Belle Vue Conservancy

Behind the scenes in the preservation of Belle Vue

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the tenth in a series of articles regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Historian/genealogist Debra Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

Over the years, in the history of Amherstburg, certain names keep popping up as the movers and shakers who pushed to preserve our heritage.

Names like Perry Leighton and George F. MacDonald who collected and preserved articles of the past for others to enjoy. Others like David Botsford, John Marsh, Richard Thrasher and Eugene Whelan who worked behind the scenes to influence government decisions in the preservation of our historical properties such as Fort Malden National Historic Site, the Commissariat and Belle Vue. These kinds of projects take time, sometimes years before the public knows what is even happening.

The Bellevue Veterans’ Home closed in 1954. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tetzlaff bought the property around 1956 to run it as a nursing home but because of their own ill health, they had to sell the property. In the meantime, the house stood empty and just like in present times, vandals got in and did damage.

One way to preserve the house was to have a heritage designation placed on the property. This takes years and much research to give the building the provenance it needs. Much research was done by David Botsford and George F. MacDonald on the Reynolds family and their connections to other eminent families in the area.

On May 25, 1959, the Federal Government designated it a National Historic Site under the Historic Sites and Monuments Act.

That same year in April, Mrs. Tetzlaff wrote a letter to the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, which oversaw the Canadian parks, asking that Belle Vue become a part of Fort Malden because of its historical value. A letter from the department to David Botsford asked about “the price and the relative location to Fort Malden National Historic Park.

Another possible buyer for the Belle Vue property was the Browning Ship Lines of Ohio who at the time owned Bob-lo Island. Michael Zin of the Ukrainian Church remembered, “They wanted the property, so they could tear down the house, put in a parking lot, and then put in a dock for the Amherstburg ferries to the park.”

The third possible buyer was the Ukrainian Catholic Church which shared St. John the Baptist Church facilities for their services. In need of a place of their own, the Ukrainians bid included a strong sense of preserving the past of Belle Vue as well as the future of their church within the Belle Vue property.

Since the government had recently designated the Belle Vue property as a heritage site, the offer from the Browning Ship Lines to tear down the building did not make sense.

The town already had Fort Malden as a National Park and there was a bit of a distance between the fort and Belle Vue. This could have been a deterrent for the government to purchase the property.

Having the bid from the Ukrainian Church that recognised the historic value of the building as well as making it their religious home, protected the recent designation and gave the property a purpose that was acceptable. It solved two problems: preserving the property and giving the Ukrainian Church a place of worship.

It is interesting to note, that the Honourable Walter Dinsdale, Minister of Northern Affairs visited Fort Malden for the first time at the end of May 1961 accompanied by Richard D. Thrasher, M.P. Essex South. They possibly talked about the Belle Vue purchase. On June 6th, 1961, Richard Thrasher wrote a letter to John Marsh at the Amherstburg Echo, “I am now advised by Crown Assets Disposal Corporation that the offer of the Ukrainian Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Eastern Canada has been forwarded to the Governor-in-Council for approval. …

As for myself, I am very happy that this sale is to take place as I was very anxious to see that this property fell into the hands of some organization who would be in the position to restore it to some of its former beauty and maintain it in this manner for many years to come.”

In September of 1961, the Ukrainian community came together to restore the grandeur of Belle Vue through their support both financially and their labour. A section of the building was converted into a chapel and the remainder was renovated. It was named “The Ukrainian Village” and “in addition to providing a place of worship, provides an environment in which the tradition of “Bellevue” and the traditions of the Ukrainian heritage can co-mingle.”

A year later, on June 3, 1962, came the opening of the Ukrainian Village and the Blessing of the Chapel, under the Patronage of St. Nicholas. The whole day was filled with celebrations including a mass in the morning to bless the Chapel and the Ukrainian Village. In the afternoon, was the unveiling and dedication of the Provincial Historical Plaque by the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario.

Those who took part in the programme were: R. Alan Douglas, President of the Essex County Historical Association; Ashley Martin, Reeve of Malden Township; G. F. G. Stanley, Member of the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario; Richard Thrasher, M.P., Essex South; Eugene Whelan, Warden of Essex County; Mayor E. T. LaFramboise, Mayor of Amherstburg; David Botsford, Custodian of Fort Malden National Historic Park; The Honourable William Murdoch, M.P.P, Speaker of the Legislature; and the Most Reverend Isidore Borecky, Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Eastern Canada.

By 1983, the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Chapel needed major repairs to the roof and some structural parts of the building. The cost of the repairs was too much for the congregation to complete on their own. Through the help of M.P. Eugene Whelan, a project grant of $156,000 was given for the renovation. The Canada Ontario Employment Development (COED) project grant constituted $78,000 a piece from the federal and provincial governments. COED was aimed at providing work for persons on welfare or whose Unemployment Insurance benefits were about to expire, and to get some worthwhile projects accomplished.

Earlier that same year, the Belle Vue property was officially designated by the

Amherstburg town council under the provincial heritage legislation as an historic structure. The designation would give the congregation a chance to apply for other grants in restoration or renovations of the building on a 50/50 share cost. The congregation was willing to fundraise to meet the requirements.

On October 21, 1984, The St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church celebrated the completion of the renovations by having a plaque unveiling. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada finally laid the federal plaque that was designated in 1959 near the front porch of the Belle Vue. The church had completed the new copper roof with wooden shingles on the side parts. They had a ramp put on the front porch for accessibility and other major repairs on the inside.

Those who presented at the program were Dr. George F. MacDonald, member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada; Mayor Garnet Fox of Amherstburg; John Pylypiw, Parish Committee President, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church; Peter Stokes, Restoration Architect; Jim Caldwell M.P. and the Very Rev. Eugene Halitsky, Dean and Pastor of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.

In a “Letter to the Editor” on December 19, 1984, Michael Zin publicly commended those who helped the Ukrainian community in the more recent past to save Belle Vue. Notably, he said, “It was the foresight and persistence of Alex Taskey and the effort of Dick Thrasher, who in 1961, saved the property from those developers all too ready to tear down the building for commercial use.” He thanked the Amherstburg Echo for keeping the project in the limelight and the men and women who worked on the project under the severest weather conditions.

“It is unfortunate that individuals such as Dick Thrasher and Eugene Whelan were not invited to participate and enrich the occasion. Without their help Bellevue, as we know it today would not be there.

As an individual associated with the Bellevue project from the summer of 1961 to the completion of the NEEDS program in March of this year (1984), I felt compelled to at least partially undo the injustice that was accorded, especially to Mr. Richard Thrasher and the Honourable Eugene Whelan,” stated Zin.

The protection of heritage is not an easy task. There are many hours, even years, spent behind the scenes by dedicated people to preserve our community’s heritage without always receiving the appreciation they deserve. Thank you to those in the past, whose foresight preserved Belle Vue.

And thank you to those in the present, who also deserve our gratitude in preserving Belle Vue for the future.

 

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!

Whelan family donates $20,000 to the Belle Vue Conservancy

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Whelan name will continue to live on thanks a donation to the Belle Vue Conservancy.

The daughters of Eugene and Elizabeth Whelan presented the Belle Vue Conservancy with a cheque for $20,000 last Thursday morning. Susan and Terry were in attendance but their sister Cathy was unable to attend.

Both Eugene and Susan served as the area’s Member of Parliament with Eugene serving from 1962-84 and Susan from 1993-2004.

Eugene also served as a Canadian senator from 1996-99.

The Belle Vue Conservancy and town officials accept the $20,000 donation from the Whelan family Dec. 7.

“Our parents enjoyed, loved and respected history in Amherstburg and across the country,” said Susan.

Susan said it “takes vision and a lot of hard work and dedication” to help preserve historic buildings like Belle Vue. She said the family is grateful the town stepped up and purchased the 200-year-old Dalhousie St. mansion with the Whelan family’s donation to be recognized with a plaque near a window in the home’s pioneer kitchen.

“This is tremendous, not just for Amherstburg, but for people in Ontario and across Canada,” Susan said of Belle Vue. “It’s going to be a wonderful place to visit.”

Susan recalled going with the family to Belle Vue and other historic sites while her father was MP. Historic buildings are “part of Amherstburg’s beauty,” she added.

The family met with Linda Jackson, the Belle Vue Conservancy’s director of corporate outreach, several months ago and decided to proceed with the donation for the window dedication in their parents’ name. Susan said they hope it inspires other people and businesses to donate to the cause.

“Every dollar is helpful,” she said.

Michael Prue, treasurer for the Belle Vue Conservancy, expressed gratitude to the Whelan family for the donation. He said Eugene and Elizabeth helped put “Amherstburg and Essex County on the map,” adding “your family is amazing and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

“It’s quite a Christmas present,” he added.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo joins Susan Whelan and Terry Whelan in signing the official documentation in front of Belle Vue last Thursday morning to make the $20,000 donation official. The donation will result in Eugene and Elizabeth Whelan’s name being put on a plaque near a restored window in the pioneer kitchen.

Funds raised by the Belle Vue Conservancy are subsequently turned over to the Amherstburg Community Foundation, the charitable arm of the Town of Amherstburg.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo joined Terry and Susan Whelan in signing the official documentation to make the donation official.

DiCarlo said all donations made towards the restoration of Belle Vue are appreciated, but noted there is special meaning to this donation due to the Whelan family’s importance in Amherstburg.

“To have their name on this project, we are excited and proud,” said DiCarlo.

Jackson noted Eugene Whelan has a history of involvement with Belle Vue. That included facilitating a $156,000 loan in 1983 to help repair the home’s roof.

“Now their daughters are coming forward and continuing their legacy,” said Jackson.

For more information on the Belle Vue Conservancy, to volunteer or to donate, visit www.bellevueconservancy.com, e-mail info@bellevueconservancy.com or call 519-736-6947.

River Lights teams with Belle Vue Conservancy to spruce up historic home

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The historic Belle Vue home is being lit up for the holiday season.

The River Lights Winter Festival has stepped up and helped decorate the home with festive decorations and solar lights. Jennie Lajoie, who is involved with River Lights and the Belle Vue Conservancy, said the former agreed to take on the project.

“River Lights has kindly agreed to light up Belle Vue for the festival,” said Lajoie. “Most of the greenery came from the back of the property.”

Conservancy member Linda Jackson said they are “very excited” that River Lights took on the project.

Jennie Lajoie, Linda Jackson and Sarah Van Grinsven stand in front of a decorated Belle Vue.

“We cannot thank River Lights enough for what they are doing for us,” Jackson stated.

Sarah Van Grinsven, co-ordinator with the River Lights Winter Festival, said the decorations are connected to the period and they are not as “flashy” as some of the other River Lights decorations. She added that both groups wanted to work together to create the partnership.

“Everyone loves to work together in Amherstburg,” she said. “That’s what makes it so great.”

Lajoie noted that “every single dollar” the Belle Vue Conservancy raises goes straight to the 200-year-old home’s restoration. That is why River Lights stepped up to take care of the Christmas decorations, she added.

“It’s the re-birth of Belle Vue and the lighting up of the old girl,” remarked Lajoie.

For more on the River Lights Winter Festival, call 519-736-4642 or visit www.riverlights.ca. For more on the Belle Vue Conservancy, visit www.bellevueconservancy.com.

Amherstburg’s veterans’ home: Belle Vue 1946-54

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the tenth in a series of articles regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Substituting for Debra Honor this month is Paul Hertel. Both are members of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Paul Hertel

From 1946 to 1954, Belle Vue served as a veterans’ convalescent home for senior veterans who served in active service for Canada during the Great War, 1914-1918.

As the momentum of World War II shifted towards the Allies after 1943, the Canadian government started thinking about a post-war world, and about new improved services for veterans through the “Veterans Charter”. The past patchwork support for veterans of the Great War was to be remedied. New military hospitals were built with extended physical and emotional rehab support programming to serve returning vets from World War II. As wounded World War II veterans began to overload London’s Westminster hospital services, Belle Vue Veterans’ Home became a new Ontario destination of care for senior veterans of World War 1. As stated publically by an official, “this home will care for veterans who need a home more than active medical care…It will be something of a home for wornout veterans….”

What is the veterans’ home story at Belle Vue? On January 24, 1944, Amherstburg town council passed a resolution supporting the acquisition of the John G. Mullens family Belle Vue property for a convalescent home. On June 12, 1946 the purchase of the property by the Canadian government concluded for the price of $50,000.

A Legion Flag Presentation Ceremony took place at Belle Vue Sunday May 15 1949. The flag was donated by Great Lakes Command branch of Canadian Legion. Foreground (from left): H. Boase, Commander of District 1 Canadian Legion; A.E. Potter, original Belle Vue veteran, chair of patients committee; J. Earl McQueen. Background: Belle Vue veterans. The Belle Vue flag pole was originally part of the decommissioned Corvette K176 Kamloops. It was donated and installed by J. Earl McQueen Marine in mid-November 1947.
(Photo courtesy of the Marsh Historical Collection)

Major Gavin A. Greig was appointed the administrator, moved to Amherstburg, and began to ready the site for occupation by veterans, including the hiring of local personnel. Greig and his wife had a separate residence on site, a white two-storey frame house which still exists. Greig contributed to the public life of the town during his tenure, serving on a civil defence committee, a war memorial site committee, legion liaison, and as a service club member.

The home accepted the transfer of eleven veterans on July 29 1947. A formal opening ceremony followed on August 9, 1947. The residents annually selected their own home committee to offer opinions and recommendations to the administration. Local legion branches in Amherstburg and Essex County provided support through entertainment, and Christmas cheer. Summer time events included musical concerts.

The spike in Canada’s post-war veterans’ services declined dramatically by the mid-1950s. Consolidation and downsizing became the order of the day for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and included Belle Vue. With little advance public notice, the home was formally closed in October 1954. All remaining veteran residents were relocated to the Westminster hospital site in London. The property was then declared surplus and sold.

Who were “the old sweats,” the veterans who made Belle Vue their home? The Belle Vue Conservancy supports historical research into the veterans’ home years to fill a gap in the history of the heritage site. On-going research for family records, photos, and stories is now occurring. This knowledge adds Canadian military and institutional provenance to the building and the site.

One research strand includes the names and final resting places of these veterans. Amherstburg’s Rose Hill Cemetery and Windsor Grove Cemetery are the final resting place for some “old sweats”.

As we prepare for Remembrance Day this year, the “old sweats” of Belle Vue should be included in our thoughts.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!

 

 

Belle Vue Conservancy gives update to town council

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Belle Vue Conservancy has given town council an update on their progress.

Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue appeared before town council at the Sept. 25 meeting to give elected officials, administration and the public more information on what has been collected through donations and other fundraising.

The information regarding cash-on-hand was as of Sept. 14 with that information showing that $115,946.23 had been received. A breakdown of that figure showed that $9,045 was collected through online donations while $60,936 came in through cheques. Other sources of revenue factored into the overall total included the $5,200 made from the WSO “Leading Notes” concert at Christ Church, the $8,000 raised from “Golf Birdies and Bogies” golf tournament and the $28,000-plus won in the National Trust for Canada’s “This Place Matters” online crowdfunding contest.

Other revenue collected by the Belle Vue Conservancy includes $9,861.80 in in-kind donations receipted, $5,049.20 from their recent yard sale, $90,600 in donation commitments and roughly $25,000 from the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” fashion gala at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery.

Belle Vue Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue (left) addresses town council as treasurer Michael Prue holds the painting of Belle Vue done by artist Peter Rindlisbacher.

Curson-Prue pointed out additional funds will be raised through the sale of prints of Peter Rindlisbacher’s painting of the building and future fundraising efforts. She indicated there is a grant they are looking at applying for but noted the application deadline is Oct. 6.

Curson-Prue thanked the donors, town and River Town Times for their assistance in fundraising, and noted that the funds raised thus far could be put to use. She shared a motion from the conservancy’s Sept. 11 meeting which requested that money raised and deposited with the Amherstburg Community Foundation be used to repair the roof, clean out and repair eavestroughs, install solar lighting and cameras to deter trespassers, remove asbestos, repair “targeted windows” using $10,000 of the “This Place Matters” prize money, utilize pro bono cleanup and allow monthly cleanup of the grounds by staff and volunteers.

Councillor Joan Courtney praised the work of the conservancy and said they are working “non stop” on trying to restore the 200-year-old building.

“What you’ve achieved already is awe-inspiring,” said Curson-Prue.

Later in the meeting, concern was brought forth by residents about a possible roadway to Belle Vue from Sandwich St. S. CAO John Miceli said the roadway is conceptual at this point and that it has not been formally approved by council.

Miceli indicated that local projects, including Belle Vue, have to be looked at for what is good for the community as a whole. He added that the parking lot just south of the police station is still required for municipal business and that while it needs to be paved to live up to municipal bylaws, the site itself is not designated historical.

“The attractions that would have made it a heritage site were removed in the 1960’s,” said Miceli.