Canadian property and civil rights — including heritage protection — come under the exclusive jurisdiction of provincial-territorial governments. Legal protection of individual properties of heritage value (and sometimes districts) resides with these governments and their municipalities. Municipalities work within the authority of provincial or territorial heritage legislation. Every Canadian province and territory has given their respective municipalities the ability to pass bylaws to protect historic buildings and sometimes districts. Most large urban centres have heritage planning programs within their planning departments. While heritage designation by municipal bylaw provides recognition and limited protection, it is often the key to managing built heritage resources, as well as a pre-requisite for funding to assist in the rehabilitation or restoration of such property.
Federal property cannot be designated by a lower order of government (provincial or municipal), but there is currently no legislation in place for federal heritage – only policy instruments. The Historic Sites and Monuments Act (1953) provides the federal Environment Minister with the power to recognize historic places of importance as National Historic Sites, but it is solely commemorative and does not have any protection mechanisms. The key mechanism for the identification and protection of federal heritage buildings is the Federal Heritage Building Policy (FHBRO) of 1982. It has evaluated approximately 5,000 of the 36,000 buildings in the federal portfolio, and has identified 1,260 as having high (Classified) or low (Recognized) heritage status –each level has different policy requirements. Unfortunately, FHBRO policy is not binding on federal departments and is not enforced. In 2003, the Auditor General of Canada assessed heritage protection practices within several departments and reported that federal built heritage “will be lost to future generations unless action to protect it is taken soon.” Canada is the only G8 country without laws to protect historic places owned by its national government.
Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, Canadian provincial/territorial and municipal governments began offering incentives to tip the balance in favour of retaining, rather than demolishing historic places. Most provincial governments now offer funding incentive programs of varying size. Municipalities play a pivotal role by ensuring added protection for historic places by incorporating measures within municipal planning documents and processes. They can also provide incentives that encourage property owners to maintain and rehabilitate places important to the community. These incentives can be financial — including grants, property tax reduction, or the waiving of municipal fees — but can also take other forms, such as density transfer, parking relaxation, and free heritage conservation advice. In recent years, there have been growing concerns that existing heritage financial measures at the municipal and provincial/territorial levels do not provide sufficient assistance to counterbalance the relative ease and familiarity of new construction.
Canada’s communities are made up of historic places that define our national identity and give shape and texture to our urban and rural neighbourhoods. Their social, historic, and environmental value goes well beyond the economic value they hold for their current owners.
The threats facing historic places can be highly complex, so there is no fail-proof method to play the role of heritage advocate. But here are some of the approaches that often characterize successful campaigns to save a place.