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Site Change

An American company is using the domain name “Newzeum”.   To avoid confusion, I will be changing the site to Noozeum’s Material Culture over the next few days.  Hope I don’t loose any followers.

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June 6th, 1944 and Operation Overlord

Station at Falaise

Canadians clear snipers from the railway station at Falaise

Each June, many of us still commemorate D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the attack which altered the course of World War Two. The Allied Offensive which they called “Operation Overlord” began with the beach landings on June 6 and continued with the advance into France. The many actions fought are known collectively as the Battle of Normandy.

One of the most desperate engagements, the battle of the Falaise Pocket also known as Falaise Gap, was fought from 12-21 August 1944, and was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy. Because Hitler would not permit his forces to withdraw and regroup, a large part of the German army and the famous Fifth and Seventh Panzer Divisions were trapped at Falaise. The Germans were trying desperately to keep the route through Falaise open in order to permit the escape of their retreating soldiers. A ferocious battle followed which resulted in the destruction of most of the German forces west of the Seine. The way was then cleared for the Allies to move on to Paris, and ultimately, to Germany.

A tremendous amount of the vigorous fighting was done by the fragments of the Polish Army. They were assisted by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, which included many men from Lennox and Addington county, Ontario. The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade were also involved. The 3rd Canadian Infantry were among the first to approach Falaise and paid with heavy casualties. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division were the
first to actually enter the town.

It was my privilege to meet several of the gunners from Lennox and Addington who served in the 4th or other Armoured Divisions and who remembered the railway station in Falaise very well. Snipers, they said, were everywhere. The tense postures of the advancing Canadians in this press photographs show the danger.

Next year, many Canadian events will focus on the War of 1812-1814. It has occurred to me that the War of 1812 would have had a definite “presence” in the psychology of the new Canada formed in 1867. It would have been both as recent and as distant as Operation Overlord is to us today.

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Heritage and the Home Renovation Tax Credit

As part of the economic stimulus package, the Government of Canada is offering Canadians tax credits for renovations undertaken between January 27, 2009 and February 1, 2010.     The guidelines emphasize that to be eligible, alterations “must be of an enduring nature and integral to the dwelling.”   Given the speed at which the legislation was drafted, it comes as no surprize that there is no recognition of the vulnerability of our built heritage to short deadlines and sales pressure.

Particularly at risk are original windows.  The bill favours broad-based contractors who sell mass-produced elements. These contractors can be in and out in a day.    Carpenters who  replicate elements using historical techniques will be at a disadvantage when bidding against firms that can guarantee homeowners a twenty-four hour turn-about.    Moreover,  restoration of heritage elements cannot usually be done in winter.  Replacement with vinyl or aluminum windows is now offered after the snow flies.

Heritage Committees (Local Architecture Advisory Committees) can expect to experience pressure from owners of heritage properties who are in a hurry to meet the deadline and get the tax credit.  In most Canadian jurisdictions, owners of such properties need municipal approval of alterations before they  can engage a contractor.  Typically, Heritage Committees only meet once a month and may take several months to sort out the options and make a decision.  Rural Committees are at a particular disadvantage in responding to requests as experts and resources are not usually close at hand.

Also disadvantaged will be the tiny cohort of stonemasons, woodcarvers, glaziers who work on heritage projects.  These skilled, niche trades have been encouraged by governments in recent years through job training initiatives and the like.  It is very doubtful that there are enough workers  to complete the summer’s avalanche of  jobs.  To make the deadline,  contracts  will be given to non-specialists which under other circumstances would be held until a specialist tradesman were available.

The heritage community like the rest of Canada was taken by surprize by the Home Renovation Tax Credit.  It is unfortunate, as an opportunity has been missed to offer owners of important properties an advantage.  The legislation could have been written to give owners of designated, heritage properties a longer time frame to complete alterations and still qualify for credit.  This would have enabled Heritage Committees and historical restoration specialists to encourage consideration of preservation through appropriate repair, or at least by historical replication.    A time extension would have recognized and rewarded the important role of property owners in looking after our built heritage, and would have cost Canada next to nothing.

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