. The Southworks factory outlet, formerly owned by Babcock & Wilcox, comes to mind, as well as the preservation of the Silk Mills by the University of Waterloo for their School of Architecture, the use of the Hespeler Town Hall by the Hespeler Heritage Centre, and the redevelopment of the Old Galt Post Office that is now under way as a new library branch.
All these achievements are exciting and hard won, but like most things, there’s still work to be done. Will Preston Springs Hotel at the foot of Shantz Hill finally be redeveloped? What will happen with the Preston Dam and some of the old churches that are planning to amalgamate or move to new sites? Stay tuned and stay involved!