Ontario Heritage Act
The Ontario Heritage Act, first enacted on March 5, 1975, allows municipalities and the provincial government to designate individual properties and districts in the Province of Ontario, Canada, as being of cultural heritage value or interest.
Designation under the Ontario Heritage Act 
Once a property has been designated under Part IV of the Act, a property owner must apply to the local municipality for a permit to undertake alterations to any of the identified heritage elements of the property or to demolish any buildings or structures on the property.
Part V of the Act allows for the designation of heritage conservation districts.
Amendments to the legislation 
Until 2005, a designation of a property under the Act allowed a municipality to delay, but not ultimately prevent, the demolition of a heritage property. Heritage advocates were highly critical of the 180-day "cooling off" period provided for under the legislation, which was intended to allow time for municipalities and landowners to negotiate an appropriate level of heritage preservation, but often simply resulted in the landowner "waiting out the clock" and demolishing the heritage building once the protection of the Ontario Heritage Act had expired.
In 2005, the provincial government enacted changes to strengthen the Act. Under the amended legislation, a landowner who is refused a demolition permit under the Act no longer has an automatic right to demolish a designated building once the cooling off period has expired. Instead, the landowner has the option to appeal the permit refusal to the Ontario Municipal Board and the OMB will make the final decision on whether or not a demolition permit should issue. Where the OMB refuses to issue a permit, the landowner would have no choice but to preserve the heritage building.
The amended legislation also contains provisions which enable municipalities to enact by-laws to require owners of designated buildings to maintain the structures and their heritage elements. Such by-laws are intended to prevent "demolition by neglect", although the collapse of Walnut Hall in Toronto demonstrates that such buildings are still at risk.
Experience with the new provisions of the Act has been mixed. Municipalities, who were given significantly greater authority with the amendments, have, in some cases, used the authority to prevent or delay development proposals, with questionable intent. In one case a golf course was designated when the local Council received a proposal to develop it for housing. Another flashpoint has been proposals to develop or significantly alter church properties.
The government of Ontario has recently published a guideline that provides a context for the inherent conflict between religious beliefs and the civil authority over religious property that is enabled by the Act. The "Guide to Conserving Heritage Places of Worship in Ontario Communities" is part of the Ontario Heritage Toolkit. The Guide provides an understanding of how religious and heritage preservation goals can be balanced.
See also 
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- Ontario Heritage Trust formerly the Ontario Heritage Foundation
- List of designated heritage properties in Ottawa
- List of designated heritage properties in Toronto
- Archaeology in Ontario
Ontario Heritage Toolkit