Protecting the Farm as a Cultural Heritage Landscape: The Story of Innisfree Farm

Wednesday, February 27, 2019
by Barb Heidenreich

For the 85th edition of OHA+M: We return to our recent farms theme and look at another way to protect historic farmsteads. I’m very happy to have a guest contributor to the discussion, landowner Barbara Heidenreich.

Image of Barbara Heidenreich

Trained in the fields of economic development, ecology, business, international policy, planning and conservation, Barb Heidenreich is a former member of the Ontario Municipal Board and was Natural Heritage Co-ordinator with the Ontario Heritage Trust. She has also served as Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). Barb tells of her own experience in devising an approach to preserve an Ontario farm with important associative and physical values, one that also has deep meaning for her personally.

~ Dan

How do we protect farms as cultural heritage landscapes?

The Provincial Policy Statement (2014), in policy 2.6.1, explicitly states that “Significant built heritage resources and significant cultural heritage landscapes shall be conserved.” However, the legislative tools provided to “conserve” in the long term are limited.

Under the Planning Act, designation as a “cultural heritage landscape” in the municipal Official Plan has unclear implications in terms of what might be permitted down the road. It is also subject to amendment and has no “in perpetuity” assurance. The difficulties of protecting whole farms or large parts of them using designation under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act has been covered in OHA+M’s previous three part series[1] and somewhat mirrors my own experiences. 

Old image of a farm

Innisfree Farm 1915, Town of Innisfil, Simcoe County

In seeking to preserve Innisfree Farm, a farm built in 1913-14 by my great-grandfather Byron Edmund Walker in the Town of Innisfil, I began by working with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT). It made sense … the original builder-owner was Sir Edmund Walker[2] whom the Government of Canada designated as a person of National Significance in 1938 for his contributions to Canadian business and as a patron of the arts. There is a Canada Historic Sites and Monuments Board Plaque in his honour in Grange Park, Toronto.[3] In addition in 2005 the OHT unveiled a Provincial Plaque to Sir Byron Edmund Walker, C.V.O., LL.D., D.C.L. 1848-1924 at Innisfree Farm, DeGrassi Point, the property that is the subject of this article.[4]

Image of a barn being built

Sir Edmund Walker watching the barn raising 1913

Innisfree Farm’s historic barn structures — the “Craftsman” style series of stone and cedar shingle outbuildings and ceramic clay silos were designed by architect Frank Darling and are considered by some architectural historians to be the most important in the province and are critical to the integrity of the cultural heritage landscape. However, the process of responding to the owner’s letter of interest, drafting of the Statement of Cultural Heritage Value (which eventually received OHT Board approval), and then undertaking the development of a “cultural heritage landscape easement” for the property was agonizingly slow. As well, the endowment requested before implementing the easement was well beyond the owner’s means.

What to do? Across the province there is an alliance of not-for-profit charitable conservation land trusts that operate under the province’s Conservation Land Act. The Act enables a “conservation body” to own land and accept easements where the owner wishes in perpetuity protection[5]. As listed in Section 2, an owner of land may enter into a covenant with a conservation bodies,

(a) for the conservation, maintenance, restoration or enhancement of all or a portion of the land or the wildlife on the land;

(b) for the protection of water quality and quantity, including protection of drinking water sources;

(c) for watershed protection and management;

(d) for the conservation, preservation or protection of the land for agricultural purposes

Farms generally have all these features and Innisfree Farm was no exception. One third of the 100 acres is an original woodlot that also contained sufficient rare and endangered species to qualify under the Ecogift Program. The sand ridge on the west half of the 100 acres is an important groundwater recharge area. The farm borders on a 250 acre old growth remnant with an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) known as the DeGrassi Point Prairie Relic.

So the conservation of the agricultural landscape provided by this property was of interest to the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust (ORMLT). Together the ORMLT and owner designed a Conservation Easement Agreement that recognized and protected in perpetuity the elements of the farm that made it a “cultural heritage landscape.”

A site plan of a farm

Schedule C of the Innisfree Farm Conservation Easement Agreement

The significant features both natural and cultural making up that landscape were identified and protected by covenants. No consent or subdivision activity was allowed on the lands. The forested area was protected from disturbance except for removal of invasive species. The agricultural areas were to remain in agriculture which was broadly defined. [Editor’s comment: Note that this — stipulations on continued use — can be done in an easement agreement but not in a designation!] A reserve agricultural building area was delineated in an inconspicuous area to provide future flexibility but subject to municipal approval.

Image of a barn complex

Historic Barn Complex, Innisfree Farm

Protection of heritage structures is not really within the purview of the Conservation Land Act, but the Act does allow for the easement and its covenants to be used for the “conservation, preservation or protection of the land” that these structures occupy. While allowing for the use and repurposing of the buildings of the “Historic Barn Complex”, their preservation was addressed in the Conservation Easement Agreement in a way that hopefully does provide in perpetuity protection:

Within the Historic Barn Complex Area the construction, maintenance and replacement of buildings and structures is permitted only within the footprint of the existing historic barn and agricultural buildings as described in detail in the Baseline Documentation Report. Repurposing of the existing historic buildings and structures may take place if in conformity with the municipal Official Plan and Zoning By-law.

It was a pleasure to work with the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust. I was notified of the registration of the Conservation Easement Agreement on January 30, 2019. I have tried my best as an owner of a remarkable piece of Ontario heritage to preserve it in perpetuity. Time will tell…

Image of histroic barn complex

Another view of the Historic Barn Complex


Note 1: OHA+M’s three-part series on “The Farm as a Cultural Heritage Landscape” (part one, October 9, 2018; part two, October 31, 2018; part 3, November 30, 2018) looks at the application of heritage designation under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act to farm protection.

Note 2: See

Note 3: See

Note 4: See

Note 5: For more on land trusts and conservation easements see OHA+M from November 17, 2016: “Heritage easements 401 — Easements for (almost) all”.


Innisfil Historical Society (2006). The Farms of Innisfil. pp. 42-43.

Heidenreich, C.E. (1989). …and go to Innisfree. 100 Years at DeGrassi Point. Innisfree Ltd. General Store Publishing House.