Centre News – Fall 2015

The ICOMOS Canada National Conversation on Cultural Landscape (NCCL) launched its monthly online discussion series as well as its website this fall. The first speaker in the series - Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, VP for North America of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes - looked back in her presentation on the last half-century of landscape thinking in heritage conservation and identified three perspectives - ecological, indigenous and non-Western - as key opportunities and challenges for current and future cultural landscape thinking. The second speaker - Marta Farevaag, Principal of PFS Studio, Vancouver - presented her own evolving thinking on cultural landscapes through a set of her firm's case studies. Both discussions were informative and stimulating and drew participants from across the country and overseas. More speakers are planned and will be announced on the ICOMOS Canada NCCL website. In November, Willowbank’s Lisa Prosper and Victoria Angel were both elected Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. They are shown below with other newly elected Fellows and keynote speakers Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson at the 2015 Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual College of Fellows Dinner held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Lisa and Vic RCGS fellows At the 2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL) held in November on Jeju Island, Korea, Lisa was elected a Contributing Member of the committee for a three year term. The ISCCL "promotes world-wide cooperation in the identification, increased awareness, study, education and training for protection, preservation, restoration, monitoring, and management of cultural landscapes". Also in November, Lisa joined panellists from across the heritage field, including architects, planners, archaeologists, curators and authors to present on the Cultural Landscapes panel at the Ontario Heritage Trust Cultural Heritage Symposium in support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport’s development of the Ontario Culture Strategy. Lisa spoke to the ecology of place that is fostered when a cultural landscape approach is taken in assessing our heritage places, ”Rather than limiting our understanding of cultural heritage to discrete tangible heritage resources, what if we also thought of cultural heritage as the everyday ecology of places that is the amalgamation of all that we do in places, how places look and feel, the complex history of places, the economy of places and the representation of places understood in relation to the physical features, or absence of features, both natural and man made in a given geographical area. Cultural landscapes provide this conceptual framework for understanding the ecology of places as an integrated whole." Centre Associate and Dean of Faculty Julian Smith travelled to Australia in November to be a keynote speaker at the annual conference of ICOMOS Australia entitled Fabric. He then travelled to Bangalore, India to present at the ICOMOS India International Conference of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Theory and Philosophy of Conservation and Restoration and the International Committee on Historic Towns and Villages entitled Conserving Living Urban Heritage: Theoretical Considerations of Continuity and Change.

Centre News – Spring 2015

Now that Willowbank has a growing number of alumni, and our profile is reaching further and further afield, the Centre has introduced an Associate category to identify a small group from within the Willowbank community who shares an interest in cultural landscapes. The Centre is pleased to introduce inaugural associates Julian Smith, former Executive Director of Willowbank, and current Dean of Faculty, and Angela Garvey, the first recipient of the Susan Buggey Cultural Landscape Fellow. Each Cultural Landscape Fellow will automatically become a Centre Associate upon graduation - next up will be Juliana Glassco, currently undertaking an internship at the World Heritage Centre in Paris. ICOMOS Canada elected a new president this spring as well as new members to the board. Christophe Rivet takes over from Centre Associate and Dean of Faculty Julian Smith as the new President of ICOMOS Canada, and Centre Director Lisa Prosper was voted to the ICOMOS Canada Board of Directors for a three year term. The ICOMOS Canada AGM was held in Edmonton this May and was an opportunity to see first hand the work being done on Whyte Avenue using the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) framework.

Centre News – Winter 2015

Capitalizing on the goodwill and camaraderie developed in Florence, along with a strong sense that Canada had a significant contribution to make on the subject of cultural landscapes, a small working group of ICOMOS Canada members, including the Centre's Lisa Prosper and Susan Buggey Fellow Angela Garvey, have begun efforts to facilitate an ICOMOS Canada National Conversation on Cultural Landscapes. More to come soon. Also in December, the interview with Centre Director Lisa Prosper conducted by Ron van Oers during his visit to Willowbank in July 2013 was published in Reconnecting the City: The Historic Urban Landscape Approach and the Future of Urban Heritage, edited by Francesco Bandarin and Ron van Oers. In March, Lisa travelled to the Isle of Vilm, Germany to take part in the final workshop of the Connecting Practice project, which is a joint initiative of ICOMOS and IUCN seeking to define new methods and strategies to support nature and culture through engagement in the World Heritage Convention. "The Connecting Practice project aims to explore, learn and create new methods of recognition and support for the interconnected character of the natural, cultural and social value of highly significant land and seascapes and affiliated bicultural practices." Over the course of four days, the final workshop of 23 participants from 12 countries heard presentations on the three pilot field trips and made a series of key suggestions on lessons learned and next steps for the initiative.

Patterns in the Snow

By Juliana Glassco Sunlight, shadows, and wind on the snow at Willowbank Sunlight, shadows, and wind on the snow at Willowbank Here at Willowbank, in the Niagara region of southern Ontario, we have had a very snowy winter. I can imagine few places more beautiful for a walk after a fresh snowfall, and so I have taken quite a few. The world is different in the wintertime. Even as we scurry with tunnel vision from our cars to our houses to hibernate in front of our fireplaces and televisions, the landscape opens itself up to us. The Niagara River never sparkles as brilliantly as when it flashes by the barren trees on the escarpment above. The contours of the ravine on the north edge of the Willowbank grounds, which was a portage route for thousands of years before it became a railroad bed and was finally reclaimed by the forest, are never as apparent as when they are reduced to the stark backdrop of dark and light created by a fresh snowfall. Design details that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the evenly spaced through-stones of a dry stone wall and the geometric shapes of a garden bed, are highlighted by dots and dashes of fluffy white. And we are never as aware of the patterns of movement around us as we are when the evidence is imprinted on the wintertime canvas that we all share. Energy is captured in the snow – people, critters, cars, sunlight, the wind – everything leaves its mark and is thrown into relief in the reflecting light and shadows. Trails in the snow reveal who shares our pathways. There is comfort and gratitude in a well-travelled route, where the snow has been packed down or shoveled aside; those who have travelled before us have eased our way. Likewise, there is exhilaration in the solitude of forging a new path, to know that you are the first creature to venture across a particular patch of fresh snow. And there is powerful serenity in the etchings of the sun and the wind as they move across the landscape. Wind on Nun's Hill, Willowbank Wind on Nun's Hill, Willowbank A walk around the neighborhood reveals the multitude of shortcuts that students take across the Willowbank grounds, where the best tobogganing hill is, and who has left their house or driven their car since the last snowfall. In the snow, a road through the trees reveals itself as a superhighway, with intersections abounding and on- and off-ramps scampered out at every tree and shrub. The surreptitious antics of the rabbit family under the juniper bush are no longer as concealed as they might wish, and a feline footprint placed carefully inside the chipmunk’s tracks belies his nefarious intentions. The rabbit's hideout. The rabbit's hideout. Of course there also is the unavoidable grimy slushy heaps plowed by our cars, almost everywhere, it seems. But the gray snow shows us how we use our roads. In fact, people study and blog about those areas of slush that remain after our tires have pummeled the rest of the snow into the asphalt – they call them “sneckdowns,” and they can show where to calm traffic or install bike lines in warmer weather. These observations of road use patterns can be the basis for adaptations that will enhance our roads according to how we already use them. Pathways up Nun's Hill, Willowbank Pathways up Nun's Hill, Willowbank

In the midst of the cold, still isolation of winter, we are presented with abundant visual confirmation that our landscape is a communal one and that we collectively create patterns through the motions of our daily lives. So, in the last days before the thaw, I encourage you to put on an extra layer and take a walk around your neighborhood. Look at it through winter’s lens. What can you learn?

The gardens of Versailles - when Louis Le Vau designed them, did he think about what they would look like under snow? Photo credit: France d'Art et de Lumière Facebook Page The gardens of Versailles - when Louis Le Vau designed them, did he think about what they would look like under snow? Photo credit: France d'Art et de Lumière Facebook Page

Centre News – Fall 2014

ICOMOS-Canada-Firenze-2014 Every three years, ICOMOS hosts a combined General Assembly and Scientific Symposium. This year was the 18th ICOMOS General Assembly entitled Heritage and Landscape as Human Values, held from the 9th to the 14th of November in Florence, Italy. The event gathered over 1650 participants and guests from 94 countries and saw 73 ICOMOS National Committees represented. Centre Director, Lisa Prosper and Susan Buggey Fellow, Angela Garvey joined a large contingent of Canadian ICOMOS members from across the country attending the event. Led by ICOMOS Canada president Julian Smith, the group gathered informally to talk shop and share experiences at the Assembly, as well as to engage in some strategic discussions regarding Canada’s role at the international level. Also, congratulations to Angela, who presented at the Scientific Symposium.

Centre News – Spring 2014

In part to accompany the announcement of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales agreeing to become the new Royal Patron of Willowbank, Julian and Lisa were invited in May to participate in The Prince’s Roundtable on Urban Sustainability in Winnipeg. Hosted by the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, urban thinkers from across the country were invited to give their thoughts on urban sustainability in Canada. The Prince joined the discussion and shared his thoughts on what sustainable communities meant to him. Julian and Lisa were honoured to meet The Prince of Wales on this occasion as well as the evening before as guests of the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba at a reception held in honour of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. Also in May, on the occasion of the ICOMOS Canada AGM, Lisa was invited to give the annual Martin Weaver Memorial Lecture at the Bytown Museum in Ottawa. Her presentation entitled Why Landscape suggested that landscapes can promote certain shifts in the conceptual framework for heritage thereby making room for the emergence of a more diversified and integrated heritage practice.

Recognizing the [invisible] bond between humans and landscape

This Saturday (March 29 at 10 am!) Sophia Rabliauskas of Poplar River First Nation will be presenting on the meeting ground between culture and nature. Her topic, "Spiritual connection with the land: sustaining traditional territory" and her role in protecting the boreal forests of Manitoba, are of particular personal interest. The Poplar First Nation is one of five Anishinaabe First Nation communities who joined together with the Manitoba and Ontario governments to nominate their ancestral lands, Pimachiowin Aki, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The deferral of their nomination has become the subject of much dialogue about how to recognize the heritage value that lies in the bond between culture and nature.   

Earlier this month, Willowbank students participated as student contributors to a discussion at the Université de Montréal's 2014 Roundtable "Exploring the Cultural Value of Nature: a World Heritage Context". Sahra Campbell and I were asked to compare Pimachiowin Aki to other Listed World Heritage cultural landscapes and to comment on what can be done to recognize sites whose heritage value lies in their culture-nature bond. 

"Bay of the Brown Beaver" 1985

We started by studying Pimachiowin Aki's nomination and the subsequent evaluations that led to its deferral, along with evaluations of The Vega Archipelago in Norway and Grand Pre in Nova Scotia. These helped us understand the fundamental challenges imbedded within silo'd evaluation mechanisms that impede our full understanding and recognition of sites like Pimachiowin Aki.

In answering the question at hand, we spent some time considering what “sites like Pimachiowin Aki” might be. Are they aboriginal cultural landscapes?  Or can they be any site where the bond between humans and nature is essential yet largely intangible? For sites that sit somewhere in between, we came to realize that  the land itself could be understood as a social actor, forming the entire framework for a culture.

Pimachiowin Aki - Bloodvein River, MB

Pimachiowin Aki - Bloodvein River, MB

We learned that Pimachiowan Aki is an ancient, continuous, and living cultural landscape in which the forest, waters, wildlife, and all other beings are understood as one living entity. The Anishnaabeg ensure the continued manifestation of their values through land-based activities guided by their embodied traditional knowledge and cosmology, which includes an intricate network of geographic references and travel routes. While tangible qualities do exist in the landscape, its tangible signs of cultural significance were not created with permanence in mind. 

Pimachiowin Aki

Pimachiowin Aki

The Vega Archipelago and Grand Pre were chosen as comparison primarily because they were nominated under related criteria to those which Pimachiowin Aki were aiming for. It turned out they were useful comparisons for a variety of reasons.

The Vega Archipelago

The Vega Archipelago

The Vega Archipelago is part of a large cluster of islands just south of the Arctic Circle. It was inscribed to the World Heritage List in 2004, primarily because of the unique way in which generations of residents, specifically women, have developed a unique relationship with the area's wild eider ducks. This relationship led to the practice of eiderdown harvesting, for which Vega is now well-known. Over time a symbiotic relationship has developed between humans and wild eider ducks, wherein ducks will nest in specially built “eider houses” and women collect eggs and down in return. The harvest of eiderdown is still carried out in the traditional method, thus defining Vega as a continuing cultural landscape.

The Vega Archipelago, eider houses

The Vega Archipelago, eider houses

Sahra learned that the people of Vega are primarily seasonal residents and many return to their lives in the city on the off season. Unlike Pimachiowin Aki, where First Nation communities reside full-time, there is less economic imperative for the community at Vega to modernize its traditional techniques. At Pimachiowin Aki, modernization of their traditional practice simply ensures their cultural continuity, but may be viewed as a loss of authenticity and integrity. 

Grand Pre in Nova Scotia was inscribed in 2012 for retaining its pioneering, traditional, and sustainable agricultural techniques, and for its role as the iconic place of remembrance of the Acadian diaspora. 

From its ICOMOS evaluation, I learned that the indissoluble bonds between culture and nature are embodied in the Acadian people’s lasting ability to control and develop fertile marshlands subject to salt water flooding. The continuing use of their traditional polder system is a community-managed example of sustainable agricultural land use in a living landscape.

This comparison between Grand Pre and Pimachiowin Aki pointed out a few things for me:

  1. World Heritage criterion can be tricky for communities to use and interpret. No kidding?
  2. Like Sahra noticed, it is unclear whether modern upgrades to traditional ways of life, such as the replacement of wood with modern materials in the aboiteaux of Grand Pre, or the replacement of canoes with powerboats at Pimachiowin Aki, are evaluated as evidence of a healthy, continuing cultural landscape or as a loss of integrity.
  3. There seems to be a certain amount of comfort in celebrating landscapes where the human relationship with nature is one of control, or where there is a lasting mark of culture. This material fetish is apparent in the celebration of man-made features imprinted on Grand Pre, and in the fascination with Pimachiowin Aki’s rock art images and pictographs.  

Having just scratched the surface of the enormous body of relevant  work both within and outside the World Heritage Convention, it was no easy feat to understand how to approach sites like Pimachiowin Aki, whose heritage value is largely intangible. We think there is a real need to clearly connect the dots between all the discussions surrounding the bond of nature and culture. Several of the week's talks highlighted promising resources, including the IUCN's Protected Area Categories that recognize cultural value. Looking outward at the progress that other cultures have made and inward at the ways Intangible Heritage is recognized can also give us some additional insight.

Norval Fighting Demon. Norval Morrisseau

Norval Fighting Demon. Norval Morrisseau

We considered that it may be worthwhile to reassess the current definition of Outstanding Universal Value. Pimachiowin Aki was deferred because it did not demonstrate how its intangible associations were of outstanding importance when compared with other similar sites. There may well be other sites with similar biodiversity, land-use patterns and traditions as found in Pimachiowin Aki, but to see these commonalities as diminishing the "exceptionality" of each site is narrow-minded. We suggested that shared experiences paint a richer, more multilayered  portrait of human integration with the land.

What do we gain from nominating the “best” examples if it means overlooking the subtle differences, common traditions and overlapping patterns that connect us all?

Judgements about value attributed to cultural heritage may differ from culture to culture, and so perhaps developing a more inclusive and holistic approach to determining the value of a place would help bridge the divide.  For instance, nominees could be consulted on a case-by-case basis regarding what other ways they might express their Outstanding Universal Value. Cultural barriers to understanding may go beyond language, as written submissions with photographic supporting material in a neatly-sharable package are not universal ways of communicating.

Another  approach to defining Outstanding Universal Value can be considered in terms of a Land Ethic. Remembering that humans are nature helps to understand that nature and culture are deeply ingrained within us, and that worldviews do exist without the construct of a separate nature.

With over 50% of humans living in urban landscapes, our dominant landscape is one of materiality. 

It is a small portion of humanity that embodies a land ethic, and an even smaller portion that can live harmoniously with nature for millenia without dominating it with visible and permanent cultural elements.

Places where this land ethic sits are indeed places of universal value.

Seeking answers to present at the roundtable left us with further questions that we asked the other roundtable attendees to ponder:

  • Are the categories of nature and culture artificial and arbitrary?
  • How can a bond be honoured when there is little evidence of human or cultural manipulation of the landscape?
  • How can subtleties be accepted as outstanding values?
  • Can World Heritage honour the fact that a culture of living lightly on the land, leaving little trace, may indeed be more “bonded” to a landscape than one that has had a lasting, visible impact? 

We'd love to know your thoughts, and to continue the discussion at the Willowbank Lectures in coming weeks. 


Centre News – Winter 2014

In February, Lisa was honoured to be the plenary speaker at the 2014 Heritage Saskatchewan Forum entitled The Landscapes of Living Heritage. Held in Saskatoon, the Forum brought together a large and diverse audience of heritage professionals from around the province. Her presentation, Looking to Landscape: Shifting our Approach to Heritage, outlined some of the characteristics and advantages of a cultural landscape approach to heritage. March brings with it the annual University of Montreal Roundtable hosted by the Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage, Christina Cameron. This year’s theme, Exploring the Cultural Value of Nature: A World Heritage Context was in part a response to some of the challenges raised by the Canadian nomination bid of Pimachiowin Aki to the World Heritage List. The deferral of the nomination bid by the World Heritage Committee has prompted a closer look at how the World Heritage Convention might better accommodate future nomination bids like Pimachiowin Aki that demonstrate a close bond between nature and culture. Julian and Lisa were privileged to join an esteemed group of national and international colleagues around the table and the proceedings have proven a significant contribution to this important discussion. Willowbank students - Angela Garvey, Sahra Campbell and Angus Affleck - joined colleagues from Carleton University and the University of Montreal as rapporteurs for the two-day event.

Culture Nature : Nature Culture

March has been an in-depth month of Cultural Landscape discussion, from the foundational theme of culture-nature bondedness. 

Renate Sander-Regier kicked off this spring's Willowbank Lectures with a lively discussion about human-nature relations. The lectures have become a springtime ritual, when Willowbank hosts the community after a long winter, and neighbours discuss brain-tickling topics over coffee.

In the sun-warmed Bright Salon, we shared our favourite places to connect with nature, ranging from the backyard to the beach, and discussed feelings of being a part of versus apart from nature. In her research, Renate has tapped into the myriad ways people enhance their well-being by connecting with nature, often through acts of ecological stewardship.  Her study of the Fletcher Wildlife Gardens illuminates the mutual benefits of volunteering in the natural environment there.  I was particularly intrigued by the steadfast efforts of urbanites working to daylight their cities' Lost Rivers, which has become a global movement to free these natural features from human control.

Fellow classmates Sahra Campbell, Angus Affleck and I were fortunate to attend an annual roundtable discussion at Université de Montréal on the same nature-culture topic, this time through the lens of World Heritage. I'm excited to share our contribution to the discussion here, in the next few days. In the meantime, Willowbank 2nd years are putting many "faces to names" in Ottawa this week, exploring key projects in our nation's capital, visiting some of our favourite instructors' work spaces, and learning about the specific challenges of concrete.  More on that later too!

2014 Willowbank Lectures

Join 5 conversations contemplating the meeting ground

between nature and culture


March 15 | Renate Sander-Regier, Geographer and Naturalist, Ottawa

Human well-being and ecological well-being: exploring human-nature relations

March 29 | Sophia RabliauskasPoplar River First Nation, Manitoba

Spiritual connection with the land: sustaining traditional territory

April 12 | Jan Haenraets and Alyssa SchwannPreservation Landscape Architects, Vancouver

Global perspectives on landscape design and preservation: Scotland, India, Canada

April 26 | Victoria Dickenson, Director, McMichael Gallery, Kleinburg

The herons are still here: history, nature and culture

May 3 | Robert MellinArchitect and Scholar, Montreal and Newfoundland

Winter in Tilting: slide hauling in a Newfoundland fishing village


$20 lecture or $85 | series 

For more information or to register visit: willowbank.ca

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