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The auditor general’s office has found that federal government departments are not doing enough to conserve the physical condition and heritage value of Canada’s important federal heritage properties.
A report tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday looked at the efforts of Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and National Defence in conserving the heritage value and extending the life of national historic sites, heritage buildings, and heritage lighthouses.
“The three audited organizations either did not know how many heritage buildings they had or did not know what condition the buildings were in. Also, the heritage property information the organizations provided to Parliament and the public was inaccurate or incomplete,” Michael Ferguson’s office concluded in the report.
This follows up on two previous auditor general’s reports — one in 2003 and one in 2007 — with similar findings.
The three organizations are responsible for over 70 per cent of all federal buildings with heritage designation. As of 2017, the federal government owned 1,272 designated buildings and at least 223 national historic sites across Canada.
To compile the report, Ferguson’s office visited 47 buildings at 19 locations in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. His staff found some buildings that were deemed to be in in relatively good condition, but saw an equal number in poor condition.
For example, the office visited Prince of Wales Tower in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park, which was built between 1796 and 1799 as a place to store gunpowder and as a redoubt to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line. Ferguson’s office determined that the oldest Martello tower in North America was in good condition, as Parks Canada took steps in 2016 to help stop the deterioration, including refitting the tower with a new roof over the existing roof to prevent water infiltration.
Meanwhile, the auditor general’s office found that York Redoubt National Historic Site, a 200-year-old fortification on the western edge of Halifax Harbour that helped to protect the port for centuries, including during during the Second World War, was marked with graffiti and was easily accessible even though Parks Canada barricaded access with a gate and fencing.
The report points out that designation as a heritage property does not include additional funding for conservation work. As a result, the three organizations prioritized the heritage buildings to conserve on the basis of available resources and operational requirements, rather than heritage considerations.
This was true for the Halifax Armoury, which National Defence uses to meet operational requirements of army reserve units and cadet corps. A two-phase, $130-million conservation project is currently underway to conserve the armoury to meet program needs.
In addition, the report found, the number of designated heritage buildings has increased, but because of the lack of additional funding for conservation work, more buildings may fall into disrepair.
“This means that present and future generations of Canadians could lose an important part of their country’s history,” Ferguson’s office says in the report.
Overall, the report resulted in three recommendations, all of which were agreed to by their associated agencies: that Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and National Defence should update their asset management databases to reflect complete information on the number and current condition of their heritage properties, that Parks Canada should lead an assessment of the approach to designate and conserve federal heritage properties that includes working with organizations that own properties to implement changes to better conserve them, and finally, that Parks Canada should provide accurate and up-to-date information to Canadians and parliamentarians through public databases and reports to Parliament.