Historic Cowan House in downtown Oshawa torn down to make way for development

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Published September 22, 2022 at 4:58 pm

A 164 year-old historic home in downtown Oshawa has been torn down, with little left of its history but rubble.

The Cowan House was built in 1858 and housed two prominent Oshawa families in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Cowans and the McMillans. It was eventually gifted to the adjacent St. George’s Anglican Church and served as the church’s rectory and parish office for many years.


Three years ago Heritage Oshawa recommended the building be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, a proposal that was opposed by the Anglican Church, who instead asked Oshawa Council to consider its “development potential.”

With little appetite among councillors to preserve the house, council voted that year not to designate Cowan House under the Ontario Heritage Act, but to keep the building as a ‘Class A’ property on the City’s Heritage Oshawa Inventory.

The church then emptied the home of its historical goodies and sold them at auction and eventually sold the property to a developer and this past May Oshawa received a demolition permit for the building.

This week a demolition team moved in and tore the house down to splinters, leaving fans of Oshawa’s history spouting their displeasure on social media, particularly the Downtown Oshawa site on Facebook. Comments on the site ranged from disappointment, “So sad…a piece of Oshawa history gone..” and “history is being erased in Oshawa” to cynical, “unfortunately it does not fit the vision of the gentrification of the downtown core.”

Oshawa Councillor Derek Giberson, whose ward takes in the property, was one of the few who voted to preserve the house. “I had hoped after that failed the new owners would have been interested in some creative form of adaptive reuse within a development plan,” he said. “We’re going to need to move away from these reactive situations with tight timelines and start proactively promoting interest in heritage properties if we want to see any serious uptake of building preservation in Oshawa.”

Councillor Jane Hurst, a former member of Heritage Oshawa, said once the decision was made not to designate by council the church sold the property on the open market as “they needed the funds to maintain and operate the sanctuary.”

Jane Clark, a local heritage advocate, has been trying to save the home from the wrecking ball for years and hoped the building’s heritage features — especially its Georgian ground-floor interior, including the staircase and reception rooms — were fully documented for future generations.

Clark and other members of Save the Cowan House, a Facebook page dedicated to the home’s preservation, were at the house protesting on July 28 with signs that said, “Our history does matter.”

A message on the Facebook page says they believe the building tells an “important story about Oshawa’s early growth” and is an “irreplaceable landmark” in downtown Oshawa. “It could be restored and incorporated as the crown jewel of any new development – in time for the City’s centennial in 2024. So why is this historic property slated for demolition?”

 

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