Tower of power: Much more than heritage restoration in Maitland

Around the Nation

by Tom Van Dusen

Located logically enough in Maitland, the tiny perfect St. Lawrence Seaway heritage hamlet west of Prescott, the Maitland Tower has increasingly been grabbing the attention of Highway 2 passersby.

It’s clear something big is happening there! What most onlookers don’t realize, it’s even bigger than it appears.

The ongoing construction activity dates back about three years to when Greater Toronto electrical engineer and philanthropist Philip Ling acquired the landmark former stone windmill and other buildings around it, notably the Chart House and horse barn.

Ling is now in the process of buying the imposing manor house west of the tower… taken together, it might be the most impressive collection of heritage buildings in Grenville County.

As he related to listeners recently during an online presentation hosted by the St. Lawrence River Institute, this is the kind of guy Phil Ling is: He was on a bike tour across Eastern Canada when, while peddling the 2, he spotted the tower; it occurred to him down the road that the structure should be restored and, what the heck, he might as well do it!

An artist’s concept of new Chart House with the Matiland tower beside it. Source: maitlandtower.ca

To date, Phil has spent at least two million of his own dollars acquiring and repairing the Maitland property… and that doesn’t include the house! As he told his online listeners, the tower although now reinforced and solid, will likely never be occupied while plans for the Chart House are… glorious! That’s my word, not Phil’s!

A growing number of organizations and individuals such as the River Institute are expressing appreciation for what Ling is doing, really on behalf of all Canadians: Rehabilitating an important site in Canadian history dating back to the 1750s that should never have been allowed to deteriorate to the extent it did.

Equally appreciative, the Grenville County Historical Society has developed a relationship with Ling, assisting him with research and suggestions about his project. Showing reciprocal appreciation, Ling recently donated $1,000 to the society.

Sitting in on the River Institute talk, I already knew quite a bit about Ling’s restoration plans for the Maitland site. What I didn’t know and what came spilling out was about Door Number One (DNO), a related non-profit group which has a vision for making the Maitland holdings into an elaborate ecological demonstration site, focusing on “re-wilding” the river front, restoring vegetation, community food gardens, and “deep green” building techniques.

As he is with the Tower and Chart House, Ling is the driving force behind DNO as chairman of the board; executive director in the ecological project is Michele Andrews, a marketing expert and former independent school administrator who has been a friend of Phil’s for years and is clearly on the same page.

The team has assembled an impressive line-up of partners including South Nation Conservation whose territory extends along the St. Lawrence to take in the Maitland shoreline. SNC communications director John Mesman confirmed the environmental protection agency is onboard with DNO’s objectives.

Ultimately – much like it was back in the day – the Maitland property will become a community hub, connecting residents and visitors with history, nature and the river while mentoring and hosting the next generation of social enterprises intending to make a positive impact on the planet.

It’s already registered as a demonstration site for the Living Building and Living Community challenges, the highest standards of green building design in the world.

While the tower is the project emblem, the show-stopper will be the Chart House now being methodically repurposed; eventually, it will have a compatible deck and lots of glass overlooking the St. Lawrence, a “beacon of inspiration for transforming the built environment in Eastern Ontario and beyond.”

Welcome to the neighbourhood, Phil!

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