The Underground NORAD Complex is composed of two classified federal heritage buildings, but has not yet recognized as a national historic site. What is the difference between heritage buildings and national historic sites, and who makes these designations?
I will answer the second question first. Oddly, it is Parks Canada – which operates under the Ministry of the Environment – that is responsible for designating heritage buildings and national historic sites, not the Department of Canadian Heritage. Parks Canada is home to both the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
As the name suggests, the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) is responsible for identifying heritage buildings owned by the federal government, and is mandated to help federal departments preserve their heritage buildings. The Minister of the Environment ultimately designates federal heritage buildings. Back in March of 2005, both the Power Cavern and the Control Building were designated as classified federal heritage buildings. There are over 1,200 federal heritage buildings in Canada.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) has a broader mandate. It advises the Canadian government on the commemoration of nationally significant aspects of Canada’s history. Again, it is the Minister of the Environment who has the authority to designate a site, event or person to be of national historic significance. Some national historic sites are associated with a particular building, but not all. Usually, a bronze plaque is put up. A historical event or person might be commemorated with a monument. There are almost 1,000 national historic sites in Canada.
A national historic site designation is more significant than a federal heritage building designation. A structure with no particular historical importance may be designated as a federal heritage building because of its unique architecture. A national historic site designation is only made if there is a direct association with a nationally significant aspect of our history.