Heritage, is it endangered?

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.

4 thoughts on “Heritage, is it endangered?

  1. Yes Peter this issue is complex. The town has cited as “historical” 3 buildings in town, Town Hall, Halcro, and the Hudson museum by passing by-law 599. The town owns these buildings though . According to the by-law, If the town eventually sells them, the new owner would have to have council’s approval in order to demolish or alter the buildings. Now you can see that if you get a council who prioritize development over heritage protection, that we could lose these buildings. Not that I think this will happen. As far as preserving buildings we don’t own, we’ll the courts might rule that the municipality doesn’t have jurisdiction over private property and let the owners do what they want with it. This is when the town would need to purchase the property if they wanted to preserve it. Not all taxpayers would agree to using their taxpayer dollars. I think it would have to be a significant building and one that could be turned into a use that all residents could enjoy. (arts, culture, recreation, etc.) Personally, I love old houses, they speak to me but for my husband, the businessman, it doesn’t make economic sense. It would have to be a real “coup-de-coeur” for me to convince him to choose that option. We have had the experience as we renovated, not restored and that’s a big difference, an 1850 farmhouse in the Eastern Townships and it was a money pit. There are grants though to restore something special but there has to be the political will and money to do it. Grants are never 100%.

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  2. Heritage in my view is the respectful stewardship of a community’s narrative through the ages.

    Since last September, the local narrative has undergone a memorable metamorphosis where it has turned into an exotic butterfly, now referred to with perhaps exaggerated flourish as the ”Strategic Plan”. Was the re-invention necessary? Why are we so quick at replacing the old with the new?

    Perhaps this Strategic Plan is simply a tool which facilitates the administrative process as now most resolutions are expedited and justified by the simple phrase ‘’as it supports the Strategic Plan”. While I listen as best as I can to these readings of the monthly resolutions, I still do not find much left of the original narrative. I put it aside, telling myself, surely soon the big picture will be made clear.

    Truthfully, I had expected that the narrative would be passed down from the previous administration. In reading the final minutes of Diane Piacente’s leadership at the end of a difficult period, I read many clear trails and precise leads for the following administration to pick up from. I wonder why this was not done.

    To me, the effort at Strategy and the result (the Plan) both come across as superficial, separated from the general public’s true values and sense of place. Not to speak of process, timing, content and data used to produce this new and improved narrative. In my simple opinion, I do not feel this strategy accurately represents the majority of the residents’ needs and expectations. Nor do I trust that the Mission statement that should follow in March will make it any more digestible no matter how much money ‘’we’’ throw at it.

    In theory, a mission statement is the gist and the heart of the Strategic plan. Why do we need a second presentation of the same thing? But who’s counting… we seem to have so much money nowadays, we can spend it on anything and everything, with little accountability. Or so it seems.

    Meanwhile, I still believe in Leadership. I still believe in the electorate process where a majority of us chose the best representatives in the community to care for our needs and values, to best administer our Town for the next 4 years ahead. It is simple, 3000 or so adult residents minus the few elected and staff cannot reasonably be left to design and administer the Town effectively. However, it certainly is our role and responsibility to let them know when their actions or lack of action no longer fits the narrative we hold dear and precious to us.

    Simply imagine if each one of us takes the time to carefully record the narrative we hold dear for Hudson, using whichever medium we are comfortable with, may it be paint, a song, a picture, a message, an email, a question at council, a parade, a march, a gathering and that we publish its message for all to see, for all to join hands and minds in refining together, starting perhaps with what matters most. This show of identity might serve as a reminder, a tool for Council to help them in the evaluation of options they are presented with, while being reminded that people’s expectations are still current and very much present in the responsibility that they were burdened with, so they may direct and make recommendations to the Town’s administrator as to what is negotiable, what is precious, what must be protected at all cost and what may be dispensable. Without this tool, I could see how the current narrative could become hazy to Council.

    Heritage to me is what we hand to the next generation, our values, our ideologies, our landscapes, our most cherished buildings, buildings which marked time and community as Peter described so beautifully.

    We place our trust in the Civil servants of our Town that due process and due diligence are carried with care. We trust that Heritage will be defined and founded on our expectations, our needs and our values. Heritage is part of any old town’s narrative. What is the long-term value of any strategy if there is no consideration for Heritage?

    I am hoping that members of the local churches and Hudson Heritage Society may weigh in on this last part.

    I still ponder frequently on the astute commentary shared by a member of the congregation of St-James Church at the November 3, 2015 gathering where people were invited to share their reactions to the recent renovations to the Sanctuary. This person brought up an interesting passage discovered in the reading of the history of St-James Church, describing how lights, candles and crosses had been removed at one time from the Sanctuary, these recognized as accessories connected with the comforts and decorum of ‘’High Church’’. This person also mentioned how Whitlock had donated the land to the Church on the condition that it remain a ‘’Low Church’’ …

    I find this sharing of our past history fascinating while wondering if those were signs of a tumultuous time where the return to humility was required to experience authenticity. This person explained it much better that I am here. It would be lovely if he recognized himself and might share the full expression of the sentiment for all to hear.

    In my view, this story has much to say about Hudson’s Heritage. I hope others will share here and with Councils present and future their favourite passages of our collective story.

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  3. Thank you Chloe, you outdid yourself. Obviously you’re very involved, informed and passionate about Hudson. If I read between your lines, and please object I’m incorrectly characterizing a few word summary, but you are fearful that we’re throwing everything we value into a blender called the strategic plan without knowing what will survive.

    I think that part of a mission statement should be a clear statement of purpose for a that part of our history that is significant and defines our present, as well as a vision for the future. Once that’s agreed upon a plan will evolve naturally.

    Thank you for your comments, I learned a lot of interesting things.

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  4. You captured the gist of my position beautifully, thank you Peter!

    In my view, Heritage and the Conservation plan, for best result, ought to be considered conjointly in any long-term and town-wide strategy, while looking to include churches, cemeteries, indian burial grounds and mausoleum(s). Needless to say, ceded properties with specific protection conditions ought to be added to the conservation properties listed in our zoning and all-encompassing Master plan, a.k.a. Planning Program.

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