History, Heritage, and Municipal Elections

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It’s that time again.  Municipalities across Ontario are gearing up for the October 25th municipal elections.  Along with the lawn signs, debates in local community centres, door-to-door canvassing, and the usual issues of property taxes, jobs, garbage collection and pot-holes, the topic of municipal heritage preservation has entered the political landscape.

Under the Ontario Heritage Act municipalities can pass by-laws to formally designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest.  Formal designation of heritage properties is one way of publicly acknowledging a property’s heritage value to a community.  Properties can be designated individually or as part of a larger area or Heritage Conservation District.  The protection and preservation of a community’s built heritage is therefore primarily a municipal concern and varies widely from community to community.  In Ontario municipalities like Cambridge, Niagara Falls, and Toronto have adopted Heritage Master Plans to enhance their ability to protect the community’s heritage resources.  The City of Brantford, on the other hand, recently completed demolition of 41 buildings in its downtown, believed to have been the longest stretch of pre-confederation buildings left in Canada.

But in Brantford, as well as other municipalities across Ontario, local groups are bringing the issue of municipal responsibility for heritage preservation to the candidates.  In the City of Toronto, for example, Heritage Toronto and the Toronto Historical Association hosted a public mayoral debate and forum to discuss the state of heritage in Toronto in 2010.  In Brantford, the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre (CIHC) distributed a heritage questionnaire for all municipal candidates based on questions drafted by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.  The questionnaire is intended to gauge candidates’ positions on issues pertaining to built heritage and responses will be published on the CIHC website and local media.  Reactions to the questionnaire have ranged from it being called “gutsy” to comments describing heritage advocates as “a group of leftists”.  Either way, for residents of smaller municipalities like Brantford, or Ontario’s largest city Toronto, the preservation of a community’s heritage resources is becoming a bigger issue.

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