A Nation Watches Its Heritage Rot Away


Bellevue House, Amherstberg ON: Built in 1816 by officer returning from War of 1812, developer wants to build condo on site, has left it empty and abandoned since 2001.

I do go on about how the greenest brick is the one already in the wall, how old buildings are green, and that fixing them puts people to work. Imagine my surprise to find that Canada's National Post, home to climate deniers and various other right-wing cranks, says much the same thing, even coming out for stimulus investment in them. Their editorial board writes:

At a time when governments are looking to bolster employment through infrastructure stimulus, one option that should be considered is for the federal government and the provinces to restore a wide range of Canada’s historic buildings. It would seem more worthwhile to protect our heritage than, say, buy a failing company.


Pantages Theatre, Vancouver. Built in 1908, being lost to redevelopment for yet more condos.

The Post is picking up on the appalling list of the ten most endangered buildings in Canada, just released by Heritage Canada. They note that we do not value our heritage buildings in Canada:

We Canadians often value our structural history too little. An old church or an old house is taken for granted. Or it is considered insignificant as compared with a great palace in India or a towering cathedral in Europe — too trivial to save.


David Dunlap Observatory, site of the discovery of black holes, lost to condos

They conclude with a plea:

Saving these buildings won’t be easy, but money would help. We may be a young country with more land than history, but we risk losing much of the history we have in a race to eradicate old buildings for new ones.

Being the National Post, they could not help but do a bit of defense of the poor real estate developer:

Developers cannot be sold land and then be forced to wait years for permission to develop it, all the while paying mortgage and interest and staff costs, not to mention losing sales opportunities as markets fluctuate.

Developers know exactly what they are buying, and when they pick up an historic property they know they have a fight, how long it will take, and that they will usually win. That is the definition of real estate development. If you live in a society without a strong preservation culture and rules to back it up, like they do in Europe, then such fights develop less often. Developers make a perfectly good living infilling, restoring and repurposing old buildings instead of knocking them down. There is lots of money to be made in heritage buildings.


St. Mary's School, Saskatoon. Note the formerly grand windows have been filled in and no doubt the ceiling inside is dropped and filled with fluorescent lights. Heritage Canada says "The decision [to demolish] runs contrary to Saskatoon’s policies related to waste and recycling, greenhouse gas management, community consultation and civic heritage. The demolition of this 96-year-old functional building is environmentally irresponsible. "

Nonetheless, the Editorial Board of the Post deserves serious credit for not taking the expected stance that nothing should stand in the way of the business of development. Good for them. More in the National Post
See all of Heritage Canada's top ten endangered buildings.
Full Disclosure: This author was recently elected the President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, a volunteer organization that "has been involved in preserving Ontario's architectural and environmental heritage since 1933."

More on how Heritage is Green:

In Hard Times It's Time For Renovation and Preservation
Renovation Uses Twice As Much Labor, Half as Much Material as New Construction
The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall
French Stimulus Program Preserves Historic Buildings
Refab Now!
Diane Keaton on How We Treat Old Buildings Like Plastic Bags

Tags: Architects | Ban Demolition | Green Building

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