Heritage Sites / Definitions
Heritage activity in the 21st century is
sophisticated endeavour, often accompanied with technical words and
terms with very specific meanings.
The following definitions and brief explanations that will
help anyone interested in this important work, especially as it relates
to the subjects of history, research and heritage.
History is the study,
analysis and presentation (usually via a book or article) of a subject,
theme, event, person, or site in all its aspects—the good and
The traditional goal of
historical exploration is to explain a subject in all its details and
meaning. While heritage is based on history (and historic exploration),
it is the result of choices and selections by a community or a group to
identify events, people and places that are seen to most effectively
sum up or express beloved and revered aspects of the past.
While an operative word for
history is exploration, an operative word for heritage is celebration.
Return to page top
Historiography is the
writing of history, the study of the development of historical method,
historical research, and writing, and any body of historical literature.
These two words are commonly
confused, and used interchangeably. Historic refers to events, themes,
subjects, individuals, groups that are important or of momentous
significance – they define aspects of history. Historical
means anything that relates to the past; that is, most events, themes,
subjects, individuals, groups. Only a few things are truly historic;
everything else is historical.
Oral History involves the
recording in audio or audio-visual form, and/or the transcribing, of
eyewitness accounts of historical events. Historians, folklorists,
anthropologists, sociologists, journalists, linguists, and others
employ some form of interviewing in their research. Oral history is an
important means by which non-academics actively participate in
to page top
Popular history is a broad
genre of historiography that aims at a wide readership, appeals to the
layman and general public, and usually emphasizes narrative,
personality, and vivid detail over scholarly analysis and
interpretation. Some popular historians are without academic
affiliation; others are academics or former academics.
Academic histories are a
genre of historiography emphasizing scholarly analysis and
interpretation intended primarily for a university audience. These
histories are undertaken by academics, usually university or college
Although most heritage sites
in Canada are buildings, almost anything from a bridge to a mine
complex to a traditional meeting-place with no built element at all may
be identified as a heritage site.
The term “site”
is sometimes interchangeable with the words
“place:” thus the terms heritage site, heritage
historic place are sometimes used interchangeably.
to page top
The significance of a
heritage subject or issue refers to its capacity to clearly and
correctly connect to the people, events or ideas that shaped their time.
For a subject to be
considered significant to the community, it would typically have a
major connection to a notable theme or person. It is important to note
that a subject or individual can be interesting without being
A heritage inventory is a
planning tool that identifies all sites of potential heritage
significance in a defined area, usually providing as much basic
information as possible (date, architect, builder, original owner,
original function etc.).
An inventory provides
important information to help develop planning intended to make the
most of the community’s heritage assets, which is especially
important in areas experiencing development pressure.
In addition, an inventory
provides the basis for a range of heritage-related activities, from the
development of walking tours to determining the most significant sites
for further study. It also provides a record of what has been lost in
the case of demolition, fire etc.
to page top
Assessment is the review of
information through the use of standard and judicious criteria to
determine whether a theme, subject, issue, individual or group has
greater importance when compared to others with a similar claim.
Interpretation involves the
careful and creative expression of a chosen historical subject so that
members of a community or visitors to a community can completely
comprehend and appreciate its significance. Interpretation involves the
consideration of audience/reader needs (for facts, information and
enjoyment via engaging writing and graphic design) and of historical
communication, to ensure that messages are accurate, clear and
persuasive. Common interpretative venues include pamphlets, tours,
articles and books.
Commemoration involves the
selection of a historic subject (person, place, theme, event, etc.) via
a rigorous assessment process and then the consideration of appropriate
methods and venues to honour and promote that subject. Typical methods
for such work include plaques, statues and murals. When the
commemorative approach is a plaque it is essential that wording be
concise and exact, that key issues be carefully weighed and addressed,
and that texts be appropriate and clear.
to page top
Heritage is a major factor
in establishing the unique identity of any community. As such, it is of
importance not just to those who appreciate the aesthetic qualities of
older buildings or who want to connect younger generations to their
history, but also to the economy.
Good heritage management
seeks to preserve and make the most of the community’s best
heritage assets, and should play an important role in urban and
regional planning by ensuring that development is carried out with
reference to heritage character.
A values-based management
approach ensures that decisions and actions directed at a heritage site
or area will be determined in light of the key reasons for its
Sustainability is a crucial
consideration in any kind of planning.
Reusing or continuing to use
old buildings is an environmentally sustainable practice, as it keeps
materials out of the landfills and saves the environmental cost of
producing new ones.
For heritage planning
purposes, sustainability also refers to the ability of a project to
survive in the long term. This is dependent not only on its ongoing
financial security, and, if a building, its physical state, but also on
the availability of people willing and able to carry the project
forward in the long term.
to page top
Designation is the legal
recognition that a site is significant to the community and that its
owner has agreed to protect it and preserve its heritage character.
Designation is usually the
last step in a process that has ensured that a site has major heritage
value, that the community recognizes this value, and that the building
or site has been deemed sustainable through an examination of financial
and technical issues. Very few buildings or sites merit designation,
and great care is usually taken to determine whether this option is
necessary for the protection or promotion of a site.
See also Designating
to page top
refers to the processes by which the physical integrity of a site, and
thus its ability to tell its story, is maintained and prolonged.
Canada recognizes a range of
treatments that fall under the umbrella of conservation:
Preservation is aimed at
maintaining as much extant historic material as possible, recognizing
that buildings undergo alterations and additions through time and that
these changes are important parts of its history.
Rehabilitation is considered
to be appropriate for buildings that may have experienced more
deterioration. While an emphasis remains on the maintenance of historic
materials, there is more flexibility about alterations and
modernization. Rehabilitation may be applied to a building chosen for
adaptive reuse, a process in which the heritage character of the site
is retained to the extent possible while it is completely altered for
another purpose (e.g. a church becoming an apartment house, or a fire
hall reused as a restaurant).
Restoration is generally
reserved for particularly important sites, and emphasizes the most
significant moment in the building’s history (which may be
time of its construction, or perhaps when an important person lived
there), retaining and even reconstructing features dating from that
moment and removing later additions. In every case, the
building’s character-defining elements are central to the