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Toronto's heritage plan wins award

The city’s approach to heritage conservation has won it recognition from the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.

Guided by the planning department, in concert with a consortium headed by Taylor Hazel Architects, the city's policy, as embodied by a new amendment to the Official Plan, tries to treat heritage in a broader way than usual.

"We identify that conserving heritage buildings is not just a physical act," says Scott Barrett, the city's senior coordinator for heritage preservation services. They concentrate, he says, "on why it's important, on heritage values. They're not just an assemblage of buildings; they create a sense of place, places people can experience."

This is best exemplified in the city's Heritage District initiative, which looks into preserving entire neighbourhoods, rather than individual buildings.

"It's a significant change to our old policy," Barrett says.

The new approach calls for, among other things, archeological finds to "remain in place where possible," Barrett says, but according to the city's supervisor of archeology, Susan Hughes, "possible" is a frangible term.

Sometimes it works, like with the Norr Architects project for HK Hotels at Exhibition Place, where the remains of some barracks from the War of 1812 are being preserved where they lie, under glass. For the oldest house in the old City of York, the foundations for which were destroyed in the construction of the building that will house the Globe and Mail, or the remains of the 1830s Bishops Block, discovered then destroyed in the building of the Shangri-La Hotel, not so much.

In both instances, according to Hughes, it would have been "prohibitively costly" for the developers to incorporate the archeological finds into their new buildings.

But as the new and now award-winning amendment takes root, both Hughes and Barrett hope that more and better preservation of significant aspects of the city's history, early and recent, will be possible.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Scott Barrett, Susan Hughes
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