Save Our Heritage from the Wrecking Ball

By Chris Erskine
Published April 18, 2013

We need to stop the wrecking balls and save our community's heritage. This Saturday, April 20, 2013, Councillor for Ward One, Brian McHattie, is holding a citizens' forum on cultural heritage protection. If you are someone who values history, the arts, or the urban village, I encourage you to come out and get involved.

I understand that heritage buildings can be tough to love for some, given the disrepair we often find them in, but let me give you three reasons why you should get past the dirt.

1. They Tell Our Stories

Some buildings are architecturally significant but many others are important because they tell stories about our community. For example, many of the buildings along Gore Park were part of the wartime history of Hamilton.

Others have rich personal histories like the Kerr building. In the late 1840s Thomas Kerr (the brother of Archibald Kerr) created a library in the back of their dry-goods store so that workers could read and improve themselves during their lunch breaks.

To lose these buildings is like ripping the heart out of the community.

2. They're Vital to the Growth of the Arts Community

In addition to telling great stories, many heritage buildings provide great spaces for studios, galleries and related activities.

Artists need buildings that can function both as live and work spaces. Proximity to other community resources is critical. Cities can benefit as artists are great at re-adapting buildings that others may not find interesting.

Transforming older buildings into an artist community can help the neighbourhood feel safer and more welcoming to other residences and businesses. However, the buildings have to be there in the first place.

3. They're Crucial to the Development of Hamilton as a Global Village

Heritage buildings also play a vital role in the development of an urban village. In a world where business has gone global and people can work from any location; having a sense of community where everything is within walking distance is important.

People want streets that are filled with social and aesthetic diversity. In such a setting, heritage buildings become prized for their character and authenticity.

So: for the historian, the artist, or the urban resident, our heritage buildings are extremely valuable and we need to take ownership for their protection. Without becoming more organized, we will continue to lose our heritage to the wrecking ball.

See also:

Chris Erskine is a labour and community activist. He is also a print artist, exploring historic landscapes and building themes using lino-cut and woodblock printing methods. You can visit his website.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2013 at 14:27:59

Concepts like "heritage" and "authenticity" are not universal, of course. To a good portion of the city's transplants -- immigrants from Toronto and lands still more distant -- the local postcard parade barely registers. And I'm not terribly surprised when someone from a former British colony is nonplussed by the "stories" imbued in Victorian architecture. (There's another disconnect opened when we take joy in flogging our core properties as a budget-priced investment item to a crowd of knock-kneed speculators out for easy money.)

But yes, creative approaches to adaptive reuse should be encouraged. Small business owners should be urged to take advantage of facade improvement and heritage grants (despite its charms, even James North is not immune from atrophy such as cornice rot).

Speaking of creative community, has anyone ever considered crowdfunding a solution to architectural heritage challenges? Or are we content to treat this as a matter where appreciation and awareness rather than money and will are the impediments? Who will air out our stinkables if not us?

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted April 20, 2013 at 16:28:46 in reply to Comment 87933

This crowd sourcing tool is being introduced at the citizens heritage forum as we speak.

Permalink | Context

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2013 at 16:19:18 in reply to Comment 87933's_first_by-law_crawl

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted April 18, 2013 at 15:52:12 in reply to Comment 87933

Speaking of creative community, has anyone ever considered crowdfunding a solution to architectural heritage challenges?

That's kind of the idea behind this. Not the funding so much, but harnessing the time and energy of citizens to do the groundwork necessary for enforceable protection of our heritage buildings.

Permalink | Context

By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted April 18, 2013 at 15:00:29 in reply to Comment 87933

thats wright its going to be us firking out money to reno this OLD buildings at a cost we can`t affored

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted April 18, 2013 at 15:50:06

Spoken like a stereotypical artist with no concept of finances or business sense.

Permalink | Context

By PearlsBeforeSwine (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2013 at 16:17:36 in reply to Comment 87947

Spoken like a stereotypical property speculator with no concept of value, return on investment or social responsibility.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted April 19, 2013 at 02:28:03

I'm tempted to...if only to say that this to me is insanity.

Nearly every single building between Wentworth, Dundurn, Aberdeen and Barton is on it! I take one look at the Dundas and downtown sections of this map and I feel exhausted looking at it. I would dread having to go through this, building by building to separate the wheat from the chaff of this map, which is the core issue I find with so much of Hamilton's heritage advocacy. Too much focus is on the ideal of maintaining heritage because it's old and not enough on saying "This building is specific building is old, it is the place of a noteworthy historical events/had these noteworthy people living here or possesses these unique architectural traits that you can't find nearby in the city (or aren't likely to see duplicated again).

Petitions that say "We want Delta Secondary protected because not only has countless generations graced it's doors since 1925 and specifically these noteworthy alumni up until recently was the oldest school still servicing Hamilton, it possesses a unique intricately carved archway entrance tower, boasting unique spires towers and sculptures above it's east and west entrances and was the first schools in Hamilton to offer specific commercial courses." and before a demo permit is being considered/issued.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2013-04-19 02:29:20

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2013 at 12:12:54

The Citizens' Forum on Heritage Preservation is happening today - starting at 9:30 am (Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, Hamilton City Hamilton).

The agenda for today's forum is outlined below.

I will be tweeting the Forum using the hash tag #FCSD and you can contact me at @erskinec

Citizen Forum on Heritage Preservation April 20, 9:30 a.m. to noon Council Chambers, 2nd Floor city Hall


  1. Words of Welcome
  2. Alissa Denham-Robinson, Municipal Heritage Committee
  3. Donna Reid, ACO, Hamilton Branch

  4. Introductory Remarks

  5. Brian McHattie, Ward 1 City Councillor

  6. Learning About Cultural Heritage Protection

  • Jim Leonard, Ontario Heritage Trust – learn the state of heritage protection in Ontario
  • Michael Seaman, Director of Planning, Town of Grimsby – learn from Michael’s experience in protecting properties through the Register and through designation in Markham, Oakville and Grimsby
  • Jeff Feswick – Principal, Historia Building Restoration Inc. – learn how Jeff restored Hamilton’s Treble Hall and other properties using adaptive re-use techniques
  1. Cataloguing Cultural Heritage Information Through University of Waterloo’s Building Stories Program
  2. Kayla Jonas, Heritage Resources Centre, University of Waterloo

  3. Tackling Hamilton’s List of 6,000 Properties of Cultural Heritage Significance

  4. Role for citizens

  5. Breakouts by geography/heritage group to organize how to assign properties for evaluation

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2013 at 18:48:33

For Erik Hanson, Peterborough’s heritage resources co-ordinator, buildings aren’t just buildings. They’re living entities that help shape the human experience, and he has spent his career trying to preserve them.

His latest project will launch Tuesday night, when the city holds a meeting designed to determine public interest in establishing the city’s first heritage district – an entire neighbourhood put under the protection of the municipality by designating it under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Under a designation bylaw, any changes or additions to buildings in the neighbourhood would have to be approved by the municipality.

"If you are the owner of a designated property, the features of your house that have been deemed to contribute to its history are protected, and if you want to make an alteration, you would have to seek the approval of the city," Hanson said.

For Hanson and other heritage conservationists, a heritage district would be the next logical step in an evolution that began in the late 1960s, when people like the late local historian Martha Kidd “were banging on the doors of City Hall saying ‘Stop the demolition of our beautiful heritage buildings.’”

That evolution has accelerated over the last decade, says Hanson, 51.

“It’s true that in the last 10 years there has definitely been an upturn in awareness,” he said. “It’s due to a lot of factors. One is that it was 10 years ago that Peterborough got its first staff dedicated to heritage. A program was introduced that provided some financial incentives to people who owned designated properties.

“It’s been a huge boost to the downtown in terms of revitalization. There has been a huge turnaround in the downtown that has a lot to do with heritage revitalization. I think in the last 10 years we’ve designated 28 properties in the downtown. Prior to that, we didn’t have many.”

It’s not just about the aesthetics, Hanson says.

“It’s a pre-demonstrated fact that a community that is well aware of where it’s come from has a better idea of where it’s going,” he says. “Having a strong sense of a community’s past anchors people. It helps them understand the challenges they face in the present and helps them map a progressive direction of growth for the city.

“If you look around at places that have capitalized on their heritage assets, they tend to do very well in terms of business development and tourism, so from a purely practical perspective, heritage conservation is good business.”

Besides, he notes, people just plain love old buildings.

“There’s an amazing Facebook page that posts old photographs in the area, and if you read the comments, it’s astonishing,” he says. “If they post a photograph of the corner of Brock and Bethune in 1970, there’ll be 100 comments from people. The outpouring of fascination and reminiscence about the history of a place is a really good example of why heritage conservation is so important. As human beings we are really powerfully moved by a sense of place, and we want, in our communities, to feel rooted and connected.”

That notion of connection, he said, “crosses time. Being connected can be about understanding your place in the present, but it can also be about being connected to the past. That Facebook page speaks volumes about how important it is to be able to articulate memory, and the ability to articulate memory has a lot to do with having those touch points around you.”

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools