How a Heritage Inventory Project became an Epic Conservation Journey
From the Nest, Issue 2
by Carol Priamo
On June 3, 2020, while the Pandemic was gaining traction and we were all in a state of shock, I proposed a project idea to the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Hamilton (ACO), and the Beasley Neighourhood Association (BNA), asking for feedback and support for conducting a Heritage Inventory of parts of Hamilton that still needed to be catalogued.
Aside from the fact that I knew I could pull it off as a professional heritage consultant and architectural historian with experience doing inventories in other cities, the sudden and unannounced demise of the Brandon House in Ancaster, and the looming changes proposed under Bill 108 to the Ontario Heritage Act, had tipped me over the edge.
Historic properties in many parts of Hamilton still have no protection from demolition without notice. Some are more fortunate than others, with the completion of the City of Hamilton’s Inventories of the Downtown (2014), the Durand (2017), and Waterdown (2020), during which 1,600 buildings were added.
Added to what, you might rightly ask. Buildings were added to something called the Municipal Heritage Register. The Register is a compilation, required under the Ontario Heritage Act, of buildings that meet criteria of historical, architectural, or contextual significance.
When a property is added to the Register, any threat of demolition of the property is flagged by the City and a 60 delay is placed on that permit allowing the City and the public time to discuss alternatives to demolition.
The goal of the Beasley Heritage Inventory project, which started in July 2020 and will run until the end of this month, is to inventory approximately 500 buildings that meet these criteria in the Beasley neighbourhood—a task that was much easier said than done.
By July, we were off and running. In the preceding month, I learned that our project would have to follow the process the City was using as opposed to the guidelines I had been relying on from the Ontario Heritage Act. During this process of fits and starts, I also discovered that the City of Hamilton had been notifying property owners of the process in advance. This added an extra layer of detail and, for some, confusion around why this was happening and what the impacts might be to their home or business.
This is when the journey became epic!
When City staff seized the opportunity to make this a pilot project, the first of its kind as a volunteer-led initiative, a list of requirements including detailed building descriptions was added to the work plan and the recording and documenting of every building in Beasley North soon became the norm.
This meant ensuring that every building was photographed with two views, municipal forms were filled out to identify heritage features, and building descriptions were written. In the end, a comprehensive evaluation was included to assign the building to a category of heritage value.
Although volunteers could and were trained to document and fill in inventory forms, only a qualified heritage professional was permitted to label and describe architectural styles and complete the evaluation process. This specific kind of qualified professional volunteer was a scarcity in Hamilton and I soon discovered I was on my own to provide most of the work involved for this important and essential part of the project (luckily a volunteer architect came along to help out).
Over seven months, approximately 500 buildings have been photographed, studied, categorized, reviewed, and many have been recommended to be added to the Register. Even better, photographs with dates of each inventoried building have been posted on the City’s Cultural Heritage Resources Map for all to access and use.
During the process, a letter to Beasley property owners and an informational flyer about all aspects of the inventory has been produced for distribution. It reassures owners that listing on the Register does not affect the value or use of their property.
While gaining an education in the workings of Hamilton’s complex inventory process and with Beasley itself revealing through its architecture, the growth and achievements of a community over 200 years, this project has provided us all with the knowledge and tools to better safeguard a unique heritage legacy for the future.
Beasley became a very densely built area with a high percentage of attached semis, rows, and terrace housing. Most were built for employees of the many manufacturing companies which had located in Beasley in the last half of the nineteenth century.
Many of the residential streets in Beasley have at least one row of 3 or more units of similar or identical style.
Here are some of the highlights of single buildings from the project.
Carol Priamo is a Beasley resident, former heritage consultant with the provincial Heritage Branch, and passionate volunteer who is the Vice Chair of ACO Hamilton and the Heritage Projects Board Member with the BNA