Can We Trust the Heritage Trust?

Now is a critical time for Heritage Protection in Nova Scotia. Its “Principal Protector”, the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia (HTNS)  is in the news, but for the wrong reasons. This has led to a Debate about the efficacy of the organization at protecting built heritage.

Heritage needs to be debated.  The Issues need to be made public. First and foremost HTNS needs to be an effective advocate for built heritage.  HTNS Fails in this. Much of their website dates back to 2010  its not current. Their press page is stale  Many of the works cited on their committees page are several years old. HTNS has limited presence in social media, and they are not actively engaging the media on heritage issues in a timely manner.

Last night 300-500 people (depending on the report I read) showed up to a public meeting about the potential replacement for the Halifax Forum.  The Forum is a heritage building, that people don’t want to see lost.  Most people at that meeting likely don’t care that its architect was Andrew Cobb, or that it is an excellent example of a Georgian style public building. But they recognize its heritage, and want to save it.

HTNS Produces a quarterly newsletter; The griffon. The newsletter is excellent. HTNS also does good research work, and I have seen a few cases where their research has been better and more detailed then HRM’s Heritage file.

People with an interest in History read the newsletter because they are interested. The majority of Halifax residents don’t read it, and are less interested – but care that “that nice old building is going to be demolished leaving an ugly empty lot downtown” HTNS is too academic. heritage needs broad public support, and you cant do that effectively without mass appeal. Last nights Forum meeting proves that.

The success of Doors Open Halifax also shows that people care about built heritage. This should have been an HTNS Initiative. Heritage Canada, The National Trust, offers many resources for setting up a doors open event, and the Ottawa event, is put on by Heritage Ottawa.

Regarding working with developers, there appears to be no middle ground. By demanding 100% preservation they loose an opportunity to work towards a better development/heritage protection. 22 commerce square could do a better job of preserving some of the buildings, but by taking a firm position that they all must be saved, they have set them selves up to loose on smaller gains.

The same issues were presented with the Armour Groups proposal  for the Waterside center. This is an excellent building, and Preserved the heritage feel of the area, in much the same way founders square did. Could these buildings have been better? Yes, I would argue the trust could have worked for preserving the storefronts to open to the street, but by taking an all or nothing approach on saving the interiors, an opportunity to work with the developer was lost.

The waterside center is particularly ironic, since Armour is also responsible for historic properties, which HTNS claims is one of the reasons for their founding and is counted as one of their great saves. Historic Properties also had massive public support.

The trust  have assembled an excellent  3 year 2012-2015 plan  Their Goals and strategies are good, But they have failed in their execution. – Because success requires them to be more prominent and public facing with their advocacy – and they are not.

While vocal on 22 Commerce Square and the Nova Center, They were silent on the impending demolition of the Halifax Infants home by SMU, despite being given notice it would happen. They have been quiet on the Fate of the Dennis Building. They have been Silent on the Canso Commercial Cable Station. They have also been silent on bringing forward changes to legislation, to make it harder to remove and neglect registered heritage structures.

By Contrast, Heritage Canada has been quite active on the Dennis File, Adding it to their top 10 building at risk in Canada last year, and writing a letter to the Premier and Minister in support of the buildings restoration and reuse.

I have been quite critical of HTNS. The thing is I want them to be successful, I want them to be the advocate for heritage, and to be trusted, and helpful. I want HTNS to lead the Public conversation about Heritage. Sadly we only hear from them once a building comes down, or when they fight over non-existent viewplanes.

But the worst thing the Heritage Trust have done with their actions is to harm the whole  Heritage movement in Nova Scotia. Rather then fostering heritage preservation and advocacy, HTNS has only been successful in colouring  the Heritage preservation movement as nimby heritage extremists. This effectively removes heritage advocates from their credibility when heritage issues occur, and this hurts us all.

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BuiltHalifax delves into architectural history and theory with a local slant. Produced by Peter Ziobrowski, it is the sister project to