ACO Port Hope Responds to Bill 23

By Bruce Bowden & Susan Layard

ACO Port Hope is very concerned that the proposed changes to the Ontario Heritage Act in Bill 23 will adversely affect our Municipality’s ability to protect its heritage properties and landscapes.

Particularly concerning are the proposals in the Bill which prescribe processes for municipalities to amend and repeal existing Heritage Conservation Districts and which change the protocol for protecting provincially designated properties of heritage value. Equally worrying is the proposal for the wholesale modification of the listing process which will mean that protecting non- designated heritage assets in Port Hope, going forward, will be even more difficult. Yet, according to ACOntario, heritage-protected buildings make up such a small percentage of the Ontario building stock that none of these changes will help solve the housing crisis.

Port Hope’s Heritage Conservation Districts, which were approved unanimously by Council at the time, resulted from masterful research completed by Peter Stokes, and their heritage integrity is remarkable. This unity and cohesion could, however, become much more difficult to preserve, particularly at the districts’ borders, if the proposal regarding the amendment or repeal of a Conservation District is being made, as stated in the Bill, simply “to better facilitate development.”

We realize that the Wesleyville area, owned by OPG, its small, 19th century village managed by the volunteer “Friends of Wesleyville,” is prime for development. We had hoped, however, that the provincial designation of the Wesleyville Village site would offer enough protection to ensure that it was preserved or appropriately adapted for re-use. The proposals in Bill 23 stipulating that current provincial designations may be revised or set aside makes us fear that the 19th century village could be lost entirely, a loss that would be heartbreaking to the many Port Hope citizens who have devoted money, time and effort towards the site’s preservation and restoration.

The current listing process was designed to allow Municipalities to recognize properties of heritage value before all of the criteria-based research for designation had been completed, and listing has become a transparent and educational planning tool. The proposal in Bill 23 requiring that all of the research for designation be completed in order for a property to be listed is excessive, especially when a second proposal requires that the listed properties not yet designated must be de-listed from the register after only two years and not be re-listed until after 5 years. Compiling and analyzing the information required for designation is a meticulous and time-consuming undertaking, usually done by volunteers but often requiring costly expert advice. For most municipalities, Port Hope included, ear-marking resources for what would become such a limited purpose, will be challenging, leaving a significant number of non- designated heritage properties unprotected.

It does seem that the provincial government believes that heritage is “in the way.” Yet, heritage conservation plays a significant role in Port Hope’s economic development, by enhancing the community’s quality of life, strengthening its distinctiveness, stimulating revitalization and attracting film-making and tourist dollars. Heritage Conservation also helps protect the environment not only through heritage restoration and adaptive reuse rather than demolition and new builds, but also through the protection of old forests and cultural heritage landscapes such as Wesleyville and the Penryn Estate.

Heritage, both natural and cultural, is the cloth of Port Hope, its weave patterns integrating urban and rural. For us heritage is not in the way; it is a way of life.