There are no hard and fast rules that determine what is, and what is not, heritage. Of course, everyone thinks of heritage as old buildings, however, heritage is whatever a community, past or present, values and would like to pass on to the future, regardless of age or vintage. It can be a place, a landscape, a cultural practice or a language, to name a few. It does not have to be associated with a famous historical figure or event, or in the case of buildings and structures, architecturally significant or aesthetically pleasing, to be considered heritage.
Cultural heritage is often used interchangeably with heritage in Canada. The term cultural heritage is more common in other parts of the world, as a means to distinguish from natural heritage.
» For more information see the Cultural Heritage Factsheet.
According to UNESCO, intangible heritage is “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”
» Learn about Intangible Cultural Heritage
» Learn about Indigenous Cultural Heritage
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.
A cultural landscape is, as UNESCO puts it, ” [the] manifestation of the interaction between humankind and its natural environment.” This can include traditional agricultural landscapes, gardens, parklands, and religious or spiritual landscapes, to name a few a examples.
Heritage designation in B.C. most often refers to a property protected by a municipal bylaw. The power to designate real property as heritage is available to local governments under the Local Government Act. The provincial heritage minister can also protect heritage property through designation, but generally prefers to leave such decisions to the local level. The federal government uses the term “designation” for commemorative purposes, as when it creates a National Historic Sites. Federal designation confers no legal protection.
If there is a desire to protect a property 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 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 to the exterior and any interior features that are listed as significant in the designating bylaw. Designation is generally limited to the building exterior, and even then does not prevent all changes for all time.
Designation travels with the title, and must be registered with the provincial Land Titles Office. 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.
» Read our Heritage Designation Resource Guide
» Watch our webinar on Heritage Legislation.
» Search the Historic Places Canada Register to find information about specific places, including whether they are designated and details on their historic significance.
Municipal and regional governments can create a Heritage Conservation Area, which establishes development and design 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 a local government and a property owner. HRAs often require designation and conservation in exchange for incentives such as zoning relaxations or density transfers. 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. It is created through a resolution. An alternative to designation 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.
» Watch our webinar on Heritage Conservation Areas
» To find out more, see the Government of BC’s “Heritage Conservation: A Community Guide” (1994)
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.
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. 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.
Please see the Heritage BC webinar on heritage real estate for more information.
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 confer 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 too high.
The process whereby an exact copy of an object, building or structure is produced.
Removing old mortar in masonry joints and replacing it, preferably with mortar 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: