Judge finds Bruce County in breach of trust regarding land purchase

photo by Saugeen Times

In what has been a contentious on-going battle over the former Anglican Church rectory house in Southampton, between the County of Bruce and the Southampton Cultural Heritage Conservancy (SCHC) group, a court decision has been made.

On January 31, 2022, Justice Gordon Lemon of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that, “Bruce County is in breach of the Krug trust by virtue of its use of the funds to purchase the land at High Street” (see Decision).

The decision follows the March 2019 application by Laura Robinson and SCHC under the Charities Accounting Act, alleging the County had secretly breached the Krug Estate Trust to purchase the former Anglican rectory at 254 High Street, Southampton, with the intent to demolish it and enter into a build on the property for a nuclear innovation institute.

The SCHC is a not-for-profit corporation formed by a group of local residents, ostensibly with the mission “to promote, protect and advocate on behalf of the history, cultural heritage, cultural landscape, civil society, and built environment of the Town of Southampton and the surrounding area.”

The land and former St. Paul’s Anglican rectory adjacent to the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre in Southampton was purportedly purchased to provide space for the expansion of the Museum’s Archival department through a new build.

Bruce Krug had bequeathed trust funds to the County for “… the archives building for the storage and display of the archives”.  Justice Lemon said, “There is no explanation of why the trust would pay for the entire lot when the archive did not need the full lot. There is no explanation why the trust would pay for a building on the lot that the County wished to demolish for its own purposes unrelated to the trust.”

“If the County wanted to build a joint-use building,” added Justice Lemon, “the County ought to have purchased and developed the property with its own money. The County should not have used the Krug trust for that purpose.”

Laura Robinson, a resident of Southampton and founding member of SCHC, stated that, “It’s been over three years since I asked the County under what circumstances were they able to use the bequest from Bruce Krug for the purchase and planned demolition of the Anglican rectory for a nuclear institute.”

The judge did not mince words about the County’s practice of withholding information, commenting that, “… the County has been, at the very least, unreasonable in its failure to provide ‘Southampton’ (the SCHC and community) with proper and transparent accounting of its decision-making process with respect to the Krug trust … on the admitted record, the County’s behaviour has been atrocious throughout. I cannot tell, and do not find, that the County’s conduct was intentional or unintentional, but the impact has been the same to Southampton (the party and the community).”

Regarding the future of the former rectory at 254 High St, Justice Lemon issued,  “Given my finding that the High Street property is a trust asset, nothing further will be done with respect to demolishing the house on the property without further order of this court. I remain seized of that issue. The demolition of the rectory would appear to be contrary to the wishes of Mr. Krug, but I cannot answer that question. However, the demolition may result in a diminution of the value of the trust asset. The question of whether the County eventually ends up owning the land and the rectory is for another day.”

In argument, ‘Southampton’ requested that there be orders relating to the sale of the land, however, according to Justice Lemon, those requested orders were not in the application. “I agree with the County that, without notice, I cannot make such orders,” he said.

Robinson and SCHC believe Justice Lemon’s Decision is an excellent one and support his direction to the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT), and the Krug Estate Trustee (CIBC) that they submit their plans to him with regard to the future of the Trust.

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