How Significant Is Heritage?


Organized by Oak Bay Heritage, I attended a workshop on understanding and writing Statements of Significance (SOS), conducted by heritage consultant Alastair Kerr.  As Council Liaison to OB’s Heritage and Culture, I found the session informative and educational and was pleased that many OB Heritage Foundation and Commission members participated, along with municipal staff Roy Thomassen and Loranne Hilton, and interested members of the public.

Mr. Kerr’s approach stressed the importance of linking heritage to community values, something that our Commission is doing through preparation of their new Heritage Plan.  A heritage value is defined as “aesthetic, historic, scientific, educational, cultural, social and spiritual.”  What a heritage or historic value means to a community is reflected in its “buildings, structures, building groups, districts, cultural landscapes and archaeological sites.”

Statements of Significance, statements that are attached to registered or designated places, are comprised of three key elements:

  • describes WHAT is included;
  • defines WHY the place has heritage value; and,
  • describes HOW the heritage value is physically and spatially embodied in the place.

Character defining elements include:

  • materials;
  • forms;
  • location;
  • spatial configuration;
  • uses; and,
  • cultural associations or meanings.

Together, these “comprise the hertiage value of the historic place, and which must be retained in order to preserve its heritage value.”

Mr. Kerr concluded by pointing out the role of Statements of Significance in “guiding conservation planning and subsequent interventions, management or conservation plans.”

Writing a Statement of Significance is no easy feat, as many of us learned during the workshop.  It requires specific skill and an ability to appreciate and understand community values as they relate to all heritage and historical aspects of a significant place.

To learn more, be sure to visit or drop into Oak Bay’s Archives located in the basement of Oak Bay Municipal Hall.