Monday, July 9, 2018

A Monument to Dr. O.

The owners of this home at 172 Central Avenue have applied for a demolition permit. A great pity, because the home is of significant national historic importance. It was the London residence of the Mohawk physician, Dr. Oronhyatekha.

Dr. O was a remarkable man. Born on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, he went on to become the first indigenous Canadian to attend Oxford University. He was the second individual of indigenous descent to become a physician in Canada and practiced his profession right here in London. On top of that, in 1878 he applied to become the first non-white member of the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF), a fraternal and financial institution. By 1881, he was IOF's Supreme Chief Ranger, a position he held for 26 years. During that time, he enforced rigorous medical underwriting procedures and expanded the IOF's product offerings. Between 1881 and 1907, the year of his death, the organization grew from fewer than 500 members to more than 250,000. 


In 1889, Dr. Oronhyatekha moved to Toronto where IOF had relocated. In Toronto, Dr. O. has been honoured with a Toronto Historical Board plaque dedicated in 1995. The house he rented at 209 Carlton is listed in the Cabbagetown Heritage Inventory and a nearby street has been named Doctor O. Lane.  Unfortunately, his London home - this well-built, sturdy Italianate-style structure built about 1881 - is looking shabby. What the owners intend to do with the property once they've demolished the house has not yet been revealed. 


The City of London must turn down this demolition request. To do otherwise sends a message that  London doesn't value the contributions of the indigenous community, a sad statement in this era of supposed reconciliation. Let's get this message across at the Planning and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall, Monday July 16, 2018, after 4:30 pm. Letters of support may be sent to the committee secretary, Heather Lysynski, at hlysynsk@london.ca


Update: PEC voted 5-0 in favour of turning down the demolition request and designating this building. Next step is for the issue to go before full Council on Tuesday July 24. 


The owner was planning on redeveloping the site with what he termed "infill," merely saving the facade of the house. But infill means developing a vacant lot by inserting a building sympathetic to the neighbourhood, not tearing down an old structure and rebuilding on the same site. 


July 24: City Council voted 15-0 to designate. Stay tuned.

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