T.W. Paterson: Locally and nationally, heritage is news

Over the last 30 years Canada has lost over 20 per cent of its historical buildings. —the National Trust for Canada.

Over the last 30 years Canada has lost over 20 per cent of its historical buildings. —the National Trust for Canada.


Hardly had the ink dried on last month’s saga of James K. Nesbitt’s years-long struggle to save Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle from potential demolition and redevelopment, than the Citizen announced, in a front page story, possible new ownership for Elkington Heritage House.

Despite its being the first house to be given heritage designation in North Cowichan, in 2005, the two-storey, shingle-clad structure has been steadily deteriorating. Situated on 50-odd acres of protected Garry oak preserve, what’s left of the original 300-acre dairy farm’s preservation is beyond the mandate (and the financial resources) of its current owners, the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Hence Sheila Kitson and Paul Gowland of the NCC pitching North Cowichan council to form a stewardship group, with up to $25,000 funding from the municipality to replace the failing roof and gutters, and to negotiate “a transfer of the property to North Cowichan… The property could be made into a destination park and the proposed non-profit steward society would be responsible for raising funds for it.”

We’ll have to see how that goes; in the meantime the old house has again made the news, even beyond the Valley, as the locale of a Hollywood movie shoot starrring current heartthrob Casey Affleck.

Much more has been happening on the heritage front elsewhere, some of it good, some of it bad; so much, in fact, I have difficulty keeping up with it all. Let’s begin with a recent letter to the editor of Comox’s online publication, Tide Change. Loys Maingon, winner of a Heritage BC award in 2016, quoted from a recently released report by the National Trust for Canada that “over the last 30 years Canada has ‘shockingly’ lost over 20% of its historical buildings”!

How ironic that, as Maingon notes, every new Canadian citizen is told, “the preservation and protection of Canadian heritage is a Canadian citizenship obligation”.

On the positive side, although within limitations, in Ottawa, Peter Van Loan, Conservative MP for York-Simcoe, has proposed a Private Member’s bill to provide a tax credit for restoring historic buildings. Van Loan, the Conservative critic for Canadian Heritage and National Historic Sites, wants to create a 20 per cent tax credit for rehabilitation of recognized historic places. The bill is seconded by Peter Kent, the Member of Parliament for Thornhill. Bill C-323 would “seek to limit the destruction of Canada’s heritage buildings, and instead encourage the rehabilitation of these culturally significant buildings. The tax credit would be available to properties that appear on the National Register of Historic Places”.*

Bill C-323 would also allow property owners to write-off spending on heritage restoration at a faster rate than is currently the case.

“There is a tremendous public interest in the preservation and restoration of heritage properties,” Van Loan said. “But the cost burden of doing so is usually more expensive to owners than other alternatives — like demolition and new construction. This bill helps owners who are preserving heritage buildings with the cost of delivering this public benefit.”

To be eligible for the tax credit and accelerated write-off, restoration would have to be certified by an architect as following the Parks Canada published standards for conservation of historic places.*

The Van Loan bill hopes to “help reconnect Canadians” to their cultural heritage. Citizens “will be more likely to embrace the idea of having their properties designated as historic if this bill is passed. It will also provide a meaningful investment in our national cultural infrastructure,” said Van Loan. He believes that the design of the package makes it modest in cost, yet effective in preserving our built heritage.

*Note that the Van Loan private bill, even if passed in Parliament, a rarity in itself, limits his proposed tax credit to buildings and homes already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meaning that tens of thousands of other suitable heritage structures across Canada — such as Elkington House — won’t qualify.

Closer to home, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Peter Fassbender, whose Liberal government has established a solid record of wanting little or nothing to do with our heritage or history, was recently quoted thus about observing Canada’s 150th birthday: “Arts, culture and heritage are at the core of British Columbia’s cultural identity. We have a wealth of stories to contribute to Canada 150 and an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of our province. Investing in long-term cultural legacies will support our communities in sharing B.C.’s stories for generations to come.”

He has the sentiment down right. If only his government would walk the talk.



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