City of Peterborough heritage committee reviewing request to demolish former Montreal House

Property owner and developer Ashburnham Realty believes preserving building for urban park development is untenable

Now home to Dr. J's restaurant, the building at the corner of Aylmer and King streets in downtown Peterborough was formerly the Montreal House, with the original structure dating back to as early as 1858. (Photo: Peterborough's Architectural Heritage, 1978)
Now home to Dr. J's restaurant, the building at the corner of Aylmer and King streets in downtown Peterborough was formerly the Montreal House, with the original structure dating back to as early as 1858. (Photo: Peterborough's Architectural Heritage, 1978)

The City of Peterborough’s heritage committee will be reviewing property developer Ashburnham Realty’s request to demolish the former Montreal House on Aylmer Street, as well as a recommendation from city heritage staff that city council give the building a heritage designation preventing demolition.

At a special virtual meeting on Thursday afternoon (June 23), the Peterborough Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (PACAC) will receive a presentation from Lett Architects — acting as representatives of property owner Ashburnham Realty — regarding an application to demolish the building at 282-284 Aylmer Street North.

Originally called the Montreal House and now Dr. J’s restaurant, the building is currently listed as a heritage building but does not have a heritage designation.

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According to a report prepared by the city’s heritage staff, the building was constructed in the 1850s and later became a residence for French Canadian lumbermen working the forests north of Peterborough under the ownership of a French Canadian named Joseph Brault. The first storey was renovated in 1893 but the upper storey retains its original small pane windows and front gable.

By the early 20th century, the Montreal House was under ownership of an English Canadian and its residents broadened to include workers in the major industries such as Canadian General Electric that had arrived in the city. Later it became a men’s only drinking establishment. By the late 20th century, the Montreal House was known as a venue for emerging bands and hosted numerous acts that have since found local and national renown. In 2014, it became the location of Dr. J’s BBQ & Brews restaurant.

Ashburnham Realty purchased the property in 2020 with the intention of developing a residential and commercial building at the corner of King and Aylmer as part of the City of Peterborough’s Louis Street urban park development. Originally, the plans were to maintain the existing building or reconstruct it as part of the new development but maintain the restaurant.

The former Montreal House became the location of Dr. J's restaurant in 2014.  (Photo: Google Maps)
The former Montreal House became the location of Dr. J’s restaurant in 2014. (Photo: Google Maps)

However, according to the report from city heritage staff, Ashburnham Realty now believes preserving the building is “untenable” given regulatory requirements and design considerations for the urban park development.

“The owner of the property has, in accordance with the requirements of the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA), made notice to the City that he will seek a demolition permit for the property in preparation for the construction of the new development,” reads the report.

On May 26, Ashburnham Realty owner Paul Bennett submitted a request to the city to demolish the building. Under the Ontario Heritage Act, city council must consult with its heritage committee before making a decision. Council has 60 days to decide either to remove the property from the heritage registrar and allow demolition to proceed, or to signal its intention to designate the building as a heritage property.

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A property with a heritage designation can be altered, as long as its heritage attributes are maintained, but cannot be demolished.

City heritage staff are recommending that PACAC recommend to city council the building be designated as a heritage property, as it “is a representative example of the Gothic Revival style used in a commercial setting and notable for its symmetry and central gable” and because of its cultural heritage associations.

“Time has become of the essence for this project as its proposed affordable housing component is subject to a federal funding deadline,” the report reads. “As a result, the Heritage Impact
Assessment that would normally be provided to the committee cannot be completed in time. In lieu of an HIA, staff has reviewed the property against the criteria for determining heritage significance under Regulation 9/06 of the OHA and believe the property to be worthy of designation.”

If city council accepts the recommendation for proposed heritage designation, Ashburnham Realty will have 30 days to appeal the proposed designation to the Ontario Land Tribunal, with the tribunal’s decision binding either way.

As the Thursday afternoon PACAC meeting, Lett Architects will make a presentation on the planning and land use requirements underpinning Ashburnham Realty’s request to demolish the building.