Heritage can be daunting; it is often controversial. Sometimes it is stigmatized as NIMBYism, as elitist, and as directed by people who oppose or even fear change. Yet, I would argue that the public’s knowledge of heritage is sometimes misguided and, to be frank, sometimes downright incorrect. Now, I, as someone who works in cultural heritage, will fully admit that the blame for a lot of this ignorance comes down to the lack of communication amongst the heritage community to the general public. We make assumptions that people know the difference between a designated property and a listed property or know the difference between a Heritage Conservation District and, say, the heritage corridor of the City of Stratford’s Official Plan.
It is at this point that I hope to dispel some of the myths behind heritage and clarify other details, as I focus on distinguishing various heritage designations and other heritage resources and tools. Much of this focuses on the most daunting of daunting heritage resources and tools, the Ontario Heritage Act (referred throughout as OHA). The OHA was first enacted on March 5th, 1975. At its most basic, its purpose, according to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, is “to give municipalities and the provincial government powers to preserve the heritage of Ontario” which can be achieved through designating properties or districts that have cultural heritage value or interest, as well as listing non-designated properties on a municipal register.
Without delving into too much detail, the OHA was strengthened in 2005, namely through closing a “cooling off” loophole that allowed a landowner to wait out a 180 day period – a period that was intended to permit a suitable degree of heritage preservation between owner and municipality – that ultimately allowed the owner to stick it out until that time period expired in which they could proceed with demolition. If a demolition permit is refused, a landowner must appeal that process through a board – for individual properties, it was, until recently, with the Conservation Review Board, and if it is within a Heritage Conservation District, it is with the Ontario Municipal Board. With the implementation of Bill 108 on July 1st, 2021, appeals for individual properties are now settled through a binding appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. The consequences of this change are beyond our scope, but are generally regarded as a less localized, less democratic process.
Individual Property Designations (Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act)
For individual properties, Ontario Regulation 9/06 outlines criteria for determining cultural heritage value or interest whereby a “property may be designated under section 29 of the Act if it meets one or more of the following criteria:"
Design value may be in the high level of craftsmanship displayed in the architecture while historical or associative value may derive from a property’s direct association with a person in the community. Contextual value could be a property’s physical or historical link to its surroundings.
Written consent from council must be obtained if an owner wishes to demolish or remove a building or structure from a designated property. These are simply some examples.
In Stratford, there are 89 properties designated under Part IV of the OHA.
Heritage Conservation Districts (Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act)
As the Ontario Heritage Toolkit states, Part V of the OHA gives municipalities the ability “to designate the entire municipality or any defined area or areas of the municipality as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD).” The purpose is that it “enables the council of a municipality to manage and guide future change in the district, through adoption of a district plan with policies and guidelines for conservation, protection and enhancement of the area’s special character.”
HCDs are an effective tool to protect the identity of a neighbourhood or district. After all, with an HCD it is a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. To determine the values and attributes that contribute to a district’s character, the proposed area is studied before it is designated.
Despite rich and diverse heritage across Stratford’s five wards, it only has one HCD, the Stratford City Centre Core, which was established on October 27th, 1997 and comprises the downtown with borders along the west side of Waterloo Street South down to a wedge on Downie Street between Douro and Falstaff streets, westward along the north side of St. Patrick Street, jutting northward along the rear properties of Erie Street before moving west again encompassing the public library and much of St. Andrew Street before enclosing itself along the southern shoreline of the Avon River. A group of dedicated heritage advocates are looking to designate the historic part of Hamlet Ward and other rumblings are being made in at least three other wards. Stratfordites care about the city’s rich heritage.
Listed properties are a less robust but nonetheless effective tool to preserve heritage. When a property is listed on the City of Stratford’s Non-Designated Properties Municipal Heritage Register, the City of Stratford outlines that “60 days written notice of intent to demolish or remove any structure or building located on the property” must be given by a property owner. The purpose is to afford Heritage Stratford and city council with “the opportunity to discuss alternatives to demolition, to obtain photo-documentation of the property prior to demolition or time to proceed with intent to designate the property under the Ontario Heritage Act.” Currently, there are 36 properties are listed on the City of Stratford’s Non-Designated Properties Municipal Heritage Register.
Designation, whether through Part IV or Part V of the OHA, is a tool that can be used to protect cultural heritage resources from demolition and unsympathetic alterations, and to therefore help establish or preserve a sense of place, community, and identity. Although it doesn’t offer the same protection as designation, listing a property on the City of Stratford’s Non-Designated Properties Municipal Heritage Register is an effective tool that allows the municipality 60 days to work toward the ideal goal of potential designation before a demolition permit can be issued. Furthermore, it is a way to educate the public on heritage tools and on local history.
What is important to remember is that heritage properties are not incongruent to the the notion of change, but designation and listing is a way to ensure the proper management of change. Going beyond designation, it would be wonderful to see the City of Stratford provide financial incentives for property owners to maintain their heritage property – whether designated or not – say, through grants as municipalities like London or Ottawa do. Stratford has a wealth of heritage properties whether designated, listed, or neither. It is important to use our heritage tools, as well as education on topics such as this, to preserve our heritage.