- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Feb 1982, p. 258-272
- Berton, Pierre, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The term "heritage" as a popular word, and as a confusing word. An explication of what "heritage" means to the Heritage Canada Foundation, and what Heritage Day is all about. The idea of preserving our heritage, and its increased popularity. Examples of history and heritage that was not preserved. The meaning of an historical building. The energy crisis as an ally: old buildings can be assessed in terms of energy costs to tear them down and replace them. Money saved by preserving older buildings. Restorations, projects and programs of the Heritage Canada Foundation, including education and demonstration projects. The importance of having an architectural mix in our cities. The Heritage Canada Foundation: a preservation business, a continuity business, a national unity business.
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- 11 Feb 1982
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- Full Text
- FEBRUARY 11,1982
Heritage Preservation and the Energy Crisis
AN ADDRESS BY Pierre Berton, CHAIRMAN, HERITAGE CANADA FOUNDATION
CHAIRMAN The President,
BGen. S. F. Andrunyk, O. M. M., C. D.
Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: Our esteemed guest speaker today is one of our best known Cana dians, and the fact that this is his third appearance at this historic club is evidence enough of the high regard in which he is held
Born and raised in the Yukon, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, a veteran of World War II, a seasoned broadcaster and a respected journalist, Pierre Berton has become Canada's most popular and prolific author, producing at last count twenty-seven books in the same number of years. Most of them have been bestsellers because of his excellence as a storyteller who uses the past to illuminate the present.
He is also a television personality who may be seen in your home several times a week. After over twentyfive years in television, notably on CRC's Front Page Challenge, his face is as familiar as the Prime Minister's--Canada's other Pierre. His Pierre Berton Show lasted for eleven years of interviews with some 1,600 guests including such famous people as Lester Pearson, Harold Wilson, Arnold Toynbee and Jimmy Hoffa. The Great Debate, of which he is the moderator, continues to be a popular television program. But there is more to Pierre Berton than writing books and appearing on television. He is a devoted family man, a valued and generous friend to many, and a great humanitarian. He is interested in a halfway house for ex-convicts, and he helped a prison inmate, Roger Caron, to get his book published, which won a 1979 Governor General's Award and an early parole for its author. It is reported that he plans to leave his property to the Writers' Development Trust as a retreat where writers may mingle and write, and he devotes much of his time to the Heritage Canada Foundation of which he is the Chairman of the Board of Governors.
Heritage Canada has as its primary task the preservation of the built-up heritage of Canada as well as the national heritage. The third Monday in February is designated as Heritage Day, which Pierre Berton hopes will some day become a national holiday.
Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to once again welcome Pierre Berton to The Empire Club of Canada and to invite him to share with us his views on the economic benefits in the preservation of our heritage.
Mr. Chairman, Mayor Williams, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is a pleasure to be here on the eve of national Heritage Day, which
we helped to start some eight years ago, and which the government has not yet seen fit to make a holiday. We hope some day it will. At this time of year as I walk down the windy streets of Toronto I think about getting away or at least taking a day off to celebrate what's on these windy streets.
People are confused, I think, as to what Heritage Day is and what heritage means because it has become the "buzz" word of the 1980s. Everything is "heritage" these days and everybody has a different use for the word. In the Toronto telephone book there are now thirty-five establishments that use the word "heritage." I notice there is a heritage car dealer (selling Edsels no doubt), a heritage clothing store (with bustles I suppose), a heritage customs broker, a heritage paint company, a heritage pharmacy, a heritage upholstery, a heritage photographic salon, a heritage insulating company, even a heritage investment corporation. This suggests to me that as "heritage" has become a popular word, it has also become a confusing word.
Let me tell you what we mean by the word "heritage" and what Heritage Day is supposed to be for. As your chairman has just told you, we are concerned with the built-up heritage of this country--with the physical evidence of the past and with the buildings and the streetscapes that are living history lessons for us and will be, if we save them, for our children and their children.
This idea of preserving the past is a very new onelin Canada. It is not new in other countries, but we are late-comers because we are a young country. There has been an enormous change in attitude in the last two or three decades. Who would believe, who could believe now, that just about thirty years ago C. D. Howe wanted to tear down the Parliamentary Library and the East Block on Parliament Hill and build modern steel and glass structures in their place? He would have done it if Mike Pearson hadn't stopped him. Who would believe that twenty years ago Fred Gardner wanted to move the most historic battleground we have and the buildings on it, which is Old Fort York, to a more convenient location on the waterfront so that the Gardner Expressway could go straight through the middle of it. Fortunately, it turned out to be cheaper to move the Gardner Expressway around it; otherwise we wouldn't have that primary tourist attraction with us today. Who would believe that
Eaton's said they could not build the Eaton Centre unless the old Toronto City Hall was torn down? Fortunately, it wasn't and the Eaton Centre is built. Who would believe that just ten years ago the Union Station was threatened in Toronto, and that just nine years ago as Heritage Canada held its first meeting, the fine home of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the builder of the CPR, was under the wrecker's ball in Montreal.
All this happened because people in this country did not believe we had any history. That is the penalty we pay for being a young country. If your grandfather was involved in it, it isn't history. History is something that happened a thousand or five hundred years ago but not something that happened a century ago. That attitude has changed and I think it changed when we reached our hundredth anniversary in 1967. Because of that change we do not really need to worry much longer about the obvious historical buildings in this country or the obvious buildings of architectural quality. Most of those battles have been won. But our concerns at the Foundation have always been much broader than that. It is very nice to save specific buildings but we are not concerned only with the outstanding buildings in this country. We are also concerned with commonplace buildings. We think these are equally important because they make up the streetscapes of the nation--the ordinary residences of the people of the past, which are still being used. And it's not just the houses but also the factories, the railway roundhouses, the grain elevators, the warehouses--buildings that are useful and which contribute to a feeling that we have been around for a while.
One day what is now common will be outstanding. I give you the example of Amsterdam. They didn't just save one or two buildings to show what it was like in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They designated 10, 000 buildings along the canals which cannot be changed. The result is fantastic. Besides making its citizens happy this heritage brings in a great deal of tourist money.
So let me give you our definition of a heritage building. Any building that is structurally sound and for which an economically viable use can be found is a heritage building.
In this thrust we have an unexpected ally and that is the energy crisis. In the present building stock of this country we have a vast storage of invested energy that we can't afford to lose; it's a national asset. Let me give you a startling figure. To manufacture and put in place eleven bricks, it takes an amount of energy equivalent to that produced by a gallon of gasoline. Now every time you tear a building down you lose that energy. A while ago our staff figured out how much energy is locked up in the old Toronto City Hall, which was threatened some years ago. It amounts to the equivalent of one million gallons of heating oil, enough to heat that building for forty years.
In 1979, the U.S. Advisory Council on Historical Preservation conducted a very interesting study. They selected three buildings in different parts of the United States--a former hotel, a former carriage house and an apartment building. Two of these had undergone extensive renovation; the third was empty and abandoned. They wanted to figure out how much energy was locked up in those buildings and whether it would be productive, from an energy point of view, to tear them down and replace them with more energy-efficient structures. The calculation was qui e simple. They figured out the amount of energy"Aft would take to manufacture and put in place the building materials for an equivalent building. To that they added the energy it would take to demolish the building and clear the site. From that they subtracted the gains in energy that might accrue from a more energy-efficient building. (As it turned out, one of those three buildings was perfectly energy efficient anyway.) The results were not surprising to anybody who has been in the business. They learned that the retention and rehabilitation of these buildings would produce significant energy saving over the demolition of those buildings and new construction. In fact one of the buildings, the Grand Central Arcade in Seattle, showed a net energy advantage over an equivalent new structure for the next two centuries.
That's the first point I want to make: that locked up in every one of these buildings is an enormous amount of energy that we cannot afford to waste. The second point is that it is much cheaper to save buildings than to tear them down and replace them.
The Heritage Canada Foundation has just completed a low-key restoration of a rather nondescript, but perfectly stable and useful building in the old Market Square area of Winnipeg. One of the things we do is to go into various areas and act as a catalyst to get something done. So we went into this area and we bought, as a demonstration project, a large office building. It wasn't a fancy building. It did not have much architectural glamour to it. It was historic in that it was old, but not because the President of the CpR had ever slept there! It was part of a streetscape of an area now being rehabilitated with great gusto by the citizens of Winnipeg. We were able to restore it so effectively that it is now a good looking building in which anybody would be proud to rent an office. It's a workable building and you can get office space in it just one block from Portage and Main for five dollars a square foot. You can't build a building in Winnipeg ten blocks from Portage and Main and rent at that price.
The answer, of course, is that you have to know how to do it. There is a myth around that preservation is terribly expensive. Well, it can be if you don't know your business. That's one of the problems this country faces. We have lost the old techniques. As far as I am able to find out, no major university in Canada has an architectural school that teaches preservation architecture. The artesans know little about the techniques of the past. The contractors don't know and certainly the general public, who are sandblasting brick houses in this town to destruction, don't know.
That's why about two years ago we, in the Foundation, began an ambitious training program we call a University Without Walls. It consists of seminars, workshops and two-week courses for the general public, for the unions, for the architects and for contractors to teach them the old lost techniques of preservation. We shouldn't have to do this but since there is a vacuum there we moved into it. It's been very successful. It's important to do this because the postwar construction boom has passed its peak. In 1975 new construction took up sixty-eight per cent of all building work and rehabilitation took up the rest of it. By 1980 it has dropped to fifty-nine per cent and the graph continues to move down. The costs of new construction are going up horrendously, much faster than the consumer price index. New construction which cost $10,000 in 1971 cost $30,500 in 1981, whereas the comparative consumer price index figure would be only $23,500. Those are the figures of the Conference Board of Canada. So you can see it is becoming very expensive to tear down buildings that are useful and to replace them with new buildings of the same size. However, we still think in terms of new construction. We still think in the boom day terms that were possible and necessary after World War II when we needed to build new buildings in this country.
Every few days I see in the newspaper a story about housing starts being down. We measure by housing starts but we ought to be measuring by preservation or renovation starts. The fact of the matter is that housing starts may be down because there are fewer new houses being built this year than last year. But it is also true that there are factories, warehouses and large homes being re-adapted for more people to live in. If you are going to have a true estimate of the number of dwelling units in this country you must add the preservation starts because preservation now takes up over forty per cent of the construction business. Canadian Mortgage and Housing has said that there is an enormous potential for renovation in this country--that if the forty per cent were doubled we would not reach a saturation level for another twenty years. That would represent, in their estimate, between 200 and 500 billion dollars turned over to a labourintensive business--because preservation is much more labour-intensive than new construction. Where do we stand as a Foundation in all this? I can't tell you today about all the things we do at the Heritage Canada Foundation because it would take too much time. But I want to concentrate on two.
Our headquarters are in Ottawa. We have a staff of some thirty people there. We were endowed by the government nine years ago with twelve million dollars, now reduced to about half because of inflation. We live on the interest and occasional donations--not very much these days. We have a membership of 12,000 to 14,000 people and there are about three hundred organizations linked to us. The members all get our newsmagazine. We are not making money out of our memberships but we think we are gaining converts.
I now want to tell you about two of the things we do. The first is in the field of education. First, we are trying to educate the politicians. The reason for this is that the tax structure and the building code structure were both geared to new construction in the postwar boom. These pay no attention to the new boom in preservation. We have prepared, with the help of the best tax experts in the country, our proposals to change the income tax laws because under the income tax laws it is at present cheaper to tear down a building and build a new one than it is to sell it to someone who wants to save it. That's because of the terminal loss provision in the Tax Act. Those terminal loss provisions have been cut in half in the recent budget, and I guess I was the only Canadian who wrote Allan McEachen to say there is something I liked in the budget.
We are also trying to educate the general public through our magazines, through a whole series of pamphlets, resource materials, educational seminars, lectures like this one, and some very fancy books such as Heritage Canada's new coffee table book we published this year. It's more than a collection of pretty pictures. It tells how we can learn about this country by looking at the buildings and through films.
We are also working with industry on a very practical level. One of the banks has asked us to conduct seminars in heritage preservation. That's the fourth area of education--with the business community. Most of the heritage buildings in this country are controlled by three institutions--the banks, the railroads and the churches. Two years ago we did a study and discovered that no major banks and trust companies had a heritage philosophy. Dr. Harold Kalman, a respected architectural historian, did the job for us. We found out what we suspected. Although some banks are saving some buildings and some banks are tearing down others, there is no consistency among them. There is no heritage philosophy among the banks as to what should be done with this enormous stock of buildings--some of them very handsome and most of them occupying the main street corners of this nation.
Having done the study and printed it, we have sent copies to the chief executive officers, the public relation directors and the directors of all the major banks and trust companies. We will be seeing them shortly at the very top level to try to get them to agree on a philosophy, not just on saving certain buildings but also on replacing them with something that fits into the community when they have to tear them down.
Put yourself in the position of a small town, say in Manitoba. You have a bank on the corner that is a heritage building--a very handsome building--probably a classical building with classical pillars. One day the bank tears it down and replaces it with something that does not seem to fit into the rest of the street. The reason it doesn't is that nobody has ever come out to the community to look at that street. Some architect in either Toronto or Montreal has designed that building, perhaps from a set of plans he already has or perhaps from something new. They have superimposed their ideas on a small Manitoba community without even listening to the general manager of the bank. That's one of the reasons there is a thing in this country called western alienation. That's one of the reasons the banks don't always have as good a profile as they would like to have. Now to be fair to the banks, they are changing. There is no doubt that in the last few years they have become sensitive to this but it's important that they now try, and we are happy to help them, to develop some kind of philosophy so that this sort of thing doesn't happen again.
We are now starting a project on the railways because all the railroad stations in this country, some of them the best loved buildings in the town, are threatened with destruction. Many of them can be used again--if not on the original site, at least somewhere else. There are certain ones that have been turned into community centres or restaurants or something else. We don't think they should be museums. We are not in the museum business, and there are already enough museums in this country,
Then we will have to consider the churches, although the churches are less threatened at the moment. If a church is to be closed it doesn't mean it has to be torn down. There is one on Hazelton Avenue that was a haberdashery shop for a while. There is one in Stratford that is a restaurant.
The second area I want to talk about is the area of demonstration. We are involved in a whole series of demonstration projects, such as the one I told you about in Winnipeg. We are now in almost every major city in Canada, but our new demonstrations are going to be in the main streets of the small towns.
I think our main street program is one of the most exciting things we have done in the nine years I have been with the Foundation. Let me point out what the problem is. In many towns of between 5, 000 and 15, 000 and sometimes larger, the core of the town is rotting away. The main street usually has most of the heritage on it. If you have driven through the small towns in Ontario you know that the glory of this province are the beautiful streetscapes with those red brick Victorian, Edwardian and pre-Victorian buildings. The top floor is usually empty, although some of these buildings are completely empty. The buildings are in a state of disrepair. The merchandise is badly displayed in the windows because all the people have been attracted to the shopping centres on the outskirts.
Main street businesses are usually run by the sons or grandsons of people who founded the businesses and who often haven't kept up with retailing methods. The shopping centres are draining the business from them because they have better sales techniques and better organization. A shopping centre is really a dictatorship. One man is in charge and he tells the merchants when they will open and close; he establishes the signage; he brings life to the shopping centre with a whole series of events in the main mall; he insists on good window merchandising. And so the shopping centre becomes lively, while the main street of the town begins to die.
Our attitude is not to throw in half a million dollars to refurbish the main street. That can often ruin a main street because they start tearing everything down. Ours is a very low-key program. The first thing we do, if we are asked to help (and we never go where we are not asked) is to look over the situation and send in one staff person who acts very much like the manager of the shopping centre. He treats the main street as a shopping centre. He establishes a store front operation on the main street, and he does not talk in terms of preserving buildings because that's at the end of the exercise--and the exercise lasts three years. He talks instead about opening and closing hours; he talks about lively events on the main street; he talks about things like window displays. He gets people in who are experts in merchandising to give courses in that subject and he fixes up the one building he occupies. He gets lettering and design people to talk about design. Soon the storekeeper next to him wants to fix up his building and before you know it they are all fixing up their buildings. His job is to make sure they do it right, that they don't cover up the buildings with vitrolite or plastic. Once cleaned up with the bricks restored or painted and with decent looking signage the buildings give character and new life to the street.
That is our main street program. We began it about two years ago. Our first demonstration project is in the town of Perth, Ontario, a town with a wonderful residue of heritage buildings. We have been there now for a year and a half. If you were in Perth at Christmas you would certainly have been on the main street for the celebration called Christmas in the Valley. I think you would have noticed a subtle change on that main street. There is another year and a half to go before we withdraw and let the thing roll by itself but I must tell you that for every dollar that we have invested in the business district of Perth they already received an additional nineteen dollars in new business. More new businesses are moving to Perth.
We also have a main street program in Nelson, B.C. which is relatively new. We are about to start one in Moose Jaw and we will go on from there.
We cannot, however, hope to save every main street in this country with a staff of thirty. There are thousands of main streets, so our job is not to do it ourselves but to encourage other people to do it. This is also true of our educational program. Our job is to teach the teachers--to build up a cadre of people, to build up a series of resource pamphlets based on our experience in places like Perth, Nelson and Moose Jaw. We intend also to make a film so that in the future the towns themselves can do the job without our help. At that stage we can move out of the main street program and go on to something new. I hope you agree with me when I say our program is a practical one.
We think that preservation makes economic sense. I wince when I walk down the streets of this country and see a building built to last two hundred years being smashed to pieces by a wrecker's ball just because it has been written off in the books. That's a waste! By doing that we destroy the texture of the community we live in. The community loses its personality and its distinctiveness and what makes it unique, like the buildings along the canals in Amsterdam.
It is very important to have an architectural mix in our cities. I am not opposed to new buildings at all. There are some very fine ones. When I drive along the Gardner Expressway it's a joy to me to see this magnificent hotel, which is now a heritage structure, limned against the new bank buildings behind it. They provide a backdrop as in a theatre. When I drive into town from my office near Parliament Street as I did today coming for lunch, it is a joy to see the Flatiron Building against the same backdrop but from another angle. That's what makes a town! To see a row of fine brick Gothic houses set against a modern apartment building is equally pleasant. If you want to be practical about it, the tourists like it. That's where the money comes from. They don't want a copy of the town they come from; they want to see your town as it is now and as it was in the past.
But there is another practical advantage to heritage preservation that is not measured in dollars and cents. Perhaps I don't have to say it to you, but I will anyway. By preserving a mix of streetscapes, areas and views from the past we tell our children and their children something that is very important. We tell them we are not brand new. We tell them that we do have a history, that we have been around for a while. We tell them that we have got our roots down; that we have a common heritage; and that because we have been around a while we are going to stay around for a while. So at the Foundation we think of ourselves as being more than in the preservation business. We believe we are in the continuity business, which means we are also in the national unity business, and that's not a bad goal for the 1980s.
The thanks of the club were expressed to Mr. Berton by Robin Chetwynd, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.