A pair of problematic former owners and the objection of the current owner didn’t stop council from designating a new heritage property in Bedford.
Council held a heritage hearing during its meeting on Tuesday for 1262 Bedford Hwy. The building on the property, located at the corner of the Bedford Highway and Meadowbrook Drive, was built between 1855 and 1858, making it the third or fourth oldest remaining structure in Bedford, according to municipal heritage planner Jesse Morton.
In 1858, Benjamin Wier bought the house. Morton described Wier as a “controversial shipping merchant.” He later became a Halifax councillor and then MLA. Wier was also a supporter of the Confederates during the Civil War, hosting them in his Hollis Street home, Benjamin Wier House, and fixing their ships. He was banned from the US after the war.
In 1866, Archbishop Thomas Connolly moved in. Connolly “was a supporter of confederation and influenced other clergy to support the confederation movement,” according to the staff report to council. He was also a supporter of the US Confederacy and hosted Confederate agents at his home.
Later on, the parents of Vice Admiral Harry DeWolf, “one of Canada’s most decorated World War II (WWII) Naval Officers,” owned the home.
Coun. Tim Outhit brought a motion to council in August to start the process to register the property after learning it had been sold the year before and wasn’t already registered. That’s what’s known as a third-party registration, where the owner of the property isn’t the one seeking to have it included. Most properties in Halifax’s heritage registry were added this way.
The proposal went to the Heritage Advisory Committee, where it received a score of 58 out of a possible 100 points. Any score over 50 sends a proposed heritage property to council for a hearing.
Abdulrazaq Zaminpeyma and Seraj Bagheri’s Zagros Nova Home Developments owns 1262 Bedford Hwy.
The company wants to redevelop the property to build six two-bedroom apartments, four office suits, and a commercial space, and it’s submitted a development permit application to do so. While its intention is to stop the heritage process to allow for redevelopment, the company used the owners’ problematic history to argue against the heritage designation, hiring lawyer Richard Norman to make the case to council.
“History can mean different things to different people, and its meaning and its significance can change over time depending on who is interpreting that history,” Norman told council.
Norman submitted a letter to council arguing Wier and Connolly were “promoters, aiders and abettors” of the Confederacy, and therefore supported slavery. He attached a letter from University of New Brunswick professor and historian Gregory Marquis backing up those claims.
“By virtue of his business dealings with the Confederacy, Halifax’s leading merchant became a public enemy of the Lincoln government,” Marquis wrote of Wier.
As for Connolly, Marquis wrote that he “mocked American anti-slavery activists and expressed support for the Confederacy in its struggle for independence” in a letter to a Catholic priest in 1861.
Connolly’s support for the Confederacy wasn’t included in the staff report to the heritage committee, only surfacing after Norman’s letter to council.
Norman argued that if the committee had removed Wier and Connolly from the rubric, it wouldn’t have scored the property over 50.
“Designating this property as a heritage property would send the message that the city wishes to memorialize a property which these two rich and powerful men, who supported slavery, were associated with, and that it is worthy and important to memorialize the property in that way,” Norman said.
“That’s the wrong message, my client says.”
Outhit argued the views of the former owners didn’t matter.
“I am adamantly opposed to us ever putting up a plaque or a statue of Mr. Connolly or Mr. Wier. That isn’t what today’s about,” the Bedford-Wentworth councillor said.
“The question is today, is this a heritage property? And the answer, my friends, is yes. I believe it is. Staff believe it is. The heritage committee believe it is.”
Coun. Patty Cuttell, who was on the heritage committee last year, said she doesn’t think past owners should factor so heavily in HRM’s heritage designations.
“It’s not just about who lived in it. It’s about the people who built it. It’s about the place where it was built. It’s about how it fits into its neighbourhood, about how it adds to our built heritage,” Cuttell said.
“It’s not the house’s fault, who lived in it over time.”
Coun. Iona Stoddard, currently on the heritage committee, said the committee members may not have voted in favour of designation if they’d known about Connolly’s history.
“This additional information I find very challenging to hear at this point,” Stoddard said.
In the end, Stoddard was one of only two votes against the designation, along with Mayor Mike Savage.
While the heritage designation provides some protection for the property, the owner can still demolish the building, even if council denies an application. The provincial Heritage Property Act just requires the owner to wait three years following a denial.