Niagara heritage properties face risk following Bill 23 

Photo by: Charlie Martin

Ontario’s recently-updated development-related legislation has caused significant backlash throughout the province, with Niagara’s various heritage buildings being some of the many areas now at risk.

The More Homes Built Faster Act, otherwise known as Bill 23, was passed by the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 28, 2022. The act, which amends the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) and its regulations, aims to reduce obstacles and “red tape” which they suggest may be slowing down housing construction and priority projects. 

Despite the Legislature’s claim to continue conserving heritage properties within communities, the decision will authorize the removal of historical buildings from municipal heritage registry listings, ultimately causing municipalities to risk permanently losing significant landmarks. 

St. Catharines currently has roughly 150 buildings currently listed on the heritage register. With the ratification of Bill 23, all of the listed areas will be removed from the official register if they do not become designated buildings within two years. If a heritage property is removed from the register, the building will not be able to re-enter the list until five years later.

According to James Neilson, the heritage planner for the city of St. Catharines, being able to designate 150 properties within two years will be a difficult, nearly impossible, task. In order to move a listed building into the designated category, excessive research, investigation and evaluation must take place in order to determine whether a building meets the requirements to become designated.

Due to the passing of Bill 23, it is likely that various properties will face being removed from the heritage register. This could cause many buildings to face redevelopment, which will consequently result in the loss of prominent architecture and history, two qualities which are essential parts of heritage properties.

In Niagara, heritage plays a large role in the region’s history and tourism. This can be seen in areas such as Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is reliant on heritage for their economy, as well as St. Catharines, whose historical architecture takes up a significant part of Niagara’s wine and tourism industry.

“People come to Niagara for a certain aesthetic and if the buildings in St. Catharines start looking like they could be in Burlington or North York, it loses its charm,” said Neilson.

A large concern associated with the removal of certain properties from their register is the possibility of losing heritage buildings to condominium development in Downtown St. Catharines. Due to this, the heritage community has been continuously voicing their concerns since the passing of the bill.

Such a decision will risk the loss of some of the region’s oldest buildings, such as St. Catharines’ St. George Anglican Church, which was constructed in 1840, or the Welland Feeder Canal Junction lock, which was constructed in Welland in the 1820s.

Niagara’s heritage property concerns are only just the beginning of the backlash raised against the passing of the bill. In addition to the potential loss of heritage buildings, the Greenbelt in Ontario is primarily concerned with an impending loss of farmland, with the government planning on removing nearly 7,400 Greenbelt acres in order to continue housing development. 

This news has caused thousands of individuals across the province to protest the updated bill. Although there is a need for additional housing in Ontario, individuals have argued that affordable housing, as well as responsible and sustainable housing, are what should be currently prioritized. 

While the bill remains in place, despite the protests of many, its long-term effects on heritage properties and farmland are yet to be seen.

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