The City of Red Deer is making progress in negotiating with the province to purchase part of the Michener north site — specifically, the J.J. Gaetz House.
The empty and boarded-up historic property sits just east of the Red Deer Cemetery and above the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary.
As one of the few remaining original farmhouses within city limits, the J.J. Gaetz home is listed in the Alberta Register of Historic Places.
It’s also been sought after by the ReThink Red Deer group, which has proposed turning the property into a demonstration sustainable urban farm.
Tara Lodewyk, the city’s director of planning services, told city council she’s been in discussions with the province about the fate of the entire Michener north site.
The institutional buildings have been shut down since about 2015, when the remaining residents with mental disabilities were moved to the Michener south site.
While the government has made no determination on the north site as a whole, Lodewyk believes progress is being made on an eventual transfer of ownership of the J.J. Gaetz house and property to the municipality.
City administration is reviewing a draft subdivision plan that outlines the boundaries of the property being considered, including the house, road and portions of the escarpment over the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary.
Lodewyk said the matter has also been raised with the infrastructure minister.
She believes more will be known by this spring — including how much it will cost the city to obtain the heritage site.
As to what will happen to the property after the city gets ownership, Lodewyk said that’s yet to be decided.
The municipality must first assess whether it has any direct use for the historic building and property. Lodewyk said if the city doesn’t, then proposals would be reviewed from ReThink Red Deer and other interested community groups.
The J.J. Gaetz House was built by John Jost (Jack) Gaetz, an early settler and relative of Red Deer’s founder, Leonard Gaetz. The two-and-a-half storey brick Edwardian-style house was built in 1914, and is situated on an escarpment.
Jack Gaetz was a community leader who served as Red Deer’s MLA from 1918 to 1921, and later became a member of the University of Alberta senate.
In 1893, he donated a portion of his homestead for the formation of the Red Deer Cemetery.
His house is also valued for its association with the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary. The land that was declared a bird sanctuary by a 1924 dominion order-in-council, reflecting Gaetz’s commitment to the natural environment.
In 1973, the J.J. Gaetz House was purchased by the province for use as part of the Michener Centre, an institution for persons with mental disabilities.
It was later used by the Red Deer Christmas Bureau and the Red Deer Doll Club, becoming known as the “doll house” because of the donated dolls that were refurbished as Christmas gifts for local children.
The house’s notable characteristics include a high-pitched gable roof with two dormers, a bay window, wrap-around veranda, decorative brackets and cornices.
The isolated building has been fenced and its windows and doors are boarded up to prevent vandalism and break-ins.
After the community raised concerns about deterioration, the provincial government paid to have the home re-roofed in 2017.