Bala Heritage Conservation District

Intent of the Heritage Conservation District Plan

Bala Heritage Conservation District Statement of Cultural Heritage Value: Why is Bala important?

The combination of built features, streetscape, open space and natural landscape elements within the study area is the result of human intervention on the Muskoka landscape. Elements within the study area are physical remnants or reminders of the various developments and themes in Bala’s history, including aboriginal use, early settlement, the timber industry, tourism and seasonal residency, and transportation. There are a relatively small number of built features in the study area, and the types are limited to vernacular structures and bridges.

The built features and streetscape/landscape/open space character of the area is interrelated to the natural environment, having been shaped by it, and also by having shaped it. Views of Muskoka Lake, the Moon River, the North and South Falls, rocky shorelines and vegetation are available from several locations within the study area. The character of the area is representative of the Muskoka Area, but also unique to the community of Bala in the precise location and configuration of water, land, and human-made elements.

The character of the study area has already been recognized for having cultural heritage value or interest. Four properties within the study area have been designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (Portage Landing [Burgess Island] on the Moon River, the Shield Parking Lot, the Township Dock on Lake Muskoka and the Burgess Memorial Church) for their physical or design values, historical or associative values, and contextual values. The twin stem Silver Maple Tree on Burgess Island and the White Pine grove in Margaret Burgess Park have been nominated for designation as Heritage Trees under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.

Physical elements of the study area have changed and will continue to change over time. Many built resources from Bala’s early history have been removed or modified, but have been commemorated and continue to be valued by the community. The associative values of the study area, experienced by views to the lake, river and falls are an important component in maintaining the character of Bala. Human desire to experience the landscape (both natural and human-made) has been well articulated since the Romantic era, where elements of the ‘sublime’ and ‘picturesque’ in the landscape captivated the human spirit, and provided outlets for contemplation, spirituality, recreation and relaxation. These values became translated to the Canadian ‘wilderness’ in the 19th and 20th centuries, where the experience of nature and naturalized features was valued for its beauty and restorative power, and the northern landscape became a symbolic interpretation of the Canadian frontier. These elements contributed to the historical development of Bala as a tourist and recreational location, and continue to characterize the study area for present-day residents and visitors.

Description of heritage attributes

  • Open space character of the cultural landscape with few buildings but significant landscape features.
  • Low profile built structures
  • Transportation network of roads, railways and bridges
  • Water features (Bala Bay, the Moon River, north and south falls, the Mill Stream)
  • Rocky shorelines and vegetation alongside the water features
  • Properties designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (Burgess Memorial Church, Portage Landing on the Moon River, the Township Dock on Lake Muskoka and the Shield Parking Lot)
  • Views from vantage points within the boundary of the water features

There are a number of different values and interests in any given heritage conservation district, and these values and interests often vary greatly amongst different districts, making each heritage conservation district a unique area that requires its own tailored management approach. The following  sections describe the overall intent of the Bala Heritage Conservation District Plan and how it is intended to be used.


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