Safety of building still a concern as demolition proceeds
Guelph, Ont., October 8, 2021 – The City has released an edited version of the closed report to Council that outlined the public safety concerns and overall vulnerability of the farmhouse at 797 Victoria Road North. This is the Council report that led to the removal of the building from the Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties to permit its demolition.
The staff report recommending that the Shortreed Farmhouse be removed from the Register was presented to Council in a closed session due to safety concerns related to two previous suspicious fires that destroyed the other two buildings on the property, and not wanting to disclose the vulnerability of the farmhouse given its isolation. Unseen from the road and highly combustible, there was a significant risk that, should a fire occur, people could be trapped inside the house and any attending firefighters’ lives would also be at risk.
The report has been released based on a motion that was approved at the special Council meeting held on October 6, 2021. In accordance with the Council motion, all confidential legal information has been removed from the released report.
The released report details staff’s earlier safety concerns while also fairly addressing the significant heritage value of the farmhouse that, had human life not been at risk, staff would have recommended formally designating.
While City staff continues to have concerns about the safety of the site due to the risk of instability of the farmhouse walls, the roof and other combustible materials have been largely removed from the house addressing, for the most part, staff’s previous concerns around public and first responder safety.
Demolition Order issued by Fire Services to protect public and first responders
In June, following a suspicious fire on the property that destroyed a barn and in response to complaints about people trespassing, a fire inspector visited 797 Victoria Road North. While there, the inspector saw evidence of trespassing and illegal fires inside the farmhouse and remaining barn including burn patterns in the carpet, burnt rags, charred fire debris in the wood stove and an empty gas can.
Guelph Fire Services issued an Order to the property owner to secure the property, resulting in the property owner installing metal barriers on ground-floor level doors and windows of the farmhouse and conducting regular patrols.
Despite due diligence of the property owner to secure the buildings, on July 18 a second suspicious fire destroyed the remaining barn. Through Guelph Fire Services’ subsequent investigation, it was discovered that one of the metal barriers on the farmhouse had been breached and there was new evidence of more fires having been lit inside.
At this time, the safety of people accessing the buildings and of first responders who could be called to attend to any emergencies on the property took priority and Guelph Fire Services ordered the demolition of the farmhouse. Of key concern was the suspicious nature of previous fires on the property and the vulnerability of the farmhouse, particularly being located in an isolated area that’s unseen from the road.
Laura Mousseau, Manager, Corporate Communications
Corporate Communications and Customer Service
City of Guelph
519-822-1260 extension 2463