All Aboard for an Alberta Architecture Adventure!

The Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada held its 39th Annual Conference in Edmonton

Opening reception at Edmonton’s City Hall
Opening reception at Edmonton’s City Hall

From May 29 through June 1 delegates from across the country (and a few from the United States and Europe) were treated to presentations, discussions and tours addressing a variety of aspects of Canadian architectural history. The conference kick-off was hosted at Edmonton’s city hall, and featured a talk and tour by the building’s architect, Gene Dub. Not surprisingly, he had many interesting anecdotes and insights to relate—including the memorable connection between the building and the Edmonton Sun newspaper’s 3rd page Sunshine Girls!

Three full days of events followed. There were 10 session featuring over 40 speakers. To fit them all in, there were always two sessions on the go. How to choose? Would you rather learn about how cities are transformed by renewal, or what trends are influencing how architecture is taught in Canada? Are you more interested in the future of historic churches, or the place of Arthur Erickson in Canada’s architectural history? Those interested in a lively Pecha Kucha format discussion of the role of government programs in the conservation and commemoration of the built environment had to forego a panel discussion entitled “Architecture and the Canadian Fabric.” For students and professionals in the architectural history field, these are difficult decisions!

Jennifer Kirchner, Planner with the City of Lacombe, showed us around main street.
Jennifer Kirchner, Planner with the City of Lacombe, showed us around main street.

Of course, delegates also found time to socialize, make connections and catch up on all the latest work being done in the field. No conference is complete without receptions and a night on the town! The grand finale of the conference was an all-day bus tour of historic buildings and communities in central Alberta. The day was bright and sunny as the bus set off from Edmonton. First stop was the 1907 Wetaskiwin Court House, which was converted to serve as the city hall in 2006. Next on the route was Lacombe, where Roland Michener House and the Flat Iron Building are just two of the Provincial Historic Resources the delegates visited in the city’s historic main street area. After an excellent lunch, the group continued on to Stettler and boarded the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursion’s train for Big Valley.

SSAC members departing Stettler by train.
departing Stettler on a train

The Canadian National Railways Steam Locomotive 6060—also a Provincial Historic Resource—was in the shop, but the historic train cars were a great way to set the scene. Stepping off the train at the 1912 Canadian Northern Railway Station in Big Valley was like stepping back in time. This impression was reinforced by the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator which, though it was built in 1960, is of a type that changed little since the early 1900s. On the hill overlooking the town is the well-known “Blue Church”, St. Edmund’s Anglican.

Rowley's Grain Elevator Row.
Rowley Grain Elevator Row

The final stop on the tour was Rowley, where the spectacular Rowley Grain Elevator Row symbolizes Alberta’s agricultural heritage. After a barbeque, a wander around town, and musical entertainment by Robin Woywitka and the Super 92, it was back on the bus and heading for home. The on-board movie was “Bye Bye Blues.” Watch it if you get a chance—it was filmed on location in Rowley! By the time the bus dropped us off in Edmonton, it was after midnight. Some went directly to their Whyte Avenue hotel, but on Whyte the night was just getting started, so doubtless others continued their Alberta adventures into the wee small hours!

I’d like to thank the people and organizations who contributed to the success of the SSAC 2013 Edmonton conference. It’s impossible to name them all, but special thanks go out to:

delegates pose in front of the Big Valley station.
delegates pose in front of the Big Valley station.

I look forward to seeing you all next year.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

3 thoughts on “All Aboard for an Alberta Architecture Adventure!

  • It was my pleasure to host this group in Lacombe. I’m glad the conference and the day trip were great successes.

  • Great résumé! This SSAC conference was simply amazing, thanks to a solid and charming organizing committee. As mentioned by Dorothy, the diversity of speakers made it quite lively, and the Saturday bus tour was the perfect grand finale. I came back to Ottawa with an excellent souvenir of Edmonton.

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