Grassroots heritage: The stewards of New Edinburgh

The Bell House at 151 Stanley Street, New Edinburgh (Photo courtesy of Joan Mason)

Photo: The Bell House at 151 Stanley Street, New Edinburgh (Photo courtesy of Joan Mason)


Joan Mason

Buildings and architecture, Community, Tools for conservation

Published Date: May 10, 2013

Located in the City of Ottawa at the confluence of the Rideau and Ottawa rivers is the historical community of New Edinburgh. With its roots going back to 1834, it is arguably Canada’s oldest planned community. And, since 2001, it has been a designated heritage conservation district (HCD).

The design of New Edinburgh was influenced by the 18th-century mill town of New Lanark in the United Kingdom. While the woollen and lumber mills that once dominated the area (due to the power generated by the Rideau Falls) have long since been demolished, the homes of the mill workers and owners remain as a distinct community.

The district has 391 properties, many of which date from the Victorian era. Unlike other areas in and around Ottawa, New Edinburgh boasts alleys and quiet lanes with backyard gardens – part of its unique character. These same features are under tremendous pressure from intensification, lot creation and infill development. With a district plan that predates the 2005 changes to the Ontario Heritage Act, we realize that an update of our plan is long overdue.

The New Edinburgh Community Alliance is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that advocates for the preservation, protection and promotion of the buildings, community and stories of the New Edinburgh HCD. The Alliance’s Heritage and Development Committee is consulted by city staff, property owners and developers regarding potential alterations and infill in the district.

Preserving New Edinburgh is more than bricks, mortar, applications and permits. The Alliance has a well established walking tour and we are actively undertaking new research into the fascinating history of the district. The Alliance believes that HCDs are important hubs for tourism and we are taking steps to promote the New Edinburgh HDC as a local attraction. The Alliance publishes and delivers the New Edinburgh News five times per year to everyone in the district. We are also preserving the stories of the district’s people, events and themes with the assistance of the online tools provided by the Heritage Resources Centre at the University of Waterloo.

The well known preservation journal and television series This Old House recently declared New Edinburgh one of the best places to buy a heritage house. The residents take great pride in such accolades and we are extremely protective of our neighbourhood. HCDs are like communes. The people who buy properties in them agree to play by the rules and abide by the architectural manners of the neighbourhood for the benefit of current and future generations. It is important for everyone to understand that the care and cost of our shared heritage is borne by individual owners who act as stewards for the benefit of the general public.