Editor’s note: You can read more of Fraser Shaw’s series on heritage conservation on RETROactive.
Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor
Gunshots shattered the stillness of 18 Avenue in Coleman on the afternoon of September 21, 1922.
Local bootlegger Emilio Picariello and his accomplice Florence Lassandro sped off in a cloud of dust as Constable Stephen Lawson lay dead outside the Alberta Provincial Police barracks, a cottage-like office and residence where he worked and resided with his family. Hours later, “Emperor Pic”—as he was known locally—and Lassandro were apprehended and charged with Lawson’s murder. Both were later convicted and hanged. Lassandro became the first woman to be executed in Canada since 1899 and the only woman to be hanged in Alberta.
The Alberta Provincial Police (APP) Building, a Provincial Historic Resource within the Coleman National Historic Site, is significant for its association with the infamous murder of Constable Lawson and, more generally, with its role in the maintenance of law and order in the mining communities of the Crowsnest Pass during Prohibition until the 1930s.
One of few APP relics left in Alberta, the APP Building looks today much as it did in the 1920s, thanks to community efforts to avert demolition in the 1990s and an ambitious, decade-long conservation program by the Crowsnest Historical Society. Problematic historic construction, decades of deterioration and unsympathetic alterations presented seemingly endless technical challenges. Hurdles included building code requirements for accessibility and fire separation; the replication of missing exterior features based on historic photographs; adaptation of varied historic wall assemblies for insulation and year-round museum operations; documentation of a deeply layered historic interior prior to asbestos abatement; and the adoption of a traditional paint system to conserve as much original wood siding as possible.
Transformation of the once-dilapidated building was completed in June 2017 with the grand opening for Canada’s sesquicentennial. The historic site is part of the nearby Crowsnest Museum and is open to the public as the Alberta Provincial Police Barracks. Restored to its 1922 exterior appearance, interior exhibits and artifacts weave a drama of rum-running and law enforcement in this scenic mountain region into a national narrative of Prohibition era history.
All photos below courtesy of the Historic Resources Management Branch unless other wise noted:
The APP Building is unveiled at the grand opening in June 2017. The west wall consists of both salvaged original shiplap and new wood siding installed onto the upgraded wall assembly. Traditional linseed oil paint provides a flexible, breathable paint surface that retained the rough patina of original painted material without invasive sanding and refinishing. The west door with its restored canopy is now an emergency exit with a large step required by code. The single-hung wood windows with traditional exterior storm windows replicate the missing original elements based on surviving fragments and historic photographs.