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Heritage homeowner trying to sell home for $1

“I am in discussion with someone who may wish to move my home to Canmore… If I am unable to relocate my house, in order to allow time for appeal and to meet our construction schedule, I have applied for a demolition permit.”
20220303 McKay House3
The Town of Banff has received a demolition permit application for the McKay House. GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

BANFF – The owner of a more than century-old home listed on the Town of Banff’s heritage inventory says he’s willing to pay a buck for someone to move the house from its current location on Muskrat Street.

An application for a demolition permit for the McKay House has been filed with the Town of Banff’s planning department in anticipation of a 12-unit townhouse development, however owner Patrick Stiles said he has no current plans to actually demolish the building.

Stiles, who is a descendent of the original owner Alfred Sydney McKay and a fourth generation Banff resident, said he has been working diligently for years to find a way to either move his house or to build around it. 

He said he has offered to sell his home for one dollar – or give a person a dollar to buy it for a dollar – on the sole condition it be moved from the Muskrat Street site.

“I am in discussion with someone who may wish to move my home to Canmore,” Stiles wrote in an email.

“If I am unable to relocate my house, in order to allow time for appeal and to meet our construction schedule, I have applied for a demolition permit.”

The McKay House, a 1.5-storey folk-Victorian residence on a double lot at 216 Muskrat Street, was built as a summer home and cottage for high-ranking Canadian Pacific Railway engineer and surveyor Alfred Sydney McKay in the late 1880s or 1890s.

Because the home is on Banff’s heritage inventory, the demolition permit application was automatically referred to the Banff Heritage Corporation for discussion last Thursday (March 17). The inventory does not offer legal protection, but lists properties of heritage value to the community.

During last Thursday’s meeting, the heritage corporation passed a motion opposing possible demolition of the McKay House.

There were also concerns raised about the loss of heritage integrity with relocation.

“While moving a structure is an option, it’s kind of a second to last option before demo, and I caution our thinking that it’s not a go-to; we should be advocating for preservation when we can,” said Steve Malins, a Parks Canada representative on the heritage corporation.

“Taking a step back and looking at broader cultural resource management practices, moving is very close to demo, because you’re losing the whole context and value of why that building was built in that location.”

Darren Enns, the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff, said the department has been working on and off with the owner of the property for a number of years.

“We’ve spoken with the applicant; they’re extremely passionate about their community and about a love for the house,” he said.

“It’s a challenging spot to be in today, but it feels like we’re here yet again looking at a loss of a heritage asset.”

The owner is hoping to build a 12-unit townhouse project on the property, which is located in the RCM (Central Muskrat District), a neighbourhood where higher density residential development is permitted under the land use bylaw.

Enns said the planning department has worked with the owner on ideas to try to achieve both the desired development for the property, but also retention of the house which is of interest to the heritage corporation.

But he said the location of the house on the property makes it challenging to work around and added the fireplace may actually be a structural element to the house.

“Of course, these homes weren’t always built with the thought that they’d be moved,” Enns said. “Those are the harsh realities of this particular property.”

Enns said there are a few functional ways a building can be preserved.

“One is to try to preserve it in situ, which as we’ve mentioned, we’ve worked with the applicant on and been unable to come to a conclusion on, unfortunately,” he said.

The second option is to relocate it within the community and a third is to move it out of town.

“My understanding is that those last two options are still on the table,” said Enns.

“It requires somebody who is willing to invest in that move, and take on the liability of moving something that might collapse as part of the move, which is a bit tough. It’s a functional challenge moving an old house.”

A.L. Sandy Aumonier, a heritage conservation advisor with Alberta Culture and Tourism and a member of the Banff Heritage Corporation, said if the building isn’t relocated and gets demolished, she hopes material from the home can be salvaged.

“There may be an opportunity to salvage building materials from the building if demolition is the only option here,” she said.

“I look at this building and I see a lot of really good material. I see a really good front door, I see some really good windows as well that could potentially be salvaged and rehabilitated and used in other projects.”

According to the Town of Banff’s statement of significance for the McKay House, the home holds great cultural importance due to its association with the original owner, Alfred Sydney McKay, who was a Scotland-born CPR surveyor and engineer in the late 19th century.

“McKay is an important figure in Alberta’s history for his high ranking among the earliest CPR surveyors,” it reads.

According to the statement of significance, the home remains an excellent example of picturesque cottage development in the townsite prior to the wider residential settlement period.

“The residence retains a strong connection to Muskrat Street and through its orientation, façade ornamentation, and distinctive porch verandah, it continues to contribute to the character of the street,” indicates the statement.

The Town of Banff offers financial incentives for heritage property owners seeking municipal designation of properties: a grant to cover the municipal portion of property taxes capped at $45,000, or a matching restoration or rehabilitation grant maxed out at $25,000 for residential and $50,000 for non-residential.

The municipality is moving ahead with a long-awaited heritage master plan, which is intended to consider best practices and provide a set of new tactics or tools with which to explore new incentives to preserve and protect heritage resources.

“The reality is a $35,000 grant for a property like this doesn’t go far,” said Enns, in reference to the McKay house. 

“It’s a tool to help somebody to get this grant, but the reality is it doesn’t go very far when it comes to saving a property while also achieving the desired development outcomes.”

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