It’s been a mainstay of Collingwood’s skyline for generations, and a local group is leading the charge to save it.
Bing Jowett runs the Coalition to Save the Grain Terminals with Marianne Dynes, Glenna Kennedy, Bill Redick, and Walter and Donna White. The group is working hard on a petition to find out the temperature of public opinion on the issue. As of this week, it’s amassed about 3,500 signatures to save the terminals.
The coalition was started by a few community members discovering they had the same vision for the future of Collingwood’s harbour.
“Walter and Donna mentioned it to me back in February. It started there. We talked about it, and more and more people were really positive about this,” said Jowett. “So I thought, let’s find out how many people.”
About two months ago, Jowett said the group started to get the petition going.
“By the end of September, I’m sure we’ll have 4,000 [signatures],” said Jowett.
“I’m hoping for more,” said Dynes.
“There are so many people (who signed it) who were younger; who see it as part of their future,” said Jowett.
The coalition plans to take their petition to council, and ask them to put a new roof membrane on the top of the terminals, close up the windows and take a two to 10-year period to take necessary steps to prevent it from further deterioration.
After that, they have lots of ideas on how to move forward.
On the group’s Facebook page, they regularly share news stories about converted grain terminals around the world. Stories are shared of silos being converted into bars, co-op gardens, art galleries, storage units, town-square-type spaces and office space.
“Let’s clean it up,” said Dynes. “It’s not going to be a moneymaker until we fix it up.”
A report delivered by engineers last spring identified environmental hazards and poor conditions at the Collingwood grain terminals building, including one tower with so much bird poop inside, it measured two feet thick in spots.
The engineer’s estimate at the time to fix and clean up the terminals was between $8 and $10 million, and that was only to bring the building up to standard for their continued “use” as a decommissioned industrial site. The environmental cleanup is estimated at $2 million.
The engineer’s report also included an estimate of $5 million to demolish the building, but that didn’t include removing 4,000 wood piles under the building partially submerged in the water.
Jowett believes the difference in the estimated costs between keeping and demolishing the terminals isn’t large enough to warrant throwing out the major Collingwood landmark.
“It’s a historical monument to our community, and there are very few of them left,” said Jowett.
“Collingwood has to understand that the harbour, and everything that’s enclosed in it, is the most important thing we’ve got to use as a tourist attraction,” he said. “I wouldn’t go this far with it if I didn’t truly believe (in it).”
“There’s a very small window between the costs of tearing it down, and the costs of rebuilding it,” he added.
Dynes said the group isn’t necessarily suggesting that all the money from public asset sales – such as the airport and COLLUS – should go toward restoration of the terminals, but that some of it could.
“It’s our history. Period. We’re losing everything in this town,” said Dynes.
Collingwood’s grain terminals were built in 1929. The town purchased the site in 1997, but the building is unused. The terminals were used for grain service for 64 years, which ended in 1993. Collingwood was involved in the grain trade for 123 years.
Jowett and Dynes say they have both dealt with their fair share of vitriol online for speaking up for the terminals, but try to let it slide off their backs and keep their eyes on the prize.
“I think after you’ve spent time in a community and you’re retired, there comes a time where you need to contribute something, rather than just speak pro or con,” said Jowett. “It’s easy to be a negative thinker.”
To sign the petition online, click here. Paper petitions are in varying locations around town, including the Olde Red Hen Restaurant and Paula’s Pantry & Gifts. The group will also have a booth at the Great Northern Exhibition.
The Coalition to Save the Grain Terminals is holding a public meeting on Sept. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Collingwood Public Library in Community Rooms B and C. Topics will include a review of the engineering assessment and estimated costs, local experts and historians.
Anyone interested is welcome to attend.
- with files from Erika Engel