Heather Broadbent: Captive on the Carousel of Time
Local Hero: Heather Broadbent is Caledon’s respected heritage expert.
Heather Broadbent: One of our 2009 Local Heroes
For thirty-five years, Caledon’s respected heritage expert Heather Broadbent has been speaking up on behalf of our past. Though officially retired since 2000, she continues to champion the cause of cultural and natural heritage protection as vigorously as ever.
Heather immigrated to Canada from Britain forty years ago, although she has deeper Canadian roots. “The first generation to emigrate here was my great-grandfather,” she says. He settled in the Humber River watershed, near what is now Etobicoke, and her grandfather was born soon after. However, after only six years the family went back to Britain, and remained there until Heather returned two generations later.
To say Heather’s knowledge of the region’s natural and cultural history is encyclopedic is to sell it short. She claims she comes by it naturally: “Everyone in the family was interested in history. Knowing my grandfather was here inspired me to learn not just about the pioneer history, but also native history.”
Heather began putting that accumulated wisdom to use in 1974 as something of a self-appointed Caledon heritage czar, raising the issue at hearings for land development proposals and other municipal functions. In 1981, she obtained a vocational licence to conduct archeological assessments.
Heather stuck with her volunteer heritage cause for eleven years. And in 1985, when the town established the first paid position for a heritage resources officer, Heather was the natural choice for the job. She remained in the role for the next fifteen years.
During that time, her influence grew far beyond Caledon. Arguing that regard for heritage should be enshrined in legislation beyond the confines of the Heritage Act, she participated in updating the provincial Planning Act in 1985 to reflect heritage considerations. “We ended up with something stronger because of that,” she recalls. Today, heritage clauses appear in a wide array of provincial policies, including the Aggregate Resources Act.
Heather also served for six years on the Ontario Heritage Foundation, and a further six as vice-chair of the Conservation Review Board, which hears appeals to the Heritage Act. On home turf, she was instrumental in establishing what is now called Heritage Caledon and other heritage advisory committees throughout Peel. She was also a major player in the development of the Peel Heritage Complex.
It’s a mistake to think that Heather is all about artifacts in a museum, however. She is just as passionate about natural heritage, and has served with a long list of groups aiming to protect and restore the Humber River – everything from efforts to have it designated as a Canadian Heritage River (it was) to conducting historic bridge inventories. “My grandfather lived in the Humber watershed, and I’ve lived here the whole time,” she says, to explain why the river holds such a prominent place in her heart.
“Retirement is exhausting,” says this heritage diva of her hectic life. “Just before I retired I was on seventeen committees. Afterwards I got it down to six. Now it’s back up to eight or nine. I’ve been very lucky. My interest became my life.
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