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Heritage Here - Planning Community Heritage

Why is heritage important? For the values it represents - your values - and for the increasingly important role it's playing in the development of communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. We've got a lot, and we can make it go a long way. Every community has its own story to tell. And there are ways your community can put its story to work.

What is Heritage?

You may be wondering just what is your heritage. Actually, it is the sum total of all the things that have shaped you and your community. You are probably familiar with the built heritage: special buildings or monuments in your town. Heritage buildings are important because they help to define a town's character and uniqueness.

But it's not just the grand old houses that make a place what it is. It's the ordinary houses too. And the wharf, and the plant, and the view, and, most important, the people - the ones there now, as much as those who were there before. Your cultural heritage includes local songs and stories, paths and parks, means of travel, occupations, recreations... in fact, you determine just what makes your community special.

Heritage For Ourselves

A "Heritage for Ourselves" approach, by reflecting what we value about our past, strengthens our community and also offers us the means for pursuing heritage development. While heritage development can provide real economic benefits through tourism, ultimately our heritage is for ourselves, reinforcing our community sense of belonging and worth - who we are and how we got here. It is this authentic sense of place, expressed through our buildings, landscape and other heritage resources, that visitors seek out to celebrate and share in.

While standards were different in the 1800s, photographs of houses, sheds, fences, wharves, and boats of that century show the pride that people took in their property and community. Today, you can build on that same community pride by preserving some of those historic features.

There are many examples of cities and towns where heritage has contributed significantly to local economic growth. Conserving old buildings and interpreting or promoting heritage resources demands specialized skills, hence new employment opportunities.

Many of the social and economic benefits of heritage preservation in a community are hidden. To the home buyer, for example, the total cost of acquiring and renovating an older house may not be much less than buying a modern bungalow. As an added bonus, energy is saved and wood conserved when a building is reused rather than constructed from scratch. In many cases, the older structure has a quality of interior and exterior finish, yard and neighbourhood that is hard to find in new properties. Together with the pleasure a homeowner may takin in his or her own restorative handiwork, these are factors that can make the older property a better buy.

Putting Heritage to Work

Sometimes preservation is interpreted as the opposite of development. But you only need to look at a town like Trinity to see how a well-coordinated effort to preserve heritage assets can generate a lot of new activity and interest in a community.

Preservation projects do not have to be big. In fact, grand projects too often fail because financing is difficult to arrange and the experienced staff needed for such developments is not always available. Small scale projects are more likely to succeed. Their outcome can be better anticipated, planned for, and properly managed, resulting in significant contributions to a town's heritage value as well as its economy. A community museum is a tourism attraction, but it is also a place for educating both residents and visitors about your town and for providing training related to other local initiatives.

Residents might also be encouraged to adapt older homes for bed and breakfast use, to plan a heritage festival, or organize a local walking tour. Heritage development is most likely to succeed when it involves many people and a variety of complimentary projects.

Where To Start?

You may already have! Is there an historical society or a development association or a recreation committee that is already active and that may be interested in a new community project? It's important to have a number of people participating, because there's lots to do and because it gets other people interested - even excited - about what the community has to offer. It's also helpful to have some organizational status in order to get the ear of local officials and to qualify for project grants. If there's no such group, you should start one.

You will also want to contact groups on other levels - regional bodies like development associations or provincial heritage groups - to both advise them of your initiatives and to benefit from their knowledge of project management, funding and training programs.

Nest, you'll want to complete an inventory of your town's resources. Think about the sorts of changes that have occured over time in your town and stories you would tell to illustrate them. If you had a visitor what would you show them? And what wouldn't you want them to see?

You need to think about the problems as well as the potential. A visitor notices how neat peoples' houses are, or how littered the waterfront is, as much as how beautiful the view is from the hill. It's important to look at your community as an outsider would, because there are a lot of things we take for granted, even ignore, in the places we live.

Finally, look at some of the tools your community has at is disposal to foster development of its heritage resources. Understanding heritage values is especially important to councillors and municipal staff. They make many important decisions: they decide the location of new buildings and okay the demolition of old ones; and the allocated land for various uses through zoning. Municipal councils lay out development rules for all to see in a Municipal Plan. Ask whether there are special provisions in it for heritage zoning or design guidelines that encourage people to rehabilitate older buildings. Is there a tourism component of the plan? Are there projects proposed or on the go that might benefit from some more information on heritage?

Municipal Heritage Designation

Every single municipality in Newfoundland and Labrador has the ability to designate important buildings and structures as a Heritage Structure, under the Municipalities Act. The Act states:

200. (1) A building, structure or land designated by council as a heritage building, structure or land shall not be demolished or built upon nor the exterior of the building or structure altered, except under a written permit of the council specifically authorizing the alteration and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the permit.

(2) A council may establish a heritage advisory committee to advise the council on regulations made with respect to heritage buildings, structures and lands and the preservation of the real property designated under that section.

Several communities across Newfoundland and Labrador have established local heritage advisory committees and have started to designate buildings of local historical and architectural importance. The Town of Conception Bay South, for example, has enacted good heritage regulations which could serve as a model for regulations for town councils elsewhere in the province.

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