Defining heritage values is often a complex mix of history and memory, relationships and experiences, emotions and conflicts, and stories and interpretations.
A common, maybe ideal practice is to synthesize heritage through community input, placing heritage in the hands of people to define community-based values, connecting past with present and projecting a vision of ourselves to future generations.
But, as society changes, vision, values and priorities change and different layers are added to the stories as new cultures, communities, and generation are offered the opportunities to contribute.
Institutions are often troubled with complex, multi-layered stories with which every community must eventually grapple, considering its role and reaction to the deeply rooted, polarizing stories. As the communities seek to understand, learn, sympathize, and resolve, the contested sites stir debates of retention, memory and representation.
The debates have the potential to pull apart society, just as they have the potential to teach us about ourselves and our society. Whether we demolish or retain, our actions imply what we think about the past and how we want to deal with it. The loss of a site is not the re-writing of history, but it can be a form of forgetting. And retention is not celebrating the past, but a way to remember darker times.
The solutions are not obvious and not arrived at easily, but hopefully they are a means to reconciliation and healing.
The threats facing institutional heritage include:
(excerpted from Fairmont Training Academy Statement of Significance)
Fairmont Training Academy is a two-and-a-half storey Tudor Revival institutional building designed by Vancouver architect Samuel Maclure in 1912. It was built in 1912 as Langara School, a private residential school for boys, but in 1920 was purchased by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for their own use. Renamed Fairmont Barracks, the building served as the force’s provincial headquarters until 1950, then as the sub-divisional headquarters until the 1970s, and finally as the Fairmont Training Academy. While changes to the building’s interior have been substantial, its exterior form and prominent features have remained remarkably intact.
The heritage character of Fairmont Training Academy resides in its formal massing, its symmetrical façade and its balanced composition. The traditional form is softened through the use of contemporary design features such as Tudor half-timbering, a flared hip roof, prominent doors and windows underlined by the distinctive yet simple nature of their materials. The design and materials of the exterior of this building must continue to be respected in their entirety, as should its distinctive entrance and interior foyer.
The site is jointly owned by the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation (MST Nations) as well as CLC. Canada Lands Company. The Heather Lands (formerly known as the RCMP Fairmont Lands) is a 21-acre site located north of 37th Ave and south of 33rd Ave bound by the lanes behind Willow Street and Ash Street.
The issues facing the Fairmont Academy are as complex as they are numerous. It is helpful to have some background to understand the issues:
The heritage values of the Fairmont Academy are not disputed, but the building faces a challenging mix of competing needs and interests.
There are examples of retained buildings that stand as forms of reconciliation and healing, creating a foundation for building a stronger community. But that approach is not universal and demolition can be seen as a way to mitigate the effects of past injustices. Some see removal of monuments to be an attempt to rewrite history, while others believe retention is an aide to preserve the memory of and connection to past inequalities.
These polarizing debates are compounded with political, civic, cultural, economic, environmental and emotional struggles.
As expressed by Bill Yuen, the executive director of Heritage Vancouver, “We would like a process where all owners and stakeholders come together and have a conversation about what should happen.”
But the clock is ticking for the Fairmont Academy. The City of Vancouver Council approved a policy statement to develop a new neighbourhood. Current plans do not include the Academy and so its future is very uncertain.