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  • To properly care for and safeguard significant places, some understanding of the regulations in place to protect and recognize this heritage is also necessary.

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    It is in the public interest to prevent the impoverishment or trivialization of our heritage and to ensure that we pass it on to the next generation, if not intact, at least properly used and even enriched. This often requires forming alliances and strategies to communicate a focused and consistent plan over months.

    What may sound like an ordeal can actually turn out to prove a stimulating opportunity to co-operate with neighbours, interested citizens, experts and organizations. To Discover and to Protect, Heritage Montreal, Our heritage is much more than just objects from the past. It is a very present part of our everyday lives, whether we are aware of it or not.

    Our heritage can be seen in tangible objects such as commemorative plaques and inscriptions, buildings, neighbourhoods, parks and archeological remains, both obvious and hidden. But in Montreal, as elsewhere, our heritage is also intangible. It includes our traditions and the ways in which we celebrate our culture.

    Think, for example, of the building techniques and traditions unique to Montreal.


    Equally, try to imagine what Montreal would be without bagels or smoked meat! Here, though, we will concentrate solely on urban heritage. While architecture is necessarily a component, urban heritage also refers to landscapes, neighbourhoods, natural features and archeological sites.

    While many things serve as a reminder of the past, some are more significant than others and must be treated differently. To properly conserve built heritage, one has to understand the significance of a building or site and act in a way that is appropriate. In that light, one thing becomes very clear: Knowledge and recognition of value are inextricably linked in heritage conservation.

    What we recognize as heritage evolves, however, on a daily basis. The definition of heritage is changing continually, and growing increasingly broad with time. What was considered uninteresting a generation ago can suddenly be important. The best example of this is modern or recent heritage. Finally, it is important to remember that all too often we recognize our heritage only when it is threatened with demolition or disfigurement.

    Heritage is a precious, non-renewable resource—we only lose it once—that lends remarkable quality to our surroundings, most often without our realizing it. Few urban centres on the continent bear as many traces of different societies and periods: This richness is not restricted to the city centre; it is also very evident on the sites of the original villages scattered across the island, and in places where built heritage is located near water.

    Traces of the past In the simplest terms, prehistory in the Americas is that which precedes the arrival of the Europeans and their written records. Prehistory is also the turf of the researchers and archeologists who interpret its artifacts. The Montreal region has many Amerindian sites, about which we are learning more and more. Archeological vestiges, meanwhile, testify to the successive eras of settlement in Montreal.

    This may be most evident in Old Montreal, but is in fact the case across the island; some vestiges are even the subjects of interpretive sites, such as the old church of Saints-Anges in LaSalle. Lastly, the cadastral system of subdivision is one of the most lasting legacies of French rule, though it is a less recognized element of heritage than buildings and archeological sites. Though Notre-Dame Church retained its place as the most important of the Catholic houses of worship, the 19th century was a period of intense activity that saw the creation of many parishes and the construction of many churches.

    Our many churches, monasteries and convents remain a dominant characteristic of the urban fabric, evidence of a way of life and a system of values that prevailed in Montreal for more than three and a half centuries. Over time, the churches became the focal points of their neighbourhoods and a repository of sacred art of great value. Often spread over large tracts of land in what are now considered prime locations—on Mount Royal, for example—they are reminders of the city in its embryonic stages.

    The architecture of these mansions is evidence of the opulence and variety that characterized the Victorian era. With the arrival of the railway, these wealthy families could escape the pressures of city life in their summer houses in nearby rural Senneville. Their philanthropic legacy to Montreal remains to this day in great institutions like McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital. Industrial heritage From onward, Montreal firmly took its place as the economic heart of Canada.

    The city was transformed by the extensive infrastructure and many buildings needed to support its role as a railway and shipping hub. Parks and urban landscape At the height of industrialization, trees were also planted along streets throughout the city and large parks, and squares laid out based on British and American planning principles.

    Some of these green spaces were intended for workers, while others were built for the privileged classes. With their rural feeling, the cemeteries on Mount Royal, built in the middle of the century, became favoured destinations for Sunday strolls. They also served as models for many of the parks that followed.

    Districts in most of the municipalities annexed by the City of Montreal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries still bear witness to their autonomous beginnings and the activities that went on there. Modern development continues, of course, and some buildings completed in more recent years will join the list of emblematic sites in Montreal.

    The tools of heritage conservation Tools It has become increasingly obvious, in practice that official heritage protection mechanisms no longer suffice. The public bodies mandated to enforce legislation have failed in their obligation to ensure the protection of our built heritage. Often, though, the good intentions of groups or individuals are not enough.


    A broad strategic vision of necessary actions, combined with knowledge of the laws and mechanisms of heritage conservation, is essential to saving significant buildings or sites. The following pages provide an outline of the official tools of heritage conservation at the provincial, municipal and federal levels. We must not forget, however, that the comfort these legal tools may provide is often accompanied by a degree of concern when one sees that in reality, their enforcement leaves much to be desired.

    Provincial protection As one might expect, the Canadian Constitution of does not have a lot to say about culture and heritage conservation.

    Traditionally, culture has been part of provincial jurisdiction. In Quebec, heritage conservation has been an official concern of the government since The Cultural Property Act, enacted ingave the government powers to protect built heritage, for example by exerting a degree of control over private property. A major review of this legislation came into effect inwhen the Cultural Heritage Act replaced the Cultural Property Act.

    The substantial changes include a broadened definition of heritage, which now includes heritage cultural landscapes, intangible heritage, and persons, events and sites of historical importance.

    Municipalities have greater powers, as they are seen to play an increasingly greater role in the protection and enhancement of heritage. See here in French. The Cultural Heritage Act provides for several protective statuses with various degrees of action relative to buildings or complexes. Those statuses are summarized on the website of the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications. The Act defines various categories of heritage property, as follows: For instance, any citizen, owner, group or municipality may make a classification or designation request by writing to the Minister of Culture and Communications in Quebec City see Letter-writing Guide, below.

    The Conseil has the power to hold public hearings. The Minister has one year following the publication of the notice of intent in which to make a decision. Once a property or site has been classified, its owner is required to preserve the heritage value Section 26 of the Act. The Act grants to the Ministry various powers to monitor actions and work planned for such properties.

    Sincethe Act has required that a conservation plan be established for every classified heritage property and site, to ensure its preservation, rehabilitation and enhancement Section The Ministry has created an online training module to help better understand the Cultural Heritage Act, available here in French.

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    Municipal protection In Quebec, municipalities rely mainly on two distinct types of tool for heritage conservation: Inunder the Cultural Property Act, which became the Cultural Heritage Act inmunicipalities were also accorded specific powers to manage their built heritage.

    They may cite heritage properties referred to as historic monuments before the Act or declare heritage sites. The first historic monument citation in the Greater Montreal Area was Ville Saint-Laurent Church in ; the first heritage site declaration in Montreal was Mount Royal in note that inthe Government of Quebec decreed a historic and natural district on Mount Royal. Under the Act, the mountain is now a declared national heritage site.

    Municipal recognition of a heritage property or site requires that the owner ensure its conservation. It allows the municipality to more tightly control work planned on the property, and to support its enhancement through technical or financial assistance. Throughout Quebec, the Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development governs municipal plans and bylaws, including the construction, demolition and maintenance bylaws whereby municipalities wield control over changes to their land areas.

    Montreal and Quebec City are subject to a number of specific requirements and have additional powers under their respective charters. Bylaws are framed by the master plan, a long-term land-use planning tool that covers areas to be developed and facilities to be built, as well as heritage and natural sites to be preserved.


    A map accompanying the Plan identifies Map 2. Requests for permits concerning these areas are subject to specific study by municipal departments. In the case of Jean-Talon Station, although the Master Plan called for public use both for the building and the site, the city administration allowed a significant exemption, and sold them for commercial use.

    Every municipality is required to adopt planning bylaws covering zoning, subdivision and building, to specify permitted uses, dimensions and development of land, and building rules. The municipality decides what to include in those bylaws. They may specify that existing buildings be maintained, and therefore serve to conserve heritage. Likewise, via its zoning bylaw, a municipality can control the planting and cutting of trees.

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    The by-law determines the objectives and criteria for approval of projects, and the land area where the PIIA applies. A PIIA allows for more rigorous study of a project, and can be used to ensure that heritage components of an existing site or building are taken into consideration. That study is undertaken by the urban planning advisory committee, prior to the decision being made by city council.

    For example, the entire land areas of the Borough of Outremont and the City of Westmount have been subject to the PIIA requirement since and respectively.

    It is important to understand the process leading to the awarding of a demolition permit, which differs from that for a construction permit. In Montreal, for example, the demolition bylaw No. Note as well that sincemunicipalities have had increased powers to demand maintenance of and repairs to decrepit or dilapidated buildings Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development, Section Municipalities often lack the financial, technical and professional resources to properly monitor heritage conservation.

    As the case of the Saint-lsidore convent—a historic monument cited by the City of Montreal in and demolished on June 6,against the recommendation of its advisory committee—demonstrates, public authorities are not obligated to accept committee advice.

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    Furthermore, the absence of planning measures and of public consultation mechanisms is harmful to heritage, because proposals are examined piecemeal.

    Despite all of this, the local level is still the place where citizens can have the greatest effect—by, for example, asking their city or borough councillor to intervene. The heritage conservation tools described above, city and borough councillors, community groups and local newspapers are all powerful means for building engagement.

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