Many municipalities are busily writing Statements of Significance (SoS) for their historic places. Listing Municipal Historic Resources and Provincial Historic Resources on the Alberta Register of Historic Places requires a SoS, but that’s hardly the best reason to write one. Statements of Significance are not online plaques, histories or even calls for help.
A properly written SoS explains why we value a particular historic place, linking these values to physical, character-defining elements that manifest those values. If you would like to see an example of a SoS just look at the entry for any Municipal Historic Resource or Provincial Historic Resource listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places, such as the SoS for the D.U. Ranchlands Cabin.
A Statement of Significance explains where a historic place is located (a quarter section in the M.D. of Pincher Creek), what you will find at the site (a one-room log cabin) and the reasons why the community feels the place is significant. A SoS does not describe a place’s history (such as who built it), it explains why the community values the place (as an example of an early 1900 homesteader’s cabin). A SoS relates these values to physical elements that must be conserved (wood log construction). Removing these character-defining elements would undermine the place’s significance; without these elements, the site would no longer be a historic place.
Without understanding historic places–why each is valued and how each exhibits its values–nobody can objectively determine how proposed alterations will affect a historic place. Many historic places have been scarred by well intentioned “repairs” that didn’t take into account why it was significant. A Statement of Significance may not be a call for help, but these documents do help in planning for and managing the effective conservation of historic places.
Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer