Who Is Involved in Your Built Heritage?

This list of federal, provincial and municipal heritage organizations can help citizens find out where to go to ask questions about our built heritage.

By Kayla Jonas
Published November 22, 2010

When I began in the heritage field, I found it a bit overwhelming how many organizations seem to be involved in the heritage world, so I put together a list of national, provincial and local organizations. I hope these descriptions help others in the field, as well as citizens who need to know where to go to ask questions.

National Level

Heritage Canada Foundation

The Heritage Canada Foundation operates at the National level to advocate for heritage resources in Canada. They bring attention to heritage sites through their annual list of Canada's Ten Most Endangered Places and their annual conference. Anyone can become a member of this organization and benefits include a subscription to their magazine.

Department of Canadian Heritage

The Department of Canadian Heritage rests on three pillars: culture, identity and sport. For built heritage in Canada, this manifests itself with funding for heritage-related programs and the Canadian Heritage Information Network.

Parks Canada

Parks Canada is the federal agency that is most directly involved in preserving and promoting Canadian Heritage sites. They own and run many of the National Historic Sites across the county and contribute to the management of those that they do not own. The Cave and Basin, Rideau Canal and Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Sites are all examples.

As part of the Historic Places Initiative to promote protected historic sites in Canada, Parks Canada is responsible for an online listing of such sites, found at This website documents sites that are protected by the Federal, Provincial, Regional and Municipal levels in a standard way ensuring that all the information is easily understood by people who do not work in the field.

Parks Canada also oversees the national standards for historic places, referred to as the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Also operated from within Parks Canada is the Historic Sites and Monuments Board and the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office.

Provincial Level

Architectural Conservancy of Ontario

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) is a Not-for-Profit advocacy organization. They have branches in cities and regions all over Ontario. The organization is run by volunteers and focuses on education through lectures, and an annual conference, protecting buildings by advocating on behalf of communities, conducting research and administering programs to encourage protection.

Preservation Works is one such program, which provided a written analysis of a site that is under threat. This report is written by a professional at a nominal fee to clients.

The ACO has also launched an early warning system for buildings at rick called The goal is for the public to input places in their community that are at risk and add details such as pictures, video and historical information. Anyone can become a member and volunteer with the local branches.

Ministry of Culture

The Ontario Ministry of Culture is the agency that has the primary oversight for the conservation of heritage resources in the Province of Ontario. Guided by the Ontario Heritage Act, the Ministry sets out guidelines for the protection of resources such as individual sites, Heritage Conservation Districts, cemeteries, bridges, archaeological sites, municipal heritage registers and cultural heritage landscapes.

They also maintain the Ontario Heritage Properties Database, which is a listing of all designated properties in Ontario. In addition, they oversee Ontario's contributions to the national register at The Ministry advises the Minister, as well as providing grants to individual heritage projects through their funding programs.

Ontario Heritage Trust

The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Ontario Government. Its mandate is to "identify, preserve, protect and promote" Ontario's heritage. The Ontario Heritage Trust is directly involved in protecting built heritage by owning several sites and operating them as museum.

They also hold Conservation Easements on several hundred properties across the province. Conservation Easements are legal agreements between the Ontario Heritage Trust and a building's owner which detail the building's significance and outline conservation practices that ensure the building's significant features are preserved for future generations.

The Trust also oversees Doors Open, a province-wide event that allows the public to enjoy heritage building in their community for free. The blue and gold plaques that can be seen all over the province are also the jurisdiction of the Ontario Heritage Trust. These plaques identify people, events or buildings that are significant to Ontario.

Local Level

Municipal Heritage Committees

Many, but not all, municipalities in Ontario have Municipal Heritage Committees. These committees are appointed by council and exist to provide advice to council on matters of cultural heritage. Members of these committees are volunteers, who are often accompanied by the municipal heritage planner (or planner assigned to heritage) as well as a city Councillor.

Their responsibilities include recommending sites for heritage designation, creating a municipal heritage register of properties of cultural heritage value, reviewing applications for alterations to designated sites, and other development applications as well as communicating with the larger community.

Community Heritage Ontario is the umbrella group for there committees. Similar groups can also exist at the Regional level such as the Waterloo Heritage Planning Advisory Committee.

Heritage Planner

Heritage Planners are usually part of the Planning Department staff. If a municipality does not have a designated Heritage Planner, a planner within the department will have heritage as part of their responsibilities.

These planners work for the municipality and are responsible for the day-to-day management of built heritage in the community including writing designation reports, reviewing development application and ensuring the municipality follows the Ontario Heritage Act and the existing standards put out my the Ministry of Culture and Parks Canada.

Historical Societies

Historical societies are found throughout the Province of Ontario. Usually they are charities set up to encourage those interested in history to become involved in their community. Their activities differ depending on their focus, but usually include meeting and lectures, advocating for historic sites, doing research and maintaining collections of historic materials.

This essay originally was originally published in series on Kayla's personal website. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Kayla Jonas is a graduate from the University of Waterloo in Environment and Resource Studies with a joint major in Anthropology. Kayla works as a Heritage Planning Specialist at the Heritage Resources Centre, a research centre that specializes in built, cultural and natural heritage.

Her professional experience has focused on the documentation of historic places including individual sites, heritage conservation districts and cultural heritage landscapes.

Her blog Adventures in Heritage can be found at:


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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 14:06:32

I recall none of these groups being able to save the Tivoli. Perhaps even complicating renovation of it. Particularly the OHT failed the city.

Comment edited by TnT on 2010-11-22 13:07:14

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 15:04:09

From my understanding, the problem with the Tivoli was that the owner was given a lot of grants to preserve it, and he instead wasted the money. At least, that's what I heard.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 20:33:06

I thought there was a campaign to save the Tivoli launched this past summer...Toonies for Tivoli?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2010 at 22:40:48

The Tivoli theatre's still intact - it's just the front foyer that now lies in ruin. I have a number of friends who've worked with Loren Libreman a fair bit over the years (the Tivoli's 'Director'), and none of it sounds encouraging.

As for saving buildings - protesting, postering and leafleting are great (especially when you're dealing with legal threat), but they can only take you so far. At some point, somebody has to do some actual work on the structures.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted November 23, 2010 at 21:56:09

Actually somebody has to be willing to pay for the work. Thats the side of the equation thats so often missed. If a group wants to save a building thats great but if they cannot at least help find funding then ...... Likewise if the city were to insist on saving buildings the city had better be prepared to fund the cost differential between restoring and demo/rebuilding or we will continue to have dozens of derelict buildings

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 12:23:29

This is some wonderful news in Paul Wilson's article on the Hamilton Spectator website today. Jeff Feswick, an experienced heritage property renovator, has purchased Treble Hall on the east side of John Street between King Street and King William Street and he plans to fully renovate it. Best wishes to Mr. Fenwick in his endeavour.

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