Failure to save YYC history = flaw in preservation policy

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Failure to save YYC history = flaw in preservation policy

Postby newsposter » Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:00 am

Failure to save Calgary's history highlights flaw in preservation policy

By Ricky Leong ,Calgary Sun, March 25, 2013 ... ion-policy

If Paris of the late 19th century were run the way Calgary is run now, there would be no Eiffel Tower.

That landmark, a wonder of the modern world, was meant as a fleeting symbol of engineering prowess, a temporary construction for the 1889 World’s Fair.

Somewhere along the line, someone in Paris wised up and figured out it might be worth their while to hang on to the thing.

The Eiffel Tower has since become an icon for the French capital and remains one of the top tourist attractions, anywhere.

Now it is absolutely unfair to compare Calgary, a historical fetus, to Paris, first settled around the time the Roman Empire spanned Europe.

But I ask anyway: What have we got from the late 1800s and early 1900s that can be held up as a testament to the blood, sweat and tears of those who tore up roots somewhere else to eventually end up here, building a legacy that would become modern Calgary?

Sadly, not much.

And with a few items in the news in the last little while addressing preservation issues, it can certainly make you feel as if it’s getting worse.

The latest historical jewel to be threatened with demolition is McHugh House in Mission, one of this city’s last-remaining homes of the 1890s. News reports suggest the city and the province are concerned about the building’s future but the Catholic church, which owns the building and property, won’t apply for funding to restore and preserve it because the grant money is partly generated through gambling.

We also have Eamon’s Camp, that old gas station removed from the construction site of the future Tuscany/Rocky Ridge LRT station.

Once a rural re-fuelling stop halfway between Calgary and Cochrane, it was abandoned long ago and was essentially in the way of transit expansion.

The city was convinced to acquire it but the private sector, invited to lend a hand, has been absent in attempts to restore it.

With the building in storage, aldermen are trying to figure out what they can afford to do with it. Put the building back in place? Build a replica? Put the sign back and call it a day?

These items and Calgary’s sad history of preservation highlight a deadly flaw in preservation policy: Although government will muscle in and try to designate a building a historical resource, it doesn’t take major responsibility for keeping such a building in good repair.

On top of that, historical designations don’t afford legal protection against neglect or demolition, nor does it lead to any kind of financial relief for restoration and upkeep.

It’s no wonder, then, that many owners would rather knock over a piece of history than take care of it.

Ironically, the city appears to have money to plan, build and maintain a new green space in Victoria Park, an entire neighbourhood that can be held up as a monumental failure of historical preservation. Talk about shutting the barn doors after the horses have escaped.

Clearly, the current regime is not working.

Governments need to consider other ways to preserve our architectural heritage.

Pony up money and buy these places.

Maybe help set up an arms-length foundation whose mission is to raise money to purchase, restore and maintain old buildings.

Not every last specimen of everything ever built is worthy of preservation. But if we care even one iota about hanging onto our roots, all levels of government and private property owners need to make more than a token effort to protect iconic structures that will give future generations a glimpse into our past.

The time for action is now, otherwise there will be nothing left to protect.
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