So, a colleague of mine here in the Historic Resources Management Branch recently returned from a course on wood conservation in Oslo, Norway.
While he didn’t find out why John Lennon lit a former lover’s house on fire as the song strangely suggests, he did attend the 2018 International Course on Wood Conservation Technology (ICWCT). A biennial course that gathers academics, professors and scientists from around the world (including two from Canada) to deliver lectures, ICWCT also combines this with field work and theory centered on the practice of wood conservation.
Heritage Conservation Technologist Evan Oxland went to Norway to learn more about technical and theoretical aspects of wood conservation, as well as what other contemporary international approaches there are out there. He was the only representative from Canada, and shared his experiences with, and learned from, 20 other wood conservation professionals from places like Turkey, Zimbabwe, Brazil and the Philippines. Whether it was specific technical information or more philosophical and holistic thoughts about conservation and the values we attach to built heritage, Oxland can bring that knowledge back to see if it can help in preserving Alberta’s historic structures and objects.
There are always wood conservation-related projects on the go at various government-owned historic sites, museums and structures around the province. For most wood, “it’s not a question of if wood will deteriorate,” he says, “but when it will deteriorate.” Techniques like thermal treatment for pest eradication or dynamic structure modeling are all used in an effort to preserve historic wood structures or objects, something Oxland and his colleagues at Conservation and Construction Services (CCS) do on a regular basis. For example, at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village (UCHV) alone, there are over 80 individual structures that require constant care and attention if they want to be properly preserved.
Right now the CCS Conservation Crew that Oxland works with is in the process of restoring the facades on Kiev Hall and the Radway Livery barn, both at the UCHV. As well, the conservation technologists also have time for some testing and research: there are currently two “test walls” being used to test both different paints and penetrating oils with the goal of finding practical, efficient ways to keep Alberta’s historic wood structures preserved for future generations.
One of the biggest takeaways from the ICWCT was the emphasis countries like Japan and Norway, eminent global leaders in wood conservation, place on the role of the craftsman. These countries’ architects, project managers and specifiers often share the responsibilities of documentation and design solutions because of the intimate relationship and knowledge a craftsperson gains in interacting with a wooden building or object.
When it comes to wood conservation here in Alberta, the smaller number of historic buildings compared to larger provinces means there are fewer dedicated wood conservation firms and a small number of highly skilled craftsmen. Good thing some of those very craftsman work for the CCS conservation crew.
“The CCS conservation crew (Restoration Foreman Mike Murray and Restoration Craftsmen Jerry Jensen and Vince Van Ulden) is integral to the preservation of our buildings. They represent a deep and long continuity of knowledge of the buildings that would be impossible to replicate by contracting. They are the hands-on site-stewards of the provincially owned and managed historic sites and museums who often find new deficiencies because they interact with the buildings so much.”
Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch
*Larsen, Knut Einar, Marstein, Nils, 2000. Conservation of Historic Timber Structures, Butterworth-Heinemann Series in Conservation and Museology, 95.