Historical Responsibility

By Rob Patry


Walk down any street in St. Stephen or Calais and you will see a house or building that adheres to someone’s vision of the past. It can strike a chord from their childhood, or bring up a sense of pride and appreciation. Our respective towns have been frozen in time, which juxtapose between the past and the present. Representing multiple symbols for generations who have visited or lived in this area, they are a colloquial manifestation of our community, our traditions, and our beliefs. To not attempt to preserve the sacred import they have garnered over generations would be a crime against the annals of history. It is our duty to preserve this legacy for generations to come, not to see it as a dichotomy between the now and then.  I think back a few years ago when a deplorable incident occurred in Belize when a 2,300-year-old pyramid was bulldozed so its crushed rock debris could be used for a road-building project. This to me is not only absurd, but is tantamount to a historic annihilation. As custodians of this planet we have an obligation to protect these monuments from this sort of obtuse behavior. We cannot continue to ignore the importance of these historical buildings. The pyramids of Giza, the Acropolis, the Roman Coliseum, and Temple of Angkor Wat are the creations remaining in the forefront of our ancestral subconscious. Often these splendid old homes, gardens, buildings, or bridges are located in our very backyards. They may have fallen into disrepair over the years, or have been overgrown by foliage and time, yet within their walls remain stories of grander times and of opulence, which may have withered away.

I am not against the advent of progress or technology, but often I think we are too quick to jump at the opportunity to demolish an edifice, which may offer some sort of historical value to our towns. We all know of a home lying in ruin or in a state of disheveled glory, vandalized over the years, or neglected for so long, that the lack of caring seems to pass on from owner to owner, or tenant to tenant. What do we know of these places? How proud the architects, designers, builders, and ultimately initial homeowners must have been and felt about them. There is a lost romance and a disconnect occurring when we let a home or building fall into such a bad physical condition. So many buildings and homes carry with them a legacy once removed, will be erased from the planet forever. Only to be recalled in photograph, light conversation by those elderly enough to remember, or in the inquisitive minds of the few who even care anymore.

Sometimes, the flaw lies in our own disinterest of eras gone by. We now have heritage home sites, which protect the properties via government legislated designations. We have a collective responsibility to protect these properties. What can we do about this sad, and often realistic trend? We need to start in our own areas, on our own streets and avenues. We have local accountability to not let historic areas and homes slide down the inevitable slope of ruination. Restoring and moving into an older home brings pride to the street and a personal satisfaction of stewardship for a house that may have a large amount of value in the city, town or village history.

We cannot all do this of course. What we can do is have respect and empathy for these buildings. Try and care and understand them. Partake in any political opportunities to salvage them. We must try to protect buildings, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, churches, and cemeteries. If you read in the paper there will be a meeting to discuss the tearing down of a structure you feel is of value – speak out. Write it in a letter. Discuss it in social media. They are relying on you to protect and maintain them. If we turn a deaf ear, one day they will be gone, and only a memory will last. And this, over time, will fade as well. It is future generations who will lose the benefit of knowing their past.