Town of Grimsby and residents can play a role in preserving Grimsby Beach

Grimsby Beach is internationally famous thanks to the colourful, historic cottages and vibrant neighbourhood.

However, many of the houses are old, built without foundations, with newspapers and cushions used as insulation — and there are fears that without protection, they could be lost.

In March 2022, a land use study (LUS) was presented to council, which represented a departure from the heritage study some residents and advocates wanted.

At the time, some, like Kate Sharrow, were disappointed the town didn’t pursue a heritage study and instead switched to the LUS, which looked at the future of the area rather than to protect the heritage.

Now, though, Sharrow is more amenable to the LUS, seeing it as a tool to protect the vibe of the area, even if some of the houses might eventually be lost.

“Do I think it was necessary? Absolutely I do,” she said.

Ideally, Sharrow would like to see as many of the historic cottages saved as possible, where people would buy them and work with town to maintain them to last another century. But she recognizes some of the houses will not be here forever, so plans need to be put in place to protect the nature of the area.

The LUS, therefore, represents a good foundation for the preservation of the area.

“I really feel that we’re just at the beginning of the protection of Grimsby Beach,” said Sharrow.

Bianca Verrecchia, heritage planner at the Town of Grimsby, said the preservation of the area was important to staff.

“(It’s a) very big priority for the town, council and community,” she said. “We recognize how important culturally it is.”

And the LUS, she said, is a vital tool in protecting it, as it creates a secondary plan, which in essence, says “the area is very specific and we need to protect it.”

It means if any changes are made to the area, there are now policies to guide it. No development can happen except specific alterations such as decks. It creates modified zoning rules, including a lower height allowance for future development. It protects views and vistas, and the carriage-sized roads in the area.

It is in place, but under review by the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Aside from the town’s role, though, Sharrow believes residents play a part in protecting the area, especially since the houses are not for everyone and require quite a lot of work.

“There’s something magic here,” she said. “If we do want to protect (the area), the owners have to be captured by the magic of it. Somebody’s got to care enough to put the money and elbow grease into it.”

That’s echoed by Bonita Walters-Blake, who lives in one of the neighbouring cottages. She has lived in the house for 22 years and says the house requires constant work, but she and her family love the magic of the house.

“There’s not a straight wall or floor in the house,” she said.

For Walters-Blake, she would have preferred if the town’s plan had remained as the heritage study rather than the LUS.

“I would have rather we stayed at the initial plan, but it is what it is … You have to be hopeful that (the town) will do the right thing. Our homes are in their hands.”

She thinks the focus of the preservation should be on the classic A-frame gingerbread-house style structures, which were modelled on houses from Martha’s Vineyard in America.

“I really hope the town will stick to the real bones (of the cottages), honouring and respecting that, and the true history,” she said.

And Sharrow is optimistic the houses will be saved, and residents will continue to maintain them and the vibe of the neighbourhood, and not every house will be lost.

“The floodgates are not going to open,” she said. “People love living here.”

SIDE BAR: CURRENT PROTECTION MECHANISMS

In addition to the LUS, Verrecchia highlighted a number of mechanisms that are already in place to protect the area.

These include heritage best practices, which are guidelines to make developments in line with the area.

There are heritage impact assessments for all site alterations, which also ensures that construction work vibrations don’t impact current houses, and heavy machinery near the site is monitored, and so are vulnerable structures, and if impacts are detected, alterations to machinery are enforced.

Bell Park in Grimsby Beach is also protected.

Within 14 months, across two rounds of inclusions, the town has protected 330 buildings by placing them on the municipal heritage register. Ninety Grimsby Beach houses were placed on heritage protection list, meaning demolition has to be approved by council. All original A-frame buildings are on that list.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News