Heritage Guelph Rejects Cultural Heritage Action Plan at Meeting

In their meeting Tuesday night, the committee that oversees heritage issues in Guelph unanimously rejected an endorsement of the City of Guelph’s Cultural Heritage Action Plan (CHAP) and requested that City staff do more consultation work before moving forward. Heritage Guelph outlined a number of issues with the plan as it currently stands, and had a number of suggestions for improvement.

After hearing from four delegates, the committee was asked to pass two motions. The first was to endorse the CHAP as appended from the October 13 meeting of city council, which failed when put to a vote. Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Caron deferred council’s approval of the CHAP at October’s planning meeting, in part, because the plan had not gone to Heritage Guelph for approval.

That approval was not granted, so what went wrong?

According to the delegates, there was not enough consultation, and more specifically there was not enough consultation with Indigenous people and other underrepresented groups. There was also some concern that the CHAP wasn’t making the right heritage areas a priority.

“I know that many people put forward Catholic Hill as a priority cultural heritage landscape, and I don’t have to tell anyone that it’s our pre-eminent cultural heritage landscape. The adjacent development pressure is already starting,” said Susan Watson. “I think many of us can see that it’s just a matter of time before that whole stretch along Cork Street comes forward for redevelopment, so if we really want to take this seriously then we need to put some teeth into the protections we’re putting on the ground in Guelph.”

Members of the committee agreed that it was a red flag that more direct consultation with Indigenous groups especially didn’t happen. “I think that’s a big oversight for this document. I quite honestly think the public consultation was rather weak, and it shows with the lack of feedback,” said committee member Arlin Otto.

“My deepest concern at this point is with the language used to address the reasons why the specifically Indigenous populations of this area were not consulted, and it suggests the view that their input as not being needed on anything after Western settlement begins in this area,” added Kesia Kvill, another committee member.

“My response would be that I was aware that members of those communities were there, but I don’t believe that representation was there in an official capacity, and that’s that’s my remembrance of both [the community feedback] meetings,” said Stephen Robinson, senior heritage planner for the City.

The committee would later put forward a motion recommending that any further consultation on the CHAP, or its successor documents, should have “meaningful consultation” with members of the Six Nations of the Grand River, the Mississauga of the Credit First Nation, and other BIPOC communities in the Guelph area.

“They need to be separate meetings with those groups specifically, not emails or invitations for them to come to a larger public meeting,” Kvill said.

The motion was passed unanimously.

The committee also unanimously passed two additional motions. The first asked for a re-evaluation of the CHAP based on, but not limited to, scope, clarity, impacts to property owners, and how certain perspective cultural heritage landscapes were prioritized. The second motion asked city council to look at an Enhanced Property Standards Bylaw to stop “demolition by neglect” outside of the CHAP re-evaluation process.

The complicated debate to get the wording right, and to outline the necessary next steps that the committee felt City staff need to take to come back with a better CHAP, forced Heritage Guelph to continue their discussion two hours beyond their typical meeting deadline.

In addition to their debate on the CHAP, the committee also asked staff to take a look at other potential conservation districts to study. The recommendation to council in October asked staff to make the area designated Ward – West, which is the western most part of the Ward from the river to Huron Street, a priority, but Heritage Guelph also wants staff to look at adding Old Downtown and Catholic Hill to the Municipal Register of Cultural properties in 2021.

Before the Heritage Guelph meeting, the Cultural Heritage Action Plan was scheduled to come back to council at Committee of the Whole in January.

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