IS EVERYTHING HERITAGE?
By François LeBlanc
(Published in 1993)
Is everything heritage, or is heritage something so special that
only very few and special sites or objects can be considered as
During the past few years, I have had to explain to scholars, to
fishermen, to loggers and to professionals what heritage is. If
it can be of any help, I have developed a modest explanation which
I would like to share with you.
Put in simple terms, I explain that heritage is what ever each
one of us individually or collectively wish to preserve and pass
on to the next generation. If we want to preserve something, then
it is our heritage.
This of course varies quite a bit, depending on the person or the
group of persons expressing their interest. To explain the whole
range covered by heritage, I use the following three dimensional
On one axis, heritage begins with you as an individual and grows
all the way to the whole world.
FROM YOU TO THE WORLD
Each individual possesses a personal heritage which he or she cherishes:
family pictures, music records, personal objects, souvenirs, a family
house, plants, animals, special persons in the family traditions
etc. This is a personal heritage which individuals need to recognize,
appreciate, conserve and share with others. At this level, it is
usually left to individuals or families to recognize and pass on
this heritage from one generation to the next.
Each community possesses a collective heritage which it wants to
preserve: buildings, parks, traditions, archives, farms, landscapes,
collections of objects gathered by citizens, skilled people, persons
with a long memory of the community etc. This constitutes a local
community's heritage. At this level it is usually the community's
responsibility to raise the level of awareness of its citizens for
this local heritage.
Region, province, country:
In the same way, each region, province, and country possess a common
natural, built, human and non<196>physical heritage which
collectively it has to learn to recognize, appreciate, preserve
and share. Again, at each level, it is up to the region, province
and country to define what it considers as its heritage and to care
As human beings living on this planet, there are things, persons
and traditions which we consider to be our common heritage. One
only has to mention places such as the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt,
the Acropolis of Athens or Mount Everest to realize that these places
do not belong to Egypt, Greece or Nepal. They are part of humanity's
heritage and these countries are simply the custodians of these
incredible treasures. This is why the World Heritage Convention
was created: to help the whole of humanity define what it wants
to preserve and pass on to the next generations.
FROM THE NATURAL TO THE SPIRITUAL
Thing of nature in its broadest sense. Natural heritage may consist
of sites which should be preserved for their beauty or their uniqueness;
endangered animal species or species representative of an area;
geological formations which explain the evolution of an area or
the earth etc.
Think of built in its broadest sense. Built heritage may then consist
of buildings or structures of architectural, engineering or historical
significance; industrial objects and machines; transportation vehicles
(cars, boats, airplanes), archaeological sites and objects, archival
Living persons may be considered as heritage because they possess
special skills or talents such as craftsmen, musicians, actors or
artists. They can also be people having an exceptional memory of
a community. Refer to the article on Japanese legislation in ICOMOS
Canada Vol.1 No.2. It gives a good overview of what living heritage
Traditions, songs, sayings, ways of life, etc. can also be considered
as heritage though they are non-tangible.
FROM OUR VALUES TO OTHER PEOPLES VALUES
Since the notion of heritage rests on extremely varied value systems,
from the values of one individual to those of a community, to those
of the whole world, at a specific time, and that these value systems
are constantly in evolution, it is normal that the notion of heritage
is also constantly in evolution. It is easy to understand that Japanese
looking at a site or object from a personal or community point of
view would not necessarily apply the same values to this site or
object than say aboriginal persons living in Canada or Bedouins
living in the desert of Algeria.
This simple diagram may help to explain that for some individuals
or groups, heritage is more in the community and people areas (aboriginal
persons for instance), while for others it is essentially in the
province and built areas. It may also help to understand that at
each level, it is that level's responsibility to identify and care
for its heritage and that it should not expect or rely on other
levels to do its job.
It also helps to explain that everything is not heritage, but that
there is probably much more heritage out there than most people
think. And if a person, a province, a country or the whole world
cares enough about something to pass it on to the next generations,
then anyone saying to us that there is too much heritage and not
enough money to care for it and therefore we should limit the concept
of heritage to a few really special things, does not understand
what the conservation community stands for.