Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Calgary woman felt ‘responsibility’ to preserve historic Hillhurst home

Hillhurst resident Lorna Cordeiro admits there’s nothing particularly special about her 110 year old home. She says it’s “very ordinary.”

In fact, when she was going through the municipal heritage resource designation process, she was asked when the bylaw went to council whether this property actually warranted designation.

She fought for the designation and the bylaw passed.

“Up until now I think council has seen designation as being something very special. Whether that’s in regards to being an architecturally unusual home or some famous person has lived there, but what council has failed to see is that ordinary homes are being demolished at a rapid rate. I think five alone have been demolished on my street,” Cordeiro said.

“While I say it’s ordinary, to me it’s extraordinary because there’s a lot of love and care that’s gone into the house in the past 110 years. When I see the rate of demolition, I saw my house as anything but ordinary so I made the effort to have it designated and set a precedent in my community.”

Josh Traptow, executive director of the Calgary Heritage Authority (CHA), said that of the roughly 900 houses they have on their historic properties inventory, less than 100 in Calgary are designated.

“The vast number of them could be demolished or altered at any time,” Traptow said.

Cordeiro, who is a part of the Century Homes Calgary group, believes there are a number of reasons why Calgarians aren’t designating heritage homes, including lack of both awareness and economic incentives.

“Some of it would be – it would be a little slanted to say it’s greed. But I believe Calgarians have a proprietoral sense of what’s mine is mine and nobody better touch it,” she said.

RELATED: Calgary map of historic properties on inventory list

What it requires is civic leadership, she said, especially at the political level.

“I don’t see the vast majority of councillors being very supportive of heritage,” Cordeiro said.

“They’ll designate if it’s brought to them, but they make very little effort and the Enoch Sales House is an example.”

The Enoch Sales House in Victoria Park burned down in early February. It was taken over in 2017 by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, and plans were discussed for its use, but there was no movement.

“Again, I think it’s a lack of leadership,” Cordeiro said.

Traptow said that having a property designated as a municipal historic resource essentially protects the property from demolition and requires heritage planning approval for any alterations. It doesn’t affect the property owner’s ability to sell the property or any of the activities on the property.

“(Homeowners) are still able to renovate their bathroom or their kitchen,” Traptow said.

“Just as long as it’s not affecting the regulated portions, which the homeowner would have agreed to when the bylaw was drafted.”

The designation process is quite simple, Cordeiro said, and once designated it does unlock potential provincial and municipal grants.

If a property is already on the CHA inventory, then a homeowner indicates to the city that they’d like to apply for designation. If it’s not on the inventory, the CHA will conduct an evaluation to determine the property’s historical significance.

After that, Cordeiro said she worked with one of the city’s heritage planners to determine what needed to be preserved and what didn’t. While homeowners have the control, they are advised by the heritage planners.

“Up on the second level I have an old floor that doesn’t need to be preserved because even though it’s original it’s in poor condition. I may want to rip it out from an ergonomic or practical point of view,” she said.

“But the exterior is in very good shape, most of it is the original cedar siding – I want to preserve that.”

Once the preserved areas are determined, the bylaw is written and then presented to council for approval.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it’s a very simple process,” Cordeiro said, also adding that the heritage planners provided research on the house, including former owners and the home’s history.

Calgary heritage planners help research the home’s history when it’s designated. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Traptow said that once that bylaw is approved, it’s attached to the title of your house and therefore protected. There’s no cost to the homeowner for designation as it’s taken on by the city and the CHA.

Though, as in the case of the Eau Claire smoke stack, the heritage designation can be rescinded, Traptow said. That was an Alberta first, for development purposes, he added.

Cordeiro said she had her home designated because she felt a sense of responsibility to protect the history. It was something she learned from her father.

“My father was very much into culture and heritage and learning from the past. So, I learned from him that everything is important: The people, the built architecture – all of it has a story to tell. And some of it should be preserved or otherwise it’s forgotten,” she said.

“You lose that landscape and you lose the character of the community and I think when it comes to community character… it’s so important. We move to these neighbourhoods because we like what’s there. But then we turn around and so many of my neighbours have destroyed that exact thing that they’ve moved into.

“I feel like I’m a steward of the house and the former owners have been a steward of the house and it’s not my right to do whatever I want with this house.”

(The Calgary Heritage Initiative provides a package of details on how to go about designating your historic home.)