Municipal Heritage Forum 2014—Save the Date!

Every year, the Historic Resources Management Branch organises a conference for Albertans involved in identifying, protecting or conserving historic places at the municipal level. We’re please to announce that the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum will be held on October 16th and 17th.

Photographed on February 7, 2014
Where is this? (Photographed on February 7, 2014.)

The Municipal Heritage Forum is open to both municipal staff, elected officials and volunteers. It’s a great opportunity to see what your peers in other municipalities are working on and learn about the cutting edge of heritage conservation. If you are working with your municipality in some way to conserve historic places, please save those dates. (Check out some of our posts about past forums if you’d like to learn what the Municipal Heritage Forum is all about.)

Photographed on February 7, 2014
here are we? (Photographed on February 7, 2014)

We are excited to host this year’s forum in a municipality we haven’t held it in yet. Many of you haven’t been here (yet) and will be delighted by their conservation ethic. I’ve posted some pictures of their historic downtown.

Can you guess where the forum will be this year? Post your guess in the comment section, on our Facebook page or tweet us.

UPDATE:  I guess the cat’s out of the bag: we plan to hold the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum in the City of Lacombe.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Creating a Future for Alberta’s Historic Main Streets

This is the first of a series of interviews with people working in different program areas of the Historic Resources Management Branch. Recently, I sat down with Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services, to discuss the work of the Alberta Main Street Program.

Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.
Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.

Matthew Francis joined Alberta Culture in 2005. He was originally hired to write Statements of Significance for Alberta’s Provincial Historic Resources and later took on the leadership of the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program. In 2007, he was placed in charge of the Alberta Main Street Program. He soon realised that his first task would be to make the program more sustainable.

The Alberta Main Street Program was at a crossroads in 2007

The program was 20 years old in 2007. It had rehabilitated 23 historic commercial districts with tremendous results, but was showing its age. Due to changes in federal-provincial job training programs, the Alberta Main Street Program could no longer conserve buildings with its own workforce. At the same time, the federal and provincial governments were rethinking how to conserve historic places: a new values-based approach to historic preservation emphasised that understanding a historic building’s architectural or historical significance is necessary to conserve it properly. As a result of these changes, some of the program’s common practices no longer made sense.

Indeed one of the basic tenets of the program—that each community was in the program for three years and then continued the work on its own—wasn’t working. “Many of the original Main Street Communities were seeking readmission to the program–not realising they had already completed it a decade or more ago. I call that main street amnesia,” says Matthew.

How do you revitalize an innovative program (that was never just about heritage conservation).

As he learned more about it, Matthew quickly became fascinated by the variety of problems the Main Street Program had been used to solve. “The communities applying to the program weren’t just looking to conserve buildings, they were trying to entice businesses to move downtown, they were trying to increase the property tax base, and some were even grappling with vagrancy and petty crime.” Although ostensibly focused on conserving historic buildings, doing so successfully proved more complex than simply repairing a foundation or touching up a façade.

downtown Lethbridge
Downtown Lethbridge

Recently, Wainwright used the Alberta Main Street Program to cope with the disruption caused by a deep services project—the closing and tearing up of the street and sidewalks to replace disintegrating water, sewer and utility lines. While necessary to maintain municipal infrastructure, deep services projects hurt the businesses that temporarily lose the use of their main entrance.

The Main Street movement

Matthew has come to see the Alberta Main Street Program as a philosophy and a movement, not simply as another government service. The streetscapes and buildings in historic commercial areas are part of each community’s character.

“People show off places like Inglewood [in Calgary] and downtown Lacombe to visiting friends and family. It’s where they meet for lunch, shop and socialise.” Historic commercial areas have boosters that don’t see themselves has heritage conservationists, but they are. Matthew says that “conserving historic buildings is the key to preserving these areas, and most supporters of historic areas understand that intuitively.”

The Main Street Movement is showing a new way

The Alberta Main Street Program's Four Point Approach
The Alberta Main Street Program’s Four Point Approach

The Main Street Program demonstrates how the interests of culture and heritage intersect with the fostering of social capital and the economic revitalization of downtown. “A properly conserved historic area is an attraction to both residents and tourists. People want to shop, work and live in these areas—and that can provide the funds to conserve the buildings.”

During the last several years, Matthew has been remodeling the Alberta Main Street Program, using the (U.S.) National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program as a model. The U.S. Main Street Program is organised around four equally important ideas: organisation, design, marketing and economic development.

Community members are the stewards of these areas, particularly the people who live, work or own property there. With the support of the local government, they must oversee the program and hold themselves accountable for its success. Government can’t, and shouldn’t try to run a community-based program like Main Street. Matthew and his colleagues coach and mentor, but they don’t try to run the individual programs from Edmonton: “Local people with local knowledge and energy are keys to authentic and viable main streets.”

The historic places on main street are irreplaceable assets. People come to see the historic places as landmarks; the historic building set downtown apart from a mall, and often the neighbouring town as well. “New buildings are fine, so long as they are compatible with the historic streetscape and don’t falsify it. The compelling streetscape is what initially attracts visitors to the downtown,” he says.

The businesses on successful main streets coordinate their marketing, recognizing that most visitors won’t bother coming to visit just one shop or restaurant. “New trends in social media drive traffic to businesses and historic communities are capitalising on this new way of doing business. All of our Alberta Main Street communities are using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to see and be seen,” says Matthew.

Economic Development
Over the long run, historic main streets areas pay their own way. Tenants in the historic buildings pay for much of the cost of a building’s upkeep; the business owners together pay for the marketing and design work, either directly or through their property taxes. Investment in conservation and marketing pays off as an increasingly large number of people want to live and do business on Main Street.

The renewal years

Since 2007, the Alberta Main Street Program has grown into a network of communities. Matthew is constantly impressed by the grassroots support for Main Street in each community the program works with; he’s also been amazed by the variety of problems these communities have tackled through the program. He gets excited when talking about what has been accomplished.

“The team in Olds has organised a huge number of volunteers to put on all sorts of events promoting the downtown, such as their popular Summer Oldstice Street Festival. They’re also planning for a deep services project of their own.”

“Wainwright has had tremendous success with their Taste of Wainwright culinary festival in the downtown. It has been a signature event, attracting visitors from across Alberta.”

“When Lethbridge joined the program a decade ago its downtown was down on its luck: businesses were failing, vacancy was high and the area was dealing with petty crime and social problems. Using the tools of the Alberta Main Street Program, they reduced the vacancy rate to almost nothing. Businesses are thriving downtown and many of the social problems have faded. With a vibrant coffee culture, creative restaurants, and businesses, downtown Lethbridge is the place to be.”

Looking forward to the year ahead

Matthew is already looking forward to a busy and productive year in the program. There are already four communities in the new Alberta Main Street Program: Camrose, Olds, Wainwright and Lethbridge. “We’re excited to be gathering the coordinators from all of our communities quarterly to talk about best practices and learn from each other.”


Main Street Camrose (historic photo)
Main Street Camrose (historic photo)

Camrose rejoined the program very recently. They will be hiring a Main Street Coordinator shortly. Like all Main Street communities, they completed an inventory of historic places on the main street before being admitted into the program. “The deeper understanding of their historical places which they gained through this heritage planning project, will inform their new work in Historic Downtown Camrose,” says Matthew.


Uptowne Olds
Uptowne Olds

Two Municipal Historic Resources in Uptowne Olds are undergoing multi-year conservation projects: the Maybank Drug Store and the Kemp Block and these should be done by July. Like Wainwright before it, Olds will also be undergoing a major deep services project once the ground thaws.

Olds will also be hosting the first quarterly coordinators meeting, in February 2014. “It’s going to be interesting to see the Olds’s coordinator picking the brains of the other coordinators, particularly Wainwright’s, for ideas on how to deal with the disruption deep services projects cause.”


Main Street, Wainwright.
Main Street, Wainwright.

Having completed their deep services project last year, Wainwright will be finishing up the redevelopment of their streetscape. “Wainwright has the classic Alberta main street, laid out as an intersection of Main Street and the historic railway line. “The Alberta Main Street Program funded the design of the new streetscape and Matthew’s looking forward to seeing the result.


Lethbridge's Chinatown.
Lethbridge’s Chinatown.

Lethbridge will undertake the conservation of its historic Chinatown. The city council will designate two new Municipal Historic Resources in a few weeks: the Bow on Tong Building and Manie Chinese Opera Society Building. “These buildings were in danger of collapsing, but a grassroots effort led by the Lethbridge Historical Society and the Lethbridge Main Street Program succeeded in stabilising them. The municipal historic resource designations will help to see these special places conserved over the long term,” Matthew says.

All good historians look to the future

So much has changed in the past few years, but Matthew continues to look ahead. “I expect that five years from now there will be at least 20 communities in the Alberta Main Street Program. The network of communities will be sharing ideas with each other and perhaps engaging in national marketing campaigns together. We look forward to celebrating new communities joining the Main Street network in 2014.”

If you’re interested in conserving historic commercial areas you can contact us, and consider attending the 2014 (U.S.) National Main Streets Conference, May 18-20, 2014. It’s in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is a great American city. As most know it has been hurt badly by the restructuring in American car manufacturing. Detroit is using the U.S. Main Street Program to revitalise its commercial areas.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Reminder: Take our Survey; Win a Prize.

You may recall that Municipal Heritage Services is conducting a survey. The survey closes on January 15th. We would like everyone who has attended one of our Municipal Heritage Forums to participate.


Heritage Canada The National Trust’s annual conference will be in Calgary in October, 2015. Our annual Municipal Heritage Forum takes place in the fall as well. We may be able to offer some kind of joint conference in partnership with Heritage Canada, but we need to know what our attendees think to make an informed decision. (If you’d like more information about what the Heritage Canada Conference is all about, please take a look at this post.)

If you haven’t already done so, please take our survey.

Everyone who completes the survey will be entered in a draw to win a 2014 Family Annual Pass to visit Alberta’s Provincial Historic Sites, interpretive centres and museums.

If you have further comments or questions, feel free to email us at albertahistoricplaces [at] gov [dot] ab [dot] ca .

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Take our Survey; Win a Prize.*

Heritage Canada The National Trust’s annual conference will be in Calgary in 2015, at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel from October 22-24. Our annual Municipal Heritage Forum takes place in the fall as well. This convergence offers a unique opportunity: we are exploring the possibility of offering the Municipal Forum in conjunction with the Heritage Canada Conference that year.


For those of you who don’t know what Heritage Canada is and what they do, I’ll provide a little background. Heritage Canada The National Trust (formerly known as the Heritage Canada Foundation) is “a national charity that inspires and leads action to save historic places, and promotes the care and wise use of our historic environment.” For the past 40 years, Heritage Canada has organised the only major annual conference for Canada’s heritage conservationists.

Heritage Canada’s annual conference provides an opportunity to network with others working to conserve historic places, and to learn what innovative things are happening in other provinces and territories. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Government of Alberta partnered with Heritage Canada to help develop the Main Street model for revitalizing historic commercial districts in Canada. Our Alberta Main Street Program was created as part of this partnership.


I had the pleasure of attending this year’s conference in Ottawa. It was titled Regeneration: Heritage Leads the Way. Khalil Shariff delivered the opening keynote and his talk set the tone of the conference. Mr. Shariff is the C.E.O. of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. He spoke of how historic places were an important part of the foundation’s strategy to improve economic prospects and social cohesion in cities in Asia and Africa. The individual sessions explored ideas of how heritage conservation builds community and fosters economic growth. There were sessions on how heritage enabled community development, and that provided examples of how to finance and organise conservation projects. You can see a complete list of the conference presenters (with links to their presentations) on the Heritage Canada conferences page.

Before making firm plans for our 2015 forum, we would like to know what you think. Please take a look at the programs from Heritage Canada’s 2012 and 2013 conferences to get a sense of the presentations, and then take our survey. If you complete our survey before January 15, 2014 your name will be entered in a draw to win a 2014 Family Annual Pass to visit Alberta’s Provincial Historic Sites, interpretive centres and museums.

Family Annual Pass, Alberta

If you have further comments or questions, feel free to email us at albertahistoricplaces [at] gov [dot] ab [dot] ca .


Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

* By “Win a Prize”, we mean that your name will be entered into a draw for the prize if you complete the survey.

Lacombe wins the Great Places in Canada competition!

Lacombe’s Historic Main Street named Best Street in Canada.

The City of Lacombe’s historic main street was just named Best Street by the Great Places in Canada competition. The Great Places in Canada competition is sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Planners, annually. Lacombe’s Historic Main Street was shortlisted in the Best Street category by popular vote. It was then selected as the winner by a panel of experts from the Canadian Institute of Planners. We’re thrilled that one of Alberta’s historic main streets has received national recognition.

A photo showing a block of 50th Avenue in Lacombe.
a block of 50th Avenue in Lacombe (2009)

You may recognise Lacombe’s main street—50th Avenue in Lacombe is one of Alberta’s iconic streetscapes. Most buildings in downtown Lacombe were constructed in the decade before the First World War. A building bylaw, aimed at limiting the destruction that a fire could bring, required that anything built in the downtown be constructed of brick. Many of the Edwardian-styled commercial buildings—such as the Flat Iron Building—are Alberta icons. Several of the buildings, such as the Flat Iron Building, the M & J Hardware Building and the Campbell Block are Provincial Historic Resources.

These landmarks would most likely have been lost if not for the foresight and dedication of Lacombe’s citizens. The owners of these gems took a great deal of pride undertaking the conservation work often needed. Lacombe’s forward-looking business community was an early participant in the Main Street Program (from 1987 to 1993). The rehabilitation work undertaken during this time is an important reason why so many of these buildings remain standing.

The city has since developed policies to ensure that conservation of its historic commercial district is an important part of its’ development process. The city recently completed both a Downtown Area Redevelopment and Urban Design Plan—which features detailed plans for maintaining the streetscape. The city also recently adopted a Heritage Management Plan (with the help of the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program) ensuring that locally significant historic places are inventoried and can be designated as Municipal Historic Resources.

What is really fitting about this award is how it recognises the community’s involvement in these special places. 50th Avenue is not a museum piece, but a destination people go to meet friends, shop and celebrate. This is a lively area with many restaurants and businesses. The Lacombe and District Historical Society operate a museum on the main floor of the Flat Iron Building. Social service agencies and the provincial government have offices on the street or nearby. Popular annual events—the Light Up the Night Festival, the Lacombe Culture and Harvest Festival, and Lacombe days, among others—draw large crowds downtown annually.

Recent development has reinforced 50th avenue’s central place in this community. Lest We Forget Park, where the annual Remembrance Day ceremony is held, is just at the end of the commercial area. The Lacombe Memorial Centre, a (relatively) new development, contains the public library, meeting rooms and a hall, reinforce 50th avenue’s centre place in Lacombe’s daily life.

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.

Jennifer Kircher, Lacombe’s Planner, told me about how important individual community members were in winning this award. “The Community got really excited about it”, she said. During the voting period people she hadn’t yet met came up to Jennifer to tell her they voted.

I’m sure this is just the beginning of our work with Lacombe. The re-launch of the Alberta Main Street Program brings a great opportunity to again work with Lacombe on conserving one of Alberta’s pre-eminent main streets.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Municipal Heritage Partnership Program Grants

Helping Alberta’s municipalities identify, evaluate and manage locally significant historic places.

Alberta’s municipalities are now working on plans and budgets for 2014. I’d like to remind municipal stakeholders responsible for heritage about the grant programs offered through the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (funded by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation).

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program offers three types of grants to help municipalities conserve locally significance historic places.

A municipality can apply for funding to complete a heritage survey. A survey gathers basic information about a municipality’s potential historic places. There are many articles on RETROactive describing survey projects municipalities have undertaken using these grants.

A municipality can also apply for funding to inventory historic resources. An inventory lists places that are locally significant, evaluates them to decide exactly why they are significant and creates the documentation needed to designate these as Municipal Historic Resources. You can also peruse RETROactive posts on municipal inventory projects that our partner municipalities have worked on.

A municipality can also apply for funding to develop a heritage management plan. A management plan helps the municipality conserve significant historic places, the highlight of which is policy on the designation of Municipal Historic Resources. You can read about different municipal heritage management plans on RETORactive as well.

The grant application consists of a written project proposal, which must include a budget. The foundation may award a grant that can cover up to half the cost of the project, up to certain maximum amounts.

M.D. or County City Town Village
Survey $30 000 $30 000 $20 000 $10 000
Inventory $30 000 $30 000 $20 000 $10 000
Management Plan $20 000 $20 000 $15 000 $7 500

The next grant deadline will be early in 2014, but it’s never too early to begin planning a project. You can learn more about the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program grant program by visiting the cost sharing page on the website.

If you’re thinking of undertaking a heritage conservation project, please contact us. We’d be happy to help you plan your next project.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Summer Idyll, Winter Wonderland

The Sturgeon River defines the St. Albert landscape

Earlier this year, the Alberta Heritage Markers Program installed a marker on the banks of the Sturgeon River in St. Albert. Our heritage markers can be found along walking trails and roadside pull-offs throughout Alberta, offering glimpses into the past.

This marker tells us how the people of St. Albert related to the Sturgeon River, which winds through their community.

An image of the new heritage marker along the Sturgeon River.
a new heritage marker along the Sturgeon River.

Summer Idyll, Winter Wonderland

Before it reaches St. Albert the Sturgeon River has meandered about 180 kilometres from its beginnings in Hoople Lake west of Isle Lake. After it leaves St. Albert the Sturgeon continues flowing eastwards to Fort Saskatchewan, and empties into the North Saskatchewan River.

For the people of St. Albert in the early 1900s the river was much more than an obstacle requiring bridges, much more than a method of winter transportation when snow blocked the roads. It became a place of wonder where small children watched tadpoles darting just beneath the surface and dragonflies glinting in the sun above it. It helped create memories not linked to the hard work of daily life. “Young men who were studying for the priesthood,” Jane Ternon Sherwood recalled, “paddled up and down the river … their Gregorian chanting drifting over the water on a warm summer evening was beautiful to hear.”

The Sturgeon River became landmark and destination, the passing of time measured by seasonal opportunities to have fun and build community. On its banks and in its refreshing summer waters families played, groups held picnics and went boating, and young people paddled Sunday afternoons away. “In the winter, it was our skating rink and landing spot when we slid down the bank on our sleds,” recalled Dorothy Bellerose Chartrand. It was a hockey rink too where tin cans and frozen horse manure stood in for pucks.

For a brief time a steamer, La Thérèse, chugged lazily up and down the river. “I believe the river was much bigger then,” Jane Ternan Sherwood reminisced in the 1980s, remembering riding in the steamer in 1912. Memory had made the Sturgeon wider and more exciting, rekindling the joy of a small child splashing happily at its edge.

If you’d like to visit the marker, it can be found here:

Prepared by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.