(Above: Dr. Bruce Elliott gives a tour of the St. John’s cemetery on Sandhill Road in Kanata.)
The City of Ottawa needs to step up the resources it provides for preserving heritage buildings in our community. That was a recurring theme at Heritage Ottawa’s annual forum at St. John’s Anglican Church in Kanata on Saturday.
“Heritage grants are absolutely shameful as they are,” Dr. Bruce Elliott, a history professor at Carleton University, told the forum.
“The city’s got to step up to the plate… and compensate for the public amenity value we all get from these things,” he said.
In a comparison of 11 cities across Canada done by the City of Edmonton, Ottawa ranked nearly dead last in the amount of grant money made available for heritage restorations.
Ottawa has a meagre $150,000 annual grant budget to fund improvements to heritage-designated buildings across the city. Heritage building owners are eligible for up to $5,000 each, and about 30-35 of them receive funding each year, used to fix things like windows, roofs and brickwork.
If you’ve ever fixed a roof or replaced some windows, you know that $5,000 doesn’t go very far.
Ottawa’s $150,000 grant budget works out to less than 20 cents per capita according to the Edmonton study. Our spend is about 1/10th as much as Montreal. (Edmonton spends $1.57 per capita, the second highest in the country.)
The study was part of a report looking at incentives, financial and otherwise, to encourage preservation of significant historical buildings.
Ottawa also lacks tools that other Canadian cities use to help preserve historic properties, such as property tax incentives and facade improvement programs.
The are only three heritage planners on staff at the City, the same number as before amalgamation 15 years ago. That’s led to a backlog in identifying, evaluating and saving potential heritage buildings, especially in the suburban and rural areas of Ottawa.
“We should be identifying these (heritage buildings) as part of the subdivision process. They should be identified years before they’re part of the development process,” said Elliott.
(Council has made it a priority during this term to update their heritage reference list, which is a good thing.)
It’s often easy to put the blame on developers when historic buildings like the Bradley-Craig barn or Boyd House start to deteriorate, but the City needs to take responsibility as well. Extending the incentives available to property owners would be a welcome improvement.