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District of West Vancouver hunting for hidden heritage

Some heritage assets deserve to be protected

The District of West Vancouver is hoping there may be some hidden Hollingsworths or concealed Craftsmans out there, waiting to be appreciated and maybe saved.

The district has launched a campaign with its heritage advisory committee to seek out any heritage features of the district, both natural and those made by human hands, that are not already catalogued in the municipality’s registries.

Although most people tend to think of early settler homes or architecturally significant buildings as having heritage value, the group is looking to supplement the list with other structures such as monuments or public art, groups of buildings or streetscapes, and landscape features like gardens and viewpoints, as well as cultural and historical archeological sites.

The initiative from council’s heritage advisory committee is aimed at getting ahead of the bulldozer for a change. In recent years, the district has seen a spate of demolitions of heritage homes, usually to make way for mansions. With a more complete list of heritage assets, the district can proactively let the owners know there may be incentives on the table to give the properties permanent protection. Typically, that means council granting subdivision of the lot or extra density on the property in exchange for restoration and permanent legal protection of the heritage feature, said Michelle McGuire, senior manager of planning for the district.

“This is something that we understand is important to the community and is important to council in terms of looking at ways to preserve those pieces of our history that are important,” she said.

In the past, McGuire said some owners have been hesitant, fearing that being on a registry would somehow limit what they can do with their property. That’s not the case, she said, as simply being listed as having heritage value doesn’t amount to heritage designation.

“Our intent is to work with property owners on a voluntary basis to see if they there's a willingness on their part to kind of consider those incentives,” she said.

Since 2016, council has given temporary stays on demolition for various heritage buildings in hopes of negotiating a heritage revitalization agreement. Of the 13 buildings given temporary protection, nine have been demolished.

Heritage Week runs from Feb. 21 to 27.

Paula Grossman, chair of the heritage advisory committee, said she is very excited to see ideas West Vancouver residents put forward.

Ambleside, where she lives, has lost many of its distinct buildings over the years, which amounts to a tangible loss of history.

“I think it's very important for a culture and for a community to have some visual representation of what came before us, and what was important to the people that came before us,” she said. “We're not just living in a cultural vacuum. We're part of a continuum of progress, but also looking back and, recognizing what we've inherited.”

West Vancouver is home to Navvy Jack House, one of the oldest settler buildings in B.C. And the municipality was the birthplace of West Coast Modernism, an architectural movement that continues to influence design today.

Grossman said saving heritage features is akin to passing down a story from one generation of a family to the next.

“We don't want to just throw it all out,” she said. “It helps us in our everyday understanding of how we all live together… It strengthens community identity, and it also adds to the character of neighbourhoods to see, different times represented.”

Grossman said she has plans to submit a home in her own neighbourhood for consideration. It was designed by a well-known architect and educator who was a mentor of hers. But, she’s keeping tight lipped about which one until the process is done.

The district has added a suggestion form to its website for residents to submit ideas.