Conservation and the importance of community involvement

Beth Hanna, CEO Ontario Heritage Trust, January 2021

While much of what lies ahead in 2021 remains unclear, a path yet to be designed, one thing seems clear to me: the importance of community, the opportunity to gather together and experience that sense of feeling part of a greater whole. For many, 2020 has provided time to regroup, to focus our minds on, and to protect, what is truly important.

Many people interact with heritage on a community level. What we as a society value, what we choose to share and protect, how we serve as stewards and the stories and traditions that we choose to carry forward. Concepts of identity and public history have been shaped over time by the intersection of community and heritage. That community response derives from our individual relationship with heritage. Perhaps during the pandemic, you have had a new glimpse into collections of art and artifacts. Do the works of masters of art, design, traditional craft and masonry inspire you? In hiking Ontario’s trails, as you’ve stepped into the shade of ancient forests, travelled the trails and portage routes that people have used for thousands of years, are you rooted, reminded of your place in time? Do you see your own Main Street as a landscape where you might walk and shop and dine? We all connect with heritage in our own way; it can be very personal and intimate.

 The landscapes of places where we live and do business, be they rural or urban, are significant repositories for community memory. They bring together the tangible heritage of place and artifact with the intangible of story and tradition. They also speak to the importance of the community’s involvement and the contributions made by local heritage organizations and volunteers to ensure that our heritage continues to shape those evolving landscapes.

Heritage conservation in Ontario is very much a community-based activity supported by the tireless efforts of heritage organizations, politicians and citizens. Our heritage is preserved and protected, conserved and celebrated by the actions and efforts of individuals and the community. How we interact with our heritage and how we imagine the future are constantly intertwined. Heritage has the potential to inspire, to stimulate creativity, to create communities that are sustainable, diverse and resilient in the face of change. And there is no question that we face change and adversity. History has shown that when we have faced times of difficulty, we have also cherished our culture and heritage, protecting it in times of danger and rebuilding it in the days following adversity.

So, what is the way forward? As we step into 2021 and begin to rebuild following the pandemic, let’s step boldly and choose wisely what we pass along to future generations: knowledge, narratives and histories, a thriving natural environment and a diverse and authentic cultural one.

From: Heritage Matters…More! January 2021

Photo credit: Alexander Synaptic, Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0