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Conservation of landscapes of historic and cultural value: the emergence of a movement.


Conservation of landscapes of cultural and historic value has emerged as an increasingly significant aspect of the understanding and management of the built environment over the past 25 years. Distinct patterns and trends are observable over this quarter century in which landscape has evolved from an obscure aspect of Canadian heritage to one now seen in many dimensions. Four identifiable approaches - reconstruction, restoration, conservation planning, and cultural landscapes-reflect differing philosophies in the treatment of landscapes. Each has made distinctive demands in terms of knowledge, technologies, and communication, and each has contributed through research, experimentation, and publications to better understanding of the historic landscapes of our country. These characteristic approaches to identification, protection, and management of past landscapes reflect changes in both Canadian society and the international conservation movement, to which Canadians have actively contributed and from which they have also learned. Given the aging of Canada's pioneers in historic landscape conservation and the transience of communications technologies in today's world, there is an urgent need to capture our experience in this field while we have among us those who were most influential in its early years. And we still know very little about the history of how Canadians have designed, evolved, and valued the land.

La question de la conservation du paysage historique et culturel est apparue il y a environ 25 ans dans le domaine de l'amenagement du cadre bati. Differents modeles et courants ont marque ce quart de siecle au cours duquel le paysage, parent pauvre du patrimoine canadien, est devenu l'objet d'un interet sans cesse grandissant. Le traitement du paysage se divise en quatre secteurs principaux: la reconstruction, la renovation, la planification de la conservation et le paysage faconne par l'homme. Ces domaines ayant tous des besoins specifiques, que ce soit sur le plan scientifique, technologique ou mediatique, chacun a contribue a sa facon, par la recherche, l'experimentation et la creation de publications, a une meilleure comprehension du paysage historique canadien. Une evolution se dessine a travers les differentes facons d'aborder l'identification, la protection et l'amenagement du paysage historique. On la remarque tant au sein de la societe canadienne que du mouvement ecologique international, mouvement auquel le Canada a pris une part active et duquel il a beaucoup appris. Les pionniers de la conservation du paysage historique au Canada ne sont plus jeunes... Nous devons nous empresser de consigner leurs temoignages pour profiter de leur experience avant qu'il ne soit trop tard. Il nous reste encore beaucoup a apprendre sur la facon dont les Canadiens, au cours de leur histoire, ont amenage et apprecie leur territoire.


landscape conservation, historic landscapes, cultural landscapes, historic preservation, conservation movement

Since the 1970s landscapes of historic and cultural value have blossomed forth as an increasingly significant aspect of the heritage of the built environment. Thirty years ago they played an obscure role in Canadian heritage - most often simply the hasty addition of landscape treatments to grounds adjacent to a building in the last stages of restoration. Today they are seen in many dimensions, often under the term "cultural landscapes". How did we get from there to here? This project is an evolving one exploring the evolution of the landscape conservation movement in Canada over the past 30 years. Especially given the aging of the pioneers in this field and the transience of today's communications technologies, it seems important that we capture now the knowledge, experience, and memories of those engaged in the beginnings of landscape conservation in Canada and that we identify the themes and context of their work. This paper focusses on key changes in philosophy in the conservation of landscapes of historic and cultural value. It touches on four approaches - reconstruction, restoration, conservation planning, and cultural landscapes - and on some of the forces that shaped their emergence.

When historic gardens, or historic landscapes, emerged as a conservation issue in the 1970s, they did so from an earlier perception of landscape as place - the place where historic events took place, such as battlefields transformed into urban parks like the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. These sites reflected the traditional lens of Canadian history in the bosom of European empires and the geographic determinism of the St. Lawrence River. The emergence of an architectural conservation movement in Canada in the 1960s coincided with a period of economic boom and a renaissance in nationalism focussed on the 1967 centenary of Canadian Confederation and the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. Governments were stimulated to invest in this conjuncture. Louisbourg, the French fortress reconstructed on Cape Breton Island with labour from the dormant coal mines; Upper Canada Village (Figure 1), an assembly of structures rescued from lands in Eastern Ontario which were flooded by construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway; and Place Royale, rebuilt in the Lower Town of Quebec (Faure, 1996), all reflected a philosophy of re-creating the past in physical form to celebrate pioneer settlement. They also epitomized the expanding roles of governments, the birth of professional conservation practice, and an attention to historical accuracy that stimulated public investment in research, craft techniques, and traditional technology. Landscape treatments focussed on street layouts and individual gardens. Research approaches included on-the-ground survey, inventory and archaeological investigation, archival research, comparative historical sources (O'Neill, 1983), and the collection of plant material to landscape the sites. The accepted approach, far outside the limits of anastylosis identified in the 1931 Athens Charter or the 1964 Venice Charter, reflected the educational objectives and contemporary standards of re-creating an historical sense of place. Available information, however limited, was applied to the design of gardens and public spaces. The option of leaving the spaces around and between structures open and undeveloped was not acceptable in a philosophy that favoured aesthetic value and achieved it by cosmetic treatment.

In the 1980s conservation landscape architects found increasing discomfort with approaches of reconstruction and cosmeticization as landscape treatments. Nevertheless, the complexities of intervention in the landscape generated considerable debate on what constituted reconstruction and what was legitimately restoration (Stewart, 1986; Fardin, 1993). A small inter-disciplinary group, well linked to the wider international landscape conservation community, was fortunate in having the opportunity to develop professional expertise in landscape conservation in Canada. It addressed itself to the preservation methodology predominant in North America at the time: restoration, the accurate returning of a place to its historic appearance in accordance with agreed upon standards and practices. Restoration of the W.R. Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site in Saskatchewan (Figure 2) epitomized the approach (Ellwand, 1983). While perfect replication of a past landscape might not be achievable, in line with prevalent thinking in architectural conservation, best practice was to achieve the most accurate representation possible. A good deal of investment went into research to provide the knowledge base required by this approach. Historical documentation-written, oral, iconographic-and analysis; archaeological investigation and predictive modelling; existing site inventory and analysis; and ecological studies were some of the research methods applied in landscape conservation projects. Scientific techniques such as aerial, infrared and rectified photography; remote sensing; archaeomagnetic and radiocarbon dating; dendrochronology; pollen analysis; and ecological transects provided more sophisticated knowledge bases for decision-making (Harvey and Buggey, 1988).

The restoration approach called for not only sophisticated analytical techniques but also a sound knowledge base about Canadian landscape history. The 1978 initiative, under the leadership of Peter Jacobs, to publish a history of landscape architecture in Canada, was visionary but clearly premature. Since then, Pleasance Crawford's research on landscape designers in Ontario has provided the most sustained work building towards the needed information base. Commercial publication in 1984 of Edwinna von Baeyer's Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930 reflected the continuing desire to explore the history of our ornamental gardening relationship to the land. As AAPQ's (Assocation des architectes paysagistes du Quebec) introduction to L'architecture de paysage au Quebec states:

"Le paysage quebecois, c'est nos racines. II est le reflet des gens qui ont bati le pays, celui de notre culture qui, bien que specifique, a subi de multiples influences exterieures. II porte les traces de I'histoire, car I'homme agit continuellement sur son milieu" (Association, 1990).

By the mid-1980s, Canadian professional interest in historic landscapes was spread across several disciplines and visibly country-wide (Figure 3), as demonstrated by the 35 individuals and 20 organizations/libraries listed in The Canadian Landscape and Garden History Directory (Crawford and Donaldson, 1984). Nevertheless, the establishment in 1979 of the Centre for Canadian Historical Horticultural Studies at the Royal Botanical Gardens Library with funds from the Dunington Grubb Foundation, and the launch of its journal Canadian Horticultural History in 1985, failed to achieve broad support either in publishable manuscripts or in subscriptions. CSLA's Landscape Architectural Review (1977-93) reached a wider audience. Although it published items on both landscape history - notably its series "Roots" - and landscape conservation, it was not essentially a vehicle for research in these fields. Canadians have continued to look to diverse national and interational journals such as The Journal of Garden History and Landscape and Urban Planning. While considerable research has subsequently been carried out for specific landscapes, policy developments, and historical purposes, there remains today no Canadian journal of landscape history and no authoritative history of landscape architecture or the land such as The Making of the American Landscape, edited by Michael P. Conzen (1994).

Canadian landscape conservation was by no means exclusively a homegrown product. As in architectural conservation, and indeed many other fields, landscape conservation was influenced particularly by American developments - through mutual partnerships and networks. In the early 1970s, when the Association for Preservation Technology was looked upon as the North American centre for exploratory publishing on issues related to preserving the built environment, John J. Stewart, then working for Parks Canada, developed APT's first substantial focus on landscape. Those with an interest also sought out an informal network through such U.S.-based organizations as the Society for Architectural Historians and the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Some Canadians took on leadership roles as directors, executive members, and editors. When the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation was established in 1978, Canadians were - and have continued to be - actively involved.

Canadians interested in landscape conservation also looked to England for expertise - including the National Trust's hands-on treatments in historic gardens, the Garden History Society's tradition of advocacy, and the conservation strategies of the Countryside Commission, the Society for the Protection of Rural England, and English Heritage. Canadians turned as well to France, particularly to the Annales School and the ecomuseum concept. Treatments of historic gardens in Germany and of public urban spaces in Spain became familiar through travel and publications. The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) meeting in Vancouver in 1981 brought some of these approaches and applications to other Canadian practitioners.

Restoration - with all its challenges - was an ideal for historic sites and museum landscapes in the 1980s. The conservation movement, however, also embraced a broad range of landscape types and the concept of historic districts (Figure 4), where economic activity and social use were combined with heritage value. Designated historic districts became widespread in the decade, as did Heritage Canada's Main Street program. Even though the nature and the management of historic areas raised many landscape issues, architectural conservation or rehabilitation remained the predominant treatment (Cuming and Fram, 1985; Buchik et al, n.d.). In the absence of a sound knowledge base about either the specific place or the general character of historic spaces, interventions often fell back to cosmetic or contemporary design choices. What did emerge was a planning process that began to merge conservation concerns with economic realities. While architects and planners dominated, some tools for managing landscape components took the form of design guidelines and tree protection guidelines (Harper, 1983). By the end of the 1980s, Heritage Landscapes in British Columbia, A Guide to their Identification, Documentation and Preservation had been produced by Douglas D. Paterson and Lisa J. Colby. This well organized and clearly articulated planning guide for landscapes of historic and cultural value was used far outside British Columbia. The need for better planning tools to protect landscapes remains.

The environmental movement, so dominant in the public agenda of the late 1980s, changed the way Canadians and landscape professionals looked at historic landscapes. The 1982 Florence Charter had added to conservation doctrine an internationally accepted articulation of the fundamentally organic nature of gardens and landscapes and the implications of this state for conservation practice (Figure 5). From the mid-1980s, proposed strategies for addressing environmental degradation and achieving sustainable development, set forth in the best-seller report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (1987), established the public mood. Pristine wilderness was most valued, and conservation action was dedicated to protection and restoration of natural processes and indigenous species. Historic landscapes, by contrast, were little valued. In the spread of the message of ecological integrity, some sites, like the Jekyllesque garden in Riding Mountain National Park, came, if only briefly, to be threatened as human invasions of nonindigenous species in natural environments. As Cecelia Paine's research into urban park treatments showed, scientific value, and sometimes aesthetic, contextual and social values - but not historic value - were considered by Ontario urban park managers in making decisions about naturalization. Little attention was paid to the impact on cultural heritage values (Paine, 1993; see also Domon et al, 1993). Additionally, however, the environmental lens brought new attention to the biophysical resources of historic landscapes and led to greater appreciation of their contribution to site significance and to their fuller integration in site treatments. Another result of the environmental focus of the late 1980s was to strengthen consolidation of landscape preservation as a field distinct from architectural conservation. By the time of the International Symposium on the Conservation of Urban Squares and Parks, organized jointly by the AAPQ and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Montreal in 1993, the interrelatedness of ecological issues with historic landscapes was well articulated by a number of speakers (AAPQ,Symposium, 1993).

By the late 1980s it was evident that accurate re-creation of landscapes of the past was not achievable by historical reproduction. The response, vested in the environmental agenda, was to use process, based on the ecological nature of the resource, to identify the landscape treatment. Value, in Canada as well as elsewhere, was measured by how free an area was of evidences of human activity. Since then, much re-thinking and redefining have taken place. To give but one example, Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia has been designated a National Historic Site because it is "a cultural landscape...which attests to 4000 years of Mi'kmaq occupancy...and includes petroglyph sites, fishing sites, hunting territories, travel routes, and burials..." (Canada, 1994). IUCN, the World Conservation Union, now acknowledges that human influence on the earth's surface has been pervasive and that some of the richest areas in terms of biodiversity, once considered as pristine nature, have been brought to that very wealth of species by human activity (McNeely, 1992, 1995).

A wider definition of the concept of heritage, a firmer respect for the diverse associative values of landscapes to different peoples, and an acceptance of still functional and evolving landscapes as heritage have added new dimensions to landscapes of historic and cultural value (Figure 6). The umbrella term under which much of this new direction is gathered is often "cultural landscapes". The World Heritage Convention's adoption in 1992 of a framework for cultural landscapes (von Droste et al, 1995) has influenced landscape conservation in Canada. Presentations, publications and government policies have coincided with an active move from primarily designed landscapes to a wider recognition of evolved and associative landscapes. Several provinces have carried out studies, developed policies, and built programs around cultural landscapes; Ontario and Nova Scotia have posted information on their websites.

In addition to widening international influences, Canadians continue to draw on American experience (Birnbaum and Wagner, 1994; Birnbaum with Peters, 1996) - particularly the impressive range of publications from the U.S. National Park Service and reviews such as The George Wright Forum and Landscape Journal. Following APT's move of its executive office from Ottawa to Virginia in 1988, Canadians involved in the heritage conservation movement, including landscapes, gradually shifted their network focus from APT to ICOMOS Canada, revitalizing the national committee. The Historic Gardens and Landscapes Committee, led for many years by Linda Dicaire, was invigorated by annual meetings, the newsletter Pollen (1988-91), and her close connection with the ICOMOS-IFLA International Committee on Historic Gardens and Sites.

The concept of cultural landscapes has been particularly helpful in addressing landscapes in the North, where the physical cultural remains are seen primarily in archaeological form, but where very influential heritage values lie in the intangible - especially Aboriginal - oral traditions that have long used creation myths and place names in the natural landscape to communicate travel routes, sacred places, and resource stocks from generation to generation of tribal members. Traditional environmental knowledge is now recognized in an increasing number of places to be as legitimate as Western science and technology. It lies at the heart of cultural identity of many Aboriginal people, whose stories and legends embody it (Johnson, 1992). Recent appreciation of the cultural constructs necessary to understanding its role in indigenous peoples' cultures has focussed attention on the cultural as much as the environmental significance of such knowledge.

Cultural landscapes have emerged in the conservation movement at a time when traditional government programs and funding have been cut back in all levels and when the established economic bases of communities are sometimes shifting radically. The interface between cultural landscapes and tourism is one that can be further explored to seek alternative developments. The community of La Beauce, Quebec and others like Cowichan-Chemainus Valleys, British Columbia, supported by Heritage Canada, adapted the ecomuseum concept to their economically declining heritage regions. In Quebec the building of common ground among various professions, all with an interest in landscape, is evident in the creation of Les Etats generaux du paysage quebecois and its Declaration commune sur les paysages quebecois. All of these pressures to adapt heritage to an economic perspective pose challenges to long-held values. The issue of historic and cultural value provokes some immediate questions: whose values? who determines the values that will be protected, communicated, and preserved? who decides what nature of conservation action is appropriate?

Over the past 30 years the conservation of landscapes of historic and cultural value has evolved in many directions. Historical knowledge has grown through research, publications, and explorations in site conservation. Identification has moved from gardens to cultural landscapes. Treatments have tested reconstruction, restoration, planning, and rehabilitation. The focus of activity has shifted from governments to communities. However, we still know very little overall about the development of our landscapes in Canada, historically and recently. We need to capture now existing knowledge and experience among our designers and stewards of the landscape.


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Author Biography

Former Director of Historical Services, Parks Canada, Susan Buggey is now Adjunct Professor, Ecole d'architecture de paysage, Universite de Montreal. Active in the Association for Preservation Technology and the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, she has contributed to research, evaluation, and writing on cultural landscapes for 25 years. She can be contacted at Ecole d'architecture de paysage, Universite de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H3C 3J7 (
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Author:Buggey, Susan
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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