A question came up at my talk yesterday about heritage registers so I thought I’d post a blog about its merits for house researchers and those who own heritage houses. For more information on researching your home’s history see At Home with History: the secrets of Vancouver’s heritage houses
If you think that the house you are researching may have heritage merit, check out your local heritage register. The Vancouver Heritage Register, for instance, lists over 2,200 commercial and residential heritage buildings and historical landmarks in the city. The city evaluates each one for its architectural, historical and social value and then grades them into A, B or C categories.
Most municipalities put out some form of heritage register, and more are becoming available on line. You can find others at your local library, archives or City Hall. They usually give the date of the house, the architect and a paragraph about the architecture. Sometimes they’ll mention a prominent former resident or first owner. It’s not just century old houses that are included, the District of North Vancouver for instance also lists modern architecture from (1930-1965). That can be a surprise for a new home owner who finds themselves hauled in front of the Heritage Commission because their modest post and beam was designed by Fred Thornton Hollingsworth, Arthur Erickson or Ron Thom.
Heritage also has a few perks. If you’re an owner, it’s worth noting that there are incentives to discourage bulldozing your old pipes and bad wiring. Municipalities are known to relax zoning and development by-laws, and if your house meets certain criteria, you can apply to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation for a True Colours grant, to paint your house in its original colours.
The reality is, heritage sells.
Having your house on a register is not the same as a heritage designation. A house that is protected through designation cannot be demolished or altered without council approval. The only way a building can become designated is if the homeowner requests it or if council compensates the owner for any monies lost due to the designation.
When it comes to getting on a heritage register architecture is important, but it’s not everything. The Statement of Significance used to compile the listings has three sections: historic place, heritage value and character-defining elements. The idea is to explain why a historic place is important to the community from a social and cultural, as well as an architectural perspective. Considerations for heritage value are typically historical value—the story; rarity or uniqueness; aesthetic value; cultural and scientific value.
Happily, many of the heritage registers are now online. Here’s a few:
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