City hears from public on heritage planning process

The city held public consultation sessions on Wednesday to ask residents which old downtown buildings are important to them.

'This is part of my neighbourhood, so this is why I'm here,' Durand resident says

Janice Brown, centre, plots a sticker on a map of downtown Hamilton at Liuna Station on Wednesday. She was participating in an open house the city held as part of its downtown built heritage inventory study. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Adele D'Arcy hangs over a white piece of paper, a grey marker in her left hand and several more colourful implements sitting just off to the side. 

She's drawing a cartoonish overhead of downtown Hamilton — her interpretation of it — plotting in tiny, colourful symbols to indicate the places she visits, shops, eats or passes on occasion.

"I've even put in the Canadian Tire," said the downtown graphic designer, pointing to the red triangle she's scribbled on the page.

The activity isn't simply for Darcy's amusement. It's part of a drop-in community consultation session the city held at Liuna Station on Wednesday to get input on how to approach preserving heritage buildings in the downtown. 

"It's a strategy or technique that is used to understand how people use or perceive an area," said Victoria Angel, a senior heritage planner with E.R.A. Architects, a Toronto firm the city has enlisted for the project. "It's one of many sources of information that we use to understand citizens' perspectives of the downtown context."

The drawing activity wasn't the only exercise organizers used to get feedback on which downtown buildings ought to be preserved. One activity encouraged people to write their thoughts on downtown heritage on a large sheet posted to a wall. In another, participants were asked to plot stickers onto a map to indicate buildings they frequent or ones that have special personal significance.

"This is part of my neighbourhood, so this is why I'm here," said Janice Brown, president of the Durand Neighbourhood Association, while placing yellow stickers on a map to show where shops and dines out. "And I like the old buildings and want to see them preserved."

Shiona Mackenzie, who lives east of downtown, in the Stipley neighbourhood, said she attended the meeting not only to learn about the city's plans for heritage preservation, but also to share her thoughts on the types of buildings she'd like to see preserved.

"I'd like to see some of the attention that's given to Victorian buildings to also be given to other, perhaps newer, buildings of architectural interest," she said.

The open house, as well as a more formal meeting on Wednesday evening, is part the city's downtown built heritage inventory study. The purpose is to come up with a list of old buildings that have architectural, historical or social significance and might be worth designating as heritage properties.

The process comes amid controversy over a developer's plan to tear down two 19th-Century buildings that line Gore Park — a move that, for the moment, appears to have been put on hold.

Related: Gore demolition on hold for now, Farr says

Getting community feedback on what buildings should be protected is an "absolutely critical" part of the heritage preservation process, said Ian Kerr-Wilson, the city's manager of heritage resources. 

"Under the Ontario Heritage Act, we have the basic criteria for assessment, but they're very abstract assessment tools. What we don't have is input from the community on what it is they value about the downtown."

Without that component, he said, "we can't really assess the properties in a way which is transparent, consistent and repeatable."

Tim Ritchie, who runs a hostel in a heritage building on Mary Street near Cannon, attended the open house to participate in the consultation. "Heritage building are a passion of mine," he said.

The consultation, he said, "almost feels like a too-late process" that won't save 100-plus-year-old buildings that have already been slated for demolition.

"I don't have high hopes for the project, but more education can't be a bad thing."