Letter-writing guide

We are all able to write to whomever we want, from the Prime Minister to the municipal inspector. However, if you want your message to have real impact and achieve concrete results, you must be able to tailor it for the person you are addressing, understand their role and responsibilities in the debate, and word your message accordingly.

Requesting an intervention or protection to a minister, a mayor or a property owner

Following are some suggested “ingredients” for use in your letter; the final wording is up to you, depending on the specific case and your knowledge of its various facets. The tone should always remain dignified and respectful—insulting the addressee will not help at all—and you should be clear, informed and concise in your demands. After all, when you write to a minister or mayor, you are addressing a person elected to represent the population. It is also useful to request a meeting with the elected officials to clarify with them the details of your request and to examine them in depth. Finally, it is important to send copies of your letter to others, so that the as many key people as possible are advised of the situation.

Here are the “ingredients”, in a suggested order:

  • State the importance of the property in question as a building, structure, vestige or land area of architectural, artistic, archeological, emblematic, ethnological, historical, landscape, scientific (e.g., ecological, botanical, biological) or technological value. Because each government has different powers and mandates, you’ll need to express the site’s value differently depending on whether you are writing to your municipality or to the Minister of Culture and Communications; for example, by underlining its local, regional or national interest, as the case may be.
  • Describe the state of the site and how it is threatened (demolition by neglect, risk of fire, deterioration of the structure, loss or sale of architectural or sculptural features, disfigurement, etc.)
  • Make a clear and precise request to the decision-maker according to their power and responsibilities (it is useful to remind them of those responsibilities, incidentally). Then request, according to what you feel is necessary, a time limit for a decision or a meeting to discuss the matter in more detail (you can also write a separate letter making a formal request for a meeting. If you are writing to the Minister of Culture and Communications, request that the property be classified for protection under Section 29 of the Cultural Heritage Act (see Appendix 1 for relevant excerpts from the legislation). When writing to the mayor of your municipality, request citation (designation) under Chapter 4 of the Cultural Heritage Act (see Appendix 1). When writing to either of the above, ask for immediate intervention to prevent the deterioration of the property in question. When writing to either of the above or to Parks Canada, you can ask for technical assistance in the case and a meeting to this end.

When writing to the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, request recognition of the historical value of the site or building. When writing to the property owner, request a meeting to discuss the future of the property.

Where applicable, send copies to other appropriate decision-makers (e.g., MPs, MNAs, city/borough councillors, the heads of permits and urban planning departments, local, regional or national heritage groups, universities, chambers of commerce).

Letter to protest a request for a demolition permit

Generally, where demolition bylaws exist, they state that any objections must be sent to the municipal clerk for technical reasons. There may also be a special committee in charge of receiving citizens’ opinions on the subject. Nothing stops you from sending separate letters to elected officials—the mayor or councillors—but you must not ignore or neglect the procedures and deadlines set out in the municipal bylaws. Otherwise, you risk losing your right to speak on the record about the issue. Those requesting a demolition permit generally make the following arguments, to which you should respond (or not, as you see fit) in your letter:

  • The state of the building (e.g., vacant, dangerous, run-down);
  • The high cost of renovating it;
  • The benefits of a new project (e.g., jobs, taxes, new services);
  • The idea that heritage is solely the purview of lawmakers, not property owners.

Your municipality’s demolition bylaws will sometimes include criteria for public servants and elected officials to use as a guide when authorizing demolitions. It’s important to be familiar with those criteria to better plan your opposition. In Montreal, for example, a building’s architectural value is taken into consideration, but so is its value as part of the streetscape or neighbourhood of interest (whether homogenous or not). Elsewhere, the effect that demolition would have on the urban landscape is taken into account.

That being said, the following points should be part of your letter of opposition to a demolition permit request:

  1. State the name and address of the building in question (ideally the one used by the city).
  2. Explain the heritage value of the building (date of construction; esthetic or architectural value; historical or artistic interest; importance of the building’s site or annexes; its architectural setting or the land it sits on, etc.).
  3. Bring up the municipality’s obligation to safeguard the components, including heritage elements, that enhance the quality of what is referred to as the “living environment;” not only for us, but also for generations to come (in a way, it is a question of reminding public officials that they must avoid making decisions based only on the short term, which they tend to do).
  4. Address certain points in the arguments presented by the property owner (e.g., point out that the poor state of the building may be the result of inadequate upkeep on the owner’s part and, if so, that this is a case of demolition by neglect).
  5. Remind them that the demolition of a building is an irreversible act that obliterates a part of our collective memory, and that many similar cases exist to prove that there are alternatives.
  6. Comment on the redevelopment plans (if there are no credible plans, you should insist on the fact that demolition will constitute a total loss from every point of view).
  7. Sum up your arguments by stating “In light of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, object to a permit for demolition being issued for this building.”
  8. Offer your help in seeking other solutions, as long as it doesn’t let the municipality off the hook in terms of its own responsibilities.

Here again, it would be useful to send copies of your letter of protest to other people—decision-makers, elected officials or organizations—to formally declare your concerned reasoning and stance on the issue. This may help ensure that it is followed up on by the municipality and other stakeholders.

Pour vous aider davantage dans vos démarches, nous vous invitons à aller consulter la section “Liens utiles et répertoires” de la Boîte à outils, où vous trouverez de multiples ressources locales, municipales et nationales aptes à vous épauler.