The balance of preserving history while building anew in Victoria, P.E.I.

Victoria, P.E.I., is updating its bylaws, and members of the local historical association are advocating for them to be tightened to ensure the historic streetscape of the village is protected.

Say historic streetscape of the village should be protected

Brenda Boudreau, chair of the Victoria Historical Association, says she'd like Victoria to put in place heritage bylaws similar to the City of Charlottetown. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

The rural Municipality of Victoria, P.E.I., is re-examining its bylaws, and members of the local historical association are advocating for more to be added to ensure the heritage of the village is protected.

Officials with the Victoria Historical Association say it's the historic buildings that give the community its character and draws thousands of tourists every summer.

"If you ask people 'what do you like about Victoria? Why you like to go there?' They'll always say: 'oh it's a step back in time,'" said Brenda Boudreau, chair of the association. 

"We love strolling the streets admiring the buildings … it's a lot about the heritage."

Victoria was one of the economic hubs of Prince Edward Island over 150 years ago. It was the fourth busiest seaport after Georgetown, Summerside and Charlottetown. 

Now, it's the community's historic charm, artisans and seasonal restaurants that keep it hopping in the warmer months. 

Richard Newson with the Victoria Historical Association says when it comes to how the village moves forward, it'll be a delicate balancing act. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Richard Newson, also with the Victoria Historical Association, said Victoria's connection to its history, and the pride locals have in sharing it, that make it a special place for people to visit. 

"We come down on the streets every weekend and either bike around or walk around or do guided tours and the interest in the village is really unbelievable," said Newson. 

He said when it comes to how Victoria moves forward, it'll be a delicate balancing act.

"It's a little bit of an identity crisis in terms of what do you save — you can't save everything — but then what development do you allow without ruining what people fell in love with?" 

New official plan in the works 

Jaclyn Casler, Victoria's Chief Administrative Officer, said updates to the official plan and the zoning bylaw are what that the municipality is focusing on at present. 

She said the 2014 official plan bylaw contains language about protecting heritage structures, but the 2014 zoning and community development bylaw — the mechanism for enacting that plan — is short on details when it comes to demolition. 

"So for instance if you look at the 2014 zoning bylaw there are no parameters for demolition permits," said Casler. 

"And when you think typically of heritage preservation you would want to have something in your bylaws that says you can't just demolish a heritage structure."

She said as part of the 2014 official plan, a heritage management plan was supposed to be created — and that never happened. And for a municipality the size of Victoria, with about 100 residents, it's a lot to ask homeowners to take financial responsibility for maintaining aging heritage structures without financial incentives in place.  

"People live here and it has to be a supportive, co-operative setup so that people can live here and then we can also welcome visitors," said Casler.

Consulting firm working with village

A consulting firm has been hired to talk with residents, and review and update the official plan and zoning bylaws — with a goal of planning for the next 15 years. 

A draft is expected by December, at which point residents will have a chance to vote on the changes. 

Boudreau said she'd like Victoria to put in place heritage bylaws similar to the City of Charlottetown, where the focus is on preserving a building's historic exterior.

"It gets chipped away very quickly and so it's very important that we tighten our bylaws a bit and get some more protection," Boudreau said.

"It's difficult to make more heritage so therefore it's really important we preserve what we do have."

It has been 180 years since the town layout was drawn up by Donald Palmer. (Jessica Doria-Brown)

This year, Victoria is celebrating 200 years since it was founded by James Bardin Palmer and about 180 years since the village layout — much the same as it remains today —  was drawn up by his son, Donald Palmer.

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