By Bird Bouchard
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ridgetown Independent
Canada’s most photographed house has been given a lifeline.
Constructed in 1842, The Guyitt House has been vacated since 1985 and is located along the Talbot Trail in Palmyra. The house, which many say is haunted, is known to be a tourist attraction.
Although leaning, the house still stands today and has been left untouched for more than 40 years.
However, after receiving a complaint for the first time in four decades, house owner Peter Anderson was given an ultimatum from the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
Anderson received a registered letter from the municipality informing him he had 14 days to tear down the house, or they would do it and charge him for the demolition.
“I have 14 days to file an appeal from the day that letter was dated, the 15th day of September,” he said. “Fourteen days isn’t long at all.”
According to Paul Lacina, chief building official and director of building enforcement for the municipality, they received a complaint regarding the safety of the house.
“We sent an inspector to see the condition of the dwelling and determined it was unsafe and then used the property standards bylaw. The bylaw says you have to keep the house in a condition that is safe. The inspector issued an order to the property advising him he must repair the dwelling or demolish it,” said Lacina. “Council passes bylaws on things such as this. When we see a complaint, we have to act on it. We can’t just ignore it.”
Anderson said one of his biggest fears is having the municipality come in and then charging him with a bill as large as $40,000.
Lacina clarified what they mainly seek compliance from the property owner.
“There is a lot of talk saying the municipality will go in and charge it back to the property owner,” said Lacina. “We try to work with everybody. If the property owner didn’t appeal but wanted more time to meet the requirements of the order, we certainly would have taken that into consideration and worked with him.”
Marlee Robinson, who is part of the tourism advisory committee, was this year’s recipient of the Mary Millard Award for Special Contributions to the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. The award is to highlight the volunteers in the conservation and preservation of built heritage. She believes the Guyitt House should have never received the letter from the municipality.
Robinson said one of the things the ACO and the heritage committee have tried to do is express concern about the empty storefronts in Ridgetown. She admits they were pleased when the municipality took the approach that buildings left vacant for a long time should have extra taxes on them and penalties for leaving them empty for extended periods.
Despite this, Robinson said she does not believe the bylaw should apply to the Guyitt House.
“I’m assuming that’s what Lacina took into account. But that’s not what that bylaw is for. The bylaw is for empty buildings in Ridgetown,” she said.
While disappointed with the quick timeline given to him, Anderson, along with the help of local councillors, has bought the house some time.
Local Ward 3 councillors John Wright and Steve Pinsonneault met with the municipality’s administration regarding the potential demolition of the house.
Pinsonneault said administration is willing to work with the property owner, and they recognize the house has some value, as far as being a tourist area to stop and take photos.
“The demolition is on hold for a few months until we can figure out the heritage value and try to find a solution to save this local destination for photographers,” said Pinsonneault.
The local councillor said things now have to run their course. The process for the demolition order has already begun. He said it will now go to a committee, which is similar to a tribunal.
Lacina clarified he does not expect the appeal to happen until early 2023. He said when the appeal occurs, the appeal committee will have many options.
“They can modify the order, or they may modify it with certain conditions, such as an extended timeframe, or they will proceed with the order as written by the municipality,” said Lacina.
He added that he is hopeful the end result after the hearing will be good for everyone involved.
In the meantime, Pinsonneault, Wright and Anderson are working to see whether the house has any heritage value through the heritage committee, which will give it protection.
“I believe it has heritage value. I think Canada’s most photographed house has its merit in leaving it standing. Let it die its own death, whether that’s one year from now or five years. That’s my opinion,” said Pinsonneault.
Anderson, who admits the house is beyond repair, agreed with Pinsonneault that the house should be given a designation and be left untouched.
“The house is way beyond repair. That’s what adds to its historical value,” he said. “It stood the test of time this far. How much longer will it last?”