You don’t live in a cave—so why the stalactites?

Ice damming challenges

Darn Ice-Damming.

It’s been a long winter, but summer is almost here. The lengthening days signal that it is time to start planning some of the regular maintenance every building needs to deal with the winters still to come. Have you noticed long, heavy icicles hanging from your home’s eaves this winter? If you did, the building likely has a problem with ice damming. Examining the damage, effecting repairs and solving the underlying problem should be a priority.

Ice damming happens when warm air that rises in a building suddenly hits the frozen roof. Any snow or ice sitting on that roof melts and runs towards the eaves—where it promptly freezes again. That ice plugs the eavestroughs, overflows (hence the icicles) and is often forced into the roof itself. Many think that icicles hanging from the eaves are beautiful, but the water forced into the roof can wind up in the ceiling and walls. Ice damming is often the root cause of problems with mould, rot and even structural failure.

There are several ways to minimise ice damming. Keeping snow off the roof prevents it from melting in the first place. Heat cables can be installed at the base of the roof to prevent water from refreezing at the eaves. However, if the roof is nearing the end of its useful life and in need of rehabilitation, this is an opportunity to address the underlying problem.

Ice damming is indeed a symptom of a larger problem with the roof. Those long, heavy icicles are a sign that a roof lacks proper insulation or ventilation. The more heat escaping from the attic, the more quickly the snow on a roof will melt. The more poorly ventilated the roof is, the less likely the rising heat will dissipate evenly.

What to do? Careful observation and a little research is always the first step: you cannot solve a problem you don’t understand. Get into the habit of comparing the amount of snow on your roof to the amount on the roofs of other buildings in the area. If snow disappears more quickly from your roof, that could be evidence of poor insulation. If the amount of snow is unevenly distributed a few days after a snowfall, your roofing system may be poorly ventilated.

How to fix the underlying problem? Since ice damming is caused by melting snow that quickly refreezes, a solution will limit the amount of heat escaping through the attic while distributing the heat that does inevitably escape evenly across the roof. Be careful—adding too much or the wrong type of insulation or installing it poorly creates its own problems.

Insulating a roof in the wrong way can easily compromise the ventilation. The areas where a roof meets the walls will always be warmer than the peak. Proper ventilation moves heat from the warmer to the cooler areas of the roof, limiting the potential for the snow and ice to melt. In older homes, a lack of ventilation is quite common: exposed rafters or decorative boxed-in soffits with crown mouldings often restrict air flow within the attic. There are ways to improve ventilation that do not comprise the heritage value of your home.

It’s always a good idea to consult a professional. An architect or roofing engineer can help you evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of different solutions. You must consider all of the variables and materials that compose a roof before implementing a solution:a roof is not just a layer of shingles but a system complete with external and internal components.

Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser.

The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Tuesday was the last full day of the formal conference, while Wednesday features a number of post-conference tours to various Main Street communities. I, however, will be travelling back to Edmonton on Wednesday, via Houston and Calgary. Seeing as I would miss the extended tours, I signed up to participate in a mobile workshop called “The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street,” which showcased the renewal of this 18th and 19th century neighbourhood which had endured decades of decline. Now, two distinct districts are emerging along Upper Canal, one with historic theatres, focusing on entertainment, and another focused on biomedical research and development.

New Orleans Civil Rights Heritage: Can it be Conserved?

Canal Street Streetcar
Canal Street Streetcar

A group of about 20 of us hopped on one of the great streetcars that continually traverse Canal Street, the major thoroughfare through downtown New Orleans. Our guide, the Director of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans, pointed out numerous places of interest within this complex environment. One such building was a now-empty Woolworth’s store, which we learned had been the epicentre of the early Civil Rights movement in Louisiana; this Woolworth’s lunch counter was one of the first to be de-segregated in the 1950s. Now, however, the building lays vacant, and is currently slated for demolition.

A Historic Entertainment District – Renaissance

Across LaSalle Street from Woolworth’s stands the early 20th century Saenger Theater. Damaged extensively during Katrina, but also ailing for some time before that, the theatre was in urgent need of a multi-million dollar rehabilitation if it was to have a future. Through application of historic tax-credit support, in addition to a comprehensive business plan for sustainability, that project is now well under way. I took a picture of the sign to indicate the number of partners – both public and private sector – involved in this massive endeavour. In approximately two years time, this once-great movie palace will again become a centre for performing arts in New Orleans, and will anchor future development on Upper Canal.

Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans
Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans

Across the Street from the Saenger Theatre is the Joy Theater, a 1940s Art Deco gem, now restored to its period of significance. The Joy has already become a popular centre for performing arts and is driving the district as an entertainment hot spot. To my eye, it also bears some resemblance to Alberta’s Garneau Theatre , a Municipal Historic Resource, located in Edmonton.

New Technologies and Bio-Innovation

On the next block up from the theatres, several older buildings have been re-purposed for use as medical and scientific research facilities, and new infill, including a multimillion dollar, highly advance centre for “Bio-Innovation,” has been developed. The Upper Canal area will also become home to a new Veteran’s Administration hospital, a 2 billion dollar initiative, replacing an existing hospital devastated by Katrina.

The tour concluded with discussion about the ingenuity and collaboration required to facilitate these projects. It was intriguing to see an area like Upper Canal – very much a work in progress – and to anticipated the future results of the work being undertaken today.

I’ll conclude my live-blogging from the Conference with one more post on the final plenary session. Stay tuned!

Monday Main Street Conference Update

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Monday’s conference sessions offered rich content from professionals seasoned in Main Street leadership in various contexts. I attended three:

  •  “Creative Collaboration Efforts Between Main Streets and Municipalities”
  •  “Font of Information: Successful Graphic Communication for Main Streets”
  •  “Authenticity as Economic Catalyst”

Each presentation inspired my enthusiasm and got me thinking on a deeper level. While I could write a lot about each of them (and did take copious notes – it was good stuff!), for this post, please allow me to just summarize a few of my ‘take-aways,” from the first session.

The focus was on collaboration between Main Street Organizations and local governments, which is 100% applicable to the kind of work we do in Alberta, with MHPP and our Alberta Main Street Program. The presenters, which included the Mayor of Washington, Missouri, a city manager, and a State Main Street Program administrator with over 20 years experience, provided some really practical case studies from their work in Missouri.

John Simmons described the 16 year process he went through to conserve a “Richardsonian Romanesque” bank building in downtown Sedalia, Missouri. Built in 1888, the building had changed hands numerous times, and had suffered a major fire in the 1990s, leaving it roofless for two years.

Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri
Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri

John candidly described the efforts – including some failed partnerships in the past – that took place before the timing was right to make the conservation achievable. Even now, while considerable work has been done, the actual project is only beginning. John promised an update in two years on the “Missouri Trust Building.” Even though the story is still unfolding, it was a testimony to the tenacity required, sometimes over many years, for a community to achieve its goals of revitalization and heritage conservation. We’ve seen similar challenges with significant historic places in Alberta, and I can think of a few other major projects that may involve these same ingredients – partnerships, creativity, and commitment – if they are to garner both conservation and business success. Not all heritage conservation projects become success stories, but the key message from this session was that greater viability and sustainability is often achieved through partnerships.

After Monday afternoon’s two other excellent sessions, we had the evening free to explore the city a little. Here is a lagniappe of my photos from the remarkable French Quarter, steeped in history with a deep connection to Canada (well, pre-Confederation New France). Enjoy!

Main Street Conference – Opening Keynote

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

Sunday Afternoon / Evening

After a flight delay in Denver, I arrived in New Orleans just in time to arrive at the Conference’s opening plenary session. This event is always an enthusiastic kick-off to the conference, which (in addition to being educational) has the feel of a mega pep-rally. Each coordinating program brings in its delegation and waves placards announcing the place they are from. For instance, the delegation of Main Street communities from Wyoming was almost a hundred strong on its own! Clad in matching purple T-shirts, the Wyomingians proudly announce that they represent “the Wild West” in New Orleans.

Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.
Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.
Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary
Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary

The opening keynote presentation was given by Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, and described some of the benefits of looking at revitalization of downtown areas from a pedestrian perspective. (I’m pretty sure these princiles apply in Canada too). Walking is healthy, sociable, and environmentally friendly. It was an enlightening presentation. To increase walkability in our cities and towns, Jeff described how there needs to be:

  • A reason to walk
  • A safe walk
  • A comfortable walk
  • An interesting walk

So many factors go into increasing the walkability of our communities, but it is definitely worth taking a good look at becoming more walkable.

After the keynote, three communities were awarded the honour of “Great American Main Streets.”

I will devote another post to saying more about these unique communities, and what we in Alberta could perhaps learn from them. In the meantime, here is a photo of some of our fellow Canadians at the Conference in New Orleans.

Some members of the "Canada" delegation at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Conference
Some members of the “Canada” delegation – from Ontario and Saskatchewan – at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Conference

Alberta’s Historic Places in New Orleans?!

2013 Main Street Conference

Yes, you read it right.

For the next few days, RETROactive (well, me, Matthew Francis) will be down in New Orleans representing Alberta at the U.S. National Trust Main Street Conference. This annual gathering brings together leaders from hundreds of historic communities from across North America, as well as representatives from State and Provincial coordinating programs. In addition to Alberta, Canadians from Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan will also be in attendance. This is an incredible opportunity to learn from the stories of revitalization through heritage conservation. In particular, we’ll be seeing first-hand how New Orleans’ cultural economy has contributed to the city’s post-Katrina recovery. In between sessions, I’ll try to provide some real-time highlights from this excellent learning event. This knowledge will then be brought back to Alberta, to benefit the communities in our Alberta Main Street Program. Current members of the program’s network are:

  • Downtown Lethbridge
  • Wainwright
  • Uptowne Olds

Hudson’s Bay Company Factor’s House, Fort Vermilion

Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House, PHRDesignated in 2005 as a Provincial Historic Resource, the historical significance of the Hudson’s Bay Company Factor’s House in Fort Vermilion lies in it being the only structural evidence remaining of the presence of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Fort Vermilion. It is significant as well in that, having served as the residence of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s factors just after the turn of the twentieth century, it represents the dominance of the HBC in all aspects of life in this spread out community, which was the largest between Edmonton and the Yukon. It is also significant in that, in its size and with its many facilities, it was the first dwelling of its kind to be constructed in Alberta northwest of the Edmonton district.

Historical Context

In 1788, traders for the North West Company established a trading post on the flats of the Peace River at a point near the mouth of the Boyer River. It was called Fort Vermilion, apparently after red ochre deposits in the area. At the time, lands north and west of this point were occupied mostly by members of the Beaver First Nation, who were the initial intended clients of the Company. Once this post was established however, trading was also undertaken with members of the Slavey First Nation, who lived further north and west and also with recently migrated Cree who were now occupying the lands throughout the region. In time, a number of freemen, mostly Metis, came to settle on the river flats outside the Fort and engaged in trading as well.

With the incursion of the Hudson’s Bay into the Peace Region in 1815, a rival HBC post called Colville House was established upriver from Fort Vermilion. After a bitter fur trade war, the two companies amalgamated under the single name of Hudson’s Bay Company, and Colville House was closed down. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century, trade continued at Fort Vermilion, and, after the Irene Farm and Training School was established near the Fort in 1879, further settlement in the area increased. Soon, the HBC itself was maintaining a farm, milling its own grain, and selling the produce, primarily to people further up the Peace River, around Fort Chipewyan and even at HBC posts down the MacKenzie River. This activity picked up after 1899, when the Klondike gold rush and the signing of Treaty 8 brought a cash economy and more people to the north.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were more people living around Fort Vermilion than any other community in Canada northwest of the Edmonton district, save for Dawson City. Most of these people were Metis engaged in trapping and small-scale farming. The First Nations of the area preferred to live in the woodlands away from the Fort. The economy of the district continued to centre around the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, and, even though the fur trade had declined in recent times, business at the HBC farm and grist mill continued to grow. In addition to other small farms in the area, there were now several large ones, such as those of Fred and later Sheridan Lawrence, and that of St. Henri’s Roman Catholic Mission. In 1907, part of Fred Lawrence’s farm would be made over into a federal agricultural research station. All of these farms invariably sold most of their produce to the HBC, especially once the HBC had set up a modern steamroller flour mill, with an auxiliary sawmill and planer, in 1902 for $45,000. By this time, a hundred pound sack of flour produced at Fort Vermilion was selling for 6 dollars, as compared to 10 dollars for those imported from Edmonton.

In 1905, the commercial activity of the HBC around Fort Vermilion was augmented by its launching of a large new steam boat on the Peace River called the SS Peace River. At the same time, the HBC decided to provide the overall director of its operations in the area, Factor Frank Wilson, with a new residence on the banks of the river next to the Fort and farming operation. This was a two-and-one-half storey wood frame dwelling, made from wood cut locally and planed at the HBC sawmill. When completed, it immediately stood out as the most fashionable residence in the northwest with four bedrooms, a den, a dining room separate from the living room, a pantry separate from the kitchen, a sitting room, a sewing area, and even an indoor bathroom. This residence, which no doubt was the venue of much business activity on behalf of the HBC, would be a showcase home and a social centre in Fort Vermilion for years to come. Though it ceased to serve the managers of the HBC store during the 1930’s, it continued to be used as a private residence, in time blending with the other large wood frame dwellings nearby.

Note: the above material was prepared by a former staff historian.

Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Hudson’s Bay Company Factor’s House in Fort Vermilion. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Hudson’s Bay Company Factor’s House.

Spring is in the air! Have you started planning your summer vacation?

Historic Dunvegan 2013 Summer Events

Factor's House, Historic Dunvegan
Factor’s House, Historic Dunvegan

Last fall (2012), I had meetings with the Municipal District of Spirit River and also had the opportunity to visit Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park. What a beautiful place to explore! Located approximately one hour north of Grande Prairie and fifteen minutes south of Fairview, this park offers camping, a walking trail that meanders along the Peace River, a Provincial Historic Site and stunning views of the Dunvegan Bridge. With a Visitor Centre acting as a gateway to the Provincial Historic Site portion of the park (of which, portions are also designated as a Provincial Historic Resource) interpretive staff provide guided tours of the historic buildings. If you time your visit carefully, you might even get to experience one of their special events. See below for more information.

Interior, Factor's House, Historic Dunvegan. Do you remember hearing the saying “Sleep tight” when you were a child?  While it’s not known for sure, many believe that the saying originated with the use of rope beds such as this.  A person would have to tighten the ropes of the bed every so often, otherwise the ropes might loosen and cause the person to fall through to the floor in the middle of the night.  Possibly as a reminder to tighten the ropes, the saying: “Good night, sleep tight” came into being.
Factor’s House, Historic Dunvegan (Interior)  Do you remember hearing the saying “sleep tight” when you were a child? While it’s not known for sure, many believe that the saying originated with the use of rope beds such as this. A person would have to tighten the ropes of the bed every so often, otherwise the ropes might loosen and cause the person to fall through to the floor in the middle of the night. Possibly as a reminder to tighten the ropes, the saying: “Good night, sleep tight” came into being.

Historic Dunvegan is a significant part of Alberta’s heritage because of its connection to the operations of the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company in the Peace River District, for being an example of early architecture in Alberta and for the archaeological resources located at the site. To learn more about the significance of Historic Dunvegan and its history, read its listing on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Historic buildings that you could tour when at Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park, include:

  • St. Charles Mission – The Rectory
  • St. Charles Mission – St. Charles Church
  • Factor’s House
  • Revillon Frères Store (opening July 1st)

Tours of these fully restored buildings are offered daily.

Open Hours: May 15-September 2, 2013 from 10am-5pm.

Regular admission prices: $3.00 for Adults; $2.00 for Seniors; $1.50 for Youth; Free for children 6 and under.

Attention educators and youth group leaders! Educational programs or tours can be booked anytime during the summer.

St. Charles Mission, Church and Rectory
St. Charles Mission, Church and Rectory


Canada DayMonday, July 1st, 11am-4pm. Celebrate a historical milestone at Historic Dunvegan by being part of the grand opening of a building originally constructed by the Revillon Frères free traders in 1909. Discover this significant chapter of Dunvegan’s story by exploring the building and hearing from many of the people who have helped bring it to life. The day’s festivities will also include a performance by Juno-nominated family entertainer Mary Lambert, tours of all historic buildings, games, cake and crafts.
Admission is half price!

Annual Fresh Air MarketSunday, August 4th, 11am-5pm. Experience the time-honoured tradition of trading and gathering at Historic Dunvegan’s Fresh Air Market. Shop for jewellery, gifts, and other treats – all handcrafted by artisans from the Peace Country. Costumed interpreters will be offering tours of Historic Dunvegan’s three fully restored historic buildings. Activities for the kids will be provided. Regular fees apply.

St. Charles Mission, Church, Interior
St. Charles Mission, Church (Interior)


Amphitheatre Entertainment –Saturdays (May 18, June 29, August 3) at 2:00pm. Join the staff of Historic Dunvegan for a humorous and often interactive dramatic presentation. Participation by donation.

Sunday Funday – Sundays (May 19, June 30, September 1) at 2:00pm. Have some fun with our historical interpreters as they host games and activities. Participation by donation.


Day Camps – Most Wednesdays in July and August, 11am-4pm. For kids aged 4-10. Have some fun in the sun, learn a new craft, play a fun game, watch movies and more! Fee: $10/child. Bring a bag lunch.

Tea Leaves & Bannock Sticks – Most Saturdays in July and August, 2pm-4pm. Learn to bake bannock (traditional Scottish/Aboriginal bread) and enjoy a cup of tea while visiting with friends, family and historic staff. Participation by donation.


Phone: 780-835-7150


Historic Dunvegan website

Follow Historic Dunvegan on Facebook!

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

(Special thanks goes out to Stephanie McLachlan, Program Coordinator at Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park, who supplied all the summer event information.)