At the turn of the last century, the government noted the interest Canadians had in protecting their heritage as well as the need to extend its network of national parks throughout the country and therefore decided to create historic sites.
In 1919 James B. Harkin, Commissioner of the Dominion's national park system, persuaded the federal government to establish the
"Advisory Board for Historic Site Preservation." During the Board’s first meeting, its six members selected the official name,
"The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada," and elected Brigadier General E. A. Cruikshank as its first Chairman.
It quickly set about determining the most significant historic sites in the country. At the time, the usual commemoration took the form of a bronze plaque on a stone cairn.
In 1953 the Historic Sites and Monuments Act established the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) in law. A later amendment granted the HSMBC the power to recommend national designation for buildings in consideration of their age or architectural design.
In 1989 the HSMBC's mandate was extended to cover the designation of heritage railway stations. Ten years later, it was given the responsibility to commemorate the grave sites of Canadian Prime Ministers. On April 22, 2009, the HSMBC was appointed the advisory committee to the Minister of the Environment for the protection of heritage lighthouses.
The Board continues to handle a significant number of applications to designate places, people and events linked to various aspects of Canada's political, economic and social history. The Board is currently paying particular attention to the history of Aboriginal peoples, women and ethnocultural communities, whose designations are generally underrepresented.