The value of the past
As a person who loves to support the idea of Halifax as a caring, open-minded and somewhat sentimental city, I have to ask the question: Why don't we value our historic properties?
You would think we would be up in arms about losing so many historic buildings in one year, from the waterfront areas around Granville Street, to homes on South Park to historic residences on Hollis. All of these properties are being decimated, and for what reason? I have a hard time believing that all these buildings were completely beyond repair or lacked historical significance. I believe it all comes down to money talking, and Halifax is willing to sell its history out the window to the highest bidder.
In the name of progress, and keeping up with the Joneses (ie Toronto), we discard our Victorian and older homes like refuse-filled shoeboxes, as if they are a dime a dozen, only to replace them with cookie-cutter 30-storey glass-and- metal monstrosities. Do we want our historic waterfront to end up like the Queensway in TO, littered with mirrored tower after mirrored tower?
We will definitely live up to our Warden of the North title when all the quaintness is rubbed out by cement and metal facades, with no glimmer of the past left for tourists to gawk over. Surely next they will be opening up Citadel Hill as an amusement park and shopping experience.
As I walk the streets of our foggy, fair city, I see our old homes and buildings as familiar old faces, the faces that define our urban landscape as being progressive and edgy while still respecting the past. But each time I see another HRM development agreement application tacked to a post or tree near a historic home or building, my heart sinks a little deeper, as another one bites the dust.
What has happened to our sense of pride in these historic and iconic Halifax structures? It seems so easy nowadays to trash these places, sweep all the rubble out of eyesight and leave nothing but a gravel parking lot.
As an owner of a Victorian home, I appreciate its character and its presence, and no matter the guest, they are all in awe of its wide planks, stained glass and indicative charm. All of the tradespeople we have had through for restoration say, "They don't make them like this anymore." So it begs the question: why are we knocking them down, if they are so irreplaceable? If it means that a type of architecture is on the chopping block merely because it is not flashy or modern, our Halifax charm goes with it. It also calls into question the whole purpose of a Halifax Registered Heritage Property when they, too, are being sliced and diced and put under the wrecking ball. Where is our heritage committee now?
As the Bower, Halifax's oldest home, located in the south end, stands to be "converted" into a three-unit residence, it will move from its 1790s charm to an assumed 21st century condo mishap, and no one stands in the way. Period homes and cottages near Point Pleasant Park on Tower Road are destroyed one by one, to be converted to pressboard townhouses. A fast food outlet will replace a turn-of-the-century home near Spring Garden and Queen.
The list goes on---there one day and gone the next. Just ask any of these home and business owners, who no longer value the significance of their historic property, and they'll say, "It's costing too much and I can't afford the upkeep." Why did they buy it in the first place? And where are they getting the thousands of dollars to destroy, deface and rebuild?
We may be the city of lakes, the little green city that could, but why can't we be the fun-loving and beautiful city that also loves its historic spaces? —Peter H., Halifax