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 potential 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 potential cultural heritage value.

Local heritage surveys have been conducted for decades in Toronto, and are currently completed as part of Heritage Conservation District studies or area planning studies. City Planning’s City-wide Heritage Survey feasibility study will take advantage of established local and international best practices, and make recommendations on how a city-wide heritage survey could be done in Toronto.

Beneficial outcomes of a city-wide heritage survey include:

  • increased community engagement and civic pride
  • informed policy and decision-making based on an understanding of heritage resources
  • the opportunity to identify heritage resources in all areas of the city
  • application of a diverse range of community values in the evaluation process
  • increased awareness of heritage
  • support a stronger culture of conservation

City Council identified the following key deliverables for a City-wide Heritage Survey feasibility study.

Review of Best Practices

Staff completed a jurisdictional scan of over ten municipalities across Canada and in the United States who have been or are currently involved in city-wide heritage surveys. Staff have also engaged local heritage professionals with expertise in heritage surveys to provide advice to the City on the technical aspects of a City-wide Heritage Survey methodology.

Setting Priorities for Survey Areas

Given the multi-year nature of a city-wide survey, there is a pressing need to develop a system of prioritization for survey areas. A cross-divisional team of City Planning staff have been working to build a clear, data-based approach to prioritizing survey areas for a potential multi-year City-wide Heritage Survey.  Drawing on past approaches to prioritizing areas for studies of Heritage Conservation Districts, they have assembled potential criteria. Those criteria were reviewed by the Toronto Planning Review Panel at its meeting on November 3, 2018 and the feedback from the Review Panel is available.  Datasets related to the criteria are being assembled and tested in partnership with Ryerson’s Master of Spatial Analysis internship program.

Engagement Plan

Public consultation 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 valuable heritage properties and landscapes is an essential component in the evaluation of properties for heritage value.  Staff are currently developing a recommended approach to community engagement for a city-wide heritage survey that could engage residents throughout the City of Toronto, recognizing this as an unprecedented opportunity to build a comprehensive understanding of the development of the amalgamated City of Toronto, and the diverse range of neighbourhoods, properties and values that are important to different communities.

Volunteer Program

Consultations with the City’s four volunteer-driven Community Preservation Panels, the Toronto Historical Association, and Heritage Toronto have underlined the enormous value volunteers can provide to heritage surveys. Recommendations from the volunteer sector have helped to inform key requirements for a successful volunteer program. Staff are currently determining clear volunteer roles and the necessary supports for a volunteer program to support the city-wide Heritage Survey.

Costs of the Survey

A key challenge is the development of a city-wide survey model that meets Toronto’s needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. Staff are developing a city-wide survey strategy informed by survey and costing models from Toronto’s survey experience, and from other municipalities consulted through the sector scan.


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

  • This phase includes 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 – April 2019

  • This phase will include 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

  • Preparation of a report with recommendations to the Toronto Preservation Board, Planning and Growth Management Committee, and City Council.