Charlton Hall - Google Street View
Charlton Hall – Google Street View

Most recently the home of one of Hamilton’s essential social service agencies, the City plans to designate Charlton Hall as a heritage building due to its cultural significance.
The City’s Notice of Intention to Designate states:

“The buildings at 52 and 56 Charlton Avenue West illustrate two themes of significance to the history of Hamilton – first, their construction at the turn of the twentieth century by wealthy local landowners who were developing the Durand neighbourhood as a place for upper-class dwellings; and second, their adaptation in the mid-twentieth century by a non-governmental association and the City for innovative social housing geared to teenaged girls. The property’s architectural value derives from the period when the buildings were in single-family use.”
“Their extant features provide insight into the domestic tastes of affluent Hamiltonians at the turn of the twentieth century and demonstrate the capacity of Hamilton-based architects and craftsmen to offer high style to their patrons. The property’s historical value relates to both the period of single-family use and the time when it served the Big Sister Association of Hamilton as the residence known as Charlton Hall.”

History of the Buildings

Charlton Hall is actually two connected buildings, one at 52 Charlton Avenue West and the other at 56 Charlton West.
52 Charlton was built in 1896:

“Initiated by John H. Park, who owned a great house nearby. He was partner in the pan-Canadian wholesale grocery business of Lucas, Park & Company. The single-detached house was first owned by Jane Bell, wife of insurance agent John Bell.”

56 Charlton was also built in 1896, for the daughter of Andrew Trew Wood – Mary Andrewina Hobson.
Wood was a partner in “Wood, Vallance & Company, which probably conducted the largest wholesale hardware business in Canada at the turn of the twentieth century.”
Mary Hobson had married Robert Hobson in 1891. Mr. Hobson “rose to the presidency of the amalgamated Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) – the largest, most diversified steel maker in Canada by the end of the First World War.”
After Mary’s death, 56 Charlton was acquired by another of Andrew Wood’s daughters, Edith Hamilton Olmsted, who leased the building for 32 years.
Before her death, Olmsted conveyed the building to the Big Sister Association of Hamilton.
In 1961, Charlton Hall opened as a temporary home for teenage girls at 56 Charlton. In 1970, it expanded and was linked to 52 Charlton.
For the next four-and-a-half decades, Charlton Hall operated as an essential emergency and social service as a mental health treatment centre with eight beds and numerous outpatient services.

Charlton Hall and the City’s Shameful Actions

I wrote a feature piece for Hamilton Magazine on Charlton Hall, most of the following paragraphs are drawn from that piece. Read it in it’s entirety on Hamilton Magazine’s website here: A City’s Shame
The building was transferred to the City of Hamilton and rent was $1 per year until 1979 when Charlton Hall started receiving stable provincial funding.
The arrangement was reflective of the Councils of the ’50s and ’60s — the City would provide and care for facilities used by social service agencies serving children and youth.
In return, those agencies would provide higher quality services than the City could itself.
The arrangement worked well for both parties until the mid-90s. When the City attempted to raise the rent in the ’90s, Big Sisters successfully prevented the increase. Charlton Hall continued to operate, but without a lease.
With the “new” City of Hamilton, City Hall is less interested in being landlord to non-city social services and has been divesting itself of non-core real estate.
City Council allowed the condition of the buildings deteriorate, declared the properties surplus and sought to have the social service agency move out of the property.
What followed was one of the most disgusting episodes in Hamilton’s political history as the City stigmatized the girls as it fought to keep the now-named Lynwood-Charlton Hall from moving to a new nearby location on Augusta Street.
After an Ontario Municipal Board ruling, Lynwood-Charlton Hall moved and the buildings on Charlton Avenue West are now vacant.

Future of the Buildings?

What is the future of the buildings?
This is an interesting question because the City continues to consider them surplus, and could sell them after designation.
As designated buildings, they will qualify for grants and tax incentives for the repairs that will be required to make the buildings usable or livable.
With the buildings exercising zoning and close proximity to St. Joseph’s Hospital, I expect they’ll be very attractive to a medical practice office.

Neighbourhood Association Supports

“The DNA has been waiting since September of 2014 for this designation and of course we are pleased with the designation”, says Janice Brown, President of the Durand Neighbourhood Association. “Adaptive reuse of the 2 outstanding homes is crucial to our Built Heritage in Durand.”
“Protecting our heritage is one of our 5 priorities outlined in our vision and Mission Statement for the Durand Neighbourhood Association.”
Brown says the DNA is seeking a neighbourhood wide heritage district to protect the character of the area.
No date is set for the final designation vote at Council’s Planning Committee. The 30-day objection period ends on May 24, 2015. The first Planning Committee meeting date following the deadline is June 2nd.