Restoration work using a plumb level, Jacques Dalibard not pictured
Throughout his career, Jacques Dalibard sought to lay the foundations for a vibrant heritage preservation movement in Canada. Applying the principles of James Marston Fitch, he sought to ensure that architecture would benefit society.
As Dalibard later explained, his orientation was strongly influenced by the experience of watching entire neighbourhoods destroyed to make way for Expo ’67. It led him to conclude that the futuristic buildings that he had previously found fascinating “had no future”. They were ephemeral and responsible for social and cultural erosion. This perspective stands in contrast with the view of Expo ’67 as a defining moment for Canadian identity. Dalibard saw that this attempt at national definition was blindly destroying authentic representations of the country it meant to celebrate.
Far from being limited to Expo, demolition and reconstruction was the approach to development preferred by governments at all levels. Developers put up new buildings, to avoid retrofitting old ones and bringing them up to code. This view was so prevalent that it even pervaded the nascent preservation movement. Instead of restoring the Palace Grande Theatre in Dawson City, the National Parks Branch originally planned to demolish and reconstruct it in order to make it a tourist location. Dalibard had the Sisyphean task of changing the opinions of professionals and politicians toward the preservation of heritage.
Dalibard’s legacy can be seen, first, in his efforts to establish preservation as a profession. He contributed to this through his involvement with the Association for Preservation Technology. APT established a professional network, thereby helping to build a consensus around the appropriate standards for preservationists in North America. As a participant in ICOMOS and President of ICOMOS Canada, Dalibard also represented and legitimised the Canadian preservation movement nationally and internationally. As a representative of UNESCO in Cyprus, he sought to draw lessons for the protection of heritage threatened be destruction in armed conflicts.
The second aspect of Dalibard’s legacy was to ensure that the preservation of heritage became a viable alternative to demolition and replacement. He convinced communities and politicians of the economic advantages of preservation. He also demonstrated the connection between built heritage and the modern identity of local populations. Furthermore, he helped ensure that preservation efforts were no longer directed exclusively at forts or houses of famous people. Instead, he drew attention to the importance of vernacular architecture, which is part of the organic development of communities built over generations and giving them a human touch. Eventually, by broadening the definition of heritage to include the entire built environment as well as the natural environment, Dalibard sought to develop a completely holistic approach to preservation and sustainability.
Restoration work being undertaken at archeolgical site, Jacques Dalibard not pictured
Dalibard’s legacy is elusive yet palpable. Today, heritage conservation is often considered a primary concern of urban planning. In many ways, the arguments that Dalibard developed to demonstrate the importance of heritage conservation are now fundamental assumptions, underlying any appeal to preserve a historic building or neighbourhood at risk. Canada’s built heritage remains under constant threat, with developers and governments often tempted to ignore it, but new leaders have taken up where Dalibard left off. Many Canadian cities and towns now prize their historic downtowns, not only as tourist attractions but also for their cultural significance to the community – how they communicate a sense of place.