The sustainability of place

The Huron Historic Gaol (1839-42) is designated a National Historic Site

Photo: The Huron Historic Gaol (1839-42) is designated a National Historic Site


Erin Semande

Buildings and architecture, Community

Published Date: May 28, 2009

Located on the Lake Huron shore at the mouth of the Maitland River, Goderich is known as “Canada’s Prettiest Town.” It is situated in what was formally the Huron Tract, a large parcel of land owned by the Canada Company, a colonization firm established in 1826. John Galt, company superintendent, laid out the town’s iconic octagonal-shaped “square” and radial street plan. For almost 150 years, the Square has been the commercial and community hub of Goderich by providing a marketplace, park, courthouse, shops, restaurants and events venue.

The urban history of Goderich demonstrates how heritage preservation can instil a sense of place for a community. Protecting and maintaining heritage has made for a town full of character and charm. This town of about 8,000 has developed sensibly and sustainably since its incorporation in 1850.

Goderich has approximately 300 heritage properties in its inventory, two heritage conservation districts (HCDs) and funding incentives for designated properties. The majority of these historic properties perform their original functions as homes, churches and commercial buildings.

Other buildings have found a new life through adaptive reuse. In 1961, when a new post office was built, the former Thomas Fuller-designed post office (1891) became the Town Hall, which was protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement in 1981. In 2009, the Town has again chosen to reinvest in this historic structure by restoring the exterior, rehabilitating the interior, and adding a sympathetic extension.

Through heritage walking tours, hiking trails and museums and galleries, Goderich’s important sites are kept alive by telling stories that connect people to their past. The Huron Historic Gaol (1839-42) is designated a National Historic Site. The landmark structure operates as a museum that welcomes tourists and school groups while interpreting 19th-century prison life. Built in stages from the 1840s to 1878, the Livery Stable was slated for demolition in the late 1970s. Showing leadership, Goderich council stalled demolition, which gave the community time to organize, raise resources and adapt the building into The Livery, a non-profit theatre and arts centre. Another cultural node, the 1907 Canadian Pacific Railway Station hosts the Goderich Arts Club’s Annual Exhibition and is used as the lead point for numerous hiking and biking trails as well as the “Marine Heritage Walk.”

Goderich is a model for how heritage preservation can benefit a community. By infusing its heritage buildings with cultural activities, the Town of Goderich has sustained a cohesive sense of place, which contributes to a distinctively intimate urban character and rich quality of life.

“As commerce grew in the mid-1800s, shops, hotels and opera houses filled in the ‘pre-planned’ design envisioned [for the town],” says Municipal Councillor Heather Lyons. “People enjoyed living near, or in the same building, where they worked. Today, underused spaces and a few prime vacant lots within the core area present the timely potential for revitalization and sympathetic development of multiple residential units in the historic shopping, business and entertainment district.”