Ontario Land Trust Alliance conference

Expanding Horizons: Address to the opening plenary session of the conference of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance

Thomas H.B. Symons, C.C., O.Ont, FRSC, LL.D., D.Litt., D.U., D.Cn.L., FRGS, KSS – Chairman, Ontario Heritage Trust

It is a pleasure to be here this morning and to bring greetings to the conference from the Board of Directors of the Ontario Heritage Trust.

It is also wonderful to be among people who believe, as we do, in the importance of preserving Ontario’s rich and diverse heritage and, indeed, who are actively engaged in doing so in a number of significant ways.

I am also pleased to welcome the conference to Peterborough, which has been my home since I moved here as the founding President of Trent University nearly 50 years ago. Peterborough is a lively and engaging community and that time has flown by. With its rich legacy of natural, cultural and built heritage, Peterborough is a particularly appropriate setting in which to explore the theme you have chosen for your conference: Expanding Horizons.

In its efforts to preserve, protect and promote its historical resources, Peterborough has acted as a strong heritage steward and has developed a close working relationship with the Ontario Heritage Trust. The city has also begun to recognize that heritage, arts and culture are not three separate entities, but integral parts of each other, as reflected in its recent Doors Open Ontario and Culture Days celebrations.

This recognition of the integrated nature of heritage, arts and culture is being embraced by citizens and local governments across the province, and indeed the country, as they draw on these creative forces to stimulate the economy, foster innovation and enhance the quality of life within their communities.

There is an important role in this process for those who work together to preserve and to care for our province’s natural spaces. As the full and stimulating program for this conference illuminates, the preservation of heritage is an interdisciplinary venture. It is most successful when people from a wide array of backgrounds work together for a common cause. The diverse biographies of the conference presenters speak to the broad range of skills and expertise that is necessary to the project of land acquisition and conservation, with its environmental, economic, legal and political implications.

I am sure that this conference will provide a wonderful forum for mutual education as you come together this weekend to discuss the challenges and rewards associated with your work, and to develop and expand your strategies for the future.

The conference program also presents some particularly interesting opportunities to learn about the built, cultural and natural heritage of the Peterborough area and, indeed, how it intersects and co-exists on the varied landscapes of this region.

One need not venture more than 100 feet from where we are meeting before encountering one of the city’s most significant heritage features, the Otonabee River. In fact, Samuel de Champlain himself might have travelled right past the back door of the Holiday Inn on this waterway during his journey south from Huronia with his Aboriginal allies in 1615. In less than five years time, the celebrations of his great voyage of discovery and exploration in the heartland of Ontario will remind us all of the natural role and importance of the broader Trent-Severn route in Canadian history. The heritage, historical, educational, social and cultural needs and potential of this waterway are great. They serve as a constant reminder of the need for collaborative and creative approaches to the preservation and presentation of Ontario’s heritage resources before it is too late. In every corner of Ontario, it is a race against time. Every day, significant natural sites are damaged and heritage buildings are destroyed. We must move on these matters with a greatly heightened sense of urgency.

Returning to your program, I note the opportunity to participate in a heritage walk later this afternoon to see some of Peterborough’s historical sites. I do hope that you will enjoy learning more about the city’s heritage, which includes over 100 properties designated under Section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act. It also includes two Ontario Heritage Trust easement properties – St. John’s Anglican Church, constructed in 1834, and the 1884 Peterborough CPR Station – as well as 10 provincial plaques and three national historic sites. I am delighted that the tour winds up at the Canadian Canoe Museum, which has itself become a symbol of Canadian heritage. It is the custodian of a priceless legacy. Yet, the fact that this great and unique national asset is struggling to stay afloat should tell us that there is much to be done to awaken Canadians to their heritage.

This afternoon’s workshop at the Rice Lake Plains also seems a wonderful chance to learn more about the region’s significant natural heritage and how it has been influenced by, and intersects with, important elements of cultural heritage. It is not only a landscape that supports unique natural heritage features, such as the Alderville Black Oak Savanna, but also one that speaks to the continued relationship and contributions of First Nations people to this area.

The workshop structure of your conference is also demonstrative of how a diverse group of partners can join together in a spirit of co-operation, in pursuit of a common heritage goal, in this instance under the umbrella of the Rice Lake Plains Joint Initiative. I understand that the initiative celebrated its seventh anniversary earlier this month. Those involved are to be commended for their continued efforts to preserve the significant heritage aspects of this varied landscape. Their publications and events indicate the great scope for public education and involvement in their initiatives and efforts.

I note with interest, too, tomorrow’s field workshop at Young’s Point. Your tour of the Young’s Point Lock Station, the Dance Nature Sanctuary and Young’s Point Conservation Area seems both comprehensive and indicative once again of the important relationships between natural, cultural and built heritage that play out on landscapes across Ontario.

As Chair of the Ontario Heritage Trust, I am very glad that our agency holds conservation easement interests in both the 1920s Leidra Lodge vacation property, and the 78-acre property adjacent to Otonabee Conservation’s holdings, which were donated to the Trust by June Ardiel in 2004 and 2007 respectively.

The 78-acre property, which abuts Young’s Point Conservation Area, contains a portion of approximately 100-year-old white pine forest that has been used as a nursery stock and seed bank by the Ministry of Natural Resources. I am pleased that the sympathetic stewardship of June Ardiel’s Young’s Point heritage holdings will be assured in perpetuity by the Trust’s involvement as easement holder.

I am further delighted by the numerous productive and co-operative partnerships that the Trust has been able to develop as a result of its involvement with these properties. This is the essence of heritage preservation!

Throughout my remarks thus far, I have alluded to the importance of taking a broad and holistic approach to the preservation of heritage. Many years ago, decades actually, when I became Chairman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, we thought we knew what heritage was. It was the older buildings and what went with them. Today, we recognize and embrace a much broader notion of heritage as the total environment inherited from the past. It includes our tangible legacy of physically touchable things: buildings and structures of every sort; industrial sites; archaeological sites; archives; artifacts and material items; and, also, cemeteries, gardens, landscapes and, of course, natural resources.

As well, heritage includes our intangible legacy of customs, values, knowledge and beliefs. It is the sum of all we have and are, of the total historical experience of our society to this moment. More recently, this broad notion of heritage has begun to be integrated into our celebrations of arts and culture in communities across the province. I believe this can have only positive implications, both from the perspective of heritage and from the perspective of building community.

Of course, a wider definition of heritage calls for expanded collaboration and co-operation between those individuals, organizations and institutions committed to its cause. An illustrative example from the Trust’s portfolio of conservation easements is Ruthven Park in Cayuga. This 1,600-acre property was donated by the Thompson Family in 1994 to the Lower Grand River Land Trust, and is subject to a hybrid cultural/natural conservation easement to conserve its extensive cultural and natural heritage attributes, which include Carolinian forests, active farm fields, wetlands, meadows, two cemeteries and a 19th-century Greek Gothic revival-style mansion. In 1995, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized Ruthven Park as a national historic site for its architectural and historic significance. As such, it exists as a wonderful example of what can result from collaborative efforts on the part of governmental and non-governmental organizations representing local, provincial and federal interests.

I am certain that as members of land trusts, naturalist clubs, heritage conservancies, conservation authorities and other worthwhile organizations of this kind, many of you who are here today have also participated in, and continue to be engaged with, projects of your own that embrace this broad definition and therefore call for an expanded approach to collaboration and co-operation in the common cause of heritage.

The forthcoming 400th anniversary of Champlain’s great voyage of discovery through the Canadian heartland should cause us to think creatively of programs and arrangements to observe and to celebrate anniversaries of significance in the history of our country. We are on the brink of a period in which our country should be celebrating a remarkable cluster of notable anniversaries. In addition to the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s pioneering journey, there will shortly be upon us the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the 150th anniversary of the meeting of the Fathers of Confederation in 1864, and the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1867. The Diamond Jubilee of our Queen in just two years’ time reminds us that the celebration of heritage may find cause in human and personal anniversaries, as well as in the marking of wars and constitutional events, or the observance of nature and the built environment. Let us not forget, too, the 100th anniversary next year, in 2011, of the establishment by Sir Wilfrid Laurier and J.B. Harkin of the Dominion Parks Service, the first national parks service in the world.

These are landmark events in our culture and history, in our shared experience, that present to us in the near future a great challenge. They provide a rare and special opportunity for Ontario’s land trust movement and kindred organizations to assert and expand the part they play in our society. In preparation for this challenge, those who care about heritage – natural, built or cultural – would do well to expand the extent and pace of their educational and advocacy activities.

There is so much more to be done! We need to continue to foster this holistic and co-operative approach to heritage concerns, to draw together members from the organizations that I have mentioned, and also representatives of museums, art galleries, architectural conservancies and historical societies; genealogists, librarians, archivists; business people and fundraisers; young people, First Nations, new Canadians and interested community organizations of whatever sort. If it is to have a viable future in our country, heritage must become the business of everyone, a combined operation in which all who care about it are joined together in common cause in a spirit of creativity and collegiality. As the theme of your conference so aptly suggests, we must continue expanding our horizons, so that we are ultimately able to address all interdisciplinary questions of heritage, whether built, cultural or natural, as related parts of one concern, and not in isolation from one another.

May I conclude – as one citizen and as Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust – by thanking you for all the important work you are doing to identify, preserve and promote our province’s rich heritage. The work in which you are engaged is of immense importance to the future of our environment, and to our society, if Canadians are to know and understand themselves. It is fundamental to our sense of community and identity, and to our distinctiveness and diversity. It is fundamental to our heritage. Indeed, it may well be key to our country’s survival as an independent nation in North America.

In this time of accelerating homogenization into the great republic to the south, it is how we conserve, respect and display our own heritage that may make the difference. Ours is a vast and wonderful heritage of which Ontarians and Canadians should be proud, and that we should guard jealously. If we continue to desecrate our landforms and natural heritage, and to obliterate our historical and man-made heritage, the prognosis is not good. I am an optimist, however, and in part because of you and what you do and stand for, I continue to travel hopefully.

I wish you continued success in all of your future endeavours. Thank you.