Preserving Orillia's History
Just outside of Kilarney, Ireland, our cottage was waiting for us. Nestled on a mountainside you could see the mountain range opening up into a beautiful plain: the Gap of Dunloe.
My brother and I felt as if we had been inadvertently written into a Lord of the Rings Novel, camping out in the Shire. So incredible the beauty that surrounded us: both natural and architectural.
As we ventured out of our cottage the next morning we came upon a path that took us through the gap. We encountered so much, an incredible viewscape featuring sheep that could put mountain climbers to shame, an old abandoned building that could have been from the Bronze Age and a crumbling stone fence that had probably been constructed by a farmer 300 years ago. We both joked, back in Canada these would have been monuments that people would have travelled to from far and wide. Instead, in Ireland, they were simply another part of the picturesque scenery.
We eventually continued to the town of Kilarney where there were other landmarks: an old castle, estate and even a vacated Abbey.
The experience was breathtaking and humbling and it got me thinking about something that had been on my mind in Canada; the importance of preservation; of maintaining architectural and natural elements of what we have now to ensure that we preserve our history for ourselves and future generations.
As a member of Municipal Heritage Committee for the city, I have become aware of the need to identify and celebrate our history here at home. Even though we might see our own landmarks as ordinary, that doesn’t mean they are not worth protecting. Our natural and architectural heritage is different from Ireland, but we have a lot to cherish all the same.
The province provides this committee with two major mechanisms for preserving Orillia’s cultural heritage. We can designate a building as a heritage property, meaning that the committee must sign off on changes to the exterior of the building when they are made.
Instead of an official designation, the committee can instead add a property to the properties of interest list. With this designation, the committee really only gets involved if a property is to be demolished.
While these powers are somewhat limited, it does provide an avenue to protect our town’s heritage.
However, one thing has really surprised me since joining the committee. Despite the number of incredible historical buildings in Orillia that are not protected, the committee often has trouble finding individuals in the community interested in pursuing a designation. So, I guess this is the opportunity to let everyone know, if you own a building in Orillia that you think celebrates our history in some way and want it to be protected for future generations to enjoy, you can email the Municipal Heritage Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com. To learn more about the buildings and properties designated you can also go to the Committee website: https://www.orillia.ca/en/city-hall/municipalheritagecommittee.aspx.
In protecting our history, we ensure that the next generations can appreciate what has been a part of our lives and ensure that the small town charm of Orillia always stays with us. If an Irish farmer from 300 years ago can somehow find a way to solidify his fence in the history books, surely, we can find a way to do the same.