Reflections from the organization’s founding members

As a way of celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, we’ve reached out to some of the organization’s founding members to hear their thoughts on where we’ve come and where we’re going in the heritage conservation field.

Check back often as more founding members will be featured throughout 2022.

David J. Cuming

David has over 40 years of experience working in the cultural heritage field and has worked for both private and public organizations. Specializing in planning, cultural heritage resource conservation, design and management, David most recently ran his own professional consulting services before retiring in 2021. David was one of the founding members of CAHP in 1987.

Questions and Answers with David J. Cuming

Portrait of David Cuming

CAHP had its origins as the Canadian Association of Professional Heritage Consultants (CAPHC). One of the objectives amongst the several practicing consultants who formed the original founding members in the 1980s was to establish a professional organization that would set principles and standards for practitioners in their particular area of expertise. This was important because the role and importance of private sector heritage consultants was flourishing in a way that was quite distinctive from heritage practitioners in the public sector.

I believed that the founding of a professional organization would assist in creating a framework for developing principles for those in professional practice that would make us accountable for maintaining impartial and objective advice to our clients. A key element in any professional organization is the development of a Professional Code of Conduct and Ethics and this was one of the first matters of business when the Association was formed. This assisted in setting us apart as professionals who possessed clarity in conservation principles, who understood planning processes and the use of appropriate legislation as well as adhering to sound business practices.

As the profession developed and heritage professionals moved between employment in the private and public sectors CAPHC later evolved into the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals to account for all professional interests.

I’m not sure that there’s a singular biggest shift but practitioners in the conservation field have certainly broadened and expanded the awareness of cultural heritage interests and the various forms that those interests display in our communities across Canada. As a result there’s a far greater complexity to cultural heritage resource management today than existed 30 years ago. This includes the effects of changing legislation, duties to consult and engage and adopting processes that meaningfully ensure such objectives are met. Of considerable concern appears to be the current and worrying shift especially in Ontario to exclude or diminish cultural heritage interests from both public sector and private sector development processes; definitely a backward step.

The critical impact of CAHP has been to establish a growing membership in diverse areas of heritage expertise and create an enviable pool of professional talent. This in turn has enabled potential client groups to be able to access any number of cultural heritage disciplines. The rise in employment opportunities that require CAHP membership is also an important measure of CAHP’s influence.

In the areas of expertise that I have practiced in over the past 45 years, namely conservation planning and expert witness testimony, I have seen any number of groups or interested parties that are in disputes or tribunal hearings that have been able to retain their own heritage experts and feel that they have a voice and that their interests are being represented. Although, there may be conflicting opinions between professionals this “democratisation” results in a greater chance of a variety of voices and differing views being heard with more meaningful input to decisions that affect our cultural heritage environment.

Rather than individual projects there is a grouping of heritage conservation district projects that I have been involved with over the years that have been particularly satisfying, such as in Dundas, Waterdown, and Oakville. Designation of heritage conservation districts here in Ontario by local municipalities is always challenging: engaging with local property owners, ensuring sound public dialogue, understanding competing issues, undertaking appropriate historical research, identifying the special heritage character of place or places, preparing a district plan and eventually appearing at a tribunal hearing, all within a tight budget, always kept one diligently focussed on outcomes. It’s always very rewarding to visit these special places after nearly thirty years in some cases to see how properties and neighbourhoods have been maintained or enhanced and also to see how new development has been successfully incorporated into established, These become exemplary examples of how conservation and development can complement each other.

The big challenge is staying relevant in an age of dramatically changing circumstances. We appear to be lurching from crisis to catastrophe around the globe and cultural heritage resource management is threatened by being squeezed out of the mainstream to become an elitist, antiquarian sideline.

I’m not sure that there’s a singular biggest shift but practitioners in the conservation field have certainly broadened and expanded the awareness of cultural heritage interests and the various forms that those interests display in our communities across Canada. As a result there’s a far greater complexity to cultural heritage resource management today than existed 30 years ago. This includes the effects of changing legislation, duties to consult and engage and adopting processes that meaningfully ensure such objectives are met. Of considerable concern appears to be the current and worrying shift especially in Ontario to exclude or diminish cultural heritage interests from both public sector and private sector development processes; definitely a backward step.