Holding on to the past while building for the future

By James Jackson,  reprinted from Waterloo Chronicle,  February 4, 2015 .        Photos: P. Elsworthy

As the City of Waterloo prepares its strategic plan for the next four years of council, a local heritage group has suggested ways that guiding document can protect the city’s past while building for the future.

In a presentation to council last week, Melissa Davies, an executive member of the North Waterloo Branch of the Architecture Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), outlined four ways the city can include heritage in its vision.

Her suggestions included designating or listing more heritage buildings or creating more heritage conservation districts, taking steps to prevent demolition by neglect, considering the creation of Cultural Heritage Landscapes and extending the current heritage planner contract job to a permanent position.

Designed by Kruschen & Dailey Architects and Engineers, considered "one of the gems of mid-20th-century Waterloo Region architecture" .  Was one of eight local buildings featured in the ReMade: Post War Cities exhibit in the Building Waterloo Region festival of architecture and design, July-September 2014.
Potential Designated Heritage Landmark: Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Designed by Kruschen & Dailey Architects and Engineers, considered “one of the gems of mid-20th-century Waterloo Region architecture” . 

Once the budget is passed on Feb. 9, staff and council will set their sights on developing their strategic plan to help direct future decisions.

“Heritage is a big part of what makes a community unique,” said Davies. “Historic places and heritage buildings are fundamental to our sense of history, community and identity.”

Established in 1933, the North Waterloo Branch of the ACO covers the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, along with the Townships of Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich. The group provides walking tours of important heritage structures in the city and campaigns for the preservation of heritage sites.

In 2013, the group advocated for the former St. Louis Catholic School, built in 1905, to be designated a heritage site given its history as the city’s first Catholic school. The city included the school on its list of non-designated properties of cultural heritage value that May.

Davies said the first suggestion — to list more buildings on the municipal heritage register — was an important step to protect the city’s heritage buildings, particularly those in the uptown core, from demolition by developers.

Brick Brewery 181 King St S Waterloo Music 3 Regina St N

Two of Uptown’s few remaining industrial buildings: (left) the 1899 addition to the  Hoffman, Wegenast & Co. furniture factory which became the home of Ontario’s first craft micro-brewery; (right)  former home of Waterloo Music Company founded in 1922 by Charles F. Thiele.


“Designating a building doesn’t freeze it in time, the property and the building itself can (still) be altered once it’s designated,” said Davies. Designation gives the city more time to consider a demolition or alteration request. Waterloo currently has 41 individually designated properties on its register. In 2014, no buildings were added to the list but the city’s heritage committee said it hopes to designate four in 2015.

The city also has one Heritage Conservation District with more than 100 properties, the MacGregor-Albert neighbourhood, which came into effect in 2008. Cultural Heritage Landscapes are similar to these heritage districts but also take into account the surrounding natural environment.

The ACO also has concerns with so-called demolition by neglect, whereby property owners allow buildings to fall into disrepair in order to make a demolition request more likely.

Wegenast house 217 King St S
George Wegenast House, 217 King St S, Waterloo. One-of -a-kind example of Queen Anne house with elaborate applied ornamentation on its wooden gables. First story brick, second storey wooden siding, with shingle siding in the gables. Currently in danger of demolition by neglect. Boarded up in a manner which does not meet Waterloo’s property standards bylaw.

Davies cited the recent demolition of the Charles Moogk home at the corner of Bridgeport Road and Regina Street last fell as an example. It fell into disrepair following a fire in 2011 and was demolished last fall.

“Several municipalities throughout the province have implemented heritage property standards as an amendment to their property standards bylaw. These standards ensure that conservation and maintenance of designated heritage buildings,” Davies said. She also encouraged council take back its ability to approve demolition in the city, a duty delegated to staff in early 2013.

Davies also urged the city to make the position of heritage planner a permanent job. The two-year contract position, currently held by Michelle Lee, expires at the end of this year.

“By making this position permanent the city can ensure that any plans laid out this year are accomplished,” she said, adding a permanent staff person would relieve the added costs associated with hiring external heritage consultants once the contract with Lee expires.

“Yes, the City of Waterloo has a bright future, but it will not be as meaningful if we do not honour its past or its heritage,” Davies said.

More information about the city’s new strategic plan is available online, www.waterloo.ca/en/government/strategicplan.asp.