Planning Studies & Initiatives

Frequently Asked Questions

Toronto is an exciting modern city because it is very much in touch with its past. Houses, buildings and neighbourhoods built more than a century ago are an integral part of our urban fabric. As you wander around the city, shop on the world's longest street, go for a walk in a park or visit a theatre or museum, the built evidence of our past enriches our quality of life.

Heritage Preservation Services plays an important role in preserving Toronto's past and can provide you with the information you need if you are restoring or planning to restore an historic building. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about Heritage Preservation Services.

Question What is Heritage Preservation Services?
Answer Heritage Preservation Services (HPS) is part of the City Planning Division. It is the professional focal point for the community and property owners on the conservation of the City's historic resources.

Heritage Preservation Services advises the Toronto Preservation Board and City Council on matters relating to the Ontario Heritage Act; identifying buildings, structures, places and districts of cultural heritage value or interest; reviewing and advising on development proposals which affect heritage resources; monitoring the maintenance of heritage sites; developing heritage policies; administering financial assistance programs and providing educational services.

The City of Toronto deems heritage conservation to be a priority in the development of the City. The City of Toronto Official Plan expresses City Council's policy of protecting and enhancing heritage properties and districts within its jurisdiction.

Question What makes an individual property important?
Answer A building, structure or site may be considered important for a variety of reasons. It may have architectural value or it may relate to a significant person, an important event in the history of the city or a critical time in the development of one of its neighbourhoods. A building may be well crafted or represent a characteristic of the community. A building does not have to be "old" to be an important heritage property. Many modern buildings and structures such as Roy Thomson Hall and the CN Tower are significant parts of our heritage and are symbols of our city. Nor does a property have to be a grand public building - small cottages, warehouses, industrial structures and bridges are also valuable legacies of the past and deserve to be protected and preserved.

Question What is the City of Toronto's Heritage Register?
Answer Heritage Properties are recorded in the City of Toronto's Heritage Register (previously known as the Inventory of Heritage Properties), which indicates that Heritage Preservation Services will be involved when applications for municipal permits or approvals are made. This Register lists some 9,000 properties in the City of Toronto, approximately 4,500 of which are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Heritage Preservation Services recommends to City Council the properties that should be included on the Register. The recommendations are based on provincial criteria that relate to a property's cultural heritage value.
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Question How does designation differ from listing?
Answer Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are different. "Listing" a property on the Heritage Register allows Heritage Preservation Services to review development and building applications affecting those properties. It also requires the owner to give the City 60 days notice of his or her intention to demolish the property. "Designation" confers a legal status on a property by a specific city by-law under the Ontario Heritage Act and gives City Council the legal authority to refuse an application that will adversely affect the property's heritage attributes. Designation may fall under one of two categories under the Ontario Heritage Act: Part IV (individual property designation) or Part V (Heritage Conservation District designation).

Question What is a Heritage Conservation District?
Answer The Ontario Heritage Act enables a municipality to designate the whole or any part of an area as a heritage conservation district. This allows City Council to administer guidelines designed to protect and enhance the special character of groups of properties in an area as redevelopment proceeds. The character is established by the overall heritage quality of buildings, streets and open spaces as seen together. Existing Heritage Conservation Districts include Rosedale, Cabbagetown, Harbord Village and the Union Station Area.

Question How is a Heritage Conservation District Designated?
Answer Council may identify an area within the municipality as an area to be examined for designation as a Heritage Conservation District, often in response to local neighbourhood initiatives.

The Ontario Heritage Act requires a study of the area, which provides background to the historical, architectural and character-defining features that make the area special. Design guidelines are also developed for the proposed area. Extensive consultation takes place with the community. After the study is completed and consultation with the Toronto Preservation Board has occurred, City Council may pass a by-law that establishes the Heritage Conservation District and implements the District Plan.

Question What is a Heritage Easement Agreement?
Answer A Heritage Easement Agreement is another tool used to ensure a building's preservation. It is an agreement that is entered into between the property owner and the City and registered on title. A Heritage Easement Agreement identifies elements of a building which are to be retained in perpetuity and may also set out permitted alterations and development.

Question How are heritage properties identified?
Answer Properties come to the attention of staff in a number of ways. We have a program of ongoing city surveys to ensure that the Inventory of Heritage Properties is as comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date as possible. In addition, members of the public may request that a property be examined and considered for inclusion in the Register. When staff recommends a property's inclusion in the Register, property owners are usually notified and invited to attend the Toronto Preservation Board and Community Council meetings to discuss the matter.

Question What is the process for listing and designation?
Answer The process includes two meetings where property owner and public input is invited. The first opportunity is at the monthly meeting of the Toronto Preservation Board. Here, a staff research report is reviewed and any member of the public may comment. The Board's recommendations are submitted to the Community Council and then on to City Council. Anyone may speak to the matter when it is being considered by the Community Council. City Council makes the final decision.

Question Does listing or designation affect the interior of my property?
Answer Listing or designation will only affect those features, interior or exterior, that are considered to be of special heritage interest. When interiors are listed or designated, they are usually publicly accessible spaces such as the significant interior of a church or a head office entrance hall.

Question Do I need a permit?
Answer As with any property, a permit from the City is required if you intend to construct a new building, make structural alterations or additions, or change your signage. Heritage Preservation Services staff review and authorize building permit and development applications affecting heritage properties. It is recommended that you consult with HPS prior to making an application.

Question Does listing or designation put restrictions on what I do with my property?
Answer Heritage Preservation Services encourages the preservation of a property's heritage character and acknowledges the need to keep the building efficient and viable. Routine maintenance, minor alterations which do not affect the building's heritage character or changes that fall within the Heritage Conservation District guidelines are routinely approved. Proposals that have a major impact on the building's heritage attributes, that do not follow the guidelines for a Heritage Conservation District or involve demolition, require approval by City Council.

Question Does listing or designation alter my right to sell my property?
Answer Listing or designation will not interfere with the rights to buy or sell property. If a property is designated or located within a Heritage Conservation District, that information will be registered on title to the property.

Question Does listing or designation affect the way I use my property?
Answer Building use must comply with applicable zoning. Although HPS does not comment on use, approval might be required if physical changes are proposed to the building to adapt it to a new use.

Question May I demolish a listed or designated property?
Answer Heritage Preservation Services is committed to the preservation of entire buildings and will encourage retention and reuse. Listed property owners must advise Heritage Preservation Services, in writing, of their intention to demolish 60 days prior to applying for a demolition permit. Designated property owners must submit an application to demolish, available from Heritage Preservation Services, for City Council's approval.

Question Are heritage grants available?
Answer The Toronto Heritage Grant Program encourages the conservation of properties designated under Part IV or V of the Ontario Heritage Act in the City of Toronto through matching grant funding of up to 50% of the estimated cost of eligible heritage conservation work. Details about eligibility requirements, the application process and public workshops are available on our website.

Question What is the Tax Rebate Program?
Answer The City of Toronto's Heritage Property Tax Rebate Program provides eligible heritage property owners with a 40% rebate on their municipal and educational property taxes for the eligible heritage portions of their property. To be eligible for this program, properties must be designated under Part IV or V of the Ontario Heritage Act and subject to a Heritage Easement Agreement (as of September 30, 2006).