On October 15, representatives from over a dozen Ottawa community associations gathered at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New Edinburgh to take part in the 2011 Heritage Forum for Ottawa Communities. Organized jointly by Heritage Ottawa and the New Edinburgh Community Alliance (NECA), the event explored how a proactive approach to heritage could be realized through collaboration and dialogue among Ottawa communities. The mix of presentations about heritage issues, including practical information, and wide-ranging discussion fostered both appetite and capacity for such an initiative.
The Forum revealed a dynamic state of affairs within our communities. Just as development and intensification issues are affecting many neighbourhoods, so too are many communities actively engaged in researching and promoting their history. The challenge in the coming years will be to increase the sharing of information among communities, to assist communities looking to recognize their heritage resources through designation, as well as to support the efforts of those who are working to protect the character and liveability of their neighbourhoods.
Discussion revealed several factors which negatively affect our current system of heritage conservation. Apathy, lack of understanding and even outright disregard for heritage issues at City Hall are primary concerns. Although several policies, guidelines and legislative direction exist to provide for the responsible management and conservation of our heritage resources, compliance with these mandates is lacking, and communities across Ottawa often find themselves fighting their own City on these concerns.
Too often, proponents of heritage are seen as obstructionist and reactionary, when they are simply fighting for the rules to be followed. Until City Council begins to take heritage issues more seriously - and realize the voting public will hold them accountable for such decisions - we cannot hope to realize an effective heritage conservation system, let alone a proactive approach that might see strategies such as the now-forgotten demolition-by-neglect policy approved and implemented.
City Council attitude is but one part of a larger picture. With almost 3000 designated properties and over 11,000 properties on the Heritage Reference List to manage, our three City Heritage Planners are kept extremely busy. The ability of our City to proactively engage in heritage activities - such as updating the Reference List, developing guidelines for Cultural Heritage Impact Statements, or extending designation to under-represented areas - is limited. With the attitude of City Council and the overextended resources of City staff, it is evident that the catalyst for a more dynamic and proactive approach to heritage conservation must originate instead from our communities.
Several key points were identified by Forum participants:
- Educating City Councillors on existing heritage policies and legislation to raise awareness and create political will for heritage conservation.
- The need for community associations to work with the City to update the Heritage Reference List.
- Concern was raised regarding the health of Advisory Committees at City Hall, such as the Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee. Recruitment to these committees has been put on hold until the City review of these committees is undertaken. There has been no recruitment for three years, and OBHAC has dwindled from 15 members to 7. [Editor’s note: Council has recently approved the appointment of new members to OBHAC and to the Accessibility Advisory Committee since both are provincially mandated. However, recruitment has not yet begun and OBHAC remains severely understaffed.]
- We need a diversity of voices, as well as new voices for heritage issues: Councillors are tired of hearing from ‘the usual gang’, and often pay more attention to messages from their own constituents.
More information and a detailed report of the event are now available on the Heritage Ottawa website (www.heritageottawa.org).
As a follow up in the New Year, we will be organizing an information workshop for Ottawa communities interested in designation. A resounding success, the 2011 Heritage Forum for Ottawa Communities was a firm and first step in fostering a productive City-wide dialogue on heritage issues and adopting a more collaborative and proactive approach to heritage conservation in Ottawa.
Biographical Note: Nancy Oakley is a Board Member and Coordinator of Heritage Ottawa’s Heritage Keeper Program. She is also a graduate student in the Heritage Conservation Program at Carleton University.
2011 Ottawa Heritage Forum – photo credit: Paul McConnell