Archived [2023-12-13] - Guide to the Management of Movable Heritage Assets

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1. Introduction

This Guide is intended to assist managers in implementing sections of the Treasury Board Policy on Management of Materiel (2006) related to the management of movable heritage assets. The Policy stipulates that these assets are to be identified and protected, their heritage value is to be assessed, and a record that includes accurate information about their nature and condition is to be kept.

Movable heritage assets range from art and archaeological artifacts to everyday objects, including objects related to federal heritage buildings. The Auditor General of Canada defines cultural heritage as the tangible evidence of human experience, such as artifacts, archives, printed material, cultural products, architectural heritage, sacred sites, and archaeology. The conservation of such collections benefits both the present and future generations by supporting avenues for education, recreation, and employment. A strong and vibrant cultural heritage contributes to a higher quality of life for all Canadians.

Policies that contribute to progressively strengthening the protection of Canada's cultural heritage have grown in importance. This Guide supports the implementation of the Treasury Board Policy on Management of Materiel by helping federal organizations (other than national museums and Parks Canada, for which other policies already exist) protect collections or artifacts that may have a heritage value. To prevent organizations from accidentally neglecting or disposing of the valued assets, the Guide proposes good practices for identifying and protecting these collections as part of daily operations. Furthermore, the Guide encourages accountability for the management of these assets through public reporting.

The benefits of effective management of movable heritage assets include the following:

  • compliance with deputy heads' responsibilities under the requirements of the Treasury Board Policy on Management of Materiel;
  • coherent integration of heritage value considerations in planning;
  • preservation of the heritage value of government assets;
  • enhanced public or community perception of government;
  • extension of an asset's life through conservation, including preventive and proper storage; and
  • enhanced performance and investment predictability.

Note: "Department" refers to departments and agencies named in section 2 of the Financial Administration Act.

1.1 Purpose

The purpose of this Guide is to assist materiel managers in identifying and managing Canada's movable heritage assets. A common set of procedures to protect these assets, ensuring consistent decision-making and management practices, will ultimately contribute to the promotion and reinforcement of Canada's cultural identity and social cohesiveness.

1.2 Scope

Flowing from the Policy on Management of Materiel, which provides policy direction on the identification and management of all departmental movable assets, this Guide sets out good practices for the management of those movable assets that are considered heritage assets. Government departments collectively possess materiel that could potentially have heritage value. It is therefore critical that departments develop mechanisms to identify and protect movable heritage assets in accordance with a set of requirements, while considering a wide range of good practices.

Note: This Guide was developed to provide departments with the best advice available on how they can implement the requirements of the Treasury Board Policy on Management of Materiel regarding the management of movable heritage assets. While adherence to this Guide is voluntary, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat may ask departments to explain any deviation from the advice that it offers.

2. Process for Managing Movable Heritage Assets

This section describes the process of managing movable heritage assets.

The Policy on Management of Materiel (2006) requires that the deputy heads of departments ensure the following:

  • heritage collections are identified and protected;
  • the heritage value of these assets is assessed; and
  • a record of these assets that includes accurate information on their nature and condition is kept.

The effective management of movable heritage assets has five steps:

  1. identification;
  2. determination of heritage value;
  3. documentation;
  4. management; and
  5. maintenance.

When managing movable heritage assets, consider the following:

2.1 Identification

The identification of items is the first step in the management of movable heritage assets. It is good practice for departments to do the following:

  • develop and maintain a mechanism to flag heritage assets in their movable asset inventories on a regular basis; and
  • ensure that personnel who assess the assets have the necessary skills to identify potential movable heritage items.

2.2 Determination of heritage value

It is good practice for departments to do the following:

  • assess, in consultation with functional specialists with the appropriate skills, the heritage value of an asset;
  • perform documentary and physical analysis of the item using the appropriate research tools and resources, such as reports, photographs, plans, and newspapers (see Section 3 of this Guide); and
  • following the initial assessment, evaluate the item in the context of other similar items or types of items.

The assessment should be documented and retained for future reference.

For an example of a step-by-step significance assessment, see Appendix D.

Note: The significance of an item should be documented.

2.3 Documentation

Documentation creates a record of the item's location, condition, heritage criteria and significance, physical characteristics, ownership, and use. When an item is removed from its original context, documentation helps to identify its history, trace its use, and, under the appropriate circumstances, reinstate it to its original context. It is good practice for departments to do the following:

  • retain copies of the item's documentation near the items as well as in a central information bank;
  • photograph the item in detail, showing it in its original context;
  • record the item's relationship to the place and people of its original context;
  • record how the item was used, who owned it, and where it came from;

Note: Talk to people who used the item or who remember its history.

  • record any information or documentation that is or may be missing from the existing documentation;
  • research and document the local history of the region and community of the item's original context;

Note: Researching local history provides a context for understanding the item and the reasons it is important.

  • research and document historical changes and uses that have influenced the design or current condition of the item; and
  • examine and document the condition of the item with reference to the following:
    • evidence of wear and tear; and
    • evidence of repairs and restorative attempts.

Note: Monetary value is not a criterion to be considered. If the object is an antique or work of art, however, it may be important to record fair market value, particularly if the item may be transferred to another institution in the future.

2.4 Management

Once items of heritage value are assessed, a conservation plan should be prepared for items considered of significant heritage value, especially before any decisions are made that could have an adverse effect on the condition of the item. A conservation plan can help provide clear direction, ensure a consistent approach, and identify management objectives and responsibilities. The conservation plan can establish the appropriate actions to manage a heritage asset and provide mechanisms for the decision makers about the future use of the asset.

It is good practice for departments to do the following:

  • prepare an asset conservation management plan (see Appendix E) for the asset and follow its recommendations before making decisions on moving, disposing, or restoring items;

Note: Conservation objectives, management responsibilities, and appropriate management techniques should be clearly defined. Exercise minimal intervention and reversibility.

  • ensure that internal procedures are established to meet the requirements of the Treasury Board Policy on Management of Materiel for movable heritage assets;
  • consult with other government departments, agencies, and Crown corporations in determining mechanisms for the following:
    • identifying heritage assets;
    • assessing the heritage value of the assets;
    • ensuring the protection of heritage assets; and
    • ensuring that records including accurate information about the nature and condition of heritage assets are maintained in individual departments; and
  • ensure that performance measures are in place for the following:
    • the identification process;
    • the protection of heritage assets; and
    • record-keeping mechanisms.

2.5 Maintenance

A movable heritage item can usually survive for a long period in its original context or in storage that follows Canadian museum standards as long as basic security, protection, and shelter from the elements are provided. Items can be easily damaged through hasty or poorly informed actions. The risks of poor heritage asset management can be mitigated through the development of and adherence to maintenance plans. It is good practice for departments to do the following:

  • follow the asset's conservation management plan (see Appendix E);
  • ensure that any maintenance and restoration work or proposal for removal is based on an understanding of the item's significance to the people of Canada;
  • ensure that maintenance and repairs are undertaken using the same materials and techniques that were used originally, unless there are good practical and economic reasons for a divergence based on specialist advice;

Note: Repairs should be approached with caution because certain techniques can cause irreversible damage. Consider seeking the advice of a specialist before undertaking repairs.

  • conserve movable heritage assets by doing the following:
    • minimize direct physical access, which can put items at risk of wear, damage, disturbance, and theft, according to the Canadian Conservation Institute's "Ten Agents of Deterioration";

Note: Because movable heritage assets are portable, they can be easily sold, relocated, or discarded during changes in management. For this reason, movable heritage assets are also vulnerable to loss, damage, theft, and dispersal, often before their heritage significance is appreciated.

  • keep heritage items in their original place and context whenever possible or, if this is not possible, keep the items in managed collections;
  • consider storing important archival records in a central information bank for future reference;
  • secure and store items during conservation work on the building or site that houses them;
  • remove small and valuable items to protect them during conservation work;
  • record any conservation work in notes and take "Before" and "After" photographs of the items;
  • add these notes and photos to each item's documentation file;
  • seek advice from experts before applying treatments to items; and
  • consider that when departments determine that they do not have the mandate or resources to maintain an asset they may decide to dispose of it by offering it to museums or similar institutions or other government departments. See Appendix C for a link to lists of museums and similar institutions.

Note: Conservation treatment of art and artifacts of significant heritage value must be performed by trained conservation professionals in adherence with the Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice of the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property and of the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators. (Professional credentials include accreditation by the Canadian Association for Conservation.) Heritage assets of lesser significance, such as collections of heritage case goods or public monuments, can be preserved and repaired following conservation principles (i.e. minimal intervention and reversibility) under the general guidance and supervision of a conservation professional.

Note: Repainting and other seemingly standard maintenance can damage or destroy original materials, as can repairs, reconstruction, and the addition of new parts to make an item operational.

For further information on disposal, please refer to the Directive on Disposal of Surplus Materiel(2006).

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Process for the Management of Movable Heritage Assets
Text version: Process for the Management of Movable Heritage Assets

3. Resources available

Canadian Heritage

Advice on how to transfer heritage assets to designated Canadian institutions and contact information for them may be obtained by email from staff of the Movable Cultural Property Program at

National museums

A list of national heritage institutions and links to their websites, with contact information, can be found at

Canadian Conservation Institute

The Canadian Conservation Institute provides departments with advice, assistance, and information on the following subjects:

  • preventive conservation;
  • preservation of heritage collections and assets;
  • conservation treatment and maintenance;
  • emergency response and disaster preparedness; and
  • contracting the services of conservation professionals.

For additional information, call 1-866-998-3721.

Parks Canada

Parks Canada can provide the following to departments:

  • cultural resources management principles and practices, tools, guidelines, and online resources; and
  • access to information and advice to help implement the Government of Canada's Archaeological Heritage Policy Framework (1990).

Cultural Resources Management Policy

Parks Canada's Guidelines for the Management of Archaeological Resources


Crown Assets Distribution (CAD)

Part of Public Works and Government Services Canada, CAD does the following for departments:

  • provides advice on the disposal of surplus assets;
  • provides advice on the preparation of surplus assets for sale;
  • develops marketing plans;
  • offers access to global markets through its website;
  • offers access to CAD regional representatives; and
  • puts contacts in place with re-marketing specialists.

Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN)

CHIN provides the following to departments:

  • advice on how to best capture information about heritage assets; and
  • access to Canadian and international heritage information.

For additional information, call 1-800-520-2446.

Canadian Museums Association (CMA)

CMA assists departments in finding provincial and local museums and associations.

Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC) and Canadian Association for Conservation (CAC)

CAPC and CAC provide departments with the following:

Canadian Association of Professional Heritage Consultants (CAPHC)

CAPHC provides departments with the following:

  • assistance in contracting the services of professional heritage consultants (by region, with a focus on built heritage and fixed heritage assets);
  • assistance in researching significance;
  • advice on cultural resource management; and
  • advice on the CAPHC "Code of Professional Conduct & Ethics."

4. Inquiries

Please direct enquiries about this policy instrument to the organizational unit in your department responsible for this subject matter. For interpretation of this policy instrument, the responsible organizational unit should contact: TBS Public Enquiries.

Appendix A — References

Appendix B—Definitions

disposal (aliénation)
the removal of assets from a department or agency, whether by transfer of ownership into new hands or through recycling as scrap.
fair market value (juste valeur marchande)
the price that would be agreed to in an open and unrestricted market between knowledgeable and willing parties, dealing at arm's length, who are fully informed and not under any compulsion to transact.
federal heritage collections (collections du patrimoine fédéral)
collections of art, historical artifacts, archaeological artifacts, and archival collections that are of artistic, historical, ceremonial, documentary, technological, or associative importance and that are owned by federal departments (excepting those managed by Parks Canada under its legislative mandate). New objects of potential heritage value are also considered valid cultural property.
gratuitously (à titre gratuit)
given without recompense; not involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration; costing nothing.
heritage value (valeur patrimoniale)
a value determined by assessing the aesthetic, historic, scientific, cultural, social, or spiritual importance or significance for past, present, or future generations. The associative or representative value of an asset, such as its artistic, historical, or aesthetic value, does not in itself constitute heritage value, though it does contribute to determining the significance of the asset.
materiel (matériel)
all movable assets, excluding money and records, acquired by Her Majesty in right of Canada.
movable assets (biens meubles)
all movable assets, regardless of cost, for which management wishes to exercise custodial control and to have tracked. For the purposes of materiel management, movable assets do not include real property assets.
movable heritage assets (biens meubles patrimoniaux)
movable assets such as art, archaeological artifacts, and everyday objects that, through a process of assessment, have been determined to possess heritage value.
surplus Crown assets (biens de surplus de la Couronne)
property (excluding real property or immovables as defined in the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act or licences in respect thereof) of Her Majesty that is in the custody or under the control of a department or federal body that has determined that the property is surplus to its requirements (i.e. there is no current or foreseen requirement for it).

Appendix C—Museums

Lists of museums and similar institutions, as designated under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act based on their capacity to preserve heritage objects and make them publicly accessible, can be accessed by consulting the website of the Movable Cultural Property Program of Canadian Heritage at

Appendix D—Example of a Step-by-Step Significance Assessment

[Adapted from Significance: A Guide to Assessing the Significance of Cultural Heritage Objects and Collections of the Heritage Collections Council, Australia. The full original version of Significance may be found at]

  1. Compile all the available details about the object and its history in a folder. These may include the acquisition date, notes made when the object was acquired, photos, copies of reference material, and notes on related objects in the collection.
  2. Research the history and provenance of the object. Compile photos of it in use and notes about the owner or place where it was used, when it was made or purchased, and its general history.
  3. Talk with experts, users, and relevant scholarly, professional, or community associations to ensure the context, provenance, and potential social values of the object are fully understood. Encourage personnel with knowledge about the object to write notes and describe the history and meaning of the object and when it was in use. Consult others who may have information about the object or expert knowledge of similar items or the associated industry or trade.
  4. Understand the context of the object. Consider its relationship to other objects, where it was used, the original locality, and how it relates to the history of the department, agency, or country. Wherever possible, document the object or collection in its context of use and original location.
  5. Analyze and record the fabric of the object. Document how it works, what it is made of, and its manufacture, patterns of wear, repairs, and adaptations. Record the object's condition.
  6. Consider comparative examples of similar objects. Check reference books and communicate with other institutions or organizations with related collections. Judge whether the item is common or rare, in good condition, intact, well provenanced, and well documented in comparison with similar items in other collections.
  7. Assess the significance of the object against the primary criteria and the degree of significance of the object by assessing it against the comparative criteria.

    Primary criteria:

    Historic significance

    An object may be historically significant for its association with people, events, places, or themes. Historically significant objects range from those associated with famous people and important events to those illustrating daily life, used by ordinary people.

    Aesthetic significance

    An object may be aesthetically significant for its craftsmanship, style, technical excellence, beauty, demonstration of skill, or quality of design and execution.

    Scientific or research significance

    An object or collection may have research significance if it has major potential value for further scientific examination or study. An object may be of scientific value if it demonstrates the documented distribution, range, variation, or habitat of a taxon or taxonomic category, such as a species or genus. Archaeological artifacts and collections may have research significance if they are provenanced and were recovered from a documented context and if they represent aspects of history that are not well reflected in other sources.

    Social or spiritual significance

    Objects have social significance if they are held in community esteem. This may be demonstrated by social, spiritual, or cultural expressions that provide evidence of a community's strong affection for an object or collection and of how it contributes to that community's identity and social cohesion. Some objects have intrinsic spiritual qualities for particular groups of people and belief systems and are referred to as sacred objects.

    Comparative criteria:


    Provenance refers to the chain of ownership and context of use of an object. Knowing this history enables a more precise assessment. Provenance is central to establishing historic and scientific significance.


    An object may be significant because it represents a particular category of object, activity, way of life, or historical theme.


    An object may be significant as a rare, unusual, or particularly fine example of its type. It is possible for an object's significance to be rated as both rare and representative.

    Condition, intactness, and integrity

    An object may be significant because it is unusually complete or in sound original condition. Objects with these characteristics are said to have integrity. Changes and adaptations made in the working life of an object do not necessarily diminish significance and are in fact also recognized as an integral part of the object and its history.


    An object's significance may be enhanced by its connection to the mandate of the department or agency.

    Significance of the maker or manufacturer

    An object's significance may be enhanced by the fact of its having been made by someone prominent or important to the development of particular manufacturing or artistic techniques or by the connection of the maker to the history of the department, agency, or country.

  8. Write a succinct statement of significance encapsulating the object's values and meaning. Do not just say the object is significant—explain why it is significant and what it means. Consider organizing collections of objects according to broad levels of significance such as the following: objects that are irreplaceable or indispensable; objects that represent a particularly important value; objects related to the mandate, history, or both of the department or agency but are not intrinsically irreplaceable or indispensable; and objects of minor significance.

Appendix E—Example of an Asset Conservation Plan

[Adapted from A Guide to the Preparation of Conservation Plans of the Scottish Executive, Scotland. The full original version may be found at]

Preparation of a conservation plan encourages those with responsibility for an asset to think about it in a structured way and to assess how and why it is significant and how it should be managed.

A conservation plan should be a living document that has a clearly defined purpose and is used and updated as required. The preparation of a conservation plan should not be an end in itself but be considered a necessary management tool. In the long term, a conservation plan should pay dividends to the department or agency by providing a firm foundation for management and expenditure decisions.

For example only: A department's asset conservation plan may include the following:


  • Give a brief description of the asset to which the plan relates;
  • Specify the authorship of the conservation plan, its date of preparation, the stakeholders, and the intended recipients; and
  • Identify all those who were consulted in and contributed to the preparation of the conservation plan, and note any proposed future consultations.


Summarize the conservation plan's main conclusions and recommendations, whether for physical interventions or management strategies, under the categories Urgent, Necessary, and Desirable, with a program and timetable for implementation.

Assessment of significance

Assess and analyze the historical and cultural significance of the asset.

Assessment and analysis of conservation needs

Once the cultural significance of the asset has been identified, an assessment of its particular problems and sensitivities is required, along with consideration of the options available for its conservation.

Issues to consider should include the following:

  • identification of the current use of the asset and consideration of any need for an appropriate change of use;
  • the condition of the asset and any need for repair;
  • any constraints imposed by statutory consent requirements;
  • actions needed to conserve or restore the asset;
  • any public access requirements or limitations;
  • servicing needs;
  • the costs of the various recommended measures; and
  • the likely resources available for the asset, both immediately and in the future.

Note: Once the options available have been considered, the proposed actions should be identified and justified. An assessment of the effect on the asset of any proposed works should be prepared, for example by way of a table, checklist, or other form.

Action plan

Once what needs to be done has been identified, a statement should be prepared setting out the actions necessary to preserve the cultural and historic significance of the asset. These might include the following:

  • repairs needed to any feature, finishes, or contents, setting out priorities and categorizing them as Urgent, Necessary, and Desirable, as appropriate;
  • identification of appropriate materials and technical skills and their sourcing;
  • the creation of an ongoing maintenance schedule; and
  • provision or retention of public access and its promotion.

Note: The action plan should clearly identify who has the responsibility for the actions proposed. It should also identify possible sources of funding for the implementation of the action plan and any time restrictions on expenditure.

Review arrangements

The conservation plan should establish the arrangements and timeframe for a periodic review of the contents of the plan and the implementation of the recommended actions.

Supplementary information

Depending on the length and nature of the conservation plan, some information may be more appropriate as appendices, which, if they are lengthy, may best be contained in a volume separate from the conservation plan itself.

The appendices may include the following, as appropriate:

  • bibliography and references;
  • specialist reports and documentation;
  • plans and photographs; and
  • visitor survey data (including the effect of visitors on the asset).