New Brunswick

When it comes to Officers' Square, heritage advocate urges balanced approach

A national conference about saving and renewing historic places is happening in Fredericton this week — and the timing couldn’t be better.

National conference being held in Fredericton this week about protecting heritage sites like Officers' Square

The 2018 National Trust for Canada Conference about protecting historic sites like Officers' Square is being held in Fredericton this week. (CBC )

A national conference about saving and renewing historic places is underway in Fredericton — and the timing couldn't be better.

The 2018 National Trust for Canada Conference is going on this week, just days after city staff announced they're working on a plan for Officers' Square that would save "several" of the 19 trees that were supposed to be cut down as part of a renovation project.

"Heritage is really all about balancing," said Natalie Bull, executive director of the National Trust for Canada, a non-profit organization, which supports heritage across Canada.

The National Trust for Canada is putting on the conference, along with the Canadian Association of Heritage Professions and Association Heritage New Brunswick.

"The conference is about showcasing the power of historic places, to help turn places around, to be a catalyst, to be part of new economic realities for our communities," she said.

Natalie Bull, executive director of the National Trust for Canada, says historic sites 'don't need to be frozen in time.' (Photo: CBC News)

While Officers' Square isn't officially on the agenda of the conference, Bull believes it's an important piece of history that advocates as well as the city are interested in. 

"As we bring our beloved historic buildings with us into the future, we have to find creative ways to modify them to accommodate new goals, new building codes and economic realities," she said.

"I like to think of conservation as a real blend of art and science."

A park filled with history

In 1784, the British developed a garrison at the site, which grew to more than 50 buildings. Only four of those buildings from the military compound remain today and they were built in the early 1820s. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Regiment was formed on Dec. 21, 1883

The green space at Officers' Square is recognized by the province and Parks Canada as a historical area.

But the trees were to be removed during an $8.9 million revitalization of Officers' Square over the next four years that calls for a skating oval and a permanent concert stage.

"The city did a great thing in calling a halt and taking some time to think about it," said Bull.

"We're really hopeful the revised plan will help balance these competing goals and move things forward so the site can be a fabulous legacy for the city."

The group has also made itself available to advocates and city staff regarding Officers' Square.

When old becomes new

In May, people gathered outside of Fredericton City Hall to voice concerns about the Officers' Square project. (Gary Moore/CBC)

When residents found out 19 trees had to go, a movement called Save Officers' Square was launched.

Bull said the issue of maintaining heritage while developing a particular space, is very common.

She said everyone in the community knows Officers' Square needs investment and places like it "don't need to be frozen in time."

"I don't think anyone is suggesting that," she said.

Protesters wrap Officer's Square trees in blankets

5 years ago
Duration 0:53
A development that will force 19 trees to be cut down at Officers' Square will continue as planned, the mayor of Fredericton says.

But Bull, who is originally from the nearby town of Woodstock, said citizens have an important role to play when it comes to protecting community heritage.

"It really sends a strong message that heritage is relevant and it's meaningful to people," she said.

City staff are now working on a new plan that will try to protect trees, keep the defining character of the space, and design something that will allow Officers' Square to be used as it has been in the past.

She compares the issue at Officers' Square to York House, the 1893 school building in the city's downtown core, which was going to be demolished before the city stepped in and ended up buying the building.

"It's about the passion people have for these places, they matter to us," she said.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton and Philip Drost