Is Burlington going to see historical plaques around the city that will tell our story? Rick Wilson certainly hopes so.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  October 21, 2012  Burlington could begin to see commemorative plaques all over the place.

Heritage Burlington, the city’s advisory committee on heritage matters, has had a request that it look into a plaque to recognize the people who originally owned the property that is now Sherwood Park.

Rick Wilson, a member of the Heritage Advisory committee has been wanting a plaque in Burlington that tells the story about the Burlington Races, a name used to tell part of the War of 1812 story. Wilson believes there is ample evidence to show that events took place right off the shores of this city in 1813 that were pivotal to the outcome of the War of 1812.

Rick Wilson, a member of the Heritage Burlington Advisory Committee, points out what he believes is a glaring error on a historical plaque, located in Hamilton overlooking Burlington Bay. Wilson hopes there can eventually be a plaque in Burlington correcting the error.

There is a plaque over in Hamilton that Wilson claims is just completely wrong but he hasn’t been able to get that plaque changed.  Those plaques we see in parks and other public places are put up by both the federal and provincial governments.  The one that Wilson claims is wrong was put up by the province.  Wilson claims Jane McKenna, Burlington’s MPP is just “blowing me away” and that Mike Wallace, our MP has tried to get something done but the sign is a provincial jurisdiction and there is nothing he could do.  Wallace was able to get Wilson into the Fort York event in Toronto last summer at which the Prince of Wales was the feature attraction.  Wilson is eternally grateful; that’s another Wallace forever vote.

Councillor Meed Ward suggested to the advisory committee that they pull together all the documentation they have and send it to the appropriate people within the provincial government; “if you make your case clearly enough you will be heard” was Meed Ward’s advice.  Heritage Burlington just might take this one on.  Turns out Jim Clemens, chair of the Advisory Committee has a strong contact within the arm of the provincial government that over sees the erection of those plaques all over the province.

Burlington has a very strong waterfront history but we aren’t particularly good at telling our story.  That might be part of the difficulty behind all the problems we have with wanting to highlight our local history.  One is very hard pressed to find any reference to the canning factory that was once the biggest commercial operation in the city.  It was located on the property that now houses the Waterfront Hotel.

We have a Historical Society that does a good job of collecting data on our history; but we don’t do a very good job of getting those stories out of the archives and in front of today’s public.

The city does have a system for listing any property that has even a hint of historical significance and that really upsets many people. A property along Lakeshore Road owned by the Morrison’s was said to have historical significance, which the Morrison’s claim is totally bogus, and they want their house taken off any list the city has.

There are lists, some of them are of little use, but there are other lists that are vital if Burlington is to have any hope of maintaining some of  the historical properties.

The Navy Memorial on the Waterfront is close to the best piece of historical recognition in the city.  It is a truly remarkable statue that pays tribute to the merchant marine and naval activity in WW II. This memorial was created by community groups and put up in a city that really doesn’t have a marine or naval tradition.  It does however go to show that there is a deep interest in telling our story.  Wilson is pointing to a part of Burlington Bay where he believes the Burlington Races probably took place.

One of the problems is that in this city the real estate community has convinced the public that any kind of a historical reference to a piece of property lessens the value of the property.  In other cities a historical reference adds significant value to a property.  There is still a lot of educating to be done in this city.  While there is some leadership on this at city council there is none from the real estate community.  Their bread and butter comes from the sale of homes – and homes with a demonstrable historical significance are more valuable in many cities – look at Niagara-on-the-Lake if you want an example.

This designating of property for historical purposes has been a very contentious issue in Burlington for some time. It has torn different communities apart and created much ill will between otherwise very decent people.

The Advisory committee has been given the task of changing the approach taken to how we recognize what is and what isn’t historical – it is not going to be an easy task.

 

 

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