A city-wide heritage survey is a proactive, systematic study of properties within a municipality. The purpose of the survey is to identify sites with cultural heritage value according to a defined list of criteria. Key tasks associated with heritage surveys include extensive planning and historical research, walking or driving through an area to find and make a record of heritage resources, the organization and management of a database containing records, and the final production of an inventory of properties and areas with cultural heritage value.

In 2017, City Council directed the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning, to undertake a feasibility study for a city-wide heritage survey. The Chief Planner’s report on the City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study details the results of the study and makes recommendations to City Council on commencing a Toronto Heritage Survey, including a proposed multi-year work plan. This type of survey follows current best practices in other major North American cities.

City Planning’s City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study has investigated local and international best practices and consulted stakeholders. The resulting City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study staff report recommends the initiation of a city-wide heritage survey program – an emerging international best practice – as a building block for good planning. It proposes that the survey will result in operational efficiencies, enhance civic leadership and responsiveness to provincial land-use planning and cultural heritage policies, and improve predictability for City staff, property owners and the public. A major outcome of the survey will be greater clarity about the location and value of the city’s irreplaceable heritage resources. A city-wide heritage survey has the potential to engage stakeholders, communities and volunteers to weave together into a coherent whole, the histories and geographies of the amalgamated City.

The City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study report is recommending a phased approach to a Toronto Heritage Survey, beginning with a start-up phase from 2019-2021. A program of this scale needs to build resources, test models, and fully understand implications prior to scaling-up. Estimated resourcing requirements have been prepared for the testing phase of the program in 2019-2021. Cost and time estimates for subsequent years will rely on testing completed to that date.

The City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study report will go before the Toronto Preservation Board (June 20), Planning and Housing Committee (July 3) and City Council (July 16).


The City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study recommends a phased approach for a Toronto Heritage Survey program in order to acquire the resources and to establish, through testing, the clear, consistent and efficient methods that will be required for a program of this scale. Phase One (2019-2021) will include the digital modernization of heritage data, the development and launch of an Indigenous Engagement Program, the initial planning of heritage survey volunteer and engagement programs, and the research and writing of historic context statements. Staff will also test and refine survey and engagement methodologies through the existing heritage study work program and through addressing the backlog of individual property nominations, to create efficiencies in evaluations and to assist in meeting service level demands.

Following the completion of the first phase of the Toronto Heritage Survey work plan, and prior to the scaling-up of the Toronto Heritage Survey, City staff will report back to Council to make recommendations on future phases of work.

Sector Scan and Stakeholder Consultation

City staff conducted a jurisdictional sector scan of over 10 municipalities to determine international best-practices in large-scale heritage surveys, and engaged stakeholders, including a Technical Expert Panel, to determine the best approach to applying international best-practices in Toronto. The Technical Expert Panel was composed of heritage experts external to the City who were asked to provide advice on technical aspects of heritage surveys.

Among the most important key findings resulting from the sector scan and stakeholder consultation are:

  • Large-scale heritage surveys can achieve consistency and efficiencies by testing survey methodologies over a diverse range of areas and by using trained professionals as surveyors
  • A contextual approach to heritage evaluation is an effective and efficient way to conduct a city-wide heritage survey
  • Robust community engagement and volunteer programs are essential to the success of large-scale heritage surveys
  • A well-resourced and GIS-based data management system is an essential tool for implementing a large-scale survey

Survey Areas and Prioritization

City staff propose to advance the survey using neighbourhood boundaries that the City of Toronto currently uses for other statistical and planning purposes, as defined according to Statistics Canada census tracts.

The multi-year nature of a city-wide heritage survey requires a system of prioritization for survey areas. Staff are recommending a clear, data-based approach to prioritizing survey areas. Potential criteria have been informed by past approaches to prioritizing study areas for Heritage Conservation Districts. In conjunction with Ryerson University’s Master of Spatial Analysis program, a multi-criteria evaluation tool has been created to analyze data attached to the criteria.

The Feasibility Study report recommends that staff bring both the draft criteria and the multi-criteria evaluation tool to stakeholders and the public for further consultation to arrive at a final prioritization process.

Engagement and Consultation

Public engagement is a well-established and essential part of all studies conducted by the City Planning Division, including all heritage surveys. An understanding of what communities consider to be heritage properties and areas is an important component in the evaluation of properties for heritage value. A well-funded, inclusive and innovative engagement and consultation program will be essential to the survey program’s success and will leave a rich legacy of heritage data and of stronger, more cohesive communities.

The staff report recommends the following approach to consultation and engagement:

  • A robust engagement and consultation program will be required to inform the survey results
  • The Indigenous Affairs Office to advise City Planning on the development of a distinct engagement program for Indigenous communities so that it serves the needs of Indigenous communities as well as the City
  • A city-wide heritage survey engagement program has the potential to benefit from partnerships in order to deeply engage communities and to leave them with lasting legacies


Stakeholder consultation underlined the value that volunteers could contribute to a city-wide heritage survey. In order to develop a properly resourced volunteer program to support the heritage survey, staff are seeking Council’s approval to engage the City’s Community Preservation Panels and Heritage Toronto as potential volunteer program partners. The Community Preservation Panels are volunteer bodies nominated by community council, and have a broad mandate to engage citizens to protect, preserve, and promote heritage properties. Heritage Toronto is a City agency mandated to, among other things, serve as a focal point for volunteer sector groups.



Planning:  May 2018 – August 2018

Research and development of a plan to conduct the feasibility study, with initial stakeholder outreach.

Research:  July 2018 – January 2019

Internal consultation within City Planning to determine the full range of needs that a city-wide survey could fulfill, fact gathering on methodologies, data management tools, timelines, and budgets for recently completed or underway city-wide surveys.

Testing Options:  October 2018 – May 2019

Consultation with key external stakeholders, as well as consultation on the technical matter of heritage survey methodologies with a Heritage Survey Technical Advisory Panel composed of external heritage professionals.

Reporting: June 2019 – July 2019

A City-wide Heritage Survey Feasibility Study report with recommendations will go to the Toronto Preservation Board (June 20), Planning and Housing Committee (July 3), and City Council (July 16).