Every community in Ontario has its own unique heritage.
There are places in every city, town, township or county that convey a sense of the past, contribute character and reflect the stories of the people who have lived there.
Formal designation of such heritage properties is one way of publicly acknowledging their value to the community while encouraging their conservation for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
What is heritage designation?
The Ontario Heritage Act enables municipalities to designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest. Designation can apply to individual properties or to a whole neighbourhood or district.
Once a property or district is designated, it gains public recognition as well as a measure of protection from demolition or unsympathetic alteration. Designation helps to guide future changes to the property so that the heritage attributes of the property can be maintained.
What does designation mean for the property owner?
Designation is a way for owners to express pride in the heritage value of their property, and for the community to protect and promote awareness of its local history. Most importantly, it provides a process to ensure that changes to the property respect its heritage value and are appropriately managed.
Designation does not:
- Restrict the use of a property
- Impose onerous obligations or expenses to maintain a property
- Restrict the sale of a property
- Enable public access to private property without the owner’s consent
How is a property designated?
First Step: Identification and Evaluation
A candidate property can be brought forward for heritage designation a number of different ways—through a local planning study, the suggestion of an individual or group, the property owners themselves or through a recommendation of the Municipal Heritage Committee.
Municipal Heritage Committees, formerly known as Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committees (or “LACACs”), are an excellent resource for municipalities because of their mandate to advise and assist municipal council on local heritage matters. Many municipalities ask their Municipal Heritage Committee to assist in developing local criteria for which properties should be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Using their criteria, these committees can help to identify and evaluate properties being considered for designation. In co-operation with municipal staff, they often conduct extensive research on properties and, in some cases, prepare the required short statement of the “reason for designation,” including a description of the property’s heritage attributes. This statement identifies why a property is significant and what particular feature should be protected for the future.
Second step: Providing Notice
If Council decides to go ahead with a designation, it must notify the owner as well as the Ontario Heritage Trust (formerly the Ontario Heritage Foundation) and publish a “Notice of Intention” to designate in a local newspaper. This notice includes the short statement of the “reason for designation,” including a description of the heritage attributes of the property. If no objections are raised within 30 days after the date of the publication of notice in the newspaper, Council can proceed to pass a by-law designating the property.
If there is an objection raised about a designation, Council must refer the objection to a hearing before the Conservation Review Board. This tribunal is mandated by the Province to conduct hearings and make recommendations back to Council regarding the objection. The Board does not make a decision on the objection. After holding a hearing on the objection, the Board writes a report to Council with its recommendation. Based on the Board’s advice, Council may decide to go ahead with designation, or to withdraw its intention to designate.
Third step: Passing and Registering a Heritage Designation By-law
If there are no objections, or once Council has considered the advice of the Conservation Review Board, Council may then pass a designation by-law. Copies of the by-law together with the short statement of the “reason for designation,” including a description of the heritage attributes of the property are registered on title to the property at the land registry office. As with the “Notice of Intention” to designate, notice of passage of the by-law is given to the owner and the Ontario Heritage Trust, and published in a local newspaper.
Municipalities are required to keep a register of all individually designated properties and heritage conservation districts. The register entries for individually designated properties must include a legal description of the property, the name and address of the owner, and the short statement of the “reason for designation” including a description of the heritage attributes of the property.
Amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act
On April 28, 2005 - for the first time since the Ontario Heritage Act was introduced in 1975 - the Government of Ontario introduced comprehensive amendments to bring Ontario's heritage legislation in line with leading jurisdictions in Canada and around the world.
The amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act:
- Give the province and municipalities new powers not only to delay but to stop demolition of heritage sites. Enhanced demolition controls are balanced with an appeals process to respect the rights of property owners.
- Further expand the province's ability to identify and designate sites of provincial heritage significance.
- Provide clear standards and guidelines for the preservation of provincial heritage properties.
- Enhance protection of heritage conservation districts, marine heritage sites and archaeological resources.
Additional information regarding recent amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act can be found here: Government of Ontario Factsheet regarding Major revisons to the Ontario Heritage Act.
For further information regarding heritage properties and designations in Ontario, please visit:
Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport Website