A lack of heritage preservation is becoming a growing concern for Calgarians
For a long time, the C.C. Snowdon building looked like any other building on 11th street SE. Named after businessman Campbell Camillus Snowdon, it was built between 1911-1914, used as a refinery and featured large windows and three massive safes built into the walls.
Over the years, it was painted white, and the warehouse suffered extensive damage from a fire that occurred in the 1980’s. Although tenants still used the office space, the building clearly had seen better days.
Luckily, Heritage Property Corporation saw potential in restoring the historical building. They have taken the white paint off of the brick, rebuilt the old warehouse and are adding in other features to fuse in the old with the new. By maintaining the character of the structure, Heritage Property Corporation has found a way to maintain a piece of Calgary’s history.
But not every historical building in Calgary has the same fortunate fate. Many have not been protected, and are eventually demolished rather than preserved. This deprives the city of a number of social, economic and environmental benefits. As a result, preservation advocates feel local government needs to do more to protect heritage buildings.
Photo by Natalie Holland
Neil Richardson, president of the Heritage Property Corporation, argues that tearing down heritage buildings is a waste of energy, materials and labour.
Richardson, who is currently working on several different heritage restoration projects including the Snowdon Block and the Canmore Hotel, says, “When you restore, you keep the materials out of the landfill [and] you salvage what’s on site. You’re not going out and paving over a forest because you’re developing on a site that has already been developed. So, environmentally it is one of the best forms of construction.”
He says heritage restoration also benefits the economy by creating jobs and sourcing materials locally.
“Heritage restoration is very labour-intensive. You’re typically hiring more people than the new construction because there is a lot of little finicky, labour-intensive work.”
Additionally, Richardson says that heritage buildings give insight to the history of the city.
“The stuff that we do in terms of telling the story and showcasing what Calgary was like 100 years ago and hopefully what Calgary was like 200 years ago in the future. Buildings give a visual reminder of the story.”
Richardson is not alone in those opinions. The 2008 Calgary Heritage Strategy states preserving heritage buildings has educational, economic, social and environmental benefits by preserving the city’s culture.
That’s why, according to the strategy, “Overall, historic preservation is acknowledged as simply part of building a good city.”
“Buildings give a visual reminder of the story.”
-Neil Richardson, president of the Heritage Property CorporationBut, in order for that preservation to happen, heritage protection advocates say that more needs to be done by local government.
Bob van Wegen of the Calgary Heritage Initiative says that although the City of Calgary has gotten better with its efforts towards heritage conservation, there is still more that could be done.
“I think the city needs to add more tools to its toolbox to preserve heritage,” says van Wegen.
Right now, that toolbox includes a grant program that provides financial support for people who protect their buildings, and Beltline Density Transfers, an incentive that allows eligible properties in the city’s Beltline to transfer unused development potential to other sites within the same area.
Darryl Carriou, senior heritage planner for the City of Calgary, says that local government is exploring other ways to preserve heritage.
“Tax incentives are used widely in the heritage community, but every tax structure is different, every city is different. So, we have to figure out and tailor our program that will work in Calgary,” says Carriou.
Tax abatement, a system that compensates the owner of a heritage building for any increase in taxes, and tax credit, a one-time credit on property taxes, are among the most common tax relief incentives for heritage preservation in Canadian cities. Both of which have already been implemented by the City of Edmonton.
Photo by Natalie HollandSeven years ago, Edmonton implemented the policy to encourage the designation and rehabilitation of municipal resources in Edmonton to acknowledge the importance of historical resources. This policy provides tax incentives for maintenance and rehabilitation of heritage buildings.
According to the City of Edmonton website, “Many of the older restored heritage buildings are now fully occupied, no longer vacant as they are attractive and full of character.” They also credit part of the cultural success of Whyte Avenue to heritage preservation.
Heritage advocacy groups like the Calgary Heritage Initiative are pushing for Calgary to adopt these types of incentives in our community to preserve the city’s identity.
“Calgary’s a very young city,” says van Wegen. “These buildings are a way of connecting the city to its past and to its future.”