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HISTORIC SITES AND MONUMENTS*
1. As explained in Part I of this Report the responsibility for the preservation and marking of historic sites and monuments has been for many years entrusted to the National Parks Service of the Department of Resources and Development. The Parks Service is advised by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, appointed by the Federal Government and composed, in the main, of historians of repute, together with the Dominion Archivist and a representative of the Parks Branch. The Board meets once a year to consider and advise upon the marking of sites which are brought to its attention by its own members and others.
2. We should like to express our admiration of the work done through the voluntary efforts of the Board, and through the interest and energy of the Parks Service of which the Historic Sites and Monuments Division operates on a limited budget ($135,000). As mentioned in Part I, many important sites have been marked, and many historic structures have been restored and are now maintained.
3. We believe, however, that the time has now come for a considerable expansion of this programme and for some modification of policy. We conceive that, without neglecting the important material consideration of attracting the tourist, the principal object of the Board should be to instruct Canadians about their history through the emotional and imaginative appeal of associated objects. Factual information can be obtained in books; the function of the monument or marker is, we assume, to convey a sense of the reality of the past. We do not ignore the entertainment value; but we consider the enjoyment of national history to be a form of entertainment not sufficiently familiar to Canadians.
4. We believe that the marking of sites, important as it is, has received undue attention in relation to restoration and maintenance. Restoration of course is much more costly, but it is more informative and it offers its information in a much more striking fashion. Moreover, it may be urgent. The site of a battle, or of a treaty, or the location of the house of an eminent Canadian, if known, can be marked just as effectively now or in fifty years time; but if it is possible to determine the features of the site, or to preserve the actual house, the work as a rule must be done promptly or it can never be done. It seems to us important to consider whether
marking with the familiar stone cairn should not more frequently be the sequel to rather than a substitute for restoration.
5. The appearance of the markers, it seems to us, deserves attention. The stone cairn and bronze tablet are used throughout Canada. The cairns are characterized by a drab uniformity in unhappy variance with the excitement and colour of the events or persons commemorated. They have the melancholy of an old grave-yard without its charm. If the site is obliterated or the ancient structure gone, the time, the place, or the person commemorated should be symbolized, it seems to us, in a vivid and inspiring fashion. The markers must no doubt be of a uniform type; they would fulfil their purpose better if the texts were more legible and shorter. At present only the really earnest seekers after truth have the patience to read them to the end.
6. We believe, however, that the most urgent task at the moment is the preservation of sites, of which the historic features are being obliterated, and of buildings which are suffering destruction and damage daily through encroachment, neglect or fire; fire, of course, is a great hazard to the wooden structures so typical of our early history. Old buildings still survive in the Atlantic Provinces, in Quebec and in Ontario, but they are disappearing rapidly. They are comparatively rare in other provinces, but are more highly prized for that reason. In thinly settled regions of the country, certain places still have the history of the past written on the very surface of the land, but this history is threatened every day with obliteration. The preservation, not necessarily of all these buildings and sites, but of those regarded as of peculiar historical or architectural interest is an urgent matter.
We therefore recommend:
7. For this larger and more ambitious programme we believe that the National Parks Service will require the advice of an Historic Sites and
Monuments Board with a constitution, duties and powers different from those of the present Board. It has been suggested to us that there should be larger representation from the Central Provinces because of their size and their wealth of historical material; and that Canadian historical scholars should be included in the composition of the Board. Although the Board should continue to act as an advisory body and should not assume administrative responsibilities it should in its investigations, deliberations and recommendations enjoy a greater autonomy than in the past.
8. We believe that the changes which we propose would be advantageous, particularly if the work of the Board is to be more extensive. If greater emphasis is to be placed on the restoration and maintenance of historic sites, these must be identified and listed; decisions must be made on the division of responsibility between federal, provincial and municipal authorities; and a system of priorities should be established. Finally, a policy should be adopted to ensure a fair distribution of memorials, not only on a geographic, but on a topical basis. As we observed in Part I, most of the care in Canada has been given to the preservation of military monuments. The importance of the work done is not questioned, but the time has now come for a review of policy.
9. For these important duties we do not consider that the present composition of the Board is adequate; its members who are historical scholars must now do their work for it in whatever leisure time they have, often without secretarial assistance.
We therefore recommend:
10. It has been drawn to our attention that an important part of the problem of the preservation of historic sites and monuments involves the questions of ownership or custody. Many old buildings, especially though not exclusively historic dwelling-houses, are in private hands. These are constantly in danger of destruction or damage through accident or negligence.
11. Moreover, even many important historic buildings which are in the custody of the Federal Government are administered by various departments which may be indifferent to their historic significance or without funds or facilities to ensure their proper maintenance. The fine old fortifications at Kingston illustrate our present lack of a proper and well-ordered system. All of these are federal properties; but three of them (Fort Henry and the Cedar Island and Shoal Towers) are leased to the Province of Ontario. The fourth, Fort Frederick, is in the care of the
Department of National Defence and is suffering damage through neglect; the fifth, the Murney Tower, is a responsibility of the National Parks Service and is properly maintained. The Halifax Citadel, one of the great military monuments of Canada, the last view of the country to so many thousands of soldiers outward bound and the first landmark to those who returned, is in a semi-ruined state which brings discredit to the nation and which invites the derision of visitors from countries where national memorials are cherished. This Citadel, of great historic and architectural interest, could be completely and permanently restored for less than the cost of one small escort naval vessel. The famous Fortress of Quebec with its supporting fortifications, perhaps our greatest national monument, has recently been mutilated by the cession of two forts at Levis to the municipality. We record these facts as matters of concern to the nation, not as criticisms of the Department of National Defence which cannot reasonably be expected to assume, in addition to its normal responsibilities, the curatorship of historic monuments.
12. We consider that present practices in the care of national monuments in the custody of the Federal Government should be reviewed. They are not necessarily wrong in practice, as the admirable conditions at Fort Henry show; but this dispersed control and ill-defined responsibility is regrettable in principle.
We therefore recommend:
* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.