Valuing Local Heritage Resources

Summary of a paper prepared by Shiloh Durkee for the Professional Specialization Certificate in Heritage Conservation Planning, University of Victoria, 2011

This course began with an exploration of historical, aesthetic, social and scientific values "that establish the character-defining elements of historic resources, including buildings, structures, historic districts, and cultural landscapes." Different methods of inventory and evaluation were identified along with their roles in guiding subsequent historic preservation decision-making.

The concept of "values" underlined every article we read, every discussion we had and every paper we wrote. What is "value"? What historic resources are valued by society and why? Asking those questions and using the answers to inform decision-making are helping create a paradigm shift at local, regional, and international levels by moving the concept "value" beyond just the market place and realizing that there is (or should be) a multiplicity of values guiding each decision.

Another important transformation taking place in heritage conservation is the shifting of decision-making from experts into the hands of the community. This is very important as it allows for organizations and the community to become creators of value in their own right and not just be told what is valuable (or what isn"t). What an opportunity! And speaking of opportunity, Nanaimo and the surrounding area have a one-of-a kind heritage resource right in their midst - the Morden Mine Colliery Park. In keeping with the literature put forth in Friends of Morden Mine"s Site Plan, the following values are recognizable in FOMM's assessments.

  1. Historical value. Morden Mine is a tangible link to an industrial past that fundamentally shaped the social, cultural and economic landscape of the region. The site stands as a testament to new design techniques, construction methods, and technological ingenuity of that time. Today its values in the community may have "cooled," in other words its value more for "what was" not "what could be."

    In its current state, Morden Mine (and the surrounding park) is an incomplete picture of our collective memory. There is no absence of historical documentation regarding this site, yet Friends of Morden Mine will find themselves in the position of how to define, interpret and present its history as their Site Plan progresses beyond the initial stabilizing stage. Their Site Plan provides an excellent example of embracing a value-based approach to managing the site.

  2. Aesthetic value. Regardless of whether one views it as an eyesore or a historical treasure, there is certainly a case to be made for the visual interest of imposing structures such as Morden"s headframe and tipple remains. The park also has its own natural environmental remains. The park also has its own natural environment aesthetics that appeal to many recreationalists.

  3. Scientific value. The physical structure is a survivor from an era of the coal mining days when there were mines in the area with the same design, though differing in building materials and construction. This is a key as it contributes greatly to its overall authenticity.

  4. Social/cultural value. These require further contemplation than the others as they encompass many layers of shifting values over a near century. Through public consultation and door-to-door inquiry by members of FOMM, many of the public recommendations outlined in the Site Plan focus on the importance of historical interpretation, including the cultural history of immigrant miners and the social culture of the time, as an important part of Morden"s redevelopment.

This indicates that the public wants the site to be represented as one that fostered a shared sense of collective memory, in this case, the preservation of authentic and rare coal mining remains that have the ability to represent one part of our national identity (i.e. the coal industry helping to fuel the railroad building mania at time of Confederation) and to foster social cohesion and meaningful connection in local context (a community gathering site, sustainable tourism, etc.)

Because of this and FOMM"s willingness to solicit multiple viewpoints, there exists a chance to expand upon the usual bias in cultural preservation that "assigns value to economic growth and prosperity,"focusing only on a site"s industrial past and economic value to an area, while leaving out multiple histories that also contributed to its importance and in a contemporary framework , assigning value only to historic resources deemed important by the experts.

The opportunity to create (or add) more levels of significance to a historic resource is one not to be missed. In other words: Morden has the ability to move beyond fixed social and cultural biases and start to fill in the "gaps" that are missing from Nanaimo"s history. The motivation is there to protect and preserve what is left of Morden Mine and the Park and to create a lasting monument to Nanaimo and area"s coal mining history (and all the multiple histories that come with it).

The City, thus far, is lacking a true defining monument to our industrial past, which fundamentally shaped our contemporary local society. The Friends of Morden Mine and their stakeholders appear to be on the right path to a good value-based approach to preservation and interpretation, indicating that the site may, after all, survive for current and future generations.