Community group advocates against demolition of Avon Crest, Stratford’s first hospital

It needs a new roof, it’s missing its tower and ventilation pinnacles, but Stratford’s first hospital, opened in 1891, is still standing. For now. 

The repurposing potential of this landmark building has yet to be realized, something the Huron Perth Health Alliance has never looked at. Instead, the HPHA, the building’s owner, is determined to have it demolished for a parking lot.  They have posted a request for tenders for its demolition later this year. But only if the City of Stratford issues a demolition permit. 

Instead of allowing demolition, the City should work towards the building’s repurposing, heritage listing, and designation. Avon Crest, its name since the 1950’s when it was converted to a convalescent home, has outstanding architectural, historic and cultural value.  In an era when public health was influenced by Florence Nightingale, the benefits of ventilation were expressed in the design by a series of vent spires that add to the building’s exuberant exterior.  

In the late 1880s, having a public hospital in Stratford was championed by a determined group of civic-minded people, mostly women, who raised funds to get the hospital built. Architect George Durand of London was hired as he knew Stratford well, having designed the Perth County courthouse and waterworks building (now Gallery Stratford).  

Last year, bowing to the determination of the HPHA to have the building demolished, Stratford City Council rejected a thoroughly researched application by Heritage Stratford, the city’s advisory committee, to have the building designated. Since then, the Save Avon Crest campaign has been working to raise public awareness of the imminent demolition, citing the release of massive amounts of embedded carbon from those 132- year old bricks into the atmosphere.  

But before demolition, any hazardous materials must be removed, a process that can release toxins into the atmosphere. One wonders, if the building needs to be cleaned up before being demolished, why not keep it standing and repurpose it? Often things like asbestos and lead can be contained rather than removed, depending on the new use of the historic building.  

What could this historic hospital be repurposed for? Under the current institutional zoning, health care-related uses could be a family health clinic, a hospice or a rehab centre. With a zoning amendment—which the City could offer to the HPHA as a carrot in exchange for designation—it could be reimagined as housing, offices, a hotel or a Ronald McDonald house, generating revenue to fund the repurposing.  

It took a determined community effort to get it built and now there is a determined community effort to save it from the landfill. To quote Lacaton and Vassal “Demolition is an act of violence. It is a waste of many things—a waste of energy, a waste of material and a waste of history.” It would be such waste to see Stratford’s first hospital destroyed.  

Robert Lemon and Howard Shubert are part of the group