January 5th - 2010

What is a Heritage Property?

In past EDGE articles we’ve learned how to price heritage properties and that a number of Ontario municipalities have initiated programs to provide tax relief, grants and loans to heritage property owners. But how do you identify one?

In past EDGE articles we’ve learned how to price heritage properties and that a number of Ontario municipalities have initiated programs to provide tax relief, grants and loans to heritage property owners. But how do you identify one?

When a building reaches a hundred years of age, many believe it automatically becomes a heritage property. But, that’s not the way the Ontario Heritage Act sees it. The Act depicts a cultural heritage property as being more than its age. It’s the total embodiment of a property’s design features, history and contextual value in relationship to the community. Of course the Act is not limited to built real estate but includes other structures, streets and landscapes, cemeteries and archeological sites. But for our purpose, let’s consider what it would take for a ‘century’ home to qualify as a heritage property under the Act.

Heritage criteria
At least one or more of the following three criteria must be present:

Design or Physical Features: One of the first things to consider is the stylistic characteristics exhibited by the house. What architectural style does it represent, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Georgian, or other? Is it a rare, unique representative or an early example of the style or type?

What were the materials or construction methods used? What special features display a high degree of craftsmanship or are of artistic merit such as vergeboards, finials, early wood and sash windows, decorative wooden elements and exterior wall finish? Are the interior space attributes worthy of note, such as original interior doors, staircases, fireplace mantels or any other period detailing? Does the house demonstrate a high degree of technical achievement for the time?

Historical or Associated Value: Has the property a direct association with a theme, event, person or activity that is significant to the community? Is there information that contributes to an understanding of the community or culture? Was someone associated with the property significant to the community? Does the property reflect the ideas of a prominent architect, artist, builder, or designer? For example, Frank Lloyd Wright look-alike homes built in Ontario in the early 1900s are now sought after for their distinctive design characteristics.

Contextual Value: Sometimes an area is defined by a single or group of landmarks. For example, a mill town that grew as an integral part of the mill. Suppose also the mill still remains. It would then represent the embodiment of the community’s origins and therefore be irreplaceably linked to its surroundings.

The Act goes further in promoting the conservation of heritage properties. The Clerk of every municipality in Ontario is required to maintain a ‘Register’ of all ‘designated’ properties of cultural heritage interest, within its jurisdiction. When a property is designated the municipal council enacts a By-law assigning the property to special provisions under the Act. A full description of the property is included which details those aspects of the property that are of interest, as well as a description of the property’s heritage attributes. The Act also allows the municipalities to list, in less detail, all properties that are not designated, but that the council believes might be of cultural heritage interest and value.

Understandably, with the exception of those designated under the Act, not all heritage properties within the community will be included on the Register, since it is a ‘work in progress’ and properties are continually being added as they become known. Staff at the municipality responsible for heritage matters gathers this information and compiles the Register. The council may appoint a municipal heritage advisory committee to advise in these matters.

Over the years thousands of properties have been designated under the Act and the number is continually increasing as more and more are being recognized for their value and cultural heritage significance. The Ontario Heritage Act provides a well documented basis both in law and traditional practice to recognize and conserve our cultural heritage. As Robertson Davies said, “[You] can’t understand the present if you don’t know the past ….”

Robert B. Hulley is a former real estate broker and a retired accredited appraiser. He is presently a member of the Executive Committee of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.

Let your client know…
It can be a point of pride to own a heritage home and they generally bring higher prices on the market, and also maintain their value during depressed times. But they also carry restrictions. Planned building or renovations may not be allowed if they don’t conform to heritage conservation rules in your area. REALTORS® would be wise to include the clause HERIT-1 Ontario Heritage Act Designation, which asks the parties to the agreement to acknowledge that the property is or may be a Heritage Property, with any restrictions that that might entail.

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For more information contact

Ontario Real Estate Association

Jean-Adrien Delicano

Manager, Media Relations


416-445-9910 ext. 246