Mr. Speaker, the sense of wonder and reverence we feel as we learn about the past human activities that laid the foundation of our country stimulate a profound desire to ensure the preservation of historic places, artifacts and structures. It encourages us to want to share these experiences with our families and ensure that future generations can also benefit from them. It motivates us to ensure the protection of natural areas and commemoration of historic places, which is a national priority.
These areas and sites symbolize our national identity. They characterize the way we see ourselves and how others see us as a nation. Through our efforts, we demonstrate to the world a thoughtful, caring attitude toward the national and international treasures of nature and culture so richly bestowed upon Canadians.
Such is the spirit of Bill C-220. It reflects what many Canadians feel when they walk toward a shore and look at a lighthouse. Lighthouses are part of Canada's history. They have ensured safe navigation and docking for tens of thousands of fishermen, ship crew members and passengers and immigrants. The inspiration and knowledge we derive from these special heritage places more than justify our efforts to protect and commemorate them.
Canada has a world-class system of heritage areas and programs designed for the preservation of the most outstanding of our country's treasures. This includes national historic sites, national parks, heritage rivers, historic canals, marine conservation areas, heritage railway stations and heritage buildings, including lighthouses. These special places provide Canadians with outstanding opportunities to learn about and personally experience their rich heritage. These sites are an integral part of what we are, not simply what we were.
The historic sites component of Parks Canada is responsible for Canada's program of historical commemoration which recognizes nationally significant places, persons and events.
The Minister of the Environment designates national historic sites on the advice of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and federal heritage buildings evaluated by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office and an interdepartmental advisory committee.
More than 100 lighthouses have been designated as national historic sites or as classified or recognized federal heritage buildings. There are other types of heritage buildings, such as old post offices and armouries. I will give a few examples of these precious landmarks of Canadian history.
The first lighthouse on the St. Lawrence and the third oldest in Canada today was erected on Île Verte facing the Saguenay Fjord. The Île Verte light was first lit in 1809. It remained the sole light on the mighty St. Lawrence for the next 21 years.
Today, the private owner keeper's house has been transformed into a bed and breakfast. Every year thousands of visitors from across Canada, North America and Europe have the opportunity to spend some time at this legendary site and learn more about Canada's history.
Gibraltar Point erected in 1808 is the oldest existing lighthouse on the Canadian Great Lakes. The tower, built of limestone, originally stood some 67 feet in height. A 15 foot extension was added in 1832. The lighthouse is no longer in service but he city of Toronto has preserved it as a historic site.
Located on Lake Huron, Point Clark Lighthouse was built between 1855 and 1859. It commemorates the vital role of lighthouses in navigation on the Great Lakes. The 87 foot limestone tower, topped by a 12 sided lantern framed in cast iron, is typical of the six Imperial towers built in the region, a lighthouse style rarely seen elsewhere in Canada. Point Clark Lighthouse is one of Canada's national historic sites. The township of Huron has an agreement with Parks Canada to operate the light keeper's house as a local museum.
Fisgard Lighthouse is a circular brick tower, 56 feet high with an attached dwelling. It was built in 1860 at the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour. Along with Race Rock light, it inaugurated the fixed navigation aids on the Pacific coast of Canada. Even though the lighthouse is still in service, Parks Canada maintains it as a historic site. The former keeper's house now contains exhibits and a video station.
There is no doubt that lighthouses are important to Canadians. They stand against winds, tides and storms. They are a symbol of strength, resilience and Canadian courage and resourcefulness.
But they are not the only type of heritage buildings worth protecting. National historic sites represent thousands of years of human history and hundreds of years of nation building. They have been representative of the diversity of Canada's historic heritage.
National historic sites are located all across Canada. Each national historic site tells its own unique story, part of the greater story of Canada, contributing a sense of time, identity and place to our understanding of Canada as a whole. Each national historic site is part of a system that spans the country, telling the story of Canada's development as a nation.
In her November 2003 report, “Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Federal Government”, the Auditor General questioned the protection of many examples of the same building type, citing lighthouses specifically. In a follow-up report released in February 2007, the Auditor General reiterated some important recommendations, including the need to strengthen the conservation regime for built heritage.
Under the Parks Canada Agency Act, Parks Canada has the responsibility for built heritage programs and historic places in Canada. The agency's objectives include ensuring the commemorative integrity of national historic sites and respect for and conservation of the heritage character of federal heritage buildings.
The processes adopted by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board for the selection of national historic sites and by the Federal Heritage Building Review Office for the evaluation of federal heritage sites are based on recognized selection criteria and in-depth research. They are intended to protect the most outstanding examples of Canadian cultural heritage in all categories of built heritage, not one single type.
In conclusion, protecting our built heritage is about making choices. Which historic places will we choose to protect? What means will we put into play? How will these activities be funded?
As we heard earlier today, not all old buildings can be preserved. The choices are never easy to make, but they have become critically important to the development of protection strategies. We need to make judicious choices in designating heritage buildings and to have appropriate means to ensure their conservation on behalf of all Canadians now and in the future.
We want to examine Bill S-220 carefully. I commend Senator Carney in the other place and the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's for bringing the matter forward in the House to stimulate this important debate. I encourage all members to engage in a fulsome debate on this issue.