Cartwright Building in Napanee to maintain heritage status despite County request

Napanee Council rejected the The County of Lennox and Addington’s request for the red brick Cartwright Building at 89 Thomas Street East in Napanee (next door to the Museum of Lennox and Addington) to be de-designated from its heritage status. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The Council of the Town of Greater Napanee has voted to maintain the heritage status of the Cartwright Building despite a request from the owner, Lennox and Addington County, to de-designate the building.

The Cartwright Building, located at 89 Thomas Street East in Napanee (next door to the Museum of Lennox and Addington), is named after businessman, politician, and author Sir Richard John Cartwright, Esq. Cartwright served in the Legislative Assembly of the former Province of Canada; later he was Member of Parliament for Lennox and Addington under Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives. He then crossed the floor to join the Liberals, becoming Finance Minister in Alexander Mackenzie’s government. After serving five terms in the Liberal cabinet, Cartwright was knighted for his service in 1879 and became a senator in 1904. 

The acquisition, renting, and mortgaging of land in the Kingston and Napanee areas was Cartwright’s main occupation and source of income outside his political career.

In 1863, when Lennox and Addington County achieved separation from Frontenac County, Cartwright gifted a piece of property for the construction of a new courthouse and gaol. Constructed in 1891, the Cartwright Building historically housed the family of jailhouse staff.

According to a presentation by Chris Wagar, Director of Infrastructure Services for the County of Lennox and Addington, two reports had previously been presented to County Council, in February 2022 and June 2022. These reports included information regarding the current physical condition of and financial forecast for the Cartwright Building. County Council directed staff to “only complete repairs/upgrades that have already been awarded and/or are essential to maintain the [building’s] current condition.” County Council passed a motion to “send a letter of request to de-designate the Cartwright Building to be included in the upcoming Greater Napanee Heritage Committee Meeting outlining the County’s plan to preserve the history of the Cartwright Building at the County Museum.”

The County’s report says that investigating the option to remove the heritage designation from the Cartwright Building is the “first step required to fully investigate all options for the redevelopment/change in use of the site/building.”

Images from Wagar’s presentation demonstrate that the Cartwright Building, which has been used for cold storage by the County since the 1990s, has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Wagar’s presentation made several points in favour of removing the heritage designation so that the County could alter, move, or possibly even demolish the building. For example, the current use and location of the building does not provide any significant value to the County or the tax base it services, according to the presentation. There are no significant or unique architectural design features. The building itself does not meet the requirement to be designated as heritage; the Museum, Courthouse, and land are what are significant. The capital cost to maintain the building in its current state is approximately $500,000, and the cost to improve the space to make it available to staff or the public is estimated at over $1 million, creating undue strain on the taxpayers. 

Following a recent tour of the Cartwright Building, Heritage Committee members assessed the historical structure using the “Cultural Heritage Property Evaluation System” (former Heritage/Street Smarts Committee document). The building attained a very high overall rating score in almost every category. It was also noted that, in the event the Courthouse grounds are chosen as the location for a new library, the Cartwright Building would serve an enhanced capacity as a “visual and physical element.”

According to comments provided by the Committee regarding the Request to Remove Designation, The Cartwright Family fonds (documents) (1799-1910) in the Ontario Provincial Archives illustrate the significant contribution of the Cartwright family to the early development and prosperity of the region. These documents state how the Cartwright Building was named for Richard John Cartwright, grandson of Empire Loyalist Richard Cartwright. In addition to his land holdings, R.J. Cartwright was a prominent businessman, politician, and philanthropist.

As well, according to the Heritage Committee, Cartwright’s many business ventures included the founding of Napanee’s first bank. The property on which the County Courthouse was built was donated by R.J. Cartwright for that purpose. Among other philanthropic endeavours, he donated land for the building of at least four local churches, in some cases contributing financially to their construction. Numerous properties in Napanee, including the golf course, can be traced and connected to Cartwright’s philanthropic legacy. 

While Cartwright did not live in the heritage building which bears his name, his prominence as an important local figure meets criterion #4 of the Ontario Heritage Act: “direct association to a person.” The Heritage Committee noted that “numerous locations throughout Napanee and the County might be traced back to Mr. Cartwright, but this singular property stands as a tangible monument to his significant legacy.”

During Town Council’s discussion, Councillor David Pinnell compared the de-designation to “ripping a page out of the history books” and questioned what had changed in the last half century since the designation, “besides the dollar value” of the building.

Councillor Bill Martin was bothered by the fact that de-designation is being seen as a step toward deciding what to do with the building, with no real plan. He pointed out, “If it’s removed, there’s no plans for anything… Some of the historical buildings — if we lose them, we’re never going to get them back. That building touches all three designation points… It was designated 48 years ago, so I see no need to remove the designation now.”

Martin continued, “I would love to see it repurposed: I think a library was mentioned, if they made an extension on the rear or whatever… Anything other than removing the designation, I would be in favour of.” 

After hearing a presentation by County staff, as well as deputations by Napanee’s Heritage Committee, Councillor Bob Norrie moved that the heritage designation be maintained, seconded by Councillor Angela Hicks.

With the motion on the floor, Councillor Hicks stated, “I would like to see more detailed numbers. I would like to see timelines on what it’s going to take to rehabilitate the building [to make it] suitable for use — not necessarily as an office … [but] as, I don’t know, a tea room, a conference centre. There must be something that can be done with that building to maintain it and possibly generate some sort of revenue. But I’m wholeheartedly in agreement with not removing the designation at this time.”

Mayor Terry Richardson said, “I have to agree… It just seems a little pre-emptive at this point. There’s too many unknowns… We’re just being asked to remove [the heritage designation] so that somebody can make a decision.”

In the end, supported by a unanimous vote (except for Councillor Mike Schenk, who was absent), Council voted that they receive for information the Legislative Services Application by Owner to Remove the Heritage Designation from 89 Thomas Street East (Cartwright Building) report. But upon review of the request, Council chose to uphold the Municipal Heritage Committee’s recommendation that the heritage designation remain on the Cartwright Building, due to the heritage value provided to the community.

As always, the full agenda for Napanee Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, can be read on the Town’s CivicWeb Portal site, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Town’s YouTube channel.

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