From the humblest to the grandest, historic buildings tell the story of Canada better than any textbook, and represent our country in all its beauty and diversity. But historic places perform other vital roles. They frequently provide low-income housing, office space for innovative start-up businesses, and help to contribute to the local creative economy. Areas with older, smaller buildings host a higher proportion of new, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses, than areas with predominantly larger, newer buildings.
Historic places are central to sustainable communities and combatting climate change. The message to maintain, repair, and reuse – rather than to neglect, demolish, and replace – links heritage conservation with healthy and affordable lifestyle choices such as walkability, cycling, and public transportation, and enable greater density, better energy performance and adaptive use in historic areas. By rehabilitating and greening older buildings, communities are helping to combat climate change, and conserve precious natural resources. A recent study demonstrated that it takes 10 to 80 years for a new building that is 30% more efficient than an average-performing existing building to overcome, through efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts related to the construction process.
Heritage rehabilitation projects generate over 21% more jobs than the same investment in new construction.1 The renewal of historic properties attracts new businesses and residents, and increases property values in surrounding neighbourhoods. A recent study showed that investments in the rehabilitation of the historic Stanley Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. stimulated:
1 A 2002 Michigan study found that in new construction about 50% of cost is labour and 50% materials, whereas for rehabilitation projects the ratio is typically 70% labour and 30% materials. Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Investing in Michigan’s Future: The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation. October 2002.
Part of the appeal of places for residents and tourists is the reflection of local/national identity formed collectively by our historic places. Historic places draw tourists to Canada, with the number of US travellers seeking heritage experiences in Canada expected to reach 12.3 million annually by the year 2025.
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.
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.