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Heritage Conservation District (HCD) – A Case of Upper Doon Village District, Kitchener

Heritage Conservation District and their Purpose

Heritage Conservation District (HCD) has become an increasingly essential planning tool for use by authorities in guiding and managing change in cities, municipalities, and their neighborhoods. The HCD designation provides a place-based framework that seeks to promote conservation of socio-cultural and architectural history, and other heritage resources of prominent neighborhoods with a focus on various opportunities that can drive growth and change in those areas (Shipley, Jonas, & Kovacs, 2011). Therefore, the HCD designation and policies try to provide a systematic way of reviewing and implementing changes in historic neighborhoods while ensuring that their historical value is not lost. The establishment of HCD’s in some districts of Ontario, Canada, has faced some opposition from authorities and residents due to the existence of some myths and fallacies relating to the restriction of private property rights and deflation of property value. The Upper Doon district is one of the HCD designated under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. This study explores the establishment of the HCD, the cultural heritage value of Upper Doon District, goals and objectives for the HCD, restrictions and change management, and protection of properties in the district.

Location and Description of Upper Doon District

Upper Doon District is a HCD designation established in November 1988. The district lies in the Southeastern areas of Kitchener City and is renowned for its rich residential and rural fringe historic neighborhoods. On average, the district has over 93 properties that extend towards the Southeastern parts of Kitchener City. The Upper Doon District became the first HCD designation in the city established through the 88-77 Kitchener’s By-Law (Kovacs, Shipley, Snyder, & Stupart, 2008). However, other districts such as Civic Center Neighborhood, Victoria Park, and St. Mary’s area were established afterward to bolster the efforts towards heritage conservation in the city. The designation of the Upper Doon District targeted to promote the preservation of the rich historical value of the village, maintain the intrinsic value of the rural fringe, and ensure that any developments did not damage the charming ambiance of the town.

How the Municipality Established the Upper Doon HCD

The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) established the Upper Doon heritage conservation district to promote conservation of the environmental qualities and residential nature of the area. The Upper Doon district bears a rich cultural significance, which dates back to the early 1800s when the Mennonites used the village as a settlement area (Kovacs et al., 2008). Additionally, the district has a unique industrial heritage. Initially, several industries, including agricultural, sawmilling, and textile, were all found in the former village of Upper Doon. Therefore, the establishment of the HCD by the Ontario Municipal Board sought to promote residential growth while encouraging the protection and preservation of the rich agricultural and industrial past of the area. Unlike other heritage conservation districts, the Ontario Municipal Board did not focus mainly on the conservation of the architectural value of the village or the number of buildings and properties in the built heritage. Instead, the municipality focused more on the preservation of randomly clustered buildings in the region and natural environments dominated by trees and water resources. The city saw a unique opportunity in planning the “unplanned quality” of the district by providing an ambient blend of natural resources and historic and new buildings.

Cultural Heritage Value of Upper Doon District

The cultural heritage value of the Upper Doon district hinges on the heritage landscapes that dominate the Southeastern regions of Kitchener city. Therefore, the conservation efforts target historical places in the former Upper Doon village and the natural environment that include treescapes and water resources in the neighborhoods. Establishing a blend of historical areas, built heritage, and natural environment can provide a better understanding of how people, places, and events in the former village shape the dynamics of the present-day city. One of the most important heritage landscape in the district reminds about the industrial past of the former village. For example, the existence of various industries in the district retells about the arrival of first railway lines in the city in the early 1850s. Other heritage landscapes remind of the historic residential character of different neighborhoods in the district. Some of these neighborhoods came into existence before the emergence of the First World War. Other neighborhoods were constructed after the First World War, while others were built in the post-Second World War period. Other cultural heritage landscapes in the district include cemeteries that date back to the 19th and early 20th century, pioneer farmsteads, institutions, and residential buildings.

Many people in the district have developed a strong attachment to the built heritage, including historic and modern buildings, as well as the shared history of the Upper Doon community. Therefore, the conservation of the community’s cultural heritage is considered necessary in reinforcing a sense of identity and belonging, providing quality living environments, and helping people build meaning about their lives. Attaching value to the cultural heritage of a given community can go a long way in generating socio-economic advantages for community members and promoting the establishment of economically thriving neighborhoods (Shipley & Snyder, 2013).  

Municipality’s Goals and Objectives for Upper Doon Heritage Conservation District

The designation process adopted by the Ontario Municipal Board for Upper Doon HCD was driven by three different but interrelated objectives. These included aesthetic objectives, economic objectives, and social objectives. The aesthetic objectives involved an increased focus on the preservation of the historic rural character and the protection of the visible heritage of the former Upper Doon village. The economic objectives, on the other hand, sought to limit the utilization of various resources in the district for non-residential purposes. Overall, this would facilitate the growth and expansion of the Upper Doon district into a residential community (Kovacs et al., 2008). The social objectives encompassed various efforts by the municipality to maintain the original atmosphere and neighborhood quality of the former village. The primary goal of the municipality for Upper Doon HCD emphasized the conservation of the built heritage and the preservation of the natural environment. However, just like in other heritage conservation districts, the municipality underscored that the conservation efforts did not seek to transform the former village into a museum-like community. Instead, the municipality intended to retain the previous village-like character of the new Upper Doon district.

Restrictions/Processes to follow while Repairing, Altering, or Demolishing Properties in Upper Doon District

The designation of Upper Doon as a heritage conservation district has attracted some opposition from the residents due to the restriction of the right to make changes, alter, or destroy private property. The Ontario Municipal Board has provided guidelines that advise on how to perform repairs, renovations, and construction of new structures in the district. Individuals who own historic buildings in the area are required to renovate their structures per the guidelines provided in the Upper Doon heritage conservation plan. On the other hand, those who own newer buildings in the district are required to alter the appearance of their structures to complement the character of other buildings in the neighborhood.

Since the designation of Upper Doon as a HCD was approved in 1988, the municipal board has received many applications by homeowners for building alterations and renovations. The HCD planners perform thorough reviews on requests made by homeowners for building repair, alteration, or destruction before they can get approval to alter their structures. The time for approval for applications can vary from one week to 24 weeks, depending on the amount of time required to review a particular application for building renovation or alteration (Kovacs et al., 2008). On average, many applications for property renovation and alteration take a maximum of three weeks for review and approval in Upper Doon HCD. Irrespective of the time taken to acquire approval for property renovation or modification, the majority of residents who lived in the district before its designation feel that the decision by Kitchener City to make Upper Doon a HCD may help in the preservation of the cultural heritage of the former village. However, some residents feel that the process involved in the designation of Upper Doon into a HCD is unsolicited, and this has attracted some opposition.

How Heritage Protected Properties may Impact my Discipline in Architecture and Transportation Engineering

The continued protection of heritage property in such cities as Kitchener may have significant implications on architectural planning and the establishment of transportation infrastructures. The requirement for project application and review with the city’s HCD may lead to delays in the planning and design phases as well as in the execution phases. The construction of new structures in heritage-protected cities must conform to the guidelines provided by the HCDs. This implies that architectures have limited flexibility in creating new project designs and must follow the established policies, practices, and procedures while constructing new projects in the cities. For example, while coming up with modern architectural designs for buildings and transportation infrastructure like roads, architectures must ensure that the resulting structures do not result to the alteration of the homogeneity of the landscape or existing structures to maintain the historical, anthropological, aesthetic, and ethnological value that existed before their construction (Perovic, 2015). For example, the construction of a residential building, which results in the destruction of the natural environment, may not obtain approval from the city’s HCD board.


Kovacs, J. F., Shipley, R., Snyder, M., & Stupart, C. (2008). Do heritage conservation districts work? The case of Kitchener’s Upper Doon district. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 17(2), 125-141.

Perovic, M. (2015). Overcoming the challenges of building heritage projects: improvements to time, scope, and cost performance (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology).

Shipley, R., Jonas, K., & Kovacs, J. F. (2011). Heritage conservation districts: work evidence from the province of Ontario, Canada. Urban Affairs Review, 47(5), 611-641.

Shipley, R., & Snyder, M. (2013). The role of heritage conservation districts in achieving community economic development goals. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19(3), 304-321.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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