Designating a Property

Cultural heritage is what we value from the past and want to preserve for the future. Identifying and protecting places of cultural heritage value is how a community maintains its unique identity.

Heritage designation:

  • recognizes the importance of a property
  • protects the property’s cultural heritage value
  • encourages good stewardship and conservation
  • promotes knowledge and understanding about the property

The designation is not limited to buildings or structures. It can include groups of buildings, cemeteries, natural features, cultural landscapes or features, ruins, archaeological and marine sites, or areas of archaeological potential.

The six steps to designating an individual property in the Ontario Heritage Act include:

  1. Identifying the property as a candidate for designation
  2. Researching and evaluating the property
  3. Serving a notice of intention to designate, with an opportunity for objection
  4. Passing and registering the designation
  5. Listing the property on the municipal register
  6. Listing the property on the provincial register

The Ontario Heritage Act allows undesignated property with cultural heritage value to be listed on the municipal register. Many of these properties are eventually recommended for designation.

The property owner is a central figure in the designation process and should be contacted as early as possible. When they understand the process, owners are often interested in designation to express pride in their property and ensure its protection.

Under Section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act, the notice to the owner and the Ontario Heritage Trust must include:

➢ Description of the property

  • Describe the general character, location, and principal features for the designation.

➢ Statement of cultural heritage value
Identify the property’s heritage significance in:

  • Design or physical value, meaning the property is an example of a style, type, expression, material, or construction method; displays craftsmanship or artistic merit; demonstrates a significant technical or scientific achievement.
  • Historical or associative value, meaning the property is associated with a theme, event, belief, person, activity, or organization; yields information about a community or culture; reflects the work or ideas of an individual significant to a community.

➢ Description of heritage attributes
Describe the property’s attributes that must be conserved to retain its cultural heritage value. These attributes include:

  • style, scale, or composition
  • property features related to its design
  • historical associations
  • interior or exterior layouts
  • materials and craftsmanship
  • a relationship to its broader setting

➢ Legal description

Property owners and municipalities understand that caring for heritage attributes protects a site’s heritage value. Heritage value is lost if a property noted for its architectural design is substantially changed.

Making alterations to designated properties
Download a Heritage Alteration application and contact city staff.

When alterations to a designated property are proposed, the statement of cultural heritage value and the description of heritage attributes guide future alterations by identifying what should be protected.

An owner of a designated property wishing to make alterations affecting the heritage attributes must obtain written consent from council. This applies to modifications of physical structures and natural landscape features.

Preventing demolition
Under the Ontario Heritage Act, council has the power to prevent the demolition of a building or structure on a designated property. However, if the property owner wishes to demolish a structure, they must get written consent from council. Sections 34, 34.1, and 34.3 of the Ontario Heritage Act describe the process.

Municipal staff and heritage committees work with property owners to create conservation plans for heritage properties. Many municipalities offer financial incentives and tax relief programs to help property owners with conservation and maintenance.

The province shares in the cost of these programs by funding the education portion of the property tax relief. For more information, please refer to the Ministry of Culture’s publication at

Provincial and federal grants also exist to help with individual capital projects.