Heritage Toronto released a report, earlier today, detailing its recommendations for heritage preservation in the city. But new Heritage Toronto executive director Karen Carter realizes that the preservation community might need to adjust its expectations, in view of the City’s new belt-tightening program.
At a press conference this morning, on the third floor of historic St. Lawrence Hall, Carter—along with Paul Litt, of the Toronto Historical Association; Geoff Kettel, chair of the North York Preservation Panel; and former mayor David Crombie—spoke about the report to reporters, a handful of city councillors, and the public.
A moment came about halfway through the presentation when Carter gave the obligatory nod to the agenda of the new municipal administration. Unprompted, she began talking about some of the resource limitations involved in improving the preservation of heritage architecture in Toronto.
“Toronto is often referred to as a new city, as a young city,” Carter said. “And that sense overwhelms the history that we do have.”
(By the panel’s reckoning, Toronto has approximately eleven thousand years of history, each one of which requires preservation.)
“We know that there are limited resources,” continued Carter. “We’re folks that work with limited resources on a regular basis.”
And yet one of the report’s major conclusions is that Toronto needs to devote more resources to preservation.
The whole thing was written on the basis of consultations, in 2010, with a broad cross-section of members of the city’s heritage community, who shared some of their concerns with Heritage Toronto. Those who attended the consultations lamented, among other things, that the City hasn’t yet invested in a museum devoted entirely to Toronto’s history—something the existing eleven City-owned museums don’t do in a comprehensive way.
Another key recommendation to arise from the consultations is that the City increase funding to its Heritage Preservation Services section, which advises city council on heritage matters and recommends properties for inclusion on the City’s inventory of heritage properties. Currently, the report says, buildings tend only to come to the attention of HPS when developers file applications for demolition.
This is exactly what happened in the case of the Empress Hotel, at Yonge and Gould streets, which suffered a partial collapse last summer. After that, its owners, the Lalani Group, requested permission from the City to demolish the rest of the building. Only after Lalani Group had filed that demolition request did the City confer “designated” heritage status on the property, which gave city council authority to intervene in renovation and redevelopment plans. The building then burned down, on January 3, in a fire that has since been ruled arson by police.
After the press conference, Carter spoke to Torontoist about her vision for a citywide preservation strategy that doesn’t rely on a tight-fisted City bureaucracy suddenly deciding it feels rich.
The City could be more proactive about finding and designating heritage properties, she said, “if individuals were able to send in information on their sites.”
In other words, she wants to rely to a greater extent upon the public to bring heritage sites to the City’s attention, rather than the other way around. She doesn’t think the system, as it’s currently designed, facilitates that kind of citizen input.
“It does exist,” she said. “But it doesn’t exist with the sense that it’s a valid and welcome voice.”
Want to read Heritage Toronto’s full report? Get it here.