Thousands of heritage properties risk losing protection under Bill 23, including more than 300 in Cambridge

When the Ontario government passed Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, there was a lot of attention paid to what it would mean to the Greenbelt. Heritage advocates say the bill changes the Ontario Heritage Act and could mean thousands of properties are removed from municipal heritage registers.

Municipalities have 2 years to designate buildings on heritage registries

Downtown Cambridge aerial (drone) view
There are currently 332 properties listed on the City of Cambridge's heritage register. Under new provincial legislation, city council has two years to designate the properties before they're removed from the register.  (Yan Theoret/CBC)

More than 300 historic properties in Cambridge, Ont., risk losing heritage protections under the province's controversial More Homes Built Faster Act, heritage advocates warn.

The Ford government's housing legislation, also known as Bill 23, made headlines when it was passed in November over the way it was encouraging new home builds, but it also makes changes to the Ontario Heritage Act that will remove thousands of listed properties on municipal heritage registers. 

Karen Scott Booth, vice-president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario's Cambridge and North Dumfries branch, says the move appears to be a way to remove barriers for infill development, but calls it "totally irresponsible."

"It's the destruction of what we, as a society, have valued for generations," Scott Booth said. "All these buildings are not left to us to destroy, they're left to us to preserve and conserve."

There are currently 332 properties listed on the City of Cambridge's heritage register. Under the new legislation, city council has two years to designate the properties before they're removed from the register. 

Currently, properties listened on the heritage register have to meet certain criteria and require further evaluation if there is intent to demolish. Bill 23 aims to eliminate that requirement. 

Hardy Bromberg, Cambridge's deputy manager of community services and development, says his fear is not all the buildings currently on the registry will be designated under the new wording.

"We are afraid we may lose many of them," he said.

Bromberg said Cambridge has a track record of encouraging the reuse of heritage buildings throughout the city. He points to projects such as the Blacksmith Lofts and Gaslight District in Galt. 

"We want to keep as much of our past as possible," Bromberg added.

The city will spend the next six to eight months evaluating properties of interest on the register so it can prioritize designating the most important ones. He said the city also plans to promote information about grants available to property owners. 

Environmental benefits to retrofitting

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario wrote an open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford in December saying the changes to the Ontario Heritage Act would be costly to the province's heritage.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that in two years, when municipalities will be forced to remove listed protection from most of the 31,000 or more heritage properties across Ontario, that it will start to rain buildings," the letter said.

Hardy Bromberg, Cambridge's deputy manager of community services and development, says there is fear not all the buildings currently on the registry will be designated. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"There is no evidence that heritage conservation frustrates housing provision, and plenty of evidence that when an unprotected community landmark is demolished, the public reaction is swift and unforgiving, with extreme frustration at the loss of both cultural and environmental value and material."

It's why now, heritage advocates are also offering a helping hand to municipalities, Scott Booth said.

She said the province, developers and municipalities need to think of innovative ways to boost housing within urban boundaries in a way that doesn't impact built heritage or protected green space.

One such idea is to encourage laneway housing and other forms of accessory units. 

"They're just not being creative with land use," Scott Booth said of the province. 

Kae Elgie, past chair of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario's board, noted that in fact, it can be faster to repurpose heritage buildings than raze them for infill development. 

"There are also environmental benefits to retrofitting and reusing heritage buildings," Elgie added. 

Elgie said according to the Architectural Conservancy's numbers there are 32,000 listed heritage properties in Ontario that will be at risk due to the new legislation.


  • An earlier version of this story said the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario had plans to create a tiered list of properties at risk throughout the province to help municipalities plan their own lists. That is not the case.
    Feb 15, 2023 10:29 AM ET


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