Downtown Trenton, Ont. is pictured with the old post office clock tower (centre-right) on Oct. 25, 2023. The clock tower was constructed in 1888. Photo credit: TJ Sider

Algonquin College is launching a new degree program with a focus on heritage conservation techniques in both theory and practice at the Perth campus, a credential that is unique in Canada.

The new program, a Bachelor of Applied Science with a Heritage Conservation focus, will kick off in the fall 2024 semester. The degree program is distinct as it focuses on the theoretical aspects of heritage conservation which includes the planning of conservation districts in municipalities, navigating legislation surrounding heritage preservation and consulting with various stakeholders on projects. It also focuses on fighting climate change and sustainability practices through preventing the demolition of heritage buildings.

Darren Taubman has been developing the new program for years. Taubman said students have told him that they want more comprehensive knowledge in the field that the diploma program doesn’t cover.

“This is going back at least 10 years,” Taubman said. “There was a change in the construction environment.”

Taubman mentioned the ongoing restoration work underway in Ottawa’s Parliamentary Precinct and recently approved plans by the City of Ottawa to restore the 127-year-old Somerset House as examples of increased demand for heritage conservation skills.

“All these sorts of elements pop up all of the sudden and it’s like hey, this heritage stuff is pretty important,” Taubman said. “(Companies) are always coming to us for students. They’ve all said the same thing: ‘We need more graduates. We need skilled tradespeople who are focused on the heritage aspect.'”

Consulting requires analysis of the historical significance, physical conditions and sustainability factors of heritage projects. Canada’s aging infrastructure is creating unique problems that can be difficult for architects to manage. Post-secondary programs often lack the heritage conservation expertise desired in the field.

Elana Zysblat works as a heritage consultant for Ance Building Services in Vancouver. Zysblat noted the various issues arising in Canada and the role heritage professionals can play in tackling them.

“There are major societal changes that are happening,” Zysblat said. “Our standards and guidelines don’t address the reality on the ground of what we are dealing with, which is very quickly shifting policies on climate resilience, energy efficiency and the need to address the housing crisis. As a heritage professional, we are actually very well positioned to address these crises and be at the table and propose very robust solutions but that’s not how our field is perceived.”

According to Taubman, there are many transfer options in place for students who have completed diploma programs in the trades. While the transition to the program will be easier for students who completed the heritage carpentry and joinery program in recent years, there are still transfer opportunities available for past graduates.

“It may not be as clean of an entry of somebody who has just graduated in the last couple years,” Taubman said. “We’ll find a way to work it through. So rather than being two years, it might take them three years.”

Braeden Suggitt is a second-year student in the heritage carpentry program who is considering taking the degree program in the future.

“There’s a lot more to learn than just simply building techniques in old buildings,” Suggitt said. “You learn all of your general construction and it sets you up that you could walk onto a job site and have a job pretty much anywhere. You wouldn’t necessarily be doing all the heritage stuff, but you could walk onto just about any site and be a framer or be an assistant carpenter or whatever and it sets you up really well for that.”

The Perth campus is known within the heritage conservation space as a leader in this specialized field. In fact, it is only one of a handful of programs in Canada,

including the existing heritage carpentry and joinery diploma program at the Perth campus, which has a specific focus on heritage conservation.

The heritage conservation degree program is now accepting applications for the fall 2024 semester. Students can learn more and apply here.