The sad agony of the Bicknell house is coming to an end: the Quebec City Planning and Conservation Commission (CUCQ) has decided to ease its suffering by allowing the demolition of this residence, built between 1795 and 1817. Restoring a venerable residence that has been exposed to the elements for nearly 35 years can be delicate and expensive.
Abandoned for decades, the house stood as a derelict pride in Sillery’s landscape. One of the oldest surviving residences in this district of Quebec, the Bicknell residence has long held exceptional architectural value. But its luster has faded over the years, until it reaches the limit of what can be saved.
Quebec City noted the home’s advanced deterioration in 2008. At the time, an inspection had already found the house’s physical condition seriously compromised its future. “There is an urgent need to take action to save it from demolition. “This building constitutes one of the most valuable elements of Quebec’s built heritage,” the city wrote at the time.
Fifteen years after this observation, its fate is sealed in the eyes of the municipal administration.
“It’s the only reasonable option that’s possible today,” said Melissa Coulombe-Leduc, a consultant in charge of heritage on Quebec City’s board of directors.
In a press release, the latter throws stones at owner Denise Jalbert, who, according to data from the property appraisal list, acquired the Bicknell house in 1987. “We must remember that this decision is not made in 2023,” the consultant writes. It is taken every year as it is no longer inhabited and the primary responsibility lies with the owner. »
In its press release, the City of Quebec notes that the citation of the Bicknell house, located on the Siléry heritage site since 1964, is the responsibility of the Quebec government. A press release issued Monday afternoon noted that “it is not possible to cite the Bicknell House to Quebec City, as the law does not allow for dual status.” The capital recalls that twice in 2009 and 2019 it requested the Ministry of Culture to classify it; There is no follow-up to these proposals.
Quebec lost its Basquiat home in 2019, when the 300-year-old residence was demolished despite strong mobilization from the heritage community. Most recently, in May, a century-old house located on Avenue Sainte-Genève in the heart of Old Quebec was hastily demolished by the city, deeming its condition to be a public hazard.
However, the municipality had a legislative arsenal to force the building to be restored, according to lawyer Charles Breton-Demuel. “When the city says it can’t cite the building, it’s somewhat erroneous: it can’t cite the exterior, that’s true; however, since 2012, it has the authority to cite the interior of a building located on a heritage site,” he explains. It would have allowed us to preserve the traditional character.”
Additionally, since 2004, municipalities can require owners to carry out maintenance and repair work on their buildings under the Occupancy and Maintenance bylaw. “In the event of a refusal by the responding owner, the law provides that a judgment may be obtained from the superior court authorizing the city to perform the work at its expense before billing the responding owner,” the underlining said. Me Breton-Demeule.
Since 2016, the Quebec government has transferred powers related to the management of classified or designated heritage sites to municipalities. However, uncertainty remains regarding the responsibilities devolved to the two tiers of government.
Duty It asked the City of Quebec what steps have been taken to restore the Bicknell House since its acquisition by the current owner in 1987. At the time of writing, the municipality has not responded to the request.
In an article published in September 2021, the sun He noted that the City had changed its tone toward the owner by imposing a $3,750 fine. At the time, Regis Labeaume was in the final stages of his political career in the leadership of Quebec. Bruno Marchand and his team took power two months later.
Five million restoration
Evidence of the roots of the English-speaking bourgeoisie in 19th-century Quebece Century, Bicknell House offers Palladian architecture inspired by French and British practices. After two centuries of history, the death knell of this ancestral home has been abandoned for 35 years.
In a report commissioned by the City of Quebec and submitted in November 2022, architect Gilles Duchesneau noted the improved condition of the residence. Rot slowly spreads through its walls, fueled by “significant water infiltration over a long period of time.” The architect claimed that mold could be detected “easily” by the smell wafting from the windows. The roof is collapsing and the foundation is collapsing in several places.
The report left hope that the house could be restored while respecting its original components. “Only 30% to 40% of the original components can be recovered,” he notes. In this context, the architect added, “we must seriously ask ourselves whether the Bicknell House, restored on site or elsewhere, would constitute an architectural lie”.
The document estimates its restoration at five million dollars. “Given the fact that, under these conditions, the owner has no intention of restoring the building,” the judges said in a press release that the city was unreasonable and “irresponsible” under CUCQ’s recommendation. Public funds should be provided to ensure its safety.”
From 2020, the temporary embankment prevents the house from collapsing. While performing this emergency work, the report notes that a worker overcame himself and “stepped over the rotting roof deck,” proving the structure’s collapse.
The situation is “virtually insoluble,” Gilles Duchesneau wrote in his report. Given the ever-present risk of collapse, “the foundations, walls and roof have to be repaired at the same time, which is not possible.”
Contacted by DutyBicknell said the owner of the home did not want to comment on the matter.
Watch the video
“Music geek. Coffee lover. Devoted food scholar. Web buff. Passionate internet guru.”