The Jan. 26 letter from Alexander Evans, “Just “ask why” when debating property rights in NOTL,” suggests we “ask why” heritage negates individual rights, Niagara-on-the-Lake receives special treatment and houses of the 1880s are protected over the contemporary.
Mr. Evans’ basis for such questioning is his belief that “property is sacrosanct” and that one of our most fundamental individual rights is “being able to choose what we do with our own property.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Evans is incorrect.
Unlike the United States, in Canada property rights are not constitutionally protected nor are we able to simply do what we want with our property.
It’s not that we don’t have certain rights, just that these rights are not absolute.
But leaving the legal argument aside, let’s “ask why” heritage and architecture is important in NOTL.
I would argue it’s because the majority of us who live here believe it to be true.
Over the years, the councils we have elected acknowledged the importance of heritage either through the official plan or actions to highlight, showcase and promote heritage features.
For example, in the most recent election campaign, all nine successful members of our current council agreed on the importance of investigating an expansion of the heritage district.
The previous council’s 2018-2022 strategic plan focused on “preserving unique community elements” as the first objective of its first “pillar.”
Perhaps a more satisfying rationale for “why” is that civilizations through millennia have made efforts to preserve their history and heritage – whether artifacts, stories, music, art or built form.
Democracies (and even totalitarian regimes) have enshrined laws to protect and preserve important components of their history, including guidelines that govern the rights of property owners. This is not an NOTL-specific phenomenon.
Further, much of the built form in NOTL represents the founding heritage of Upper Canada, located on the lands of the Neutral Nation, the Mississauga and the Haudenosaunee.
Much of the built history and heritage is captured and preserved through many of our original residential properties and streetscapes.
Look at some of the most beautiful and culturally enriching cities in the world. I’m sure glad they asked “why?”
And thank you for reminding us to do the same in our historic community.
No, Mr. Evans, there is no injustice.
The rules governing what can and can’t be built in NOTL, as well as every other community across this country, are developed over time, are modified and updated, and are appealable on a case-by-case basis.
Some would argue that more should be done to protect our heritage. Given some of the development that’s occurred in NOTL over the past few years, I would put myself in that camp.
Others might not. But these are decisions we make as a community.
The Niagara Foundation