On July 20, 2023, the Quebec government classified the core of Montreal's Chinatown as a heritage site, protecting 10 historic buildings and structures from demolition or major alterations without authorization. This bulletin explains the steps involved in classifying a heritage immovable or site and the implications for its owners.
Under the Cultural Heritage Act, the Quebec government may, on its own initiative or on a proposal from any interested person, classify any heritage property the knowledge, protection, enhancement or transmission of which is in the public interest.1 Classified property may be a document, an object, an immovable, a site or a group.
Steps in classifying a heritage immovable or site
There are several steps involved in classifying a heritage immovable or site. First, a heritage designation proposal must be submitted by the government (through the Minister of Culture and Communications (the "Minister")) or any other interested party. The proposal is made using the form "Proposition de statut – Classement d'un immeuble ou d'un site patrimonial,"2 which must be submitted together with the required documentation.
The Minister then evaluates the heritage value of the property using an evaluation method and a categorization grid.3 The Minister then signs a notice of intent to proceed with heritage classification, which is sent to the owner of the property as recorded in the land register and published in a local or regional newspaper.4 The owner or any interested party then has 60 days to submit comments to the Conseil du patrimoine culturel du Québec. At the end of this 60-day period, the Conseil du patrimoine culturel du Québec issues its opinion on the proposed classification.
The process is completed when the Minister signs and publishes a notice of classification, which includes: 1) the description of the property, 2) its category and 3) the reasons for the decision.5 The notice of classification is accompanied by a list of the elements of the heritage property to be preserved. It is sent to the owner and recorded in the land register.6 Finally, the registrar of cultural heritage records the property in the cultural heritage register.
The effects of classification
If the property is a building, classification has the effect of preventing anyone from altering, restoring, repairing or changing it in any way, demolishing all or part of it, moving it or using it as a backing for a construction without the Minister's prior authorization.7
In the case of heritage sites such as the core of Montreal's Chinatown, classification creates restrictions similar to those for buildings. It prohibits anyone from dividing, subdividing or parcelling out an immovable, changing the arrangement or ground plan of an immovable, building, repairing or changing anything related to the exterior appearance of an immovable, demolishing all or part of an immovable, erecting a new construction or excavating the ground inside a building without the Minister's authorization.8 Classification also prohibits the owner from posting new signs or billboards on the site or altering, replacing or demolishing a sign or billboard without the Minister's authorization.9
Heritage buildings and sites are thus protected from unauthorized demolition or major alteration. The Cultural Heritage Act also requires owners and purchasers of classified heritage property to take the necessary measures to preserve the heritage value of the property.10
The effects of classification persist under all conditions, even in the event of sale, until the property is declassified.11
Classification of the heart of Montreal's Chinatown
Classification of Montreal's Chinatown
On July 20, 2023, the Quebec government signed a notice of classification for the heart of Montreal's Chinatown. Ten buildings and structures on 14 lots were declared part of a classified heritage site, retroactive to January 24, 2022. This decision by Minister Mathieu Lacombe gave effect to a proposal for classification status submitted on May 6, 2021. The notice of intent to proceed with a heritage classification, published in the land register on February 8, 2022, was signed by the Minister (then Nathalie Roy) on January 21, 2022.
The notice of classification designates the heritage property by listing the 14 lots in question and sets out the reasons for the Minister's decision. It recognizes the historic, architectural, urbanistic, emblematic and social value of the site and justifies its protection, enhancement and transmission to future generations.
Implications of classification for current and future site owners
The notice of classification specifies that the site belongs to categories 2 (superior exterior), 8 (superior ground) and 12 (significant archaeological potential), which are associated with specific levels of conservation.
Category 2 includes properties whose exterior component makes a superior contribution to their heritage values, whether architectural, artistic, ethnological, historical or technological. Category 8 includes properties with a protected area that makes a superior contribution to their historical, landscape or urbanistic heritage values. In both of these categories, the exterior and grounds contain characteristic elements that require a high level of conservation and only minor alterations can be made. Additions are possible, but must be harmonious with the property (category 2) or the urban fabric and landscape (category 8).
Category 12 includes properties that have been identified as having significant archaeological potential but are not associated with a known archaeological site. Their archaeological components therefore require a moderate level of conservation and may undergo certain works (including excavation), provided that the impact on soil integrity is minimized.
Current and future owners of buildings and structures in Montreal's Chinatown must therefore, in accordance with the provisions of the Cultural Heritage Act, obtain the Minister's authorization before proceeding with the alterations listed above. However, such authorization will only be granted if the work falls within the conservation objectives of each of the categories listed in the notice of classification.
1. Cultural Heritage Act, CQLR c P-9.002, ss 29, par. 2.
2."Proposer l'attribution d'un statut légal" (last accessed on August 21, 2023), online (pdf): Gouvernement du Québec.
3. See Cultural Heritage Act, supra note 1, ss 29 and 11.1.
4. See ibid, s 30.
5. See ibid, s 32.
6. See ibid ss 32-33.
7. See ibid, s 48.
8. See ibid, s 64.
9. See ibid, s 65.
10. See ibid, s 26.
11. See ibid, s 35.
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained.
© McMillan LLP 2021