There are no hard and fast rules, no binding legal definitions, that determine what is, and what is not, heritage. Of course, everyone thinks of heritage as old. “Heritage”, however, is best understood when joined to another word, such as conservation. The term “heritage conservation” was coined in Canada to describe the movement that advocated an alternative to the thoughtless development and urban renewal that was destroying irreplaceable vintage buildings. In this sense, heritage is clearly understood to mean something worth keeping, preserving, and protecting.
For much of its history, heritage conservation has in fact been largely concerned with “old” buildings (a very relative term), for several reasons. Older buildings, if not cared for, have more time to deteriorate, or simply go out of fashion. They become “‘dozer bait” – a prime target for demolition and redevelopment. The older they are, the more likely they are to be rare.
Heritage, then, is often identified with the notion of the very old. But there is a growing awareness that even fairly recent structures, such as those built in the post-war era of the 1950’s and 1960’s, are already vulnerable to unsympathetic alterations or even demolition. There is also a growing movement to protect cultural landscapes and even intangible heritage, such as language and cultural traditions.
Heritage conservation is sometimes regarded as a movement to preserve only the best and the greatest – the “homes of the rich and famous”. This is a misconception. The heritage movement is concerned with preserving the history of all walks of life, all human activities, all peoples. A coal shed has as much intrinsic worth as a castle. A house need not be the design of a noted architect or the birthplace of one of B.C.’s premiers to merit saving. Heritage is, simply, what we agree is worth keeping.
Cultural Heritage Factsheet (download)
According to Canada’s Historic Places “a historic place is a structure, building, group of buildings, district, landscape, archaeological site or other place in Canada that has been formally recognized for its heritage value by an appropriate authority within a jurisdiction”. This definition is broad and encompasses many different types of places, going beyond the old view that heritage is limited to buildings and structures. It also incorporates the concept of heritage value, which is the aesthetic, historic, scientific, cultural, social or spiritual importance or significance associated with or expressed by a historic place for past, present and future generations. This idea of a historic place as a representation of heritage values informs current heritage conservation best practice in Canada.
An often misunderstood term, “heritage designation” in B.C. most often refers to a property protected by a municipal bylaw. The power to designate property as heritage is available to local government under the Local Government Act. There are several hundred municipally designated heritage properties in B.C.
If there is a desire to protect a building with a heritage designation bylaw, government will in almost all cases first attempt to get the compliance of the owner (often called a “friendly” designation). Owners often do comply, and in fact may seek designation if there is the opportunity of financial incentives as a result. In some cases, however, the owner may resist, in which case council may be reluctant to pursue designation, especially if there is a concern that the owner may seek financial compensation, which is possible if a loss in market value can be demonstrated.
Once a property is designated by bylaw, the owner must obtain a Heritage Alteration Permit to make alterations. Designation is generally limited to the building exterior, although since 1994 amendments to provincial heritage legislation made interior designations possible, we are now seeing some of those as well.
A local government heritage program should recognize that some changes to protected heritage property are inevitable. Heritage buildings must be useful and safe like any other. Rather than adopting an inflexible attitude, then, the regulating body (municipal staff, community heritage commission, and council) should work with the owner to implement reasonable and necessary changes, while at the same time protecting the building’s essential heritage qualities.
Designation travels with the title, and must be registered with the provincial Land Titles Office. There is no reason for anyone to buy a protected heritage property unaware.
A prospective buyer of a designated heritage property should check with the local planning department to get the details of the designation bylaw, and particulars about the municipal heritage program. In some cases, financial incentives may be available.
It is common in many communities with well-established heritage programs to place plaques on designated heritage buildings. This has been the source of some confusion about the purpose of designation. While many designated buildings are in fact some of the grandest in town, designation is technically not a form of commemoration. However, local government may choose to use it in this way. To further add to the confusion, the federal government uses the term “designation” for commemorative purposes, as when it creates a National Historic Sites. Federal designation confers no legal protection. The provincial heritage minister can also protect heritage property through designation, but generally prefers to leave such decisions to the local level.
Municipal and regional governments can create a Heritage Conservation Area, which establishes guidelines within a given neighbourhood or district, and may list individual properties for protection. They may also enter into a Heritage Revitalization Agreement, which is a formal, written agreement between government and a property owner. Heritage Conservation Areas are designated within Official Community Plans and Heritage Revitalization bylaws must be registered with the provincial Land Title Office. A Heritage Conservation Area will often include designated properties and properties on the Community Heritage Register, another tool of local governments. A register is an official list of properties recognized by government as having heritage value or interest, but does not confer legal protection, and is not registered with the Land Title Office.
You may wish to ensure that your heritage property is protected in the future, i.e., when someone else owns and looks after it.
Many people look to heritage designation in this situation. This is fine if you are willing to leave the future conservation of your heritage property to local government. If you are considering heritage designation, have a look at your local government’s track record first.
An alternative is a covenant under the Land Title Act, Section 219. A covenant is an agreement that can limit future use, alteration, or alienation of land or buildings on the land. It travels with the title, so all future owners are bound by it as well. If you wish to explore the covenant option, you should consult a legal expert with experience in this area.
Property value depends on many variables, and heritage status – being on a heritage register, in a conservation area, or designated – is just one of them. Opponents to heritage regulation may say that any restrictions on future use or alterations will make a property less attractive in the market place. In fact, there is no solid evidence to support such a generalization. Alternatively, some studies have shown that residential heritage property actually increases in value faster than other properties, and holds its value better during market slumps.
Arguments about heritage status and property value should be grounded in common sense. For example, let’s look at a heritage building in two extreme, contrasting circumstances. In the first instance, the building is a fine heritage home located in a neighbourhood of prestigious, historic residences. In this case, market value is will likely be affected positively by the home’s heritage character and the stable, “upscale”, location. Designation is not likely to reduce market value, and may in fact enhance it. Should the property go on the market, the vendor will promote its heritage “credentials”.
At the other end of the spectrum, the same house, but in poor condition, in a neighbourhood of low-priced and low-rent homes zoned for commercial redevelopment, will clearly not benefit, in any monetary sense, from legal heritage protection. In fact, such protection would go directly contrary to municipal plans for the area, which encourage commercial development. Protecting this building with a heritage bylaw would contradict municipal policy, and lower the value of the property by removing the option for potentially lucrative development.
Heritage status is rarely imposed against the owner’s wishes in B.C. In the case of heritage property designation, the law provides for compensation if there is a reduction of market value. An often misunderstood term, “heritage designation” in B.C. most often refers to a property protected by a municipal bylaw. The power to designate property as heritage was given to local governments in B.C. in 1977 under the Heritage Conservation Act. This power was transferred to the Municipal Act in 1994, and extended to regional districts as well. For local governments the current relevant legislation is the Local Government Act.
If there is a desire to protect a building with a heritage designation bylaw, government will in almost all cases first attempt to get the compliance of the owner (often called a “friendly” designation). If the owner resists, particularly if there is a claim of potential loss of value, the government is unlikely to proceed, because the Local Government Act provides for financial compensation if loss of market value can be demonstrated.
Using an old building for a new purpose or function. Sometimes involves extensive alteration to both the exterior and interior.
The physical intervention in a building to counteract deterioration or to ensure its structural stability. Some typical treatments include the cleaning of wallpaper, reattachment of loose plaster, masonry repointing, and consolidation of an existing foundation.
To recognize the heritage value or character of a building, site or other resource. Often involves the placing of a plaque or other marker. Commemoration does not means protection or legal restriction of any kind.
All activities involved in the protection and retention of heritage resources. Includes the study, protection, development, administration, maintenance and interpretation of heritage resources, whether they are objects, buildings or structures, or environments. Often used interchangeably with preservation (“heritage conservation” in Canada is “historic preservation” in the U.S.). It is also used to refer to a highly specialized field of activity that normally deals with the protection of objects in museum collections: a CONSERVATOR is the person who is responsible for the care and treatment of objects.
A treatment used to strengthen deteriorated materials to ensure their structural integrity. Traditional skills and materials are preferred. The intervention should be reversible. REPOINTING is an example of a reversible consolidation treatment. An example of a non-reversible consolidation process would be the strengthening of a timber by inserting metal rods in a bed of epoxy.
Legal protection through passage of a bylaw (local or regional government) or Order in Council (provincial). Designation offers long term protection and allows regulation and control of alterations and demolition.
A synonym for a designated historic district or conservation area which denotes a neighbourhood or district unified by a similar use, architectural style and/or historical development.
Refers to an artifact, building, site, or other feature that has heritage value or character.
Actions to slow the rate of deterioration of fabric and extend building life. Maintenance is generally divided into three categories:
» See ‘Conservation’
Describes the piece-by-piece rebuilding of a structure’s original components either in the original location or a new site. May be required when a structure lacks integrity even though its original components are sound. One of the most common reasons for reconstitution is land use change which requires the relocation of a structure.
The re-creation of an object, building or structure that no longer exists, on the basis of archaeological,literary and historical evidence (i.e. old photographs, diaries). Often raises concerns about accuracy as certain elements are often based on conjecture when no evidence can be found.
The process of modifying an historic building to extend its useful life through alterations and repairs, while preserving the important architectural, cultural and historical features.
A process which involves upgrading or replacing interior parts and features. This process tends to be done more for aesthetic reasons rather than functional ones. Remodeling may involve the removal and refinishing of interiors to make them indistinguishable from new structures, as well as applying architectural details from different, usually earlier periods. Often such buildings end up with a hybrid appearance, neither looking old or new. This process is often discouraged by conservationists.
A generic term to describe the process of modifying an historic structure in order to extend its useful life. It is also used to describe the improvements made to existing buildings or neighbourhoods. Other terms which also refer to renovation are: remodeling, recycling and rehabilitation.
A generic term that refers to the various activities which will strengthen existing building materials and systems that are salvageable.
The removal of existing materials which can no longer perform their proper function and their replacement with as exact a substitute as possible (i.e. the replacement of old shingles with new that match the existing shingles in material, pattern and exposure). This may be impossible when materials are unavailable or costs are to high.
The process whereby an exact copy of an object, building or structure is produced.
Removing old mortar in masonry joints and relplacing it, preferably with motar and technique which match the characteristics of the original.
The practice of returning an object or building to its appearance at a particular time period. Restoration may include the removal of additions and alterations made after the particular time period, and reconstruction of missing earlier features.
The upgrading of an existing building to meet code requirements (i.e. for fire or emergency exits) and increase comfort and safety, e.g., installation of new insulation, storm windows, smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, new heating and new electrical systems.
A process of economic, social and cultural redevelopment of a civic area or neighbourhood. Heritage area revitalization concentrates on historic buildings and other heritage resources to achieve economic, social and cultural objectives.
The introduction of new materials to supplement existing ones which no longer perform their proper function. Stabilization is designed to be reversible and includes: