Heritage houses

All throughout the City of Waterloo, dozens of properties are considered heritage sites.

40 Albert Street - Photo by Kha Vo
40 Albert Street – Photo by Kha Vo
50 Albert Street - Photo by Kha Vo
50 Albert Street – Photo by Kha Vo

All throughout the City of Waterloo, dozens of properties are considered heritage sites. With homes dating back as early as 1812, several of these sites across the city have received some level of recognition to distinguish them.

“The City has about 40 individually designated properties, with 60 to 70 properties that are designated in the heritage conservation district,” said Michelle Lee, heritage planner for growth management in integrated planning and public works for the City of Waterloo.

Currently, Waterloo has two different designations. The first is a formal designation, in which a property is deemed to have cultural and historical significance.

Buildings can also be listed as a non-designated properties of cultural value that doesn’t place designation on a property, but do have certain restrictions with how quickly architecture can be changed without some kind of review process.

“Always there is a by-law that will be attached to a property. That by-law contains information about what is specifically designated. It could be one façade, a window or all façades.”

Often, there is a push toward wanting a building to be designated as opposed to being listed.

“Listing is better than nothing, but designation is the best protection,” said Kae Elgie, president of North Waterloo region branch of the Architectural Conservatory Ontario.

Elgie also warns about the risks and threats heritage sites in Waterloo face.

Over the summer, the Waterloo branch of the ACO did a walking tour around uptown Waterloo and discovered that while some buildings were listed, several were not designated or listed.

That lack of recognition is what Elgie said is “a concern.”

A further problem Elgie believes is “there hasn’t been the person-power to look after this.”

The position of heritage planner is a recently-developed position within Waterloo.

Lee started her term on Dec. 2 last year and before her the position did not exist.

“It had been earmarked by the planning directors as a position they wanted to fill. Part of the recent Culture Plan Process was city staff embarked on a cultural change process to enhance cultural development in Waterloo. One clear message that came from the community was a clear desire for a heritage planning position to help manage the properties designated.”

Following a fire which occurred in 2011, 19 Bridgeport Road was demolished. The property was at one time home to Waterloo’s first full-time engineer, Charles Moogk.

Lee said she believes it is cases like this that are the “biggest challenge in terms of protecting and managing historic properties.”

“Owners over the years made some unsympathetic alterations to it. The reality of it was that the house was barely there anymore. It had very poorly done alterations,” she said.

“When a demolition permit came in, [the heritage panning committee] looked at it. The committee saw it as a potentially significant property, as from the person who lived there originally identified it. We were looking at the building and thinking it had obvious historical significance to the community, but architecturally it is long gone.”

The city has since then determined that when the site gets redeveloped, a request will be put in for some form of commemoration to occur.

Looking at the current awareness of heritage in Waterloo, Lee does think improvements have been made in recent years — such as the development of the City of

Waterloo museum — but that the city needs to improve its visibility.

“It’s a niche interest. Some people have minimal interest, so they aren’t seeking out that information. It’s a matter of getting it out there in a variety of forms so it reaches everyone. I would like to see it happen.”

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