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30 years of protecting federal heritage buildings!


Did you know that heritage buildings belonging to federal government departments are governed by a different policy from the one applicable to other heritage sites? In 1982, in order to protect its heritage building stock, the government established the Federal Heritage Building Review Office (FHBRO). For 30 years, FHBRO has been helping departments to protect their heritage buildings, in accordance with Treasury Board's Policy on Management of Real Property.

Parks Canada's FHBRO was established by the federal government to address the concerns of Canadians that their government was not accountable for protecting and managing heritage federal buildings.

In 1979, Cabinet directed Parks Canada, as the lead federal agency concerned with the protection of historic buildings, "to develop a new policy respecting the conservation and continued use of heritage buildings owned by the federal government, including ways and means for their identification, evaluation, designation and protection." At the time, the federal government recognized that proper maintenance and good conservation practices resulted in more cost-effective use of their buildings. Cabinet approved the creation of the FHBRO in January 1982 and approved a clearly laid out policy establishing the principles and procedures for encouraging the conservation and continued use of heritage buildings under federal jurisdiction.

To begin, an objective process for evaluating buildings was necessary. Bias was banished with the adoption of a modified version of Dr. Harold Kalman's The Evaluation of Historic Buildings (1979). This short publication had been produced for Parks Canada's Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings (CIHB) to assist in the challenging task of determining the heritage value of a building. Despite being heavily weighted towards architecture, the process was nonetheless adopted by most municipalities and provincial governments across Canada. Because FHBRO adopted Kalman's evaluation method, Canadians could entrust their federal government to assess buildings without internal influence affecting the outcomes of the evaluation process. In time, as buildings were designated, conserved, sold and demolished, other processes were put in place to safeguard the most significant buildings.

FHBRO became a 'gold standard' in conservation and an international leader in managing public heritage. Its mandate and advisory roles are stipulated in the Treasury Board Policy on the Management of Real Property. As an advisory body, FHBRO encourages and fosters heritage conservation within the federal government and identifies where heritage value lies for buildings that are 40 years of age or older, which in turn has improved the efficient management of buildings that would otherwise have been met with uninformed decisions.

In many communities across Canada, FHBRO has helped in guiding conservation projects to the benefit of all stakeholders. The Jasper Park Information Centre, a national historic site and Classified federal building, has undergone successful rehabilitation work. The Brandy Pot Island Lighthouse at Saint-André, Québec has been carefully restored with FHBRO's advice. The distinguished and prominent Montreal Clock Tower, built in 1919 in honour of Canadian soldiers, stands today because of the advice offered by FHBRO. The Canadian Museum of Nature underwent a major rehabilitation and has been refreshed for visitors to the national capital.

Parks Canada's FHBRO is the sole advisory body within the federal government that accounts for the state of protected buildings. To date, only 4% of all federal buildings are designated heritage. Although much smaller by comparison with the 25% of federal buildings protected by the United States government, Canada's most important federal heritage buildings include 'gems' that tell the story of Canada.

Hall BeachHall Beach (photo), Nunavut: The only intact Cold War DEW Line radar station in Canada - for decades, this was the first line of defence against a Soviet attack on North America.

Brock's Monument, Queenston, Ontario: A unique 1850s memorial to the War of 1812 Battle of Queenston Heights and its fallen hero, Sir Isaac Brock - paid for by public subscriptions from Upper Canadians.

Sir John A. Macdonald Building, Ottawa, Ontario: A monumental and stylish 1930s Art Deco building that is undergoing a major rehabilitation for new use. The impressive character of the grand banking hall is being conserved and protected following the Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel, Prince Edward Island: Built as private residence in 1896, and converted into an opulent summer resort hotel 1932, the grand hotel was bought by the federal government in the late 1930s and continues to offer old-fashioned graceful hospitality.

Robert Service Cabin, Dawson, Yukon: Home to famed poet Robert Service while writing his greatest works about Canada's gold rush, the rare building is closely connected with the boom-town era of Dawson's development and to the influence of mining in the region.

National Film Board Headquarters, Montréal, Québec: Where Canada's great documentaries and pioneering film work over the decades has resulted in over 12 Academy Awards (Oscars) and 70 nominations!

Abott Pass Refuge CabinAbbot Pass Refuge Cabin (photo), Banff, Alberta:
The highest - in elevation - federal heritage building in Canada and an impressive stone refuge for hikers and mountaineers built by Swiss guides in the 1920s.

Hangar Line, Borden, Ontario: Canadians can be proud to own one of the best preserved rows of First World War hangars in the world. Built in 1917 for the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, these hangars were home to many exciting and perilous times in Canada's aviation and military history.

Parliament Hill Buildings and Grounds, Ottawa, Ontario: The jewels of Canada's democracy - the Sublime and Romantic neo-Gothic buildings overlooking the Ottawa River are an enduring symbol of our political traditions. FHBRO advised on the restoration of the Library of Parliament Building - FHBRO's "symbol" of success.

Cabot TowerCabot Tower (photo), St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador: Built in 1900 to mark the 1497 voyage of John Cabot to North America, it is known as the birthplace of modern communications. The first transatlantic signal was received here by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, and in 1920 the first ever transatlantic transmission of the human voice was received!

These places are owned and managed by departments and agencies within the federal government for their requirements and also for the benefit of Canadians. Parks Canada's FHBRO plays a significant role within the federal government by advising custodians on how to respect and conserve the heritage of their buildings, while also saving Canadians tax dollars by encouraging maintenance, conservation and reuse of government buildings. Long before sustainability was in fashion, Parks Canada's FHBRO conservation efforts were just that - sustainable. Although the FHBRO is thirty years old, its guiding principles remain the same: to respect and conserve the heritage character of federal buildings.


- Federal Heritage Building Review Office