By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
A rare thing happened in SoHo on Thursday (June 14) as heritage and potential came together at the so-called Red Antiquities Building.
The structure, located at 131 Wellington St. and now currently referred to as the Red Antiquities Building, was constructed between 1872 and 1873 by the Winder Family, in particular Henry Winder. Now fully restored, the building will serve as home to Across Languages Translation and Interpretation Service, an organization that exists to eliminate language barriers in the community.
“I can’t wait. It has been such an exciting process since from the first moment I walked in and fell in love to the moment that we move our offices into this building,” said Anna Hendrix, executive director of Across Languages. “It is going to be an incredible opportunity for the agency. We are really looking forward to growing into this space.”
The project to save the structure, which is recognized as the oldest wide-board wooden building remaining in southwestern Ontario, has taken two years and involved not only Pathway Skill Development and Placement Centre and Heritage London Foundation, but a veritable army of volunteers and supporters.
Those partners were recognized during a community open house that also served as an official passing of the keys between Paul Hubert, executive director of Pathways, and representatives of Across Languages who will occupy the first and second floor of the building. A basement space is still open for rental.
For Hendrix, the antiquities building represents the perfect situation for Across Languages, but also for SoHo and all of London.
“It represents what London has been, is and can be. That is often the case for the clients that we serve. They come from different places all across the world and decide to settle in London for their future,” Hendrix said. “We want to give them a head start at new beginnings. This building represents that. It is an incredible opportunity and we are absolutely ready to be a part of this community.”
Those words are just what John Manness was hoping to hear two years ago when the campaign to save the antiquities building began. Manness, chair of the Heritage London Foundation, said he questioned whether the heritage community could save the building, but once Pathways came on board, and the community stepped up, he knew it was destined for success.
“I think back to where we started, wondering if it will ever really happen, but now we are here and it has,” Manness said. “It is really unbelievable, all the support that came along when we needed it. The willingness of people to get involved, the support of the community, it meant a lot.”
Besides providing a home for Across Languages, Manness said he believes it is an example of what communities can do when they come together for a common goal. And for the antiquities building, the goal was saving the past and preparing for the future.
“London is fortunate to have a series of heritage districts. If you go into Old East or Woodfield or Bishop Helmut or Old South, there are communities where people are assured the neigbhourhood will be preserved,” Manness said. “I think buildings like this, and throughout the city, are important for the impressions people make when they come to the city. If you were putting on a stage production, this is the stage setting where life happens in London. That is part of the charm of it.”
For his part, and that of the 35 people who worked in various capacities throughout the restoration project (two dozen of which worked on the construction phase of the project), Hubert said the project to restore the building represents a new start for so many people.
“The interesting thing is how do you develop skill? Most people actually develop skill more by doing than by reading about it,” Hubert said. “We were able to put older people together with younger guys. If you can earn their respect, learn from them, then you can go a long way. Those workers have now learned a new set of skills and they can go forward with that.”
Hubert said he also learned a great number of things over the past couple years. Calling himself “a mystery shopper” when it came to many parts of the project, Hubert said he learned about things he had no previous knowledge of, such as building codes, architectural issues and woodworking.
But at the end of the process, in a fully restored building (the exterior, for example was finished exactly to the period), Hubert said he sees a lot to be proud of.
“I see a community landmark here and I am quite proud. I see community impact, I see people impact and I see heritage impact. Those were our three objectives starting out, so I am delighted with that,” Hubert said. “For our organization, it stretched us, which is good. We are just delighted how it all turned out and we would love to take on some new projects going forward.”
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