City study gives new hope for old neighbourhoods

The City of Winnipeg will study what makes a Heritage Conservation District.
Armstrong's Point located in central Winnipeg was used as a prototype by the City of Winnipeg for a Heritage Conservation District Study to determine how to go about designating neighbourhoods in Winnipeg as historically significant. Even the Tyndall stone gates are municipally designated. (Manitoba Tourism)

It's not a new concept. Many cities have them. And when they do exist, they can really make a city stand out.

They are Heritage Conservation Districts. The City of Winnipeg will study how it would determine what makes a Heritage Conservation District.

Ralph Connor House is a National Historic Site located at 54 West Gate in Armstrong's Point. (Courtesy Ralph Connor House)
It recently held an open house at Ralph Connor House in Armstrong's Point to reveal the findings.

John Kiernan is Manager of Urban Design for the City of Winnipeg.

He says when the City of Winnipeg changed its charter in 2010, it opened the door to looking into Heritage Conservation Districts in Winnipeg.

The city hired facilitators HTFC Planning & Design along with SPAR Planning Services & Historyworks to do the study. 

The first community involved was Armstrong's Point, also known as 'The Gates'. It's a residentially zoned neighbourhood just off the Sherbrook Bridge. They chose that particular area initially because of its clearly defined boundaries.

Armstrong's Point is an historic enclave in the City of Winnipeg. Geographically unique, it is surrounded on three sides by the Assiniboine River. The 100 year old Cornish Library is designated by the City of Winnipeg as a Class II heritage structure. (Courtesy Winnipeg archives)
"There are about 400 buildings on the City's heritage inventory and 73 of them are located in Armstrong's Point, one of which is Ralph Connor House which has national and provincial designation already," Kiernan pointed out.

"We thought it was an opportunity to work with an engaged community about what this might look like, what it might mean to them. Ultimately, it should reflect that community's values."

Patricia Thomson is one resident who is very much in favour of the designation of Armstrong’s Point as a Heritage Conservation District. "The most important advantage to designation of our historic community would be to provide an extra level of protection against inappropriate development," she explained.

"Residents of the area could decide how they want the community to evolve and help establish a plan to achieve that goal...Other cities have long offered this kind of protection to historic communities. Residents of the whole city embrace and enjoy the special ambience provided in those protected areas," she added.

Depending on the neighbourhood, being a Heritage Conservation District could be about the setback of the houses, the height and scale of structures, as well as width of boulevards," Kiernan explained. "It could be the tree canopy that helps define that community. We felt it should be done in collaboration with the area residents and that it should reflect their values."

What else can this all mean? "It can protect and enhance property values. There's a certainty to investing in your house, your neighbourhood, your community." he said.

Two workshops were held with residents from Armstrong's Point as the case study in this project. "We worked with residents to identify values, issues and concerns," explained Kiernan. "Some people don't want restrictions on their property rights. Others are willing to accept certain ones. People worry they'll have to change their windows. But absolutely you can do that. It's still your investment in your neighbourhood."

The next step is to engage City Council in this process. But Kiernan adds "Toronto has been doing this since 1985 and has over 20 heritage districts. Minneapolis has 25; Edmonton has recently started to look at heritage districts as a tool for being able to preserve their mature neighbourhoods; Victoria has 13 heritage districts."

In the case of Armstrong's Point, residents were willing to work with the city on this project. "We certainly like them to be community sponsored rather than imposing it on the community," Kiernan emphasized. "The success will largely depend on which neighbourhoods would like to work with us to bring this forward."