A rustic stone structure that’s been a towering beacon in a St. Lawrence Seaway community for nearly two centuries is set to become a symbol of cutting-edge economic development thanks to an entrepreneur’s tireless efforts.
The 80-foot former windmill tower in Maitland, a village five kilometres east of Brockville, was built by businessman and politician George Longley in 1827. Next to the imposing structure is Chart House, a stone building that’s being reconstructed as a showcase for modern design and construction practices.
The man behind the reclamation project is electrical engineer Philip Ling, who bought the 13-acre property that contains the tower, Chart House and nearby stables five years ago and is about to take possession of the accompanying manor house.
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Ling intends to restore the buildings and regenerate the shoreline using trailblazing green design and construction techniques borrowed from around the world. It’s all part of his grand plan to create a hub for social and environmental innovation at the site, a rehabilitation project he refers to as an “emerging renaissance.”
This isn’t just a lot of talk. Ling has already spent $2 million acquiring and repairing the property and shoring up the tower while securing partners to help pursue his ambition.
Not bad for a plan that essentially began on a whim.
A ‘beacon of inspiration’
Ling, who is based in the Greater Toronto Area, was on a bike tour across Eastern Canada a few years ago when he spotted the tower while pedaling along County Road 2. He eventually decided the structure should be restored and figured he was just the person to do it.
Although it’s now been reinforced, the tower will likely never be occupied, Ling says. On the other hand, his plans for the Chart House are spectacular.
The building is now being methodically repurposed as the “show-stopper” of his vision for the site. Eventually, it will have a compatible deck and lots of glass overlooking the St. Lawrence River, creating what Ling calls a “beacon of inspiration for transforming the built environment in eastern Ontario and beyond.”
A growing number of organizations and individuals such as the Cornwall-based St. Lawrence River Institute are expressing appreciation for what Ling is doing: 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.
These days, the village only has a few informal retailers, including a permanent garage sale and a chip stand. But back in its heyday of the early 19th century, it was home to a distillery and foundry as well as several mills, taverns and general stores – not to mention Customs House. Various plaques around the village recall some of that colourful history.
Equally appreciative of Ling’s work, the Grenville County Historical Society is assisting him with research and suggestions. To reciprocate that generosity, Ling recently donated $1,000 to the society.
Ling is also the driving force behind Door Number One (DNO), a related non-profit group that wants to turn the Maitland holdings into an elaborate ecological demonstration site, focusing on “re-wilding” the riverfront, planting community food gardens and employing “deep green” building techniques.
Ling serves as DNO’s chairman, while the executive director of the ecological project is Michele Andrews, a marketing expert and former independent school administrator who has been a friend of Ling’s for years and is clearly on the same page.
The team has assembled an impressive lineup of partners, including South Nation Conservation, whose territory extends along the St. Lawrence to take in the Maitland shoreline. In addition to SNC and the River Institute, other partners include Watersheds Canada, Water Rangers and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne south of Cornwall.
Ultimately – much like it was back in the day – the Maitland property will connect residents and visitors with history, nature and the river while mentoring and hosting the next generation of social enterprises that aim to make a positive impact on the planet.
It’s already registered as a demonstration site for the Living Building and Living Community challenges, one of the highest standards of green building design in the world. Ling is now trying to gather around him entrepreneurs interested in solving the social, economic and environmental challenges of the times.