Champlain Township council revisits heritage inventory plan

by Christopher Smith - EAP
Champlain Township council revisits heritage inventory plan
Dozens of letters were sent, and a large group showed up in person at Champlain Township council to voice their support for a heritage inventory. (Photo : Christopher Smith)

After an overwhelming public outcry, Champlain Township council revisited the Heritage Inventory proposal presented in June.

Council was greeted by a large group of local residents at the August 24 meeting, each one of them holding a letter in their hand. When the agenda reached that particular discussion item, each of the residents stepped up to the podium and read from their letters, voicing their support for the Heritage Inventory program. The program was considered and set aside by council when it was proposed at the June meeting, but with over two dozen letters supporting it, council members had reason to reconsider.

“The heritage architecture in Vankleek Hill is something to celebrate, it has value and is a unique, irreplaceable asset,” said Andrea Glenn, owner of Gibbs Honey. “A Heritage Inventory would be a good first step in protecting these assets. We moved here from the GTA in order to start a business, with the ultimate plan of using our historic property for agritourism purposes. As the owners of a historic property, we would have absolutely no objection to a registry and would be keen to list our buildings (house and barn) on it voluntarily.”

A draft proposal of the program was presented by senior planner Jennifer Laforest at the regular council meeting in June, detailing an initiative to inventory the heritage buildings in the township. It wouldn’t be a heritage registry with its associated restrictions, Laforest clarified, but rather a list of heritage buildings that council could use to help make future planning decisions.

“It would celebrate our heritage assets and contribute to economic development,” Laforest said. “It is a tool but it is not designed to be punitive to the property owner.”

Council expressed doubt about the initiative at the time, and wondered who would do the work. Laforest said that in addition to tourism and economic development, the inventory could also inform architectural decisions regarding future modifications or additions. She also said that the inventory would be the work of volunteers from the Patrimoine L’Orignal/Longueuil Heritage group and the Vankleek Hill Historical Society.

Council decided not to move forward with the proposal and filed the report, but the show of support from residents has pushed the idea back into the spotlight.

“During the time I was curator of the Musée régional d’Argenteuil, the MRC d’Argenteuil created a built-heritage inventory,” said Vankleek Hill resident Michelle Landriault. “This inventory resource was used successfully by Canadian film companies scouting for locations. A one-stop shop, harboured at the municipality, for the development of cultural tourism. In February 2021, I was contacted by Alibi Entertainment who were exploring which Ontario towns to feature in their six-episode series Boom or Bust for TVO. Based on the rich historic nature of Vankleek Hill, its buildings, its residents, and its surrounding agricultural families, our town was selected. This episode brought identifiable tourism to Vankleek Hill. A municipal heritage inventory would have made the process more convenient and accessible.”

Due to the show of support, as well as community organizations that approached councillors outside the meeting, council reconsidered the proposal. Councillor Gérard Miner said he read every letter, and although most people were in favour of the program, some of the letters didn’t entirely understand what the inventory would do. He suggested that the township take extra steps to make the bounds of the program very clear, especially since he said he wouldn’t necessarily be in favour of an involuntary property registry that restricts property owners’ rights.

“I’m glad that we’re doing this, and it shows that once in a while, our citizens know more than we do,” Miner said. “They definitely brought us around to the fact that we slept on the switch on that one.”

Council approved the resolution, appointing Mayor Normand Riopel and Councillors Paul Émile Duval and Sarah Bigelow to the Heritage Committee, which will oversee the inventory process.

A full listing of support letters can be found on the Champlain Township website in the August 24 meeting agenda.

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