The Toronto Heritage Survey is a multi-year study to proactively identify, understand and document places and properties of cultural heritage value.

The Toronto Heritage Survey has completed over ten local heritage surveys (known as Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments), improved heritage planning processes and launched the Indigenous Heritage Engagement Project.

The Toronto Heritage Survey is a multi-year study to proactively identify, understand, and document places and properties of cultural heritage value in our city.  It supports good planning by providing important information about cultural heritage resources at the very beginning of a planning process – bringing greater transparency and efficiency in planning decisions, and improved predictability for property owners and the public.

For more than 45 years, Toronto City Council has incrementally added heritage properties to the Heritage Register, which today includes more than 11,000 properties. Generally, properties have been identified and added to the Heritage Register through Heritage Conservation Districts and area studies or individually, through nominations or development applications. In 2019, Council approved Phase One of the Toronto Heritage Survey to begin a comprehensive and systematic effort to identify the amalgamated City’s cultural heritage resources.

The Toronto Heritage Survey uses historical research, documentation through site visits, and community engagement to understand the historical evolution of neighbourhoods, and to identify places of cultural heritage value within them. Listening to communities about what they value as their heritage is a critical component of the Survey’s work.

Since the launch of Phase One, the City Planning Division has:

  • Co-developed an Indigenous Heritage Engagement Program with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, the Economic Development and Culture Division, and the Indigenous Affairs Office.
  • Supported greater equity and inclusion in City Planning engagement practices by integrating new processes and tools to better seek input from otherwise under-represented voices.
  • Completed over ten Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments across the City to inform the development of policies and guidelines for the area’s future planning framework, and to identify and understand properties that may merit inclusion on the Heritage Register.
  • Developed consistent and effective survey methodologies.

The Toronto Heritage Survey accomplishes its survey work through a type of heritage study called a Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment (CHRA).

A Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment begins with historical research to understand an area’s historic context and how properties relate to and support that context.  A draft Historic Context Statement is produced to explain the area’s contemporary form and character by identifying significant periods of historical evolution and analyzing key themes.

Engagement is a fundamental component of the Toronto Heritage Survey; personal memory and experience can shed light on a place, complementing documentary research. With a draft Historic Context Statement completed, a Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment next engages the community to inform the statement with local knowledge and lived experience. Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments may gather local knowledge keepers into a Heritage Focus Group, and seek out others for individual interviews. Workshops or Open Houses can also be useful ways of connecting with community members to inform the work of the Toronto Heritage Survey.

Finally, a Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment surveys all properties within a study area. The outcome is a list of properties with potential cultural heritage value. This is a time-intensive task, requiring not only the careful documentation of properties, but a careful, consistent, and systematic preliminary analysis of those properties against provincial criteria for determining cultural heritage value.

A number of Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments have been completed in Phase One of the Toronto Heritage Survey or are currently underway, including for the Black Creek and Glenfield-Jane Heights neighbourhoods, Mount Dennis, Danforth Avenue, and the Bloor-Yorkville area. In addition to testing methodologies, these Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments have provided the foundation for context-sensitive, built-form and place-based policies and guidelines that reflect the unique character of a respective area.

More information about the key components of the Toronto Heritage Survey can be found below.

Historic Context Statements

Historic Context Statements are specialized documents that support the identification of properties and places that may have cultural heritage value. Historic Context Statements analyze and explain the important themes, patterns of development, and forces that have shaped the history of an area or community. They then identify types of properties found today that represent those themes, patterns, and forces. Historic Context Statements can also go further to help define important elements of a building type that may be considered representative, and which may assist in an assessment of integrity. In Ontario’s provincial planning context, Historic Context Statements can inform heritage evaluations using provincial criteria identified in Ontario Regulation 9/06.

To date, Historic Context Statements have been developed by Toronto’s City Planning Division for geographically defined areas – either former municipalities (e.g. West Toronto Junction) or Planning Study areas (e.g. Danforth Avenue). Historic Context Statements can also be useful when they stretch further to explore city-wide themes, patterns, and forces. They can then provide planners and the public with an understanding of how themes, patterns, and building typologies within one neighbourhood relate to other areas, or to the entire city.  They can also help us understand when, where, and why a particular building type was constructed, which architects and companies were key to their construction, and what characteristics define the best examples of that typology.

Historic Context Statements can create efficiencies in the process of evaluating properties by making critical information about those properties more readily available. Through their detailed understanding of building and landscape types in their local and city-wide contexts, they can also help planners consider how proposed changes might impact a resource within a community.

Beyond informing the identification of cultural heritage resources, Historic Context Statements can leave a legacy of research and documentation that communities can build upon for future local history initiatives.

City Planning’s production of Historic Context Statements has evolved over the course of Phase One of the Toronto Heritage Survey. You can find examples of completed Historic Context Statements below:

Community Engagement

Robust community engagement is central to the success of Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments and the Toronto Heritage Survey. Community members can provide essential local knowledge regarding the historical development of a study area. They can also inform the assessment and documentation of cultural heritage value with information related to people, places, and events of significance to the community.

Community engagement for a Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment is fully integrated into the extensive community consultation plan for an accompanying Planning Study. Community and stakeholder meetings and online surveys are often used to inform and gather input from communities. In addition to larger meetings and events, a Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) is regularly established to help guide the development of the larger Planning Study and its components. This Committee usually includes members representing BIAs, Residents Associations, cycling groups, historical groups, community services, arts and culture groups, accessibility groups, and interested residents and community members, who reside and/or work close to the study area.

Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments have also successfully used the tool of Heritage Focus Groups. Heritage Focus Groups allow for dedicated time to explore the heritage of a study area. Heritage Focus Groups are composed of local knowledge keepers –individuals who either have studied an area or have lived experience as a resident. The process for selecting participants and the number and content of meetings is designed to proactively ensure that Heritage Focus Groups reflect the diverse communities within a study area, and to encourage meaningful input.

Finally, Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments can make use of online surveys or questionnaires and individual interviews to gain as much local input as possible into an understanding of the heritage of an area.

Analysis & Evaluation

Heritage consultants and Heritage Planning staff use Information collected through documentary research and engagement to develop a Historic Context Statement, and to conduct a preliminary evaluation of individual properties for cultural heritage value.

Where cultural heritage value is identified, consultants and staff can also analyze and make recommendations on tools that might best address and conserve that value.  Where merited, tools may include commemoration or interpretation, conservation of physical elements of the property under the Ontario Heritage Act, and/or other land use planning and urban design mechanisms.

In order to identify if a property merits conservation under the Ontario Heritage Act, the property must be evaluated using provincial criteria set out in Ontario Regulation 9/06.

The Indigenous Heritage Engagement Project is being designed in collaboration with Indigenous communities to listen to any and all Indigenous people, groups or organizations that have insights into Indigenous heritage in Toronto.

The Project was initiated and is funded by the City of Toronto’s Heritage Planning Unit and Museums and Heritage Services, and is a key deliverable of the Toronto Heritage Survey. It’s first step, in 2019 and 2020, was to reach out to Indigenous community representatives and organizations to understand if the project might be welcomed by Indigenous communities, and if so, how it could be developed collaboratively with them. The recommendation to bring together both a Steering Circle and a Knowledge Keepers Circle arose out of Co-development Dialogues in 2019 and 2020.

Learn more about the Indigenous Heritage Engagement Project.

This page contains links to background information related to the Toronto Heritage Survey, including direction from City Council, Committee and Staff Reports.

Indigenous Heritage Engagement Project Co-Development Dialogue Reports

Council Directions

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