Historic building's owner seeks Eleventh-hour reprieve

Magee House remains open to the elements after partial collapse in July 2018.  Photo: Kimberley Molina/CBC

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Magee House in Hintonburg slated for demolition by Nov. 15

CBC NEWS, By Kate Porter

The owner of Magee House is once again vowing to save the historic building, barely two weeks before it's due for a date with the wrecking ball.

The old stone house on Wellington Street W. partially collapsed on July 24, and has sat open to the elements ever since.

Architect Ovidio Sbrissa, who lived and worked in the building, had applied for a demolition permit, a request city council granted Oct. 10. That demolition was to have taken place by mid-November.

This week, however, Sbrissa told CBC News he was undecided when he applied for the permit, and now intends to hire masons to restore the building.

"It's a doer. You can fix it. It's stable. It's not an unstable structure," Sbrissa said. "I'm going to restore it."

Engineer disagreed

That was not the advice of engineer John Cooke, whom the city hired in July to assess Magee House.

Cooke strongly recommended dismantling the building, warning that removing even a single stone could cause another wall to collapse.

Sbrissa has been given one last chance, and must submit an engineering report this week proving the building can be adequately braced to withstand the effects of winter.

"If I don't have it in by Thursday, then they're going to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, come in there with their crew," Sbrissa said.

Emergency power

The original demolition deadline of Nov. 15 — a condition of Sbrissa's demolition permit, in fact — was given after Cooke warned what's left of the structure might not survive winter's heavy snow or freeze-thaw cycles.

The Building Code Act does give the city's chief building official emergency power to demolish a building that poses an immediate danger to the public.

In an Oct. 27 letter to the city's chief building inspector, Sbrissa wrote: "One does not euthanize a person because of a gaping wound that can be properly treated."

In the letter he refers to Magee House as the city's "most valuable cultural treasure," surpassing even the Parliament Buildings in craftmanship.

Sbrissa is asking the city for compensation for tearing down the building's crumbling west wall, which city engineers deemed a danger to the public following the initial collapse.

"I think the people who did damage should also be responsible for paying for it too," said Sbrissa.