Thank you for the suggested topic Chloe. I believe that undefined or unprotected heritage is almost always endangered. This subject is far too complex to cover effectively in one simple blog post.
Heritage is under discussion everywhere these days and this question is currently very Hudson appropriate. With PMAD coming into effect towns have an opportunity to define and then try to protect valuable heritage, but only if we do something. If we do nothing then our heritage will be at greater risk. Let’s just barely skim the surface with ideas that are admittedly biased by my personal opinions and hopefully a discussion dialogue can follow with your comments.
My bias: I really like eclectic old villages with varied buildings representing an advancing visual history of the past life of that village. I think my preference is because that format gives me a sense that a village grew, prospered or floundered at various times, still has a living anchor to its past and the village has been valued, maintained and probably has changed purposes several times by its citizens over some long period of time. In an old village perhaps you feel like you’re joining history with like minded people rather than waiting for it with strangers in a new development.
Since 1982, we have owned a 1929 Hudson village home. We significantly expanded in 1985, totally changing the look of our home, but keeping it within the village spirit and look. In fact many people who have arrived after our renovation mistake our home for an original heritage home. In the end, we would be financially, efficiency and living space wise far better to have simply torn town and rebuilt new. That’s the labour of love part of heritage and we have paid the price because I feel the responsibility of not wishing to change an old village for the worse or push it out of the character it has found for itself before I came to it.
Clearly each person in any community might define and value heritage differently, plus a community’s collective need for space and development changes with time, so it is important to regularly facilitate public discussion to identify a common vision of exactly what heritage a community feels is important to protect. Universally, each component of what we will call heritage must have some enduring value and special interest to the collective community, because without those we first lose the attachment, then we stop maintaining it, and then we will surely lose that part of our heritage before long.
It’s a rarity and stroke of great luck that we are blessed in Hudson to have the outstanding heritage example of the Greenwood Center for Living History. Greenwood was bequeathed by Phoebe Nobbs Hyde to the Canadian Heritage of Quebec not for profit organization, thereby protecting it from future sale. Study Phoebe Hyde and you’ll realize how rare a gift this is, usually a family will sell such property as part of the estate, but Phoebe had no children and she wished Greenwood protected so it might endure for the good of Hudson.
Greenwood is a wonderful and irreplaceable centuries old piece of our history sitting on what would be immensely valuable waterfront property for any high end builder. Greenwood is run by dedicated local volunteers who ensure that they raise money and secure grants for adequate funding for operating and maintenance costs, and a minimally paid executive director, and some minimal hired summer staff to help operate tours and events. If you haven’t yet, please visit Greenwood this Spring when it re-opens and better yet join it, contribute to it, or volunteer with them.
Greenwood brings life to our community with many events, including Storyfest each year. Storyfest is an entertaining and enriching part of Hudson as a great series of quite famous Canadian authors have been brought to Hudson each fall for a number of years. I hear they’ve got an outstanding line-up planned for Storyfest 2016. In Greenwood’s case our history truly not just educates but also enriches our present day live proving that protecting our heritage well can bring great benefits to a community.
Heritage buildings will be much more expensive to maintain and operate than a similar sized modern building. If we let an old building deteriorate too far, it can become far more expensive to renovate than to replace which adds further incentive to destruction. On a purely financial analysis heritage almost never makes sense and since the payback on replacing with modern can be quite quick, heritage will be perpetually at risk. We will face difficult choices with Hudson’s old Town Hall soon.
Unless there are clearly defined heritage protections or incentives, with future densification pressure always looming in metropolitan Montreal and our MRC, eventually teardown and replace becomes economically interesting for developers and villages needing to increase density. Especially true in the case of a village that is becoming run down or is no longer commercially viable or not attracting enough daily visitors to support local businesses. Empty rental buildings have less value and are easier for developers to buy for teardown. If a village has zoning laws that allow enough density then there’s money to be made building condos or rental housing where old buildings weren’t viable.
The delicate balance of the heritage coin is that virtually no one can afford to protect what is no longer marketable, and it’s very difficult to force and enforce standards of maintenance. By limiting demolition permits, or artificially limiting permits to build on vacant lots or stalling redevelopment on existing ones, you can quickly create your own ghetto or ghost town. Villages must market themselves and the businesses therein to maintain what I see as a critical mass of interest, those things that attract visitors to come on a regular basis.
Vacant buildings, empty lots, and empty rental spaces are signs of significant problems and potential for future decline. In a world of big box and strip mall outlets a village needs to find a purpose and direction or it will become a ghost town or one day be all condos close to a train station.
Heritage protection is a very complex topic with many facets. It is in the community best interest to come together and fully discuss and define what critical parts we are unwilling to lose, which other parts we’re willing to pay to protect and what are the best ways to reach that goal.