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ARCHITECTURAL CONSERVANCY OF ONTARIO – Since 1933

"Through education and advocacy, to encourage the conservation and re-use of structures, districts and landscapes of architectural, historic and cultural significance, to inspire and benefit Ontarians."

Through advocacy and direct action the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) has been involved in preserving Ontario's architectural and environmental heritage since 1933.

The ACO is a charitable organization operating through a network of autonomous local branches in communities across Ontario, linked by a small co-ordinating office in Toronto, and governed by its Board of Directors and Provincial Council.

FOUNDING – The Saving of Barnum House

The founding of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario was sparked by interest in saving Barnum House near Grafton, which is now owned and operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust. The tradition continues today, almost all of our branches start because of a threat to a local landmark.

Dr. Eric Arthur, a professor with the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto and a distinguished architectural historian and critic, came across Barnum House in 1933 and, alarmed for its safety, purchased it for $4,000.00.

The Barnum House in Grafton has long been recognized as one of Ontario's finest examples of Neo-classical architecture. Once known as The Poplars, Barnum House was built in 1817 by Colonel Eliakim Barnum, a Vermont Loyalist, to replace his earlier home that had been accidentally burned during the War of 1812 by British soldiers billeted there during the retreat from York.

"Now that we had an unpainted house and a ruinous barn on our hands, it was obvious that something more had to be done and, at a meeting in Toronto, the Conservancy was born."

Inspired by the documentation by Professor Eric Arthur and his architectural students at the University of Toronto of more than 200 buildings, 83 leading citizens in cities, towns and townships across Ontario petitioned for, and were granted, provincial letters patent to create an organization dedicated to the preservation of buildings and structures of architectural merit and places of natural beauty or interest.

In 1940 the ACO acquired Barnum House from Professor Arthur and restored it in stages through the 1940's and 50's. In 1982, Barnum House became an historic property of the Province of Ontario, operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust and a local committee. We are delighted that Barnum House continues to be open to the public. For more information go to http://www.heritagefdn.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_8800_1.html.

More Recent History

Shortly following the passage of the first Ontario Heritage Act in 1975, Anthony Adamson offered the following advice which sets out the essential difference between the roles of Municipal Heritage Committees as advisors to Municipal Councils and the ACO as an outside advocacy body.

"We can not wear two hats if we want to be either successful advisors or successful activists...

We must learn to separate our aims if we are to succeed."


Anthony Adamson, 1976

Over its history ACO has helped save hundreds of buildings all across Ontario, and raised awareness of the importance of preserving our community heritage. The first organization to do such work, we pressed for heritage legislation and funding in Ontario, and have been followed in the field by such outstanding organizations as the Ontario Heritage Trust (a provincial agency), Community Heritage Ontario, and the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.

Even though we started by saving and restoring a heritage property, owning and operating heritage property is not a primary activity of the ACO. We do own and operate Victoria Jubilee Hall in Walkerton, the Caretaker's Cottage in Port Hope, and the Sheave Tower in Cambridge and were involved with other partners in the restoration of the Town Hall in Meaford, and the historic Port Hope railway station.