Paul Hertel

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!

 

 

Town reverses position, will buy Belle Vue

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town of Amherstburg has a new historic building in its inventory.

Town council reconsidered its position from the Sept. 12 meeting and has voted to authorize administration to pursue the Belle Vue purchase. The cost of the purchase will be $1.1 million in cash and $200,000 in a donation receipt, with the cash purchase to be fulfilled through an interest-free five year mortgage.

Robert and Debra Honor discuss the historic Belle Vue house during a recent private tour. The town voted Sept. 26 to purchase the home after originally voting to not pursue the purchase Sept. 12.

Robert and Debra Honor discuss the historic Belle Vue house during a recent private tour. The town voted Sept. 26 to purchase the home after originally voting to not pursue the purchase Sept. 12.

Voting in favour of the purchase were Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Joan Courtney. Councillors Rick Fryer and Leo Meloche were opposed. Councillors Diane Pouget and Jason Lavigne declared a conflict of interest with Pouget stating her home measures too close to the property line of Belle Vue while Lavigne had similar concerns in relation to his parents’ home.

Meloche believed that the town will eventually have to take on debt in relation to Belle Vue, even stating it could rise 20 per cent should the property be restored even with significant grant funding. He said he ran for council to help control debt as that was a major concern of residents he spoke with. Buying Belle Vue in addition to Duffy’s was more than the town can handle, he believed.

“Belle Vue has become a victim of timing,” he said. “We’re being asked to absorb too much at once. We have to walk before we run. When we say no debt, it’s not no debt at this time. It’s no debt, period.”

CAO John Miceli said there are no capital works recommended for the property at this time with the money that will be spent being for the purchase only. He said no work will be done until senior levels of government commit grant funding and fundraising is done.

Interior trim of Belle Vue. (Photo courtesy of Phil Kasurak)

Interior trim of Belle Vue. (Photo courtesy of Phil Kasurak)

Fryer said the purchase does not include the waterfront property and that Belle Vue wouldn’t have much of a view if a two, three or four-storey building were constructed across Dalhousie St.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Fryer.

Fryer said $200,000 represents a two per cent increase in taxes and also believed it would impact the debt.

“This is going to put constraints on this council for two years and the next council coming in after us,” he said.

Fryer said residents in the former Malden Township wanted a street light for $1,500 and were told the town couldn’t afford it but the town has money for Belle Vue. He added there is work that needs to be done right away at Belle Vue and the town will have to pay for that.

Fryer also questioned why other levels of government haven’t already stepped up and why it has fallen to the municipal level.

“There’s going to be moans and groans but this purchase is something I can’t support,” he said.

DiCarlo said he also ran on the principle of reining in long-term debt, particularly debt that is unnecessary. He believed Belle Vue to be a necessary project.

The property at the rear of the Belle Vue house. (Photo courtesy of Phil Kasurak)

The property at the rear of the Belle Vue house. (Photo courtesy of Phil Kasurak)

The mayor added he also ran on the promise of listening to the residents, adding the majority of people that he has heard from on the issue support the town purchasing the Belle Vue property as well as Duffy’s.

“An overwhelming number of them said they want us to purchase both,” said DiCarlo.

DiPasquale said he has concerns over issues as well, but suggested the town has to be bold and move forward.

“I am concerned like everyone else over certain issues,” said DiPasquale. “If we are all scared and can’t handle the pressure, get out of the kitchen.”

The deputy mayor noted the town has lost factories and industry over the years and indicated that new ways have to be utilized to build the town.

“We don’t have to gamble money but we can use it to get this place moving,” said DiPasquale.

Courtney said she had no question about her vote on the Duffy’s purchase, and reiterated she agonized over her decision Sept. 12. She added she wants to do what she can to promote culture and heritage in Amherstburg as well.

“We’ve been assured by administration we can afford both properties,” said Courtney. “I will leave it to us collectively if we feel the same way.”

Michael Prue, a member of the Belle Vue Cultural Foundation, had addressed town council earlier in the meeting and believed it would be less expensive for the purchase and renovation of the Belle Vue building itself than it would be for Duffy’s.

“A big dream is to have both developments,” he told council. “A big dream would put Amherstburg on the map.”

Prue told council that the Duffy’s purchase was “a good decision,” but so too would be a Belle Vue purchase.

“Belle Vue is an amazing property that I’ve not seen in all of my travels across Canada,” he said.

After the meeting, Prue told reporters that “I feel much better than I did the other day” and didn’t believe concerns over the debt were well founded.

“You don’t starve yourself to bring down debt to nothing and let once in a lifetime opportunities go by,” he said.

Prue believed the town was getting an excellent deal on the Belle Vue property and suggested the town could partner with the private sector for a hotel, spa or other amenities on the roughly eight-acre property. He said similar projects have been done in Kingston, Hamilton and Toronto.

A post and beam located inside the Belle Vue home. Council voted Sept. 26 to purchase the 200-year-old building.

A post and beam located inside the Belle Vue home. Council voted Sept. 26 to purchase the 200-year-old building.

Paul Hertel and Robert Honor, also of the Belle Vue Cultural Foundation, were similarly happy with council’s reversal on the Belle Vue issue.

“It’s sort of like Super Monday,” said Hertel, with a smile.

Hertel said Belle Vue is the “southern anchor” of Amherstburg’s waterfront and acknowledged there are some risks but believed some council members may need to be educated further.

“I have nothing but appreciation for the mayor and his comments tonight,” said Hertel. “He boiled it down to one sentence – the people want it.”

The town’s decision gives the foundation the “oomph” it needs to move forward in its work, adding their work now enters a new phase.

“It’s going to be a long process but Rome wasn’t built in a day,” said Hertel. “A new phase in the history of the building has started.”

Honor said he appreciated DiPasquale’s comments, adding that when the town’s heritage resources are managed effectively, it can be an economic driver for the town.

Both Honor and Hertel indicated the group will remain active in fundraising and supporting the refurbishment of the 200-year-old building.

“Tomorrow, the real work starts,” said Honor.

Brad Robitaille, a local lawyer who also has served on the board with the Ontario Heritage Foundation, said he has learned over the years how significant the property is.

“We have a jewel there,” he said.

The Belle Vue house features a number of  fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The Belle Vue house features a number of
fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

Robitaille mentioned he was once interested in purchasing Belle Vue as a residence for himself but couldn’t finalize a deal.

“If I had the deal you guys have now, I’d be in there,” he said. “To fail to act on this opportunity is something I can’t comprehend.”

Scott Weir, principle architect with ERA Architects Inc. out of Toronto, called Belle Vue “a prime piece of architecture” and that Amherstburg “carries a lot of weight in southwestern Ontario” with regards to its architecture. Having a building that dates back to 1816 is “incredibly rare,” he added.

“Our assessment of this building is that it’s built like a tank,” he said, though added there are roof, evestrough and basement moisture issues that have to be corrected.

Though on the agenda, realtor Phil Kasurak was not allowed to speak as council didn’t feel it was appropriate as he is the agent for the seller.

Belle Vue Cultural Foundation plots next steps to save historic building

 

By Ron Giofu

 

One week after town council voted not to proceed with the purchase of the Belle Vue property, a group of citizens trying to save the 200-year-old building has plotted its next steps.

The Belle Vue Cultural Foundation will continue with a social media campaign to drum up interest in the town acquiring the property and preserving it and also plans on sending a representative to town council to speak to the elected officials about their decision. Council members may also receive some calls and e-mails from the group, if they haven’t already.

While members acknowledged the plans for the Duffy’s property that the town acquired that same Sept. 12 meeting have support in the town, members weren’t ready to throw in the towel in their efforts to have the town step up and preserve Belle Vue.

Foundation president Paul Hertel obtained administrative reports that were previously discussed in-camera through a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (MFIPPA) request. It was learned through the documentation that acquiring Belle Vue would have been $1.1 million in cash and a donation receipt of $200,000. The vendor would hold a vendor “take back mortgage” for zero per cent over five years with yearly payments of $200,000.

Town administration had a vision for a conference/wedding facility at the Belle Vue site, located at 525 Dalhousie St., complete with refurbished building, a formal garden area, a conservatory, several independent garden areas, a greenhouse, a small band shell and plaza area, accessible lighted pathways and infrastructure to support events.

Belle Vue FrontWEB

Belle Vue

Projected costs to acquire and redevelop the site would have approached $9.1 million though administration proposed the actual acquisition would have no additional debt.

Hertel also obtained a video with a “walk-through” of the redeveloped building and grounds with committee members being impressed with what they saw. The committee wants to share the video publicly.

“This is an incredible vision,” Lori Bezaire commented after viewing the video. “This could generate value for the town.”

Hertel didn’t disagree, adding he knew of no other group that had seen that video.

The foundation also heard from Phil Kasurak, the realtor who has the listing for the property. He confirmed the owners received three offers for the site.

“All were aware they were competing,” said Kasurak.

There was an offer higher than the town’s, but Kasurak said the town was the best ones to deal with after researching the other prospective buyer. He said the town was “forthright and straight-forward” to deal with.

The third offer was from a “credible individual,” he said but “it wasn’t financially right for the seller.”

The deal was struck with the town and Kasurak said that deal isn’t dead yet, despite the motion to proceed with the purchase failing.

“The seller was quite willing to give the town and is quite willing to give the town good terms to buy it,” said Kasurak. “As of today, the offer is still alive. It has not been released by the town.”

The town has until the end of the month to release the offer.

Kasurak suggested the idea of buying Belle Vue could be reconsidered by the town.

“The administration was very excited, wanting to get the entire block of property,” Kasurak told the foundation.

Kasurak added the money doesn’t have to be spent at once, believing money could be used to stabilize the building and proceeding in stages from there.

“The property owner has indicated they are willing to sit and wait and see if this sorts itself out,” he said.

Kasurak added there is a perception in the community that the building is in worse shape than it is. He said people think the building is rotting away and unsafe, but said it is actually solid though it needs guided tours for potential buyers due to no utilities.

The Belle Vue house features a number of  fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The Belle Vue house features a number of
fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The town could also choose to reconsider and purchase the building and a smaller piece of the property, he continued. He said his belief is that the rear portion is worth roughly $1 million and could be redeveloped separately.

Some committee members had difficulty believing the town could buy both Belle Vue and Duffy’s.

“Council has made a decision with stars in their eyes,” said Michael Prue. “If they buy (Duffy’s) and they seem intent on doing that, there is no money left to do what we want them to do.”

The information obtained by Hertel showed the town stating it would have $80,000 left in the general reserve and life cycle replacement reserve and the report from administration advised council be “diligent in future planning” to replace those funds and focus attention of disposing of additional town-owned property to replenish those funds.

“Everyone seems to be in favour of Duffy’s. There is no way this council and this mayor are going to fund both,” stated member Jennie Lajoie. “They are looking to get re-elected. There is no chance they do both.”

Debra Honor argued that buying Duffy’s wasn’t the most financially prudent move, reminding her fellow members that Belle Vue was available in five-year increments with a zero per cent mortgage.

CAO John Miceli attended later in the meeting after a previous meeting he was in had concluded. He said it was a council decision to not pursue Belle Vue but believed he followed his instructions well to negotiate a favorable deal on behalf of the municipality.

“I can only say I did the best I could do for the town with what I had,” he said.

Miceli said his vision was to have a board look after the Belle Vue site but be accountable to town council, similar to an arrangement Willistead Manor has with Windsor. He confirmed Monday night he had not yet signed the release on the property. He also expressed confidence the town could have gotten sponsorships for the gardens and government funding for the restoration of the building itself.

“I felt very strong with the costings,” he added.

Asked about whether there could be a hotel on the site, Miceli said he had no knowledge of anyone wanting to create a hotel there. He did note there will soon be an Official Plan review and part of that is a community improvement plan that, if approved by council, would be one that would create conditions for a hotel to be developed.

The Belle Vue Cultural Foundation is also searching for members. Debra Honor announced she could not attend future meetings due to health reasons with Hertel also announcing he was stepping down as president for family reasons.