Young children run around the yard at the site of the historic Addison Sod House. The current owner of the property asked to have the provincial heritage designation revoked due to personal circumstances. The revocation of the designation means the property does not have to be maintained to specific standards.

Kenneth Brown
of The Clarion

The Addison Sod House is no longer a provincial heritage property because the historic property’s current owner asked to have the designation revoked.

A Revocation Order of the Provincial Heritage Property status was made on July 11. Gene Makowsky, the minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, ordered the revocation of the designation. The sod house was designated on Nov. 23, 1992, under the Heritage Property Act.

Descendents of the Addison family expressed an interest to offload the property to another group to own and operate. James Addison built the sod house from 1909 to 1911, and it was designated as a provincial heritage property and a national historic site. The property remains a national historic site.

A grassroots group known as Friends of Addison Sod House (FASH) was established through late 2016 and early 2017 with hopes of helping to find a solution. The FASH group hoped to find new uses or owners for the property and fundraiser was part of the plan.

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There were structural concerns at the sod house, so FASH had provincial officials attend the site and the group was provided with a site observation report. The report made a bunch of recommendations regarding drainage and structural concerns.

Two employees of the Town of Kindersley were helping to facilitate the FASH group by providing their leadership and expertise, but neither employee is still working for the town. As a result, the FASH group fizzled out before anything much could be done and the Addison family is no longer able to care for and maintain the site.

The plan at one time was to raise funds to hire a special structural engineer from New Brunswick to do a complete assessment of the site, but it was going to cost about $30,000. There was a meeting in May 2017, but the group fizzled out.

Marvin Thomas, the heritage planning and policy adviser for the ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport, said the ministry helped to facilitate some of the initial meetings with interest groups. He said he attended the first meeting in June 2016.

The heritage property status was revoked upon the order of the minister on July 11. Thomas said there is no requirement for the province to provide any notice of the revocation if the request is made by the property owner.

However, the province does publish a notice of the revocation order as per the legislation under the Heritage Property Act, but notice does not have to go out for the intent to revoke the designation. The property owner cited personal reasons for the request, and Thomas said it is an unfortunate reality.

“It’s not a desired outcome,” he said, adding that the owner, province and people involved in the FASH group made their best efforts over time to find a solution and it was not found. “The main problem is just identifying and implementing a viable use for the property.”

Thomas said a heritage property designation is viewed as a working partnership between the province and the property owner. He recognized that the order came in a subsequent generation of the Addison family and circumstances change over time.

He noted that it would cost the family even more time and money to maintain the property in accordance with the designation, and the province would view it as putting undue hardship on the property owner. Grants are more for capital maintenance, so there is no money to operate the property, he said.

The property is somewhat remote and without a direct use, it is not feasible to put money into an empty building, Thomas explained. He said the core group of FASH realized the value of the sod house property, but the best efforts were not fruitful in the end.

Thomas said the property is still there and it could always be redesignated. The loss of a designation does not close the door to finding a future use and preservation, but it frees up options for the property owner.

Parks Canada is responsible for designating national historic sites. The Addison Sod House was designated as a national historic site in 2004. The status remains in place, but it does very little to help preserve the site, according to Parks Canada.

The federal designation is only for commemorative purposes, so it would not provide for the protection of historic sites that are not administered by Parks Canada. The protection of a heritage property not owned by the federal government is the responsibility of each provincial or territorial government, so the legislation is set by the provinces and territories in the case of heritage protection.

Mayor Rod Perkins of Kindersley said he and former CAO Bernie Morton had a conference call with the property’s current owner, Lenore McTaggart, and she told the mayor she is giving up the property due to her age, health and an inability by the family to maintain the property.

He noted that the property is not located in the Town of Kindersley or even the Rural Municipality of Kindersley. A suggestion was made to seek funding from the municipality where the property is located. It is just an unfortunate reality that the site could disappear in the future and the history will be lost, the mayor said.

The property is located in the Rural Municipality of Oakdale across a road from the RM of Kindersley. Perkins said the last report he received about the property did not give him very much confidence that the building could be saved.

“It’s way too far gone to do anything,” the mayor said, recognizing that he heard it could cost in excess of $100,000 to perform remediation to the sod structure and the remediation is not likely to work. “There’s no funding available for it.”

McTaggart, a granddaughter of James Addison, said she is getting older and she has back issues, so she is no longer able to care for the property or building. She said her children are busy with work and other commitments, so they do not have the time or money to commit to the property.

She noted that her children are interested in the heritage of the property, but they just are not able to commit to it. She said there was hope for a community-led solution, but it did not come to fruition. She has no plans to sell the house.

“I’m going to keep the land and as far as where the house is placed, I haven’t got any plans,” McTaggart added, recognizing that she would be willing to subdivide and sell the property for next to nothing if the right offer was made to ensure the preservation of the house and its surroundings.