How much old stuff do we need to keep?

The debate over protecting heritage architecture is often portrayed in black and white terms — either you like old buildings or you don’t — but it’s not always that simple.

Three glass and metal skyscrapers are being built in Saskatoon along the South Saskatchewan River to replace a former legion hall, built in 1929, and a former high school, built in the 1930s.

There was fierce debate in the city when the demolitions occurred, particularly over the old high school, because of a desire among some residents to protect what they considered to be representative of our heritage.

But as archaeologist Butch Amundson pointed out during a tour of the area last year, the legion hall and old high school weren’t the first buildings on this site. They were built after Saskatoon’s original Chinatown was razed. I’m not sure if people were as worried about protecting heritage buildings in the 1920s as we are today, but it’s conceivable that replacing quaint one and two storey wooden residential and commercial buildings with the sturdy brick architecture popular in the 1930s might have been alarming to some.

And as Amundson reminds us, heritage folks will likely be up in arms in another 80 years when the glass and metal office and condominium towers that replaced those brick buildings are themselves torn down to make room for something new.

So as attractive as it is to protect old buildings with heritage value, it’s not always that simple.

There’s always a balance to be found — between protecting the past and making way for the future.

And that leads me to what’s going on at the University of Saskatchewan, where two old barns are causing headaches for school administrators.

The seed barn was constructed in 1915 and the poultry science building in 1918. Both buildings are reminders of a bygone agricultural era on the Prairies, and no one wants to see them torn down. But the university says they can’t stay on campus anymore because the space they take up is needed for future plans.

The university’s solution was to look for someone to take the buildings off its hands, but the most recent deadline passed at the end of last month with no takers.

It’s all part of a bigger debate — how many old elevators, railway stations and small-town movie theatres do we need to keep?

It’s a debate that won’t be going away any time soon.

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