I’ve been taking photographs of Vankleek Hill, as part of my hobby, since 2006… roughly. Architecturally, I’ve mostly stayed within the four or five blocks on the top of the hill that make up the oldest part parts of Vankleek Hill — like the shot above [link alert], of our Main Street.
But that’s a cheat. I hear visitors and people who live here talk about how picturesque the village is, or can be, but really, they’re referring to less than a fifth of the entire town. Don’t get me wrong, most — like 90% — of the homes here are nice, suburban-rural houses with nice yards that get mowed once a week.
There are, however, properties — almost entirely commercial — that are empty, and even bordering on derelict. Which makes sense, considering Vankleek Hill is dead centre in one of the most economically depressed regions in Canada. Honestly, I’d say we’ve gotten off pretty lightly compared to most other communities in Eastern Ontario.
We’ve been lucky. And I mean ‘lucky’. There was a time, roughly thirty years ago, when people started buying up the old, original homes — the red brick ones, with the fancy gingerbread, and “renovating” them. This generally meant ripping out 100-year old, hand made staircases, or putting up aluminum siding, or dividing huge rooms into tiny apartments, or throwing the gingerbread in the trash instead of restoring it.
But, thanks to a lot of hard work, and education campaigns, and making people understand that their property — and the town — were more valuable without the ‘renovations’. What Vankleek Hill has in its favour today, is an understanding and respect for its history [link alert] — even if not everyone understands, or has even been taught that history. Somehow, just the architecture makes everything seem important, simply because the architecture is still there.
But Vankleek Hill has a lot of empty spaces right now. I took these shots over a two week period this past spring. Most of the “For Rent” signs had been up for more than a year… or businesses came and went so quickly the signs never really came down. I have some theories as to why Vankleek Hill’s retail and commercial properties haven’t kept up with its residential ones, but…
…anyway. The two banks; the pharmacy; Lalande’s convenience store (formerly Fleur’s); the post office; the Windsor Tavern; Home Hardware; the library, and; a few law offices have been where they are pretty much forever. The Review and the VKH Museum have new homes that should be there thirty-years from now. Everything else is in permanent transition.