By Natalie Bull
Once again, the National Trust has released its list of the Top 10 Endangered Places in Canada. On it are 10 more cherished places that have fallen through the cracks, been neglected or forgotten, or stand in the way of a new parking lot. (Seriously.)
I have a love-hate relationship with the Endangered Places List: I know it brings valuable media attention to sites at risk, and that it is often a timely shot of renewed energy for local advocates who’ve been working to save these places on the ground. But the List is also a regular, galling reminder for me of the gaps and weaknesses in stewardship, investment, public policy and common sense that the National Trust and its partners have been working to counteract for decades.
Three things strike me as particularly noteworthy this year:
1. With an important national anniversary bearing down on us in 2017, how distressing that several special places reflecting the diversity of our cultural mosaic have made the List. Vancouver’s Chinatown, settled by Chinese immigrants even before the city’s founding in 1886, is undermined by speculation and increasingly unaffordable for long-time residents. A Byzantine style church with its silver onion dome is one of hundreds of similar structures that tell the story of 125 years of Ukrainian settlement in Canada, but are rapidly disappearing. In rural Saskatchewan, acres of publicly managed Prairie Grasslands replete with homesteader heritage, Indigenous archaeological sites and species at risk face an uncertain future.
My 150th anniversary wish for Canada: as the fireworks fade at the end of Sesquicentennial celebrations next year, I want to know we’ll have these places to celebrate for the next 150 years and beyond.
2. There are no fewer than four National Historic Sites of Canada on the Endangered Places List this year. That astounds me. Even more disconcerting: three of those National Historic Sites are owned by governments and are essentially being demolished by neglect. One of them – the St. Stephen Town Hall in New Brunswick – has already had a demolition permit issued. Yes, I know tax payers’ dollars are scarce and must be invested wisely. Indeed! So let’s insist that our governments demonstrate the care and wise use of the historic environment and practice exemplary stewardship of the places they hold in trust for us – including preventative maintenance and, when necessary, transitioning buildings into the hands of willing owners and ensuring that their future is secure. Otherwise, how can we expect private homeowners and commercial businesses, faith groups and developers to protect the places that matter to all of us?
3. Finally, I am reminded that the flurry of media attention is often just the beginning. Even as we were preparing this year’s List to go to print, we saw advocates still hard at work on the case of the Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site of Canada in Ottawa, which was added the List of the Top 10 Endangered Places in 2015. The scientific and heritage communities have been working hand-in-hand for a reversal of the decision to sever 60 key acres of this nationally important scientific landscape, which will undo 130 years of essential research and threaten the long-term vitality and health of the Farm as a cultural heritage landscape. Their tenacity and dedication is inspiring.
In fact, it is the tenacity and dedication of local advocates that brings me back to the “love” part of my love-hate relationship with the Endangered Places List. We see extraordinary things happen when Canadians rally around places that matter. If inclusion on the National Trust’s annual list does anything to bolster those local efforts, I’m all for it.
Natalie Bull is Executive Director of the National Trust for Canada.
Click here to see the National Trust’s 2016 Top 10 Endangered Places List and to explore past listings.