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It may be your last summer to visit the historic Oakes château in Kirkland Lake

Kirkland Lake ends lease agreement with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT)

KIRKLAND LAKE — The future of a nearly century-old home built by an eccentric prospector, who was later murdered in the Bahamas, is unknown beyond this summer.

Kirkland Lake has ended its lease agreement with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) for the Sir Harry Oakes Château. The decision was made during the closed session portion of the March 19 regular council meeting.

Alan Smith, the town’s CAO, told TimminsToday the Museum of Northern History, which is located in the château, will remain open to the public throughout the summer, with operations ending on Sept. 1.

“At which time it would be closed to the public and staff would de-accession artifacts until the town exits from the château at the end of 2024,” Smith said.

“The Ontario Heritage Trust owns the building, so the future use would be determined by them.”

Oakes was a prospector who discovered gold in Kirkland Lake in 1912. The château that now houses the museum was built in 1929 and was used by Oakes when he visited his mining properties from his home in Niagara Falls. 

In the 1930s, Oakes moved to the Bahamas and he was knighted by King George VI in 1939. He was murdered in the Bahamas in 1943. The crime has never been solved.

The Town of Kirkland Lake has overseen operations of the château through a lease agreement with the OHT since 1981.

However, a recent building condition assessment funded by the OHT revealed significant repair costs totalling $1.2 million.

“Despite efforts by the trust to secure funding, a shortfall of approximately $950,000 remains for essential repairs, compounded by annual operating expenses exceeding $260,000. Considering these financial challenges, sustaining cultural operations at the château has become untenable,” the town wrote.

Mayor Stacy Wight said the decision is important in relation to the town’s corporate strategic plan for 2024 to 2026.

“As outlined in our corporate strategic plan, it is imperative to prioritize core services and explore innovative alternatives for non-core services,” she said.

“We believe now is the opportune moment for the town to reassess its role in managing the château and to seek sustainable solutions for preserving our history and fostering community engagement.”

— TimminsToday