City of Toronto receives award for conservation and heritage management

From the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, to the earliest beginnings of Yonge Street, to the 20th century’s concentration of commerce and manufacturing – Toronto’s history has been more than 12,000 years in the making. The city’s unique geography, natural features, and ecological character have always positioned Toronto as a meeting place, where different people have exchanged goods, cultures, and ideas. Our views of history are fluid and always changing, reflecting the past in new and dynamic ways.

As Toronto faces some of the greatest growth and development pressures in North America, protecting and preserving the history and character of our neighbourhoods becomes increasingly difficult. Across the city, planners are grappling with how to balance the protection of established heritage buildings and districts with the need for infill development and intensification.

Within this context, Toronto has emerged as a leader in conserving and managing archaeologically significant sites, and was recently selected by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) as recipient of the 2016 Conservation and Heritage Management Award. The prestigious citation is awarded annually by the institute to organizations whose work has made outstanding contributions to the field of heritage management. The award recognizes the excellence and best practices of the City of Toronto’s Archaeological Management Plan (AMP), which was created with the help of the consulting firm ASI, to establish planning procedures, policies and protocols for conserving the city’s archaeological record.

Toronto is in good company as a recipient of the AIA’s Conservation and Heritage Management Award. Past winners have included the Archaeological Conservancy in the United States, the Museum of London in the U.K., acclaimed Southwest archeologist Hester Davis, conservationist Henry Cleere, Pointe-à-Callière Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de Montréal, and Parks Canada.

In developing and creating the AMP, we recognised the importance of an all-encompassing model, tailored to the archaeological and environmental records of the city. The City of Toronto has been committed to rigorous and consistent application of the AMP. Included in the plan are detailed, geo-coded maps which identify known archaeological sites (both pre- and post-colonial); a thematic overview of the city’s settlement history; and identified areas of archaeological potential. The sophisticated mapping application screens all of the indicators against areas which may have had integrity issues during subsequent development (particularly in the 1970s) to analyze the extent of site disturbances, and determine the need for further evaluation.  The Toronto Open Data Portal has worked meticulously at removing restrictions and releasing spatial and non-spatial data to the public for exploration, interpretation, and analysis. As we finalize the work associated with the AMP, additional data sets will be added to the Open Data Portal, so check back for updates.

These tools are supplemented with implementation recommendations and guidelines prepared by city staff and ASI’s professional archaeologists in collaboration with representatives of relevant Indigenous communities. Additionally, the plan includes important provisions for interpretation and commemoration. The City of Toronto requires developers to fund and maintain permanent commemorative and interpretive displays related to the heritage and archaeology of their properties.

The AMP has established a model to help other municipalities preserve their history, while positioning the City of Toronto as a leader in conserving and managing archaeologically significant sites. The ongoing efforts of Susan Hughes, AMP Project Manager, as well as Toronto’s extensive heritage community, are essential in ensuring we are able to continue sharing the broad story and rich history of our city for generations to come.