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Vancouver Heritage Register update in the works

Heritage Vancouver Society hosts talk asking ‘What is Vancouver’s Heritage?’

Back in the mid-1980s when the Vancouver Heritage Register — which identifies about 2,200 of the city’s heritage sites and resources — was being completed, modern post-war buildings didn’t get any consideration, according to heritage expert Donald Luxton.

“They weren’t on the list because 29 years ago they weren’t considered old enough,” he says.

Among them is the Canada Customs Building, constructed in the 1950s and designed by CBK Van Norman. The building was knocked down in 1993.

While there’s no guarantee it would have been saved had it been on the list, Luxton said at least its importance would have been noted.

“There were landmark buildings that may not have been preserved just by being on the register, but it would have allowed, maybe, some consideration for them. So, again, the register doesn’t actually preserve things but it does set up a red flag,” he said. “It also sends out a message that before you tear this building down, you are going to go through a process where we look at alternatives.”

Luxton of Donald Luxton & Associates Ltd. is the lead consultant for the city’s Heritage Action Plan, a plan whose objectives include updating the Vancouver Heritage Register.

Work on the updating project is in its preliminary stages, which includes background research that needs to be completed before launching into the update.

“[There] are key processes of the work grinding away in the background before we go to the public. But what we are talking to people about as the process is unfolding is what people really value as heritage or what they feel may have been missed from the register and should have been included on the register, so we’re having general discussions about that right now,” he said.

The Heritage Vancouver Society is getting in on the conversation. It’s hosting a talk entitled “What is Vancouver’s Heritage,” April 16 — the second of four events in a series called “Shaping Vancouver: Conversations on the Heritage Action Plan.”

Discussion will centre on what Vancouver’s heritage is and what heritage values ought to be recognized — values which will be tied into a discussion of the heritage register update.

Panelists will also discuss how the existing register can be improved to reflect and recognize a broad range of heritage values, beyond just the architectural.

Panelists include Berdine Jonker, acting manager of Heritage Programs and Services with the B.C. Heritage Branch, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations who has worked in the heritage conservation field since 1998 and currently leads the development of provincial heritage conservation policy for Crown Land management; Gerry McGeough, the UBC University architect and steward of the built environment and landscapes for UBC’s three campuses; and Dr. Henry Yu, an associate professor of history, and the principal of UBC’s St. John’s College. He was the project lead for the “Chinese Canadian Stories” public history and education project that ran from 2010 to 2012.

Luxton said the heritage register update will be publicly launched at the end of May and will include a public nomination process that runs into the fall. People will be able to nominate sites they think have value and which will be assessed as part of the update.

Heritage Vancouver Society’s April 16 event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at SFU Woodwards World Art Centre.

Sessions are free, but require pre-registration. See for more information. For more information on the update, search for the Heritage Action Plan on the city’s website.