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Some tips on
Living Simply

My Visual History is Disappearing

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By Pat Mestern
February 22, 2012

Even though there have been opportunities to live elsewhere, Teddy and I have always resided in Fergus. It was, and probably still is, a great place to raise children. More importantly, the built heritage gave a certain visual solidity to the community. I was surrounded by buildings and other structures that meant something to me, to my parents and to my grandparents. That fact alone provided roots that went deep into the history of the area and held me close to its heart.

Change started slowly. First Grandfather Charlie?s bowstring bridges began to disappear. They?d be there one summer, gone the next. The unique bridge design that Charlie Mattaini gave to his adopted homeland meant little to those who didn'?t know the history of the structures. Bridges that could have been restored were destroyed. Two gorgeous bridges were replaced in the downtown area, a bowstring bridge on St. David Street and a beautiful "banister" bridge on Tower Street. Have you ever stood on a hillside and watched a piece of heavy equipment demolish a structure you'?ve come to love? The scene tears at one?s heart with every blow. This is hard to take at the best of times.

The swimming pool where I learned to swim at age five, nearly drowned at age seven and met my first date at age thirteen, is now a forlorn looking structure that has debris filling the "little" pool and is about to have a hole punched through its historic brick wall. A number of years ago, the seating area was remodelled which was the first indication that the building?s heritage was not important to certain factions in the community.

The first little red school house where I attended Grade One was demolished c1949 after a new two-room school was built on the same property. Now that second building?s future sits in limbo as it is part of the property that will shortly, if not already, be put up for sale along with the old St. Joseph?s R.C. Church. Rumours are rampant that the school and church buildings will ultimately be demolished, although the cemetery will be kept in perpetuity by the Diocese. Hopefully that promise will include the graves that are located on both east and west sides of the church. It hasn'?t even been acknowledged that the graves of my aunt and uncle on the east side of the church ever existed. I?'ve been told there are no written records, that I?m spouting verbal history which isn?t reliable. My reply is that the bible was verbal history until people learned how to write . . .

Speaking of St. Joseph?s R.C. Church, this was the building that saw the marriages of my parents, my siblings and some of my friends. This was the building where I sang in the choir for every mass, special event, Christmases, weddings and funerals from c1949 through c1958. This was the building where I was married, where my children were baptized, where my father, aunt, uncle and grandparents burial services were held. This was the building where I was one of the first female pall bearers in Fergus - for the casket of a young girl, a neighbour of ours.

I attended Fergus High School just after the first addition was built by Landoni Construction on the north side of the c1928 structure. My classes were in both sections. The c1928 building was partially built by my grandfather. My father and several of his siblings attended school there. Now, the addition is history and from the looks of the original structure, it is in such poor shape that it wouldn?'t surprise me if the heritage designation was removed and the building eventually demolished.

After Teddy and I were married our wedding reception was held at the c1850's Golden Beaver Inn & Restaurant in Ennotville, run in c1960 by Addison Gear and his wife. This was the first place that Teddy stayed with his parents and siblings after arriving in the area from South Africa. After a devastating fire some years ago the building was demolished and another piece of my visual history was gone.

The main street which was one of the most vibrant in the area is now a mere shadow of itself.

Stores that were destroyed by fire were replaced by cheap c1960's structures which gave a different look to the heritage area. The two unusual bridges, the mill dam, Mirror Basin & The Whirlpool were tourism attractions c1910 through c1950's. The dam is no longer on the river. Templin Gardens is half the size that it was and no one bothers to clean up the debris - trees, garbage and graffiti that defiles the banks of the river, Mirror Basin and the bridge in the downtown area. The Drill Shed a.k.a The Town Hall played an important role in the lives of many Fergusites. This building was the heartbeat of the downtown area c1851 through c1950. It was there that I saw my first play, danced my first dance with a boy! Unfortunately the building was demolished in c1983. Even though a huge Fessenden Museum exists in Quebec, the Fessenden House on St. Andrew St. W. was demolished.

What?s left? I have faith in the spirit and vitality of the people who believe that the main retail area of Fergus can once more become a vibrant, exciting place. I applaud those people with vision who'?ll take a stand against the next possible demolition of a heritage building. I continue to hope that the visual heritage of the community will finally be given the accolades it deserves. I will do everything I can to preserve what is left of my visual history, although the list becomes shorter every year.



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