Heritage and conservation go hand in hand in most parts of the world. Such is not the case, unfortunately, in many of our communities. It seems that one cannot even use heritage and appreciation in the same sentence without causing alarm.

This disregard for local heritage was never more evident than at Champlain Township’s most recent regular meeting in June. Recall that it was not that long ago that needed work on Champlain Township’s library building was almost nixed. For a while, there was a strong undercurrent of there being no value to restoring a heritage building (owned by the township_ in the middle of Vankleek Hill’s Main Street.

But to council’s credit, the work got done and the building still stands.

More’s the pity that a recent proposal to create a simple inventory of heritage properties, buildings, events, farms and barns was met with no enthusiasm by Champlain councillors, who spent more time on the notion of backyard chickens than the creation of a heritage inventory.

Perhaps fear was at the heart of it all– or perhaps councillors had not had time to read the proposal, prepared by the senior planner. The idea was to ascertain what heritage assets exist in the township and to gather information about them. There was no ‘ask’ for consultants, no request for much beyond coffee and muffins for meetings and public consultations.

Called ‘restrictive’ by one councillor, it would appear that taking stock of heritage assets might be dangerous. Everyone likes to point to heritage designations and the renovation restrictions that can go with those designations. But heritage designations are a long way from creating a simple list of heritage assets to brag about.

Perhaps more information was needed along that very line. What is a heritage designation? Does it preclude any or all improvements? Why not find out?

Recent media attention in Champlain Township involved looking at Vankleek Hill — the past and the future. A Francophone media team filmed at several locations in town. The Higginson Tower was on their “must do” list. Local politicians were happy to sit down in the Old Jail in L’Orignal to record a podcast about the township.

It seems like the outside world loves our heritage, but heaven forbid that we would create a list of what we have.

Heritage and tourism are inextricably linked. The short-sighted, ill-informed attitude of council to reject the notion of taking pride in our heritage is an affront to all of those volunteers working to bring visitors to town and to residents and business owners striving to keep their buildings in good condition while respecting the heritage of the town. It must be making the volunteer members of the Patrimoine L’Orignal Heritage, the Vankleek Hill Historical Society and the Higginson Tower Committee scratch their heads. Although these groups receive funds as community organizations within the township, it does not go without notice that heritage is low on the list of political priorities.

Lest you think this is normal, it isn’t.

But don’t use Hawkesbury as an example. It has lost countless historic properties to demolition. And poor decisions, such as allowing a gas station to be built on the corner of Nelson and McGill infringing on a heritage building as well as a recent housing project built within spitting distance of the historic octagonal house on McGill Street are just two examples of development taking precedence over common sense.

What might be next? Condos in front of Holy Trinity Anglican Church? Demolition of St-Alphonse for a high-rise apartment building? One surmises that a developer will have free rein to do as they please.

It would seem that there are restrictive rules galore, but none when and where they are truly needed. Rules and guidelines should be a reflection of values which safeguard taxpayers and their future. Drinking water standards are there for a reason.

Tearing down a heritage building may seem of little consequence. But consider the future of a community with nothing left of its past. We need to know where we have been in order to determine where we are going. While none of us should dwell in the past, it is important to acknowledge that we cannot rebuild heritage once it is gone.

Let us hope that at least one member of Champlain council asks to revisit the suggestion of a heritage inventory and that councillors spend at least as much time discussing this idea as they did discussing backyard hens.

Why take stock of the municipality’s heritage assets? Because it’s the right thing to do.