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UNESCO bid long, costly, but worthy

Imagine a day when constant zoning and landuse squabbles in Steveston are a thing of the past.

Imagine a day when constant zoning and landuse squabbles in Steveston are a thing of the past.

It may just happen if Steveston is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, however, the process to get there will likely take several years and potentially cost millions of dollars, according to a report from Jane Fernyhough, Richmond's director of arts, culture and heritage services, sent to the city's planning committee on Wednesday.

Fernyhough noted the city must first begin preparations for a submission for Canadian National Historic Site designation for Steveston Village.

That's because in order to gain UNESCO designation a site must first receive national designation. Following that it must then be placed on a tentative list of Canadian candidates for global recognition.

According to Loren Slye, president of the Steveston Historical Society, such a designation would put to rest many development issues in the village as it would set in motion rigorous historical preservation standards.

"If Steveston gets world designation, we're set," said Slye.

The city must allocate $20,000 to begin the process, which appears to be tedious and, according to Slye, a "long shot."

"But I think it's worth it," said the Steveston resident.

Canada is already considered well represented by UNESCO with 13 world heritage sites, according to Fernyhough. The World Heritage Committee has also set limits on the pace of inscription for wellrepresented countries. Canada already has seven sites on the tentative list and will have just one site considered per year.

Britannia Heritage Shipyards and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery are already national historic sites, which bodes well for Steveston to be designated a historic site (district) on the whole, said Slye.

Parks Canada historians are responsible for national designations. Parks Canada reviews applications and nominates them to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board. From there, nominations go to the Ministry of Environment for official approval. The process can take years, according to Fernyhough.

The nomination process would cost about $20,000. After that, applying for UNESCO status could take several years and cost several million dollars, as is the case with Pimachiowin Aki, a boreal forest biosphere reserve in Manitoba and Ontario.

UNESCO sites can be of cultural and/or natural significance. Some examples are palaces, ancient ruins, places of worship and national parks.

A world heritage site must meet one of 10 criteria for selection. Slye believes Steveston meets about six or seven.

"The Fraser River has been the highway for civilization for many thousands of years," he said.

Among some of the criteria, a site must be an outstanding example of traditional human settlement or contain habitats of biological diversity.

Aside from the more recent industrial history and the structures that have been preserved, Slye said designation must also factor in the importance of Aboriginal settlement on the river as well.

Benefits of acquiring UNESCO World Heritage status include improved conservation levels of the village and providing the public with a more robust tool for earning and engagement. Fernyhough also noted a "branding effect" would follow.

She concluded the process is a "lengthy and costly" one. Among the sites on a tentative list for UNESCO consideration is Gwaii Haanas National Park in Haida Gwaii as well as the Klondike, which includes the historic district of Dawson.