The historic value of the house at 630 King Street, known as Miss Young’s School, is widely acknowledged, but despite its significance, the future of the heritage-designated building remains a question mark.
It is now owned by Gary Chahinian, a real estate broker from Toronto, who was selling the property in Niagara-on
It was one of four historic homes Robert and Dorothy Ure had owned in the Old Town. Robert passed away in the spring of 2014, and Dorothy about six months later.
Robert was a surveyor who was known for making good deals on houses before they were officially put on the market. Although their Centre Street house at Mississagua Street was the best-known of their properties, they lived in the house at 630 King Street, which is thought to have been built around 1816, but possibly even earlier.
They had undertaken several renovations of the King Street home over the years, says Chahinian, but never completed the task.
Under the white clapboard siding, he says, is an original log dwelling, built by a military carpenter — the same one who built Fort George.
The Ures were known to frequent antique and garage sales, buying pieces Dorothy felt to be suitable for heritage homes, but rather than being restored, the houses they owned became storage properties for their purchases, he says.
All have been sold — the King Street house, between Paffard and Cottage Streets, was the last to go.
The one on Centre Street, known as the Breakenridge Ure House, is now in the process of an extensive restoration by the current owner.
The Local recently received a call from Oakville resident Anita Grewel, who is interested in the future of the King Street house. She and her husband, frequent visitors to NOTL, a town they have come to love, put in an offer for the property in 2015. It was not accepted, and as she recalls, no counter-offer was made.
But she had a hard time letting it go, and is still disappointed in the outcome, with questions about what had occurred and what will happen to the house.
Every time they visit the town, they make a point in driving by, she says, to see if anything has changed, or if it’s being restored.
Several years ago, she complained to the town about the condition of the house, its wooden siding and the roof, and the property, which she felt was not being maintained.
In recent visits, she says, she noticed the clapboard has been painted, and the grass cut, but she considers it “the bare minimum” for such a significant property.
“It’s a special place,” she says. “I would love to have restored it, and I’m still disappointed that we weren’t able to purchase it.”
Over the years, she has had various conversations and exchanged emails with the town’s heritage planners, first Leah Wallace, then Denise Horne, and with planner Jessie Auspitz.
When Grewel was considering putting in an offer, she knew there was a possibility it would be designated by the town under the Ontario Heritage Act, and was asking about regulations regarding the renovation of a heritage home.
It wasn’t that the designation would have influenced the decision to purchase it, she said. She was planning to restore, not tear it down, and was seeking guidance in what was involved in restoring a designated heritage home.
When she learned Chahinian, the selling real estate agent, had purchased it himself, she was concerned about a few issues, and remains so.
She’s not sure why there was never a counter offer, and there were no conditions on hers, although it was below asking price.
She is hoping the house won’t be torn down, and feels very passionately that it should be restored.
She’d heard the owner had plans to give the building to the town or someone who might move it off the property, and she’s afraid if that is unsuccessful, it might be torn down.
Chahinian, who was then a ReMax broker but is now independent, says there was nothing untoward about his offer to purchase the property.
There were other offers, but they all had conditions, he says, which were turned down by the executor, who was representing relatives who live overseas — he thought nieces and nephews of the Ures, who had no children.
He fully disclosed he was buying it, he says, and although there were local agents who might have questioned the sale, thinking he was planning to flip it, “that was six years ago.”
He still owns it, and has no intention of selling, he adds.
His decision still to be made is what to do with it.
He says he discussed the possibility of moving the building with the Municipal Heritage Committee. He offered to donate the house to the town, if a piece of property could be found for it, “but there was no interest.”
Craig Larmour, the town’s planning director, says the property was designated in December, 2015, by the town.
He’s not aware of any conversation involving the donation of the dwelling, nor any intention of the owner to demolish it, he says.
Coun. Clare Cameron, in her second term as a MHC committee member, remembers there was some discussion with the owner, but she’s not sure whether an application had been made.
The MHC has looked at the house in previous terms, she says, and any alterations to designated attributes of the property, or demolition, would require a permit and review by the MHC.
For example, she added, there is a beautiful carved fireplace inside which dates from the 1790s.
In addition to its cultural significance, exterior and interior portions of the building were considered of heritage value and included in the heritage designation.
The house was originally known as Miss Young’s School, and is connected to the early settlers in Niagara. George Young, the carpenter, was a private in the Lincoln Militia in the War of 1812, and in addition to the construction of Fort George, also supervised the construction of Fort Erie and Fort York. He had also been a founding member of St. Andrew’s Church.
Beginning in 1825, Miss Young operated a private school in the building.
“The one-and-a-half-storey dwelling represents a high degree of craftsmanship, with its squared log construction and dove-tailed corners,” the designation description says.
Although the exact date of construction is unknown, it could have been before the War, and survived the burning of the town by American forces, the designation document states.
Janet Carnochan’s History of Niagara suggests it was built around 1816, with salvaged materials from older buildings lost during the War.
The original log structure and the wood clapboard siding are mentioned as heritage attributes, along with the brick chimney stack, and other exterior features.
Inside, the original post and beam structure, the fireplace hearths and mantels, pine floors and rafter system are noteworthy “and embody the heritage value of the home.”
Chahinian says he was surprised by the designation, as was the executor of the estate.
“Inside it’s just a mish-mash of stuff. When the previous owners did some restoration, they took away most of the historic materials,” although he recognizes the significance of the log structure underneath the siding.
He says he bought the property on the urging of his mother and his wife.
They have been visiting the town for years, and although he hasn’t made any decisions about what he will do with the house, “it will probably be a summer home for us.”
He said he was “50/50” on the idea of buying it, “but they were 100 per cent. They had to convince me.”
At the time they were discussing it, Chahinian says, their youngest son was doing a project for his Etobicoke school on early schools in Ontario, including the one run by Miss Young. He’d heard his parents talking about it at home, and told his teacher he knew about the school from his dad, who was thinking of buying it. “That seemed a special sign to me that I should buy it,” says Chahinian.
He says he has had the outside clapboard painted to freshen it up, and has someone going every two weeks to maintain the property.
Until he knows what he’s going to do with it, that’s the best he can do.
He is still hoping to donate the building to someone who will move it, “but I haven’t had any offers.”
Otherwise, he will restore it. He won’t let the property go, he says.
“I reached out to the heritage committee, and had no interest from the town.”
It hasn’t been a good financial investment for him, he explains — although he paid just over $300,000, that money invested in a Toronto property that didn’t require the same amount of work would have brought him a much larger return.
Six years later, Grewel is still not over the disappointment of losing the house, which she would have loved to restore. “I love old houses and history,” she says. “I wanted to do something good with the house, and not let it down.”
She can’t go back in time, but she believes the future of this house, and its preservation, is important, and hopes to come to town one day to see that happening.
“We take a lot of road trips to the U.S., and we like to visit historic places. They do a way better job of preserving their history than we do.”