Despite the loss of many significant heritage buildings in the past, there is a recognition that the architectural, cultural and natural heritage of the city is worth preserving. Heritage Toronto is an organization that promotes the protection of these assets through a series of events including walking tours and plaque presentations. Their most prestigious event, the Heritage Toronto Awards, celebrates individuals, organizations and corporations that have contributed to the shared historical fabric of the city. The event, now in its 40th year, was held on Tuesday at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Kroner Hall.

40th annual Heritage Toronto Awards held at Kroner Hall, image by Marcus MitanisThe 40th annual Heritage Toronto Awards were held at Kroner Hall, image by Marcus Mitanis

The awards are split into several categories. The Book category honours non-fiction works that explore the city's heritage. The Award of Excellence is the highest honour, followed by the Award of Merit and Honourable Mentions. Author Charlotte Gray won the top prize with her book The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country. The book revolves around the murder of Albert Massey by housemaid Carrie Davies, the resulting trial, the class divisions and the customs of 1915. The Award of Merit went to The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement, which tells the story of 'The Stop', an agency that transformed itself from a traditional food bank into a community centre with gardens, a greenhouse and a farmer's market. Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage and Setting a Fine Table: Historical Desserts and Drinks from the Officers’ Kitchens at Fort York received Honourable Mentions. 

Similar to the Book category, the Short Publication category recognizes online and print non-fiction articles and booklets that focus on Toronto's rich heritage. In 1859, the first man-made flying object visited Toronto. That Time a Giant Gas Balloon Dazzled Toronto by blogTO's Chris Bateman showcases the event through maps and illustrations, resulting in a compelling story the jury felt deserved the Award of Excellence. Historicist: Straitlaced Toronto – Corsets, Tight-lacing, and the Changing Role of Women in 19th Century Toronto received the Award of Merit with Chris Raible's Mackenzie Wrote Here? taking home an Honourable Mention. 

Nominated books were on sale outside the auditorium, image by Marcus MitanisNominated books were on sale outside the auditorium, image by Marcus Mitanis

The Media category recognizes videos, films, websites and digital applications that educate the public about the city's history. The diverse category featured several potential winners, but was topped by Wendy Smith and her work, The Toronto Park Lot Project. The interactive website explores the early years of Toronto's history through the use of maps and clickable markers which display information about aboriginal trails, waterways and the 32 park lots of the 1700's. The Award of Merit went to Historical Maps of Toronto, which showcases digitized maps from the 18th century to the Victorian era. 

The Community Heritage category honours volunteer organizations which aim to protect heritage in their neighbourhood or across the city. The Harbord Village Resident’s Association took home the Members' Choice Award for its innovative work in educating people about the area's history. The Village of Islington BIA was recognized with an award for its unique murals gracing the walls of its low-rises on Dundas Street West as was La Société d’histoire de Toronto for its work increasing awareness about the city's francophone history. 

John F. Taylor House snags Award of Excellence, image by Marcus MitanisThe John F. Taylor House is recognized with the Award of Excellence, image by Marcus Mitanis

The final award of the night, the William Greer Architectural Conservation And Craftmanship category recognizes property owners who have restored or adapted heritage buildings. The John F. Taylor House – Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto Residence received the Award of Excellence after an extensive restoration of the 1885 building. Alterations and additions were removed to bring the building back to its original condition. Woodcliffe Landmark Properties' Market Street Redevelopment also received an Award of Excellence for its conservation and revitalization of the properties adjacent to St. Lawrence Market. Awards of Merit went to the O’Connor Estate Buildings and the Goldring Student Centre with the Lassonde Mining Innovation Centre picking up an Honourable Mention. 

Market Street received the Award of Excellence, image by Marcus MitanisThe Market Street Redevelopment received the Award of Excellence, image by Marcus Mitanis

The William Kilbourn Memorial Lecture, named after the historian, politician and writer, followed the awards ceremony. Several distinguished speakers have hosted the lecture in the past, including Adrienne Clarkson, David Crombie and Ursula Franklin. The speaker this year was Jack Diamond of Diamond Schmitt Architects, who passionately lectured about the need for evidenced-based planning and policies. Bemoaning the loss of the long-form census and the continuing politicization of issues, he stated that a change in governance, including an elimination of the current first-past-the-post voting system, was needed. Despite the changes he would like to see, he said Toronto is a city of great opportunity that needs to solve its pressing issues to truly become a global centre. 

Jack Diamond at William Kilbourn Memorial Lecture, image by Marcus MitanisJack Diamond speaks as part of the William Kilbourn Memorial Lecture, image by Marcus Mitanis

The event demonstrates that heritage is still an important topic in Toronto that is deserving of more attention. The vast amount of literature, combined with organizations and property owners dedicated to conservation demonstrates that Toronto's heritage is worth protecting. With the municipal election next week, the next four years may provide an opportunity for increased awareness of our shared architectural, cultural and natural history. For more information about Heritage Toronto, visit their official website.