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Keeping history in good shape

Posted on February 19, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Any home owner knows the importance of home maintenance. Failure to tend to periodic, if not regular, upkeep will leave a house looking rundown, and could, over time, lead to the need for more costly repairs.

It’s not much different with heritage structures within our national parks. Unfortunately, many of the old forts, historical houses and other pieces of Canada’s history are in bad shape, according to an independent consultant’s review.

A Canadian Press story in Wednesday’s Herald indicated that Opus International Consultants Ltd. estimated 61 per cent of some 2,000 historical structures to be in poor or very poor condition. That figure is higher than the 47 per cent found by Parks Canada’s own inventory review in 2012. That earlier review estimated $2.9 billion worth of deferred repairs, most for so-called high-risk assets such as waterways, highways and bridges. But the Opus review found those were actually in better shape than Parks Canada had judged them to be.

However, the consultant said that irreplaceable cultural assets were the most neglected, with close to two-thirds of them in need of an estimated $230 million in repairs and maintenance work.

Tuesday’s federal budget has tabbed $392 million over five years for highways, bridges and dams under Parks Canada’s jurisdiction, but it doesn’t include extra funding for repairs to cultural assets.

Parks Canada has been taken to task in recent years over the handling of its physical assets, from historic canals and archeological sites to campgrounds and visitor centres. But it’s important to keep in mind the agency’s pursestrings have been tightened during that time, too. Parks Canada already took a $29-million funding cut in 2012 and will likely be hard-pressed to scrape together the money needed for the maintenance and repair work on these historical structures.

The Historic Resources Branch of Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism notes on its website: “Heritage tourism is often rooted by historic buildings. These powerful, tangible connections to our past are the ways in which people today come in touch with the past.”

The context was the preservation of heritage buildings as a part of urban revitalization efforts, but the same argument can be made for historical structures in our national parks.

Some of these pieces of our country’s heritage are indeed irreplaceable. If they’re not looked after, we will lose them.

Whether the problem is Parks Canada’s management of these assets or the lack of funding to properly maintain them, it will be a shame if some of these treasures are lost.

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