Historic places can be recognized and protected by various levels of government and legislation, including international, federal, provincial, and municipal options. This can include not only the physical buildings, structures and landscapes but also the non-physical associations of a place such as use, cultural and spiritual values. Increasingly, non-tangible cultural heritage is receiving recognition both independent from, and in connection with, place such as traditional cultural and spiritual practices, language and food.
A historic place can be a building or other structure, group of buildings, district, landscape, archaeological site or other type of place. Built heritage and archaeological sites receive different treatment in some legislation, including that of British Columbia where a distinction is made between pre-1846 sites and those of a later date.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines and designates international heritage sites and dictates the regulations and requirements involved in nominating, maintaining and protecting international heritage.
International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is an international, non-governmental organization working for the conservation of monuments and sites around the world. It has a chapter in Canada, based in Ottawa.
Parks Canada plays a fundamental role in the preservation, recognition and promotion of heritage in Canada.
Sites must have a nationally significant impact on Canadian history, or must illustrate a nationally important aspect of Canadian history.
Canada has heritage designations for built heritage at the federal level in four main categories:
In addition, Canada also has heritage designations relating to people and events. These are recognized with a physical marker.
Designated National Historic Persons and National Historic Events
First published in 2003 and revised in 2010, the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada is the primary guide at the national level for changes to historic places and the impact of proposed work on older buildings, engineering works, landscapes and archaeological sites. The Standards and Guidelines does the following:
In British Columbia, the Heritage Conservation Act outlines the designation and legislation processes involved in the regulation of historic places in British Columbia.
The BC Heritage Branch is “the Province’s primary body responsible for the conservation of historic places in British Columbia. It manages the BC Register of Historic Places and develops policy for heritage conservation.”
The Register is the official provincial list of historic places. It includes historic sites protected by the province, as well as those recognized by municipalities. Over 4600 historic places have been included so far. The Register is not currently available to the public in list form, but the Heritage Branch is currently working on ways to make it more accessible.
The Archaeology Branch works under the HCA, and within the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to provide accurate, updated archaeological information and to make decisions regarding the granting of permits.
Heritage recognition, protection and designation is rare at the provincial level. As such, heritage designation in British Columbia is largely done through municipal governments, using the Local Government Act.
“A local government may, by resolution, establish a community heritage register that identifies real property that is considered by the local government to be heritage property. (2) A community heritage register (a) must indicate the reasons why property included in the community heritage register is considered to have heritage value or character and (b) may distinguish between heritage properties of different degrees and kinds of heritage value or heritage character”. (Local Government Act, Part 15, Division 3, 598. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/r15001_15 (January 15, 2020))
The City of Vancouver has its own charter and has tailored its heritage conservation program using the tools provided by the provincial government.
Using the provisions of the Vancouver Charter, the City of Vancouver has established a heritage conservation program, known as The Heritage Program as of 2020, as well as zoning and by-laws to recognize, manage and protect historic places.
Maintained by the City of Vancouver Department of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability, the Vancouver Heritage Register provides “a listing of buildings and structures, streetscapes, landscape resources (parks and landscapes, trees, monuments, public works) and archaeological sites which have architectural or historical heritage value”.
Council also has the power to designate heritage properties, protecting them from alteration or destruction. The designation is then noted on the property title.
An alternative to designation is a covenant under the Land Title Act, Section 219. A covenant is an agreement that can limit future use, alteration or alienation of land or structures on the land.
Heritage Conservation: A Community Guide,https://heritagebc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/heritage_conservation_community_guide.pdf (July 8, 2021)
A number of Vancouver’s heritage resources are clustered in areas that represent key aspects of Vancouver’s history and are valued for their special features or characteristics.
Zoning and development by-laws adopted at the municipal level regulate property development by encouraging land use and building according to community goals and visions for the future.
While dependent on civic leadership and the legislative process, the preservation, conservation and recognition of historic places also occurs through public awareness, appreciation and education. The understanding of cultural heritage is continuously evolving, and legislation varies between cities, provinces, and countries.
The people involved in determining legislation contribute to the type of legislation created. Those impacted by heritage legislation may work to create their own, acknowledging and correcting for areas lacking coverage, information, and protection. Recognition and protection of cultural heritage and historic places can be sought at the community level and it is through these efforts that heritage is often identified and safeguarded.
The tools of recognition outlined here are not exhaustive nor are they static. Diverse stories of importance have often not been well-represented in formal recognitions of heritage, including Indigineous, BIPOC and other historically marginalized communities’ heritage. The continued development of these and new tools must be informed by Canada’s diverse communities and values if they are to adequately recognize and protect heritage places and stories.
Page created July 2021. Please let us know if you have updates or information to add.
We would like to extend our thanks to the following people for their contributions to this page:
Susan Green, Registrar with the BC Heritage Branch, for information on the BC Register of Historic Places.
Judy Oberlander, Heritage Consultant, for information on ICOMOS, the Standards & Guidelines, and editorial contributions.
Hugh McLean, Heritage Planner, for information on the Standards & Guidelines.
Charlotte Bailey, VHF Intern – Heritage Resources Assistant, 2018-19, with support from Young Canada Works (Government of Canada).
BCAPA: Archaeology in BC. https://www.bcapa.ca/archaeology/
City of Vancouver: Regulating development in Vancouver’s heritage areas. https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/vancouvers-heritage-areas.aspx
City of Vancouver: Vancouver Heritage Program. https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/heritage.aspx
City of Vancouver: 2021 Vancouver Heritage Register. https://guidelines.vancouver.ca/policy-vancouver-heritage-register.pdf
First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Recognizing And Including Indigenous Cultural Heritage In B.C. https://fpcc.ca/resource/heritage-policy-paper/
ICOMOS: The role of ICOMOS in the World Heritage Convention. https://www.icomos.org/en/what-we-do/image-what-we-do/268-he-role-of-icomos-in-the-world-heritage-convention
Government of British Columbia: Heritage Conservation Act [RSBC 1996] Chapter 187. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96187_01
Government of British Columbia: Historic Places. Conserving Buildings and Properties. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/celebrating-british-columbia/historic-places/conserving-buildings-properties
Government of British Columbia: Provincial and Federal Registers. BC Register of Historic Places. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/celebrating-british-columbia/historic-places/provincial-federal-registers
Government of British Columbia: Vancouver Charter. SBC 1953 Chapter 55. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/vanch_00
Parks Canada: Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/dfhd
Parks Canada: A Guide to Working with the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office. https://www.historicplaces.ca/media/7313/fhbro_manual_parks%20canada.pdf
Parks Canada: Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. https://www.historicplaces.ca/media/18072/81468-parks-s+g-eng-web2.pdf
Parks Canada: World Heritage Sites in Canada. https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/spm-whs/a-propos-about
UNESCO: World Heritage Centre. World Heritage List. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/
UNESCO: Intangible Cultural Heritage. Browse the Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Register of good safeguarding practices. https://ich.unesco.org/en/lists
Vancouver Heritage Foundation: Places that Matter. https://www.placesthatmatter.ca/
Walker, Alexa: New First Nations Heritage Planning Toolkit Released in British Columbia. https://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/news/ip-and-cultural-heritage-news/new-first-nations-heritage-planning-toolkit-released-british-colu/#