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Historic Tiny home with strong Métis roots faces 'incomprehensible' demolition (7 photos)

Labatte House built in 1834 by War of 1812 veteran who moved to region from Sault Ste. Marie area

A Tiny home widely considered one of the municipality’s most important historical remnants could be facing the wrecking ball.

The township’s Heritage Advisory Committee recently approved a 'scandalous' motion by the current Labatte House’s owners to have the home delisted from the municipal heritage register with sights set on demolishing the structure.

Built in 1834, the historic home sits near the now tony area of Thunder Beach north of Lafontaine where opulent mansions and high stone privacy walls are commonplace.

Located at 89 West Shore Drive, the home has incredible significance to the region’s large Métis population, tracing its roots back to a time when Métis War of 1812 veterans and their families travelled to the area from Drummond Island near Sault Ste. Marie.

The move by the heritage committee to send it to Tiny’s committee of the whole for a decision comes on the heels of council’s December decision to approve the demolition of the former homestead of Théophile Brunelle, the protagonist from the legend of the “Loup au Lafontaine” story.

Township resident Micheline Marchand calls the heritage committee’s decision “incomprehensible” given the building’s sound structure and says the township is risking a great deal of its own heritage and history if it doesn’t block any demolition plans.

And she says the Labatte house is in much better condition when compared to the Brunelle home, which had fallen into a state of disrepair.

“I feel this decision by the heritage committee is more scandalous,” Marchand tells MidlandToday. “It’s possible that the municipal council will wipe out 200 years of history.

“If Tiny council accepts the heritage committee’s recommendation, nothing will prevent the owners from erasing another sign of the Francophone and Métis presence in Lafontaine,” she says, noting that like the decision to allow demolition of the Brunelle homestead, the move will again be taken without any community consultation.

In their application of intent to demolish, the property’s current owners Anne Hardcastle Roebuck, Michael Roebuck and Adam Roebuck say the move is necessary for “estate planning.”

Calls to their Toronto-area home were not answered by press-time nor was an email seeking comment.

But a note attached to the demolition request from Anne Hardcastle Roebuck says that prior to the pandemic, the family had been speaking with local Métis representatives about possibly moving the home and turning it into a museum.

And that’s something Georgian Bay Métis Council president Greg Garratt would like to explore.

“It's a vital piece of the historic narrative of the Métis and the journey from Drummond Island,” explains Garratt, who noted he has spoken to the homeowners along with Simcoe North MP Adam Chambers and Metis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh regarding the possibility.

“The support for saving it and moving it seems to be unanimous.”

But with the heritage listing in place, it becomes more difficult to move or renovate the existing structure to today’s building codes, according to Garratt.

“Is there any way to leave it there and fix it up and maintain public access?” he asks. “It's private land right now so that is a discussion that will have to happen down the road.

“There's no indication that they (current owners) want to sell the property or sever it so most likely it's going to have to be relocated. We'll have to approach places like Discovery Harbour where the Métis first landed when they came from Drummond Island.

“The first order of the day is to make sure it doesn't get demolished and then we can have discussions.”

As for the Labatte family, their journey from Drummond Island to Christian Island in 1834 was met with inclement weather, according to a report prepared for the heritage committee prior to their recent meeting.

“They were forced to stay in Thunder Beach, and eventually settled the area,” the report states. “Many residents of Thunder Beach can trace their ancestry to the Labatte family.

“This home was built by George-Louis Labatte, who was a blacksmith by trade and a Franco-Ontarian veteran from the War of 1812,” the report states, noting the Visick Family bought the property in 1915 and named it ‘Ardmore.’

The current structure underwent some significant modifications in 1880 and in the mid-twentieth century, according to MPAC’s records.

Pictures of the original 1834 construction show that the structure was a standard two-storey log cabin painted white, with symmetrical layout of windows and doors, and a small deck on the front, according to the report for heritage committee members.

“The second storey under the pitch of the roof was sided with cedar shingling, which still remains today,” the report states.

“The structure was built upon a stone foundation, had a side gabled roof and a single dormer on the second storey. Thus, the remainder of the second storey and the enclosed porch on the front of the current structure are additions.”

The dwelling was built atop a slight hill with an elevated foundation to allow for views of the bay across the road.

“The heritage value for this property comes from its age and architecture, noted above,” the report explains. “Further, the Labatte House is the oldest structure in Thunder Beach.”

In a letter addressed to Tiny committee of the whole members who are meeting Wednesday, Kitchener resident Diane Kilby says the home is very important to her as a Métis woman and descendant of George-Louis Labatte.

“Please council, save this vital historic and cultural centre for Métis heritage,” writes Kilby, who points out the Georgian Bay Métis community was established by Métis veterans who fought with the British against the Americans in the War of 1812.

“George-Louis Labatte who built the homestead was one of those veterans and this homestead was built on the land he was deeded for his service; it is a vital piece of our Métis history.

“In the recent past, the homestead has been the site of large Labatte family gatherings, attended by descendants from across the country. It is a celebration of our music, our language, our food and our culture. Please conserve this vital representation of Métis history and culture.”

Garratt has also established an online petition entitled Save the Labatte Homestead.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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