Conservation and Parks Canada: Keeping our Historic Places Vibrant
The Parks Canada Agency has a long history of protecting,
safeguarding and promoting nationally significant examples of
Canada's natural and cultural heritage. Now in its centennial year, Parks Canada
is responsible for 167 national historic sites and plays a national
leadership role in the conservation of historic places in Canada.
In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, Parks
Canada has developed conservation tools such as the Canadian Register of Historic Places, Canada's
definitive source of information on historic places, and the Standards and Guidelines for
the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, a benchmark
guide for the conservation of historic resources. Parks Canada also
shows leadership in built heritage conservation through the
National Historic Sites of Canada Cost-Sharing Program, a contribution program,
which provides funding for eligible non-federally-owned national
historic sites, to assist them in activities which ensure these
national treasures are conserved for future generations.
The agency owns and operates many national historic sites and
heritage buildings across Canada, and also contributes to the
management of those that it does not own. Moreover, Parks Canada
supports conservation programs such as the Historic Sites and
Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC), and the Federal Heritage Buildings
Review Office (FHBRO). Canadian historic places designated at
the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal levels are
listed on the Canadian Register online at www.historicplaces.ca. Every week records are
posted as historic places become formally recognized by various
governments. However, not all buildings can be officially
designated and many historic places are in danger of disappearing
through demolition or neglect.
It's old and an eyesore- knock it down! Our
approach to heritage is all about perspective. As the pool of
heritage buildings in towns and cities diminishes, there is growing
awareness of the logic of rehabilitation for older building stock.
How often is a building examined out of context as a "modest"
example of its kind instead of as a valuable contributing element
within a larger historic district? Keeping older buildings in use
is recognized as the best way of preserving them and also the
character of a neighbourhood.
Converting older buildings for retail and residential use is
growing in popularity. Today, with increased awareness of "green"
issues, Canadian developers and architects are more open to the
re-use of older structures even in areas where land is at a
premium. Keeping the original use is often best as it involves
fewer changes to the building's fabric but when this is no longer
possible there are often many alternatives. As congregations
diminish for example, the large, open spaces of churches offer many
possibilities. In Halton Hills, Ontario, for example, the former
Congregational Church of Georgetown was transformed into the Georgetown Public Library and Cultural Centre
complete with period stained glass windows.
Rehabilitation of older buildings makes sense - dollars and
cents - as construction costs keep increasing. As Canadian
towns and cities evolve, buildings that have out-lived their
original use are often neglected and deteriote until major
intervention is needed to ensure structural integrity.
Adapting a structure to an alternate use can be cheaper than
constructing a new building and can breath new life into declining
neighbourhoods. Refurbishing an older building can often be
accomplished more quickly than constructing a new one.
Historic buildings often have lower energy consumption, and can
provide more affordable spaces for businesses and residents
Recentlry, the value of Canada's vernacular architecture has
been reassessed. In the past, the term "built
heritage" commonly evoked images of monumental
architecture such as grand country estates, cathedrals and large
civic buildings. Now there is a growing awareness of the
value of "everyday" vernacualr and industrial architecture, and of
the contribution a building makes within its larger context.
The continual loss of our "less notable" building stock is
extensive but a more creative approach to re-use can save these
Some examples of early rehabilitation projects found on the
Canadian Register include St. Mary's Parish Hall in Calgary's "Mission"
District. Built in 1905, this impressive sandstone building was
constructed as a Roman Catholic parish hall for French Catholics in
Calgary. Sold in 1911 to the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR), it
became office space before being rehabilitated as a railway station
gaining a track-bed and platform in 1913. 1916 saw the addition of
a rear brick extension and trackside wooden canopy. It operated as
Calgary Southwest Railway Station under the Canadian National
Railway (CN) until 1971. Named a Provincial Historic Resource of
Alberta in 1981, the interior was destroyed by fire in 1985 and was
subsequently restored in 1987.
Former industrial buildings are ideal candidates for
accommodating new uses. The large complex of Gooderham and Worts Distillery (constructed
1859 -1927) is another example of rehabilitation. Before closing in
1990, the distillery developed, produced, packaged, stored and
marketed spirits. In 2001, the 30 unused brick and stone
industrial buildings on 13 acres at the eastern edge of downtown
Toronto were purchased by Cityscape Holdings. This innovative
developer, working with ERA Architects, designed a pedestrian
oriented arts and culture precinct while respecting the
principles of good conservation practice as outlined in the
Standards and Guidelines. For example one standard advises
conserving heritage value by adopting an approach of minimal
intervention. Here, the developers retained as much original fabric
and interior features as possible and integrated them into the new
design. Grain bins have become office spaces and the distilling
room with its large control panel is now used by a graphic design
firm. The site includes an interpretive centre with guided tours.
This extensive rehabilitation and restoration project saved and
revitalized the site, and was enabled through a collaboration of
commercial and heritage interests.
structure successfully converted to mixed residential-commercial
use is the John Street Roundhouse (1929-31) in Toronto. A
locomotive repair facility for the Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR), the
introduction of diesel locomotives reduced activity at the site and
the building finally closed in 1986. The CPR donated the roundhouse
to the City of Toronto and it was designated a National Historic
Site of Canada in 1990. In 1995, part of the original structure was
dismantled to allow construction of the Metro Toronto Convention
Centre below, then reconstructed and is now home to the Toronto
Railway Heritage Centre, and commercial operations. In 1997, 17
acres adjacent to the building became Roundhouse Park, which
displays railway related items.
In 2002, when the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) relocated from its
1914 department store in Victoria, British Columbia, the building
was sold to Townline who engaged Merrick Architects (of Vancouver
and Victoria) to convert the building into a downtown condo. The
exterior of the former Hudson's Bay Company Department Store was
preserved and the open floor interior converted to residential
apartments. Preservation of the facades on this large heritage
project complied with the Standards and Guidelines thus
preserving its heritage character. The palatial design and grand
elevations of this four-storey Georgian Revival Style building was
chosen to establish architectural permanence and portray the luxury, grandeur, and modernity of
Canada's most successful and oldest company. This development
attracts people to live downtown close to work and, by extension,
revitalizes the streetscape.
A crucial aspect in the successful re-development of older
buildings is location. Due to urban sprawl, downtown buildings are
in demand. Downtown re-use projects benefit from pre-existing
public infrastructure including transportation, and can incorporate
smart growth principles such as mixed-land use and mixed-housing
choices, and can contribute to a sense of place. Investing in
properties signals confidence and attracts similar projects.
Mixed-use neighbourhoods are often pedestrian friendly and their
restoration doesn't involve the development of new land.
The principal factor influencing those deciding between
demolition and rehabilitation is often economic; tax policies and
incentives can greatly impact the re-use of older buildings.
Heritage conservation tax credit programs are available in many
towns and cities including Victoria, which has a tax incentive for
residential conversions of heritage buildings. Breathing new life
into historic buildings can also generate additional tax revenue
and create new local jobs.
Lead by Parks Canada initiatives, a more thoughtful approach to
heritage structures is becoming the trend in Canada. Thanks to
easily accessible conservation tools, Canada's built heritage is
being conserved in a responsible way ensuring their survival for
years to come.