Heritage Basics & FAQs

Frequently asked questions about heritage in Vancouver

VHF has gathered the following information in order to answer common heritage concerns. If you have a question or query not answered below, feel free to contact the VHF office Monday to Friday from 9 am-5 pm Monday to Friday, 604 264 9642.

VHF has also developed several unique educational resources on different approaches to conservation. We’ve looked at a wide range of heritage structures and places including residential, commercial and institutional buildings, neighbourhoods, as well as sites of historic, cultural, social and environmental significance.

Learn with us as we explore Vancouver’s heritage.


What is built heritage?

Built heritage encompasses houses, buildings, bridges, monuments, structures and landscapes defined by their heritage value and/or heritage character. According to the National Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, “heritage value is the aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual importance or significance for past, present, or future generations.” Vancouver possesses a rich and varied collection of heritage buildings ranging from the late 1800’s to the modern era. The City of Vancouver has a municipal heritage register that lists many heritage buildings, structures and sites. However, if a building is not listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register this does not necessarily mean that it is not a heritage house or that it does not have heritage value and/or character.

What is municipal heritage designation?

Designation of heritage buildings as protected heritage property is a legislative tool that ensures they remain a legacy for future generations. Designation allows the City to regulate, by By-Laws, the demolition, relocation and alteration of heritage property. The Heritage Legislation that passed in 1994 allows for the designation of identified interior fixtures and features. Changes to a designated site require a Heritage Alteration Permit.City Council’s policy on heritage designation states the following:

  • The City’s long term goal is to protect, through voluntary designation, as many resources on the Vancouver Heritage Register as possible.
  • Legal designation will be a prerequisite to an owner accepting certain bonuses and incentives.
  • The City may initiate designation of buildings of extraordinary merit.

While Council can consider designation without an owner’s consent as a means of protection for a heritage property, in practice, most designations are agreed to by building owners in exchange for incentives. Designations are noted on the property title.

Visit the City of Vancouver’s website to learn more about heritage designation or speak to the Heritage Planning Department.

What is the Heritage Register?

The Vancouver Heritage Register is the cornerstone of the City’s heritage program. Adopted in 1986 (then known as the Heritage Inventory), it is a policy and guideline document that includes more than 2,200 buildings, landscapes, monuments and archaeological sites. The Register was compiled based on a comprehensive architectural survey of the city conducted by a study team that looked at every street in Vancouver to identify notable buildings. To be included on the Register, sites must be identified as having heritage value and/or heritage character and be at least 20 years old. The Register is a planning tool that provides a valuable record of Vancouver’s heritage. The City has adopted a number of regulations, policies and guidelines that affect buildings or sites listed on this Register. Property owners and other developers should consult these regulations, policies and guidelines prior to proposing changes to these properties. Many buildings were not included in Heritage Inventory of 1986 and therefore are not listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register today. If a building is not listed on the Register, it does not automatically mean that it is not a heritage building or site. Heritage buildings are added on to the City’s Heritage Register every year, usually through homeowner initiative. In fact, one of the initiatives of the Heritage Action Plan, is to update the Heritage Register. 

Is my property on the Heritage Register?

To see if a building is on the Vancouver Heritage Register, you can look it up on the City of Vancouver’s website, the Heritage Site Finder or call the Vancouver Heritage Foundation office 604 264 9642, Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm. If your house is not listed on the Register, it does not automatically mean that it is not a heritage house.

Should I nominate my building for the Heritage Register?

VHF encourages heritage home and building owners to nominate their buildings to be added to the Vancouver Heritage Register. A listing on the Heritage Register makes your house eligible for municipal protection through Designation or Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) and eligible to apply for Vancouver Heritage Foundation grants such as Restore It and True Colours. To be included on the Heritage Register, homes must be identified by City Heritage Staff as having heritage value and/or heritage character and be at least 20 years old.

How are archaeological sites different from built heritage?

Archaeological sites are the physical evidence of past human occupation and make up 98% of BC’s historical evidence for the last 14,000 years. Sites range in size and complexity from single artifact finds to village sites with layers of occupation. They differ from heritage buildings in that most often their character-defining elements are hidden or unknown. In BC any sites or objects pre-dating 1846 that have heritage value to BC, a community or First Nations are considered archaeological and are protected by the Heritage Conservation Act. Permits are required for any activity that may disturb archaeological heritage. Most heritage buildings, on the other hand, post-date 1846 and are protected by municipal legislation.To learn more about archaeological heritage and the responsibilities of property owners and developers, visit the Archaeology Branch’s website.

Also check out the guidelines concerning archaeological sites in the National Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

How old is my building? Who lived there?

If you are interested in learning more about when your building was built and who may have lived there, download our research guide. The guide will walk you through different resources that you can use to investigate the history of your home. VHF also regularly runs workshops and talks about researching heritage buildings.

Where can I find historical photos and other archival documents?

The City of Vancouver Archives is a great place to start when looking for historical records of Vancouver. The City Archives also have a large digital collection of historical photos. For more resources visit our Vancouver History Resources page which has links to historical material as well as archival photos and documents.

What architectural style is my building?

Explore Vancouver House Styles to learn about common house styles in Vancouver and for resources on architecture and Vancouver’s architects.

Can I make changes or alterations to my building?

Alterations can be made to heritage buildings. However, there are guidelines and policies in place which should be followed. Alterations and maintenance should have minimal impact and should respect the heritage value of the building and its character defining elements. The City of Vancouver’s policy on altering heritage buildings on the heritage register states:

“The exterior of a building listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register can be altered. However, the heritage value of each building on the Vancouver Heritage Register is formally recognized, and the elements that define the building’s character should be respected.”

Municipally designated heritage buildings require a heritage alteration permit to alter exteriors and where applicable interior elements and landscape features. Designated buildings are protected under the Heritage By-law.

Learn more about requirements for designated buildings and how to apply for a heritage alteration permit.

Before altering your heritage building it is important to understand existing heritage conservation guidelines. To learn more, see the project planning tips we have created for homeowners that help ensure you preserve the charm of your heritage building when planning small or large projects.

Where can I find skilled tradespeople that work with heritage buildings?

You can visit our page on consulting professionals which outlines the different types of professionals that work with built heritage and how to contact them.

Can I insure my heritage home?

Where can I find information relating to maintaining my building?

Check out our building owner’s guide, we have compiled information to help you plan your project, technical how-to articles about common issues, such as how to restore wood windows, and advice on maintaining your building.

Are there incentives for conserving heritage buildings? Or financial assistance for restoration projects?

To see a list of grants and incentives offered by VHF and other organisations go to Get a Grant.

What career and educational opportunities are there in heritage conservation?

What can I do to protect Vancouver’s heritage?

Get Involved! Join VHF and a growing community of people who want to limit the demolition of our heritage buildings, promoting heritage conservation through education and awareness. VHF offers tours, events, workshops and lectures as well as online resources for learning more about Vancouver’s heritage.

Support VHF! You can support VHF by volunteering, partnering with us or by donation. Vancouver Heritage Foundation is a registered charity supporting the conservation of heritage buildings and structures in recognition of their contribution to the city’s economy, sustainability and culture.

Stay up to date! Sign-up for the VHF newsletter to be notified about upcoming events or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest heritage updates.

Have your say in the city’s development! The City of Vancouver offers several ways to get involved. You can keep up to date on the Heritage Commission’s initiatives, all meeting dates and minutes are posted online and VHF provides regular updates about the Heritage Action Plan and new developments concerning heritage. There are also opportunities to join committees and advisory boards.