Mayoral Candidates Respond to Heritage Survey Questions

Every election year, Heritage Toronto evaluates the state of Toronto’s heritage and produces a report on how well the city is preserving and celebrating cultural, natural, and physical heritage.

Since 2012, we have hosted a Mayoral Debate on heritage to allow for candidates whose platforms speak to one or more of the four heritage pillars identified in our mandate – archaeological, architectural, natural, or cultural heritage. This year, we sent four candidates four priority questions determined by our Board of Directors.

The candidates asked were: Sarah Climenhaga, Saron Gebresellassi, Jennifer Keesmaat, and John Tory. Three of the candidates provided responses to our questions. The questions and the unedited responses are below:

Toronto is enriched by its architectural, archaeological, natural and cultural heritage. What are some examples of your heritage engagement in the City thus far and, if elected, what are the first heritage issues that you intend to address?

Sarah Climenhaga:

“I truly believe in the protection of both the cultural and physical heritage of our city, and I have written to city councillors like Josh Matlow to support their heritage efforts. I have added my voice to calls to support heritage features that are at risk from sale or development. My own personal advocacy efforts have largely been in the environmental and transportation realms, but as an elected official I would certainly ensure our staff and councillors make heritage protection an important part of keeping our city vibrant. Rather than developing my own set of new heritage policies, I would be guided by the recommendations of heritage experts like Heritage Toronto, architects, historians and community groups.”

Jennifer Keesmaat:

“As former Chief City Planner for the City of Toronto, I demonstrated leadership and commitment to implementing heritage revitalization projects in ways that balance community and development interests, while creating meaningful opportunities for stakeholder engagement and collaboration. In my role as Chief Planner, I led many heritage projects, including the Mirvish +Gehry proposal and the designation of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Heritage Conservation District (HDC).

Heritage preservation as a part of development can be better and more meaningfully integrated into the collaborative city building process. By emphasizing the importance of public space and our shared assets, we can celebrate our collective histories while enhancing the human experience for future generations.

We can enhance our local history databases by empowering community members to share their historical knowledge and resources. Greater engagement with community members and resident groups throughout the development process will not only foster great inclusivity and beneficial outcomes, but actively incorporate the unique yet evolving character of our city and its citizens.

The first issue I would address as Mayor of Toronto would be to adjust how the city leverages funding through Section 37 so that funding is prioritized for community benefits that are both identified and championed from local communities.  To support this initiative, I would allocate more resources to heritage preservation services, and empower the City to lead all community engagement activities related to heritage planning so that heritage revitalizations are effectively integrated with inclusive community and economic development.”

John Tory: 

“As Mayor, I have attended numerous cultural festivals marking historic events for specific ethnic or cultural groups. I have supported the preservation of heritage conservation districts and the protection of specific structures through city council. Finally, I have been proud to protect the City’s parks and open spaces including the adoption of the city’s first Ravine Strategy.

The first heritage issue I will address is the need for a city-wide heritage survey to catalog and map the City’s built heritage. This will engage and excite volunteers across the city and provide us with an updated database of the city’s historic buildings.”

How would you balance preserving built heritage in the face of other competing interests such as development fees and increased density?   Where does heritage sit on your list of planning goals?   

Sarah Climenhaga:

“I believe the goal of all our city efforts must be to improve the quality of life for our residents. I truly believe that preserving our heritage so that it is able to be appreciated and enjoyed by our residents is part of improving our quality of life. I believe that if we put a quality of life lens on all our efforts, whether that is revenue generation or increasing density, we can easily find a way to both protect and enhance our heritage and meet our housing and revenue needs. We should never be in a position that pits revenue from development fees against preservation of an important city architectural feature – the only reasons that arises is when we are not raising adequate revenue from other sources. Our heritage is priceless and no development fee is worth the loss of important heritage. As for density, there is much available land that we can use for increasing density, without needing to demolish buildings with heritage value.”

Jennifer Keesmaat:

“Often developers and city planners perceive heritage preservation to primary focus on built heritage sites. However, the social and cultural relevance that built sites have for communities is often overlooked in heritage revitalization planning.

By pursuing a more holistic understanding of cultural heritage and other non-built-form heritage elements throughout our communities, and incorporating this approach into our current heritage policy frameworks, we can actively preserve the most unique yet precarious elements of our city’s evolving neighbourhoods.

The City should be empowered to adjust the mandate about how Section 37 funds are being used to better serve the public. Meaningful public realm improvements, including road safety upgrades, can be incorporated into private developments and high density development corridors by increasing the leverage of Section 37 funds – a tool currently used, but could be greatly enhanced.

Plans must take into account the realities of a growing and increasingly dense city while also reflecting the values and histories of the people who live there.

Building a better process, where communities are meaningfully engaged throughout the development and heritage revitalization process, will ensure that we are not only preserving the cultural history of our city, but fostering the healthy growth of our cultural fabric and identities, while creating economic opportunities for communities as they shift and grow.”

John Tory:

“Protecting the City’s built heritage and growing the city are not mutually exclusive. We need to increase the supply of housing in the city but not at the expense of the city’s historic buildings and neighbourhoods. I strongly believe that good planning is about balancing priorities. I am committed to protecting the city’s built history and continuing to provide space for our growing city.”

Toronto’s heritage sector is highly dependent on volunteers, who provide $30 million worth of work hours a year. How would your City Hall better support the work of these volunteers?    

Sarah Climenhaga:

“I would ensure that we had enough city staff and resources to ensure volunteers were adequately supported, and that their time is directed appropriately to maximize their contribution. I would make sure volunteers were regularly publicly recognized for their efforts, and I would ensure the voices of these volunteers were included in discussions around heritage in our city. Those on the front line have valuable input to give about how best to protect and enhance Toronto’s heritage.”

Jennifer Keesmaat:

“Toronto is fortunate to have many committed and passionate volunteers within the heritage sector. In addition, the dedicated research of volunteers around the city perpetually informs decision-makers understanding of our city’s histories, and their cultural importance. Further funding the collection, creation, management, and sharing of our city’s historical resources, both cultural and built, which is currently done by many volunteers, is one small way we can help sustain this critically important task.

As Mayor of Toronto, I would create a new grant stream to help sustain community and resident associations’ efforts to document and share their neighbourhood’s histories. This would both enhance the knowledge base from which heritage preservation and revitalization fundamentally rely on, in addition to meaningfully involving community members in the development process, to ensure the community’s identities and character are not negatively impacted by development and growth efforts.”

John Tory:

“Volunteers are the backbone of the entire non-profit and charitable sector. The contribution volunteers make to he health of this city is immeasurable. I am committed to recognizing and celebrating the work that volunteers do.”

Would the establishment and ongoing support for a City of Toronto Museum be a priority if you were elected Mayor? For you, what would the Museum look like and how should it be funded?

Sarah Climenhaga:

“I am very excited about the possibility of having a City of Toronto museum located at old City Hall. I would work to support the establishment and ongoing support for this museum. I would support inclusion of the features that have already been discussed – a library, wedding chapel, venue rental space and a gift shop/cafe. As for the contents of the museum itself, I would ensure a mix of artists, designers, historians and experts in public engagement were brought together to make the museum as accessible and engaging as possible. Funding for the museum would need to be ongoing and stable. How do generate revenue for the museum is the same question we are facing for important issues across the city. We will not be able to fund the museum nor other important heritage protection efforts if we do not make it a priority in our budget, and if we are not willing to raise revenue on an ongoing basis. I am willing to both prioritize public investment and to raise revenue if necessary. I would welcome input on funding sources and necessary amounts from heritage experts in our city.”

Jennifer Keesmaat:

“Sharing the stories of Toronto’s rich social and cultural history is critical to sustaining our incredibly diverse social and cultural fabric. As Mayor, I would support the development of the City of Toronto Museum, and advocate that it be housed at Old City Hall, one of our City’s most iconic spaces.

A future City of Toronto Museum should not only tell the story of Toronto’s rich history as a center of commerce, arts and culture, but also provide opportunities to educate and engage the public about Toronto’s rich cultural diversity and the very different experiences that different ethno-cultural and socio-economic groups had in early city-building.

The development and curation of a City of Toronto Museum would be done in partnership with Indigenous groups and communities, as well as other cultural groups, so that the stories of Torontonians are heard and learned from to help us build and grow into a stronger, more vibrant, inclusive, and equitable city.”

John Tory:

“I believe that we have a historic opportunity with the renovation of Old City Hall to create a City of Toronto Museum that would tell this city’s story to local residents and the world.

The City of Toronto Museum must be created through consultation with stakeholders in the sector and the general public. How it would operate, where its funding would come from and how Toronto’s story would be told should be decided through a robust consultation process.”