Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources

Editor’s note: Welcome to the final post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will discuss how the evaluation of a historic resource at the provincial and municipal level may result in complimentary or differing heritage values. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer, Historic Resources Management Branch


Complementary and differing values

Alberta’s Historical Resources Act empowers both the Government of Alberta and municipalities to designate, or recognize and protect, a range of historic resources whose preservation is in the public interest. These resources can be places, structures or objects that may be works of nature or people (or both) that are of palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest. Albertans value these historic resources because our past, in its many forms, is part of who we are as a society and helps give our present significance and purpose.

As of July 2020, there are currently 390 Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and 413 Municipal Historic Resources (MHR) in Alberta, some 60 of which are designated both provincially and municipally. These resources merit designation for various reasons, from their association with significant events, activities, people or institutions; as representative examples of architectural styles or construction methods; for their symbolic and landmark value; or their potential to yield information of scientific value.

Heritage values are described in short Statements of Significance, which are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. In this post, we look at examples of heritage values that municipal and provincial governments recognize and how local and provincial values may align, differ or complement each other.

Plaques or markers are often used to identify designated historic resources. These plaques, affixed to Strathcona Public Library in Edmonton, show that it has been designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and a Municipal Historic Resource. PHRs are identified by a blue, enamel button or marker. MHRs can be identified by a variety of plaques and markers depending on the procedures of the municipality. Source: Historic Resources Management.

Shared heritage value

Some historic resources are municipally and provincially designated for essentially the same reasons. The people, events or themes that give these places heritage value are of such significance that they merit designation by both levels of government. A good example of this type of site is the Nellie McClung House, a 1907 Tudor Revival style house with Arts and Crafts design elements on the interior, located in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood. The property was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1978 and as a Municipal Historic Resource by the City of Calgary in 2009. Both the provincial and municipal designations value the residence for its association with Nellie McClung, the author and member of the Famous Five who successfully helped fight for the legal recognition of women as persons.

Nellie McClung House, Calgary. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Nellie McClung, ca. 1930. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A3354.

Differing heritage values

Other resources are designated municipally and provincially for completely different reasons. This does not mean that the designations are somehow in conflict or disagreement; rather, different values or meanings come into play when the historic place is considered locally and provincially. Annandale, a large residence in the London Road neighbourhood of Lethbridge, was municipally designated in 2008 for its association with two figures significant to the city’s development. Lewis Martin Johnstone, founder of an important local law firm, built the house in 1909 and resided there until 1935. George Graham Ross, a prominent local rancher and founder of an auctioneering company, lived in the house from 1937 to 1940.

Provincial designation of the house in 2015, on the other hand, celebrates the house’s distinctive blend of Queen Anne Revival and Arts and Crafts styles reflected in the dramatic arched porch entrance, wide eaves, and other design features. It considers architectural qualities rather than associations with individuals. As a PHR, Annandale represents the development of Alberta’s rising professional class and that group’s eagerness to adopt emerging residential design trends from other parts of North America. Lewis Martin Johnstone and George Graham Ross belonged to the business elite in Lethbridge; their importance as individuals is meaningful and relevant municipally rather than provincially. In this way, provincial and municipal heritage values are distinct but of equal merit. Together they tell a richer story.

Annandale, Lethbridge. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch, 2009.
The funeral of William Henderson, Mayor of Lethbridge, proceeds along Dufferin Street, now 4 Avenue South, Lethbridge, 1909. Annandale at the extreme left. Source: Peel’s Prairie Provinces. University of Alberta Libraries, PCO12276.

Complimentary heritage value

Elsewhere, municipal and provincial heritage values may align closely and differ mainly in nuance and emphasis, as they do at the Maccoy Homestead in High River. Established in 1883 by Andy Bell as a fishing lodge and guest house near the Highwood River, this former rural property is now enveloped by the growth of the town. The site consists of a whitewashed log cabin with a frame addition, a guesthouse, garage, root cellar and other elements that speak to its former agricultural use. The property was municipally designated in 2009 as the Sheppard/Maccoy House for its heritage value as one of the town’s oldest residences, for its ties to the settlement of the High River region, and as the home of notable High River families and individuals. These include Clydesdale breeder William Ikin, subsistence and dairy farmers Henry and Evelyn Sheppard and, especially, the Sheppards’ daughter Ruth Maccoy, who owned and ran the farm for many decades until 1995.

In 2015, the province designated the Maccoy Homestead as an excellent example of the development of agricultural farmsteads in the foothills region and for the site’s association with the contribution of women’s labour to homesteading and agriculture in Alberta. Where the municipal significance is rooted in individuals and the role of the place in local and regional history, provincial designation references province-wide themes of agricultural development and the role of women in agricultural society.

Maccoy Homestead, High River. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch, 2018.

Conclusions

PHRs and MHRs share a Canadian, “values-based” heritage framework based on widely adopted significance criteria. Differing values, where they occur, often reflect differences of context rather than degree of significance.  For example, MHRs are more likely to be locally recognized historic landmarks, where as on a provincial level, designation with heritage value as landmarks are applied more rarely and only to resources, places and landscapes widely recognized across  the province, such as the Frank Slide or the Legislature Building, or metaphorically to regional icons with widespread provincial recognition like grain elevators. Whether they align, differ or complement each other, municipal and provincial heritage values are equally protected when sites are designated under the Historical Resources Act. In both cases, the objective is the same: to conserve heritage value recognized by Albertans for future generations.

Revival of a Prohibition-Era Landmark in the Crowsnest Pass

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 Building as it appeared in late 1922 after the murder of Constable Stephen Lawson. Source: Crowsnest Museum.
The Alberta Provincial Police Building as it appeared in late 1922 after the murder of Constable Stephen Lawson. Source: Crowsnest Museum.

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.

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Restoration of the Taber Courthouse

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in other restoration projects by the government’s Heritage Conservation Advisers, read about the conservation of Circle L Ranch.

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser

Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2013, the Taber Courthouse presides over a quiet park just off Taber’s main street. The building’s stately arched entryway speaks to its historic importance as one of Alberta’s first “sub-jurisdiction” courthouses, a system of provincial justice administration introduced at the time.

Built in 1918, Assistant Provincial Architect J.B. Allan developed the courthouse design and noted Provincial Architect Richard P. Blakey subsequently revised it. Blakey’s eclectic mix of Edwardian, Classical Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival elements eventually became an architectural prototype for other courthouses of the period. Examples of Blakey’s work that are still intact include the Blairmore Courthouse in the Crowsnest Pass and the Medicine Hat Courthouse. Both of these buildings are Provincial Historic Resources.

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The conservation of Circle L Ranch

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

If you’ve ever driven down the beautiful Cowboy Trail, chances are you’ve driven by at least a few historic ranches. Some of these ranches, like Bar U and E.P., have been operating for over a hundred years.

Another of those ranches is the Circle L Ranch, started by a storekeeper from Salt Lake City in the late 1800s. The site recently underwent a restoration project to help ensure historic small-scale ranching in remained intact and accessible. The ranch is a Provincial Historic Resource and an excellent example of an early family-run ranch in southern Alberta.

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A New Roof for St. Ambrose Church

Located on a quiet residential street in Redcliff, Alberta, St. Ambrose Anglican Church is distinguished by its buttressed brick masonry exterior, steeply-pitched gable roof and pointed arch windows. These characteristics strongly identify the 1914 church with the Gothic Revival style popular in the Victorian era for ecclesiastical architecture in England, a style also eagerly adopted by Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches across Canada. Unlike many churches, though, St. Ambrose was modelled on small Anglican parish churches in England and is a variant of the Gothic Revival style seldom found in Alberta.

St. Ambrose’s architecture hearkens back to England but the building’s local roots are evident in the “clinker brick” masonry exterior, an overfired brick with distinctive irregular or lumpy shapes and striking colour variations. Clinker brick resulted from high firing temperatures in the kiln which caused the clay to partly vitrify or melt, sometimes to the point where clumps of bricks would fuse together and had to be broken apart. This lack of uniformity was appreciated for its decorative qualities and the clinker brick at St. Ambrose was produced at the Redcliff Brick and Coal Company just blocks away. The combination of far-reaching colonial stylistic influences and distinctive local materials contributed to the church’s designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 2008.

St. Ambrose Church from the northwest in 1914, with inset showing the original narrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and rows of slightly offset shingles (inset) to create shadow lines and decorative horizontal bands across the roof. Glenbow Archives photograph NA -2701-5.

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Dealing with Graffiti at Historic Places

Historic places are unfortunately fair game for graffiti attacks – sometimes especially so when these places are visible and widely recognized landmarks. Defined as writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly onto walls and other surfaces, graffiti from a heritage conservation perspective is an intervention to be removed or reversed. It clearly differs from old markings that are an acknowledged and legitimate part, or “character-defining element”, of a historic place. Examples of the latter are prisoners’ inscriptions etched into the basement cell walls of the Cardston Courthouse or, on the opposite side of the law, North West Mounted Police members’ initials carved into the sandstone outcrops overlooking Police Coulee at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. These special cases contribute to heritage value rather than obscure or detract from it. Read more

In Search of Historic Colours: The Empress Theatre Marquee

The historic downtown of Fort Macleod, one of two Provincial Historic Areas in the province, is well known for its impressive commercial buildings of brick and sandstone masonry. Collectively, these Classical Revival buildings exemplify an Edwardian commercial streetscape just prior to the First World War.

One of the main street’s crown jewels is the Empress Theatre, an elegant brick building with decorative sandstone details built in 1912. Historically a hub of the town’s social life, the theatre hosted plays, vaudeville acts and performers from Alberta, across North America and even overseas, as graffiti preserved in the original basement dressing rooms attests to this day. The original façade was theatrical in its own right and featured a grand arched entrance and recessed box office. As tastes changed and motion pictures grew in popularity, the original entry was enclosed to provide a lobby and concession, the auditorium was renovated with plush upholstered seats in the Art Deco style and neon tulips mounted on the ceiling, and a bold new neon sign and marquee replaced the original blade sign on the front facade. These 1930s and 1950s renovations added layers of architectural history and significance to the building and contributed to its designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1982.

empress2
The Empress Theatre in April 2016 (top). Bottom from left: View west along 24 Street in 1953, Glenbow Archives photograph NA-5600-6653 (cropped slightly from original); detail of 1953 streetscape showing the Empress marquee in essentially its present form; historic colours exposed on a blade sign letter; a plywood mock-up to evaluate proposed blade sign colours.

The Town of Fort Macleod owns the theatre and has embarked on an extensive rehabilitation project that includes rehabilitation of the historic neon marquee. The marquee was refurbished in the late 1980s by Fort Macleod’s Main Street Project but a generation of exposure to the elements has taken its toll on the galvanized sheet metal, paint, and fragile neon tubing. Removal of the signs for other façade repairs was an ideal opportunity to re-examine and document the marquee’s colour history. Read more

The Butterfly Effect

Peeling paint and powdering plaster were the first indications something was amiss at the Blairmore Courthouse, a Provincial Historic Resource in the Crowsnest Pass. A leak in the cedar shingle roof, replaced just the previous year, was immediately suspected. Detailing around the dormers in particular, part of the 1922 building’s distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival design by architect R.P. Blakey, is tricky and vulnerable to water penetration.

1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives)
1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives NA-712-3)

Nippon School of Technology, which owns the building and runs a technical school and exchange program for Japanese engineering students there, inspected the roof from the attic and found no active leaks. Puzzled, N.I.T. engaged a conservation architect to inspect the building and identify sources of moisture causing the paint and plaster failure. The findings were at once surprising and (in hindsight) credible.   Read more

Conservation at the E.P. Ranch

E.P. (Prince Edward) Ranch, established by the Bedingfeld family in 1886, is located in the foothills southwest of Calgary near the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site. In 1919, during a cross-Canada tour, the Bedingfeld’s ranch captured the fancy of His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales, upon his visit to the area.  Prince Edward purchased the ranch shortly thereafter from Frank Bedingfeld. Under Edward’s direction, the ranch developed a breeding program for sheep, cattle, and horses with livestock imported from the Prince’s breeding farms in the Duchy of Cornwall in England.  Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, visited the ranch in the 1920s and in the 1940s and 1950s, after his abdication, as the Duke of Windsor.  Photographs in the Glenbow Archives show Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, strolling among the ranch buildings that still stand at the site today. The E.P. Ranch was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2004 for its association with Edward, who owned the site from 1919 to 1962. Fans of the 1992 movie Unforgiven will also recognize scenes shot on location at the ranch.

The main ranch (or Prince's) house prior to restoration, April 2014.
The main ranch (or Prince’s) house prior to restoration, April 2014.

In June 2013, the E.P. Ranch found itself at the epicentre of the torrential rains that flooded communities and historic sites across southern Alberta. Pekisko Creek overflowed its banks and swept through the site, turning grazing lands into a virtual river.  While the large and distinctive horse barn was unaffected, four other buildings were damaged. Read more

Rebuilding the Beehive Kiln

The first steps out onto the dome of the beehive kiln are a bit unnerving, with only a thin shell of tightly-fitted bricks supporting a small group of us above the void below. Domes structurally similar to this have been around since antiquity – many notable examples still survive – but it’s reassuring to know that scaffolding inside the kiln will prevent a painful and possibly career-ending collapse.

Kiln No. 2, one of four historic beehive downdraft kilns at Medalta Potteries, is a circular drum roughly ten metres in diameter with brick exterior walls surmounted by the dome and a tall central stack. Encircling the walls are wide adjustable bands of corroding steel which held the kiln together as it expanded and contracted and attest to the rigours of the firing process. Medalta’s beehive kilns historically fired a wide range of ceramic products and now serve as distinctive classroom and exhibit spaces.

Beehive dome interior, Medalta Potteries, 2011.
Beehive dome interior, Medalta Potteries, 2011.

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