She saw herself as a “loyal opposition” and served her city very, very well. Jane Irwin dead.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 8, 2013  A tireless fighter who saw herself as part of a “loyal opposition” when she spoke to a city council committee Monday of last week – Jane Irwin died Thursday evening.

Jane was a force to contend with who did not go quietly into the night.  Monday evening she addressed a committee of city council and began her talk by telling members of council that while they were sitting in comfortable seats there were delegations who had to shift their cane from side to side and stand as they spoke and answered questions.

Jane Irwin’s husband Richard, gives her an affectionate pat on the arm as she prepares to delegate to a city council committee on why cultural heritage value matters.

Jane was speaking to council about heritage homes; one of the passions of her life.  Her husband Richard reached over and gave her an affection pat on the arm as she rose to speak to the Infrastructure and Development Committee that was considering a report from Heritage Burlington, the city’s Advisory Committee on heritage matters.  They wanted to remove immediately all the homes on the much maligned “B” list, which is part of the city’s Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Resources.   The B list was part of a Registry the city maintains of homes that are felt to have some historic or cultural value to the city.

Irwin believed the city was getting rid of close to one-third of the properties in the city with significant cultural heritage.

Any home on the B list of the Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Resources could not be demolished without going through a 60 day waiting period.

Many home owners and several council members felt this wait requirement was a financial encumbrance on what a property owner could get if it were put up for sale.   The real estate community likes to perpetuate that point – that having to wait 60 days would lessen the amount a property would fetch on the open market.  There is no evidence, other than the word of real estate agents who are looking for a listing, that a 60 day wait impacts the value of a property.

The disappearance of the B list would mean close to one-third of the homes that have historic cultural value would be taken off the Registry could then be demolished by anyone who wanted to apply for a permit to do so, and that was why Jane Irwin stood, for what turned out to be the last time, before city council, imploring them to fully understand what they were doing and to perhaps re-think what she fully expected them to do.

“Why is it” asked Jane Irwin, “that the city of Burlington has a reputation for being boring?   A good many interesting people have lived here and a lot of interesting people still live here.”  Burlington’s reputation had not kept up with the change and growth of the city, she maintained.

“Burlington is not the most fascinating, the most interesting place or the most inspiring city on the planet – not even in Halton.  In fact it is called BORINGTON.  Is that news to any of you?”  she asked, while Mayor Goldring sat glumly in his seat.

She spoke passionately, she told city council that Burlington was known as BORINGTON and that the city lacked character and colour. she told them that cultural heritage matter and that without it the city would be “hollowed out”. None of it mattered – they voted to get rid of what Irwin maintained was one-third of the properties in the city and on the Registry, with historical significance,

“There is no question why we are perceived as a bland place, there is nothing special, nothing unique about us – we lack character and have no sense of identity”, she said

“We are not a real place, not a place with any interesting character”, she added.

Irwin said she was reminded of a comment an American author made about the city in California she lived in when she said: “There is no there, there.”

Irwin though that perhaps the author’s home town was too new to have a history but then realized that the history it did have, had probably been hollowed out and that is what Irwin thinks has happened to Burlington.

“Every place on earth has a history, a past, character and a story to tell.  “I’m suggesting” said Irwin “that something comparable has happened to Burlington – our past, our history, has been hollowed out.  Identity for both people and places can be hollowed out”, she added.

Irwin explained that “People lose their sense of identity from the inside when they lose their memories, places lose their identity when their history is lost when their places are lost, when the history turns into amnesia – you’ve heard some examples of that here tonight.”

“The outside characteristics of personal identity are lost when the physical reality of their identity, the quirkiness and the scars of their life are forgotten, either because they were in a witness protection program or they had cosmetic surgery”, explained Irwin.

“Places lose the visible reality of their identity when their historical built structures and streetscapes are erased or replaced. Those of you who have been listening to me will realize that I am talking about what planners call cultural heritage value.

Some think cultural heritage value is an academic term dreamed up by people who do not live in the real world.

Cultural historic value is what I’ve been talking about; a sense of identity, a sense of something authentic, something real.  It is a part of our experience of everyday life – it is rooted in our common experience.”

“People feel this” maintained Irwin, who went on to explain that while cultural heritage value may not be a term many understand or are comfortable with – “ but it is really the same as quality of life,  which we do understand, advocate and promote.  Heck it’s even in the city’s Strategic Plan

They will feel that, they will experience that and so cultural historic value is what we know as quality of life. – a term that is accepted”.

Jane Irwin, at her very best.

Irwin’s concern was that while there are thousands of people in Burlington who live in the homes that were built in the 1910’s and 1920’s – removing the 350 on the B list has the potential to put those buildings at risk.

There is a limited supply of these buildings and your vote today vote will, if this council votes true to form, will remove 350 properties – one third of our heritage.

“These B properties” explained Irwin, “have not been re-evaluated, none have been re-inspected and we don’t have adequate information on which to make decisions”.  She went on to say that “we are throwing out the babies with the bath water.  People are being told that heritage homes don’t count.”

“Perhaps this is a time-saving exercise – remove these 350 homes from the Registry and you never have to deal with them again.”

“You ignore your staff reports” said Irwin, “you often deride them.”

In the end – it didn’t matter.  Council in committee voted to keep ten properties on the Registry until the end of June when the evaluations are complete and a decision can be made as to what stays on the Registry and what can be removed.

What was certain however was that the B portion of the Registry is now “history”, literally.  Councillor Craven summed it up when he said after six years of bitter, nasty debate, compromises have to be made.  “While I regret losing the B’s” he said, “I am prepared to give them up.”

Council in committee voted to accept the report.






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1 comment to She saw herself as a “loyal opposition” and served her city very, very well. Jane Irwin dead.

  • Diane Gaudaur

    This is sad news. Her comments at Council are so true. She was an eloquent spokesperson for heritage in Burlington and an invaluable digital archivist at the Historical Society. I was honoured to have known her. She will be missed.