Key Things to Know About Provincial Historic Resource Designation

Canadian National Railways Steam Locomotive 6060 in Stettler (2009)
Canadian National Railways Steam Locomotive 6060 in Stettler (2009). A unique Provincial Historic Resource.

As Manager of the Historic Places Research and Designation Program, one of Brenda Manweiler’s primary responsibilities is the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program. The goal of the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program is to identify, evaluate, and designate those historic resources that are most significant to the province as a whole. Currently there are some 360 sites protected as Provincial Historic Resources in Alberta, with several more added every year.

The designation program is almost entirely driven by citizen input. Applications for provincial designation come from the public, usually the property owner but sometimes also from other individuals or groups concerned about the long-term future of a resource.

Once a resource is designated, its owner cannot destroy, disturb, alter, restore, or repair it without written approval from the provincial government. But the owner gains tangible benefits, including access to conservation grants and technical advice, and the intangible benefit of knowing that a valued property will be preserved and protected into the future.

Brenda feels these citizen advocates could take even greater advantage of the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program if they better understood the designation criteria. Here are some key things she’d like people to know:

A property doesn’t have to be grand or architecturally detailed, nor associated with some famous person to be designated. It doesn’t even have to be a building.

a view of a path in the Reader Rock Garden, 2005.
a view of a path in the Reader Rock Garden, 2005.

Brenda notes: “The general public seems to have such a defined idea of what a historic place can be. They’re thinking of homes, commercial buildings, churches, schools.” But the Alberta Register of Historic Places also includes gardens, such as the Reader Rock Garden in Calgary; buried resources such as Balzac Archaeological Site; a radar station located in Cold Lake; a steam locomotive in Settler—even a Meteorite Impact Crater, in Whitecourt.

“I would love to see more of these unique historic places,” she says. “One of the gaps that we have in our family of historic resources is sports and leisure sites,” she continues. “Canada is such a hockey country; Alberta is such a hockey province. Where’s an ice rink? Where’s the baseball field? I’d love to designate some sites that help to celebrate Alberta’s strong history in athletic pursuits.”

Provincial designation isn’t better than municipal designation, just different.

Northern Defence Radar Station, Cold Lake
Northern Defence Radar Station, Cold Lake

Brenda explains: “Provincial significance is determined by looking through a pretty big lens. Is this site significant to all Albertans? Has the site helped shape the province into what it is today? Municipal designations have a narrower scope, a local lens to look through to determine significance.” But a municipally designated site can be just as significant as a provincial one—often even more so—within its own community context. Both levels of designation offer the same form of protection: the resources cannot be altered without approval from the designating authority.

She continues: “We have a variety of sites throughout the province that have been designated as both Municipal and Provincial Historic Resources. People might think that’s just duplication, so why bother? But I think it’s important to note the perspective that we come at it from. A provincial point of view is going to be lot different than a local perspective, so a site could end up being designated under both categories for different reasons.”

An example is Calgary City Hall, which is designated by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Both the provincial and municipal designations recognize the building’s significance as Calgary’s seat of government, and as an excellent example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. But the municipal designation also notes that it is “the earliest known example of steel-frame construction in Calgary” and that it was designed by a prominent Calgary-based architect.

Designation is not just about the sites and structures; it’s also about people and how they’ve used these places.

Looking down into the Whitecourt / Woodlands Meteorite Impact Crater (2007)
Looking down into the Whitecourt / Woodlands Meteorite Impact Crater (2007)

The most modest or ordinary place could be where a remarkable person lived or worked, or where some once-crucial, unusual, or game-changing human activity took place—and that’s what makes the site historically significant.

One of Brenda’s favourite examples is the Owen Residence/Dominion Meteorological Station in Edmonton. Inside this ordinary American four-square dwelling was “arguably the most significant meteorological post outside of Toronto” (according to the Statement of Significance). Even more remarkable, it was operated by “Weather Lady” Eda Owen, one of the few female meteorologists in the world working at a major station.

Another very modest but significant place is the Community Rest Room in Ponoka. When farm families came into town to conduct business, men could congregate in their choice of hotels, bars, and pool halls. This facility provided a much-needed retreat for women and children, offering not only toilets and showers but also a safe and social meeting place—and even a venue for political organizing.

“So much of the significance associated with Provincial Historic Resources comes down to the unique stories—the events, people, and places that have helped to make Alberta what it is today,” Brenda says.

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Long-Time Adviser Is Dedicated to Helping People “Preserve Their Own History”

Gary Chen, Heritage Conservation Adviser for Northern Alberta

Gary Chen’s first job, after earning a diploma in Architectural Technology from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, was for the Government of Alberta providing technical advice on the conservation of heritage buildings. That was back in 1976; he’s never left. “If you don’t love the job, you probably won’t be there that long,” he says.

Originally, he worked on both privately owned and crown-owned properties. When the Historic Places Stewardship Section was established in 1999, Gary became one of the advisers working in its Conservation Advisory Services, which provides help to private owners of older buildings, especially those that are designated as Provincial Historic Resources or that have the potential to be designated.

Originally just two advisers covered the entire province. “So we’d be traveling all over, but mind you, in those days, we didn’t have that many sites designated,” Gary recalls. “One day I could be way up north in Fort Vermilion and then the next day I might be down in Medicine Hat.” Fortunately, Gary has always enjoyed the travel that is a big part of his job. He says, “I’ve been to almost all four corners of the province…I learned a lot about Alberta history and the local history while doing the work.” Today there are five advisers, and Gary covers the northern part of the province.

The kinds of projects he advises on vary widely. His latest involvement with a major restoration project required attending biweekly meetings with the conservation architect and others responsible for a multiyear restoration of the Alberta Grain Company and Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators in St. Albert: “We would discuss and explore anything, and sometimes even climb up the scaffolding and help look at it, and if they had some specific technical question we would try to find a way to get the work done.” He is now making frequent trips to Athabasca to discuss the conservation and continued use of a vacant school building and an old train station that are landmarks in the community.


St. Albert Grain Elevators, before and after restoration
St. Albert Grain Elevators, before and after restoration

Much of what he does is respond to requests for help from owners or stewards of individual properties—mainly homes but also churches, community buildings, and commercial structures.

“My job is partly just to help people to conserve their old buildings,” whether or not they are able to meet the criteria of being designated as historic, Gary says. Sometimes he discovers that a building has hidden potential. For example, it might have been covered by modern siding, but if that can be peeled back to expose the original facing, “the building will go back to its old charm,” he explains.

Even if an older building has been too greatly altered over time to meet the “integrity” criteria for heritage designation, Gary is still happy to visit and advise the owners: “The building may be carried down from their ancestors. I always regard those as their own history. I can still help them, give them advice so that they can be able to preserve their own history.”

The Heritage Conservation Advisers will get involved in a project at several stages. Sometimes owners of older buildings just want advice on how to solve a specific problem, such as a leaky roof. Often owners want to find out if their property might qualify for historic resource designation, which would allow them to apply for conservation grants from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. If the buildings are already designated, any changes to them must adhere to the Historical Resources Act and the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, so the advisers will provide pre-project guidance, monitor the work, and verify that it has been carried out appropriately. (The introduction of the Standards and Guidelines in 2003 greatly helped in explaining conservation principles and practices to the public, Gary notes.)

Requests for advice on repairs will almost always require a site visit for a “hands-on” look at the problem—climbing up ladders, crawling under floor joists, whatever it takes. Gary continues: “A lot of times we just use our trained eyes to catch the problem… Just based on my education, what I’ve learned, I could tell the owner ‘This beam is overloaded.’” He might send the owner a useful technical report. Sometimes the advisers will recommend that the owners hire a restoration architect, structural engineer, or other specialist. In that case, “our major job is to monitor… to make sure the work will be done properly even if they hire a professional.”

Back in the 1970s, when Gary started out in this field, there was little professional training available in the technical aspects of heritage conservation, so he learned on the job and through review of professional publications. “And in fact even today, I’m still learning because all these building technologies and materials change,” he says.

There have been many new tools for documenting and analyzing the buildings, notably digital photography. There are new materials available to replace or repair original historic fabric, and changing understanding about what methods and materials work best. For example, it was once considered a good idea to cover sandstone with sealant to stop it from weathering. But over time it was seen that this trapped moisture in the stone, leading to spalling (chipping or flaking) and other kinds of deterioration.

“Sometimes the challenge is to find new technology to help the old buildings continue to survive,” Gary says.

An even bigger challenge—and a fairly common one—is persuading owners to make the effort to undertake appropriate conservation of their historic buildings. Owners will wonder, for example, why they should try to retain their original wood windows, instead of just buying vinyl replacements from a hardware store. Or they’ll want to tear down walls to make rooms bigger. Or they’ll assume that it will be easier and cheaper to just demolish an existing building and design something new.

“If you’re willing to spend the time, you should be able to preserve what is there,” Gary says. And it’s important to try, he points out, “because, after all, it was a pioneer who came up with the idea, the design…and we have to respect their design…Sometimes you have to look at it almost like an antique…The rooms are maybe smaller and you prefer bigger, but you still respect how it was built.”

“You try to convince them, a lot of times, by slowly using different examples,” he says. “Sometimes I have to be flexible too. Basically, you allow them to make certain changes but maybe, with my advice, the change that they make is still sympathetic to the historic building.”

One of Gary’s favourite, but most challenging, projects was the restoration of the Grande Prairie High School—one that called for much consultation and compromise.

The two-storey brick Collegiate Gothic school was built in 1929 and converted to an art gallery in 1975. In 2007 a heavy snow storm caused the roof and a portion of the building to collapse. At that point, the City (the building’s owner) considered tearing it down and replacing it with a purpose-built gallery, with appropriate climate controls and other modern features.

Grande Prairie High School, with collapsed roof
Grande Prairie High School, with collapsed roof

But “because a portion of the roof has collapsed it doesn’t mean the building is totalled,” Gary says. “So we hired an architect” to show that the building could be repaired and retained. “Because of the [building’s provincial heritage] designation, we had to stand firm and say, ‘Preserve whatever is possible. It’s your history. If it’s gone, it’s gone. People can only remember by pictures.’” Many local citizens agreed. “After all, they don’t really have that many historic buildings in the city of Grande Prairie.”

The architect hired by the City proposed building a new structure that would enclose the old school building. “I look at it and I say, well, why don’t we do it the reverse way?”

And that’s what happened. “At the end, this building was preserved, but only the building shell….They designed a steel-frame building inside the brick building. Now they do have a [modern] art gallery, and I think they’re proud that the people can still be able to see what the old high school looked like.”

“It might not be the kind [of project] that we really like,” Gary concedes, since historic interior features were not retained, but it did succeed in saving and giving continued life to a significant community building.

Grande Prairie High School
Grande Prairie High School, with building shell preserved

This is what has kept Gary engaged in this work for nearly four decades. “We’re not only preserving a building, we’re preserving the history,” he says. And one learns about history “not just by reading a book, [or] looking at pictures. Sometimes we have the physical evidence right there, that really helps for future generations.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman

Replication of Long-Missing Features Completes Restoration of Fort MacLeod’s Grier Block

Grier Block after rehabilitation was complete (July 2014).
Grier Block after rehabilitation was complete (July 2014).

The Grier Block, built in 1902, was one of the first and largest commercial buildings in Fort MacLeod. It has one of the only pressed-metal facades in western Canada, highly decorated with an elaborate cornice and pilasters (columns between the window bays). Peter Maas recalls that by the early 2000s, when he and his brother Hans purchased it, the once-distinguished building was “pretty dilapidated.” The brothers spent seven years on a major rehabilitation (working full time, without pay, living on the premises) that brought the building back as a prominent and attractive contributor to Fort Macleod’s historic downtown. They recently added some long-missing and key elements, returning the building to its full glory.

The rehabilitation work included adding insulation and making other upgrades to the building envelope (the outer shell separating the interior from the exterior), accurately replacing the historic windows and frames, and preserving the original pressed-metal facade still present on the upper floor. (For a detailed account of the rehabilitation of the Grier Block, see pages 6 to 9 of the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.)

Unfortunately, the first-storey cast-iron pilasters had been missing since the 1960s, so the brothers only restored what was there at the time. It was fairly common to remove decorative facades from commercial buildings during the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s, says Fraser Shaw, the Heritage Conservation Advisor for Southern Alberta. Ground-level elements corrode more readily. Also, at mid-century, out-of-fashion ornamented facades were often modernized at street level, as this one was, with expanses of plate glass windows with plain surrounds.

The brothers were never satisfied with what they considered an incomplete restoration: “That was the only piece to the puzzle that was missing,” Peter says. “We’ve gone 100 percent on everything else, and that was the only thing that was left to attend to, so it was important to us to have that finished.”

The Grier Block in 2001, many years before the restoration began (November 2001).
The Grier Block in 2001, many years before the restoration began (November 2001).

Now—thanks to their perseverance, resourcefulness, and the lucky confluence of the right people at the right time and place—those first-storey pilasters have been replicated and are back in place. It’s “the crowning touch…the icing on the cake,” says Fraser. The building is designated as a Provincial Historic Resource, so his role during both the original rehabilitation and this project was to verify the historical accuracy of the proposed changes and monitor the work.

During the rehabilitation project, the architect in charge, Robert Hirano, made an important discovery: the building has a Mesker Brothers facade. In the late 1800s and early 1900s manufacturers introduced mass-produced prefabricated building components made from sheet-metal panels stamped with decorative motifs and iron elements cast in moulds. These processes provided an easy and inexpensive way to imitate elaborate decorations that historically had been created by craftsmen in more expensive materials such as carved stone. The products were sold through mail-order catalogues and shipped by rail throughout North America. Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Missouri, was one of several companies that created and shipped entire building facade and storefront assemblies. (One competitor was the George L. Mesker Company of Evansville, Ind., owned by another brother.)

A close-up of the rehabilitated metal detailing (July 2014)
A close-up of the rehabilitated metal detailing (July 2014)

Buildings with Mesker Brother facades are plentiful in the U.S. East and Midwest, with numerous Western examples as well, especially in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Washington. The Grier Block has one of only a handful of Mesker facades known to have existed in Canada, with two other Mesker facades installed in nearby Lethbridge—the Metcalfe Block (“Club Cigar”) and Lethbridge Hotel—no longer surviving. Fraser speculates that the developer of the Grier Block might have had U.S. connections, and benefitted from convenient cross-border rail service between southern Alberta and the U.S.

Over the years, Peter Maas had been hunting for Mesker storefronts with pilasters identical to those that once graced the Grier Block, hoping to replicate them. Specifically, he needed to find models for pilasters that are six inches and thirteen inches wide, each with a lower, a middle, and an upper component. All together, 33 individual elements needed to be produced to complete the lower facade.

The original structural steel pilasters of the Grier Block were still intact. Outlines of old paint showed where the ornamental cast-iron pilasters had been, and there were even tool marks showing where they had been hacked off. The owners had historic photographs of the building and the Mesker Brothers catalogue to show how the missing elements should look, and Hirano had produced drawings. “But at the end of the day, you need something that’s full scale and more tangible” to create the accurate, full-sized building elements, Fraser says.

During the rehabilitation work, the Maas brothers hired a carver to create the pilasters out of wood, but the result was disappointing. Later they located a Mesker Brothers building with one of the two needed sizes of pilasters while vacationing in New York State, and used those to create rubber moulds. But because those pilasters had decades of encrusted paint, the resulting moulds lacked definition.

One of the clay model prepared for the casting process (February 2013).
One of the clay model prepared for the casting process (February 2013).

Then everything came together last year when Peter was on vacation in Colorado.

Always on the lookout for Mesker Brothers buildings, he tracked one down in the small town of Mancos, in southwestern Colorado near Durango. It had the six-inch pilasters he needed! While gazing at them, he struck up a fortuitous conversation with a passer-by. That was Collette Webster, a professional potter. She considered how to replicate the pilasters, then came up with a solution.

Remarkably, the building owner allowed them to temporarily remove the pilasters. Collette was able to make plaster moulds of the three sections, and from those make clay templates that could be used for casting the elements in metal through the lost wax process.

On the same trip, Peter found a Mesker Brothers building with the thirteen-inch pilasters on the main street of Telluride, Colorado. In that case, the pilasters couldn’t be removed, so he took lots of photographs. Collette referred to those and to the moulds for the six-inch pilasters to create scaled-up models in wood of the thirteen-inch pilasters. These could then be used to make the necessary plaster moulds and wax models.

Some decorative detailing was still needed. As a potter, Collette was able to craft the missing roundels, florets, and other flourishes out of clay and then attach those shapes to the templates used to create the wax models.

The sections were cast in bronze by craftsman Dimitry Domani at his foundry in Cortez, Colorado, then shipped to Sweetgrass, Montana, for Peter to collect at the border. Domani recommended using bronze rather than the original iron because it has the potential to develop an attractive natural patina over time, whereas the iron would need to be painted.

The Grier Block’s new pilasters are now bolted into place, as they would have been historically, and also welded on “as an extra safeguard,” Fraser says.

“In all, the project seems to have been a lucky convergence of passionate owners, Mesker buildings in Colorado to serve as templates, and a network of local (in southern Colorado) artisans to perform the work where the buildings were,” Fraser concludes. The project was assisted by a matching conservation grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

Today the Grier Block is fully occupied. On the first-storey are an insurance and a real estate agency, a stained-glass artisan, a visitor display and offices for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and one residential suite; the second storey contains seven residential suites.

“There’s no question that it’s an anchor within the historic commercial district,” Fraser says. And “now the building just resonates with character in a way that it didn’t before.”

“It’s a nice piece of history for the town,” Peter agrees.

Hans Maas, a chef by training, had completed the historic rehabilitation of a smaller Fort MacLeod building as a “hobby,” Peter says, before tackling the Grier Block. Peter had experience constructing new buildings, but this was his first historic rehabilitation project. “I’m addicted to historic buildings now,” he says. “I find the historical projects are way more rewarding…You’ve got to go back to good material and quality workmanship.” He has since purchased and is now hard at work restoring Fort MacLeod’s Reach Block.

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

On the Road and On the Ground Helping Property Owners

Heritage Conservation Advisory Services

Scaffolding around the Alberta Legislature Building’s dome (2012).

When Tom Ward stated doing heritage conservation work some 35 years ago, he had no idea if it would lead to long-term employment. But he was hired early in his career to be part of the design team developing the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village east of Edmonton (a great learning opportunity, he recalls), and has been involved in heritage projects across the country ever since. Currently Ward is Manager of Heritage Conservation Advisory Services for the Historic Resources Management Branch, supervising five Heritage Conservation Advisers.

The advisers, based in Edmonton and Calgary, cover all regions of Alberta. Their primary job is to ensure that changes made to properties designated as Provincial Historic Resources under Section 20 of the Historical Resources Act are done in ways that follow to the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

Inspecting the condition of brick masonry (2006).
Inspecting the condition of brick masonry (2006).

The Heritage Conservation Advisers are not the preservation police! In fact, Ward says that the vast majority people who own designated historic resources appreciate the historic character of their properties and are eager to maintain them in an appropriate way. “We take a partnership approach,” he continues. “Even though in the back of our minds we are trying to make sure that the work meets the Standards and Guidelines, our approach is that we are there to help.”

More than half of the advisers’ time is spent in onsite, face-to-face meetings with individual owners, groups, or developers. “Meeting people and seeing the historic places is really the great part of the job,” Ward says. The advisers provide technical guidance on the best ways to accomplish needed work; may recommend qualified architects, engineers, and contractors if needed; and also determine if the property owner might qualify for cost-sharing grant assistance from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. They ultimately produce a ministerial approval document package which satisfies Section 20 of the Historical Resources Act and allows the work to proceed.

For example, if a heritage property needs a new roof, the adviser would steer the owner toward the historically appropriate choice of replacing original cedar shingles in kind rather than using cheaper asphalt shingles. “We would specify the kind of shingles the homeowner should use, the exposure, the underlay, the flashing, that sort of thing. Then we can say, this is going to cost you a little more, but it will last you longer and better meet the Standards and Guidelines. You are also eligible to submit an application to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation to cost-share on that roof so that it brings down your cost to about that of an asphalt shingle roof.”

A historic barn in east-central Alberta being re-shingled (2005).
A historic barn in east-central Alberta being re-shingled (2005).

The result is satisfying for all: “You get very positive, immediate feedback from people when you’re having a conversation over their kitchen table. They really appreciate the technical advice we can give them. And you see the job ultimately done well, ensuring that good conservation happens in Alberta.”

The Heritage Conservation Advisers address the needs of privately owned properties as well as Alberta Culture’s historic sites which are also designated as Provincial Historic Resources. Ward also consults with Alberta Infrastructure when work is needed on Provincially owned heritage buildings administered by that ministry. Recently he was involved in planning conservation measures for the Alberta Legislature Building, especially repair and reconstruction of portions of its dome. Ward and his team also provide technical consultation to other programs of the Historic Resources Management Branch, such as the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, and meet with property owners considering pursing heritage designation.

The announcement of provincial funding to assist owners of historic properties affected by the 2013 flooding in Southern Alberta will almost certainly mean more “house calls” to owners now undertaking or planning repairs. “It’s going to be an additional workload, but everybody is keen to do it,” Ward says.

He also sees this as a great opportunity to study the effects of flooding on sandstone and fieldstone foundations that are so prevalent in older buildings here, and determine best practices for restoration. The team holds occasional “retreats” to explore a technical issue in depth, through review of professional literature and discussion of their own onsite experiences. The next retreat will, of course, be about addressing flood damage.

The Alberta Legislature Building's dome being restored (2013).
The Alberta Legislature Building’s dome being restored (2013).

Ward says it’s typical of his team members responsible for the flooded areas that all were willing to work overtime, going to flooded areas as soon as they were allowed in, to advise owners on urgent matters, especially the best ways to dry out foundations.

“I’m really proud of the team we have,” Ward concludes. “They are passionate about what they do, and they are passionate about public service.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Municipal Heritage Partnership Program Empowers Governments to Protect Local Historic Places

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services, describes his role this way: “I manage all of the Government of Alberta’s work with municipalities to protect their historic places.” One focus of his job is running the Alberta Main Street Program. The other is leading the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (MHPP). Both are done with the help of two Municipal Heritage Services Officers.

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

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program was established in 2006 to give municipalities across Alberta the training and tools to start up and run their own heritage conservation programs in a way that “represents the best practice of what the Historical Resources Act requires.”

Matthew, who joined the branch the year before, has worked with this program from its start. He explains: “Municipalities in Alberta had been empowered since 1978 to designate their own historic places, but most of them didn’t know about that. Only a handful of communities—Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Red Deer—had ever designated something at the local level. [The others thought,] ‘This is something we have to go to the Province [to do]’.”

“So the first several years were really about building awareness. I spent almost 100 days on the road in 2006 going all over Alberta—small towns and cities, and everywhere. We were able to tell them, this can be done locally around the council table, and through a bylaw, and we gave them the background on that, and the training, the tools.”

MHPP staff members lead workshops for local government staff, volunteers, and sometimes elected officials as well, to train them in how to protect locally significant historic places by using recognized tools. The main identification tools are surveys: research projects that gather basic historical and architectural information on possible historic resources. Conducting a survey can be a first step toward developing a comprehensive heritage conservation program. MHPP also offers workshops on heritage inventories: projects that helps a community identify places of outstanding local significance and develop a deep understanding of each place that will help the municipality determine how to protect and conserve it.

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation offers matching grants to municipalities in Alberta that are undertaking surveys or heritage inventories or that are developing heritage management plans. MHPP staff often help municipalities craft viable survey or inventory projects that are likely to be funded by the Foundation. The MHPP also helps to evaluate grant applications, making funding recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Sometimes staff must overcome scepticism or even hostility of those who think heritage conservation is anti-progress. Matthew responds: “A lot of people when they think about their historic buildings, they think about the past, and we’re more concerned about saying, does that place have a future? That’s the conversation that we’re trying to have.”

Ideally, each municipality will first establish what the MHPP calls a Heritage Advisory Board (HAB), although it may have a different name locally. If the local government decides to seriously pursue the conservation of its historic resources, MHPP staff will meet with the board and others to explain that process and make sure they understand the three key aspects of evaluation: eligibility, significance, and integrity. Heritage consultants—historians, planners, or others with a conservation-related background—typically do the survey or inventory work under the direction of the advisory board.

As a central part of this work, the consultant will produce a document called a Statement of Significance for each historic place, which describes why the community values the place and what about it needs protection to preserve its significance. The HAB must be able to assess the quality of each Statement of Significance, making sure that each document accurately describes the significance and integrity of the historic resource(s) discussed. The HAB will make a recommendation on designation to the municipal council.

“Our place is not to intervene in [designation decisions],” Matthew says. “Municipalities in Alberta can designate whatever they want. They’re empowered to do that. It’s the community that has the local knowledge, and that’s what we’re trying to draw out.” But, ideally, the local government will learn how to make good decisions about heritage designation—decisions that are consistent across the community and also consistent with the best practices that are in use throughout Alberta. Municipalities may also establish their own regulations for the protection of their designated historic places.

“I really love working with the Heritage Advisory Boards.” Matthew reflects. “They’re volunteers for the most part, and they’re there for a reason—it’s usually because they have some sort of personal connection to these historic places that are meaningful to them in their community. A really enjoyable part of the work is getting to hear some of those stories.”

Today, MHPP staff members usually work with a municipality by invitation, although sometimes they’ll contact a local government proactively. This may be initiated by inquiries from private citizens concerned about protecting a specific historic place. When that happens, the MHPP staff member will urge them to contact their local government, but then will follow up with government staff to discuss the option of historic resource designation to protect the resource. “And from there we’ll say, ‘Have you thought more comprehensively about taking a look at all your historic places?’”

The annual Municipal Heritage Forum, a project of Municipal Heritage Services, supports these efforts. “Before 2007 people doing heritage conservation locally in different communities had very little connection with each other,” Matthew recalls. The first forum in 2007, called a Summit for Stakeholders, had about 40 participants. “It was basically just bringing the people together and giving them some information,” Matthew says. “But [we saw that] it’s the sharing of information [that’s important]. It’s really great to see the local knowledge increase and for that information to be shared peer-to-peer.” The forum now attracts about 125 attendees each year, and has become an eagerly anticipated event for heritage professionals and advocates across Alberta.

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program has now worked with more than 100 municipalities, and it continues to help “repeat customers” as well as communities that are new to heritage conservation. The MHPP keeps evolving, along with the communities it serves. We’ve worked with communities now that have been through the awareness cycle, so they know how to do [heritage designation], and they’re taking a high degree of ownership for this, which is what we always intended,” Matthew explains. The next step, he says, is helping them integrate heritage conservation into other urban planning initiatives—“not [treating it] like an appendage or an afterthought. Two of the flood-impacted communities we work with—High River and Medicine Hat—are working on major initiatives with their downtown planning, and I think they are leading the way on some of this.”

Municipalities have evaluated well over 1,000 historic places across Alberta since the program’s beginnings, “and that’s the number we keep an eye on,” Matthew says. “Not all of those places have been or will be designated or be protected,” he adds, “but at least they’re known. We know about them, and the communities know about them—and that’s really what matters most.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Manager of Historic Places Research and Designation Program Leads Diverse Identification, Research, and Protection Efforts

As Manager of the Historic Places Research and Designation Program, Brenda Manweiler heads what may be the unit with the greatest variety of responsibilities within the Historic Resources Management Branch. Brenda joined the branch as a Municipal Heritage Services Officer in 2009, after working for museums, British Columbia’s Heritage Branch, and Parks Canada. She has been in her current position since April 2013.

Brenda Manweiler, pausing for a moment during a busy day.
Brenda Manweiler, pausing for a moment during a busy day.

She now heads a six-member team of historians and heritage specialists. The unit’s primary role is administering the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program (described below). But there’s much more!

In addition, her group provides ongoing advice on how best to address the impact on historic structures (that are not designated) in cases where they may be affected by development in Alberta. This is part of an integrated regulatory function that Alberta Culture administers for the preservation of historic resources.

Members of her staff provide research services to many of the historic sites operated by the Historic Sites and Museums Branch of Alberta Culture. Their services help, for example, to develop exhibits at these sites.

The Historic Places Research and Designation Program also works closely with the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. The unit’s staff evaluates applications for Heritage Awareness, Research, and Publication grants submitted to the Foundation’s Heritage Preservation Partnership Program.

Creating Heritage Markers

As well, this unit is responsible for the Foundation’s Heritage Markers Program. This program supports the development of heritage markers that promote awareness of the historic people, places, events, and themes that have defined the character of the province. The markers are ideally sized for placement within parks, along trails or sidewalks, and in other community locales. Once the topic of a new marker has been selected, unit staff members develop the text, select photographs, and are responsible for coordinating the design, fabrication, and installation of the markers.

The unit includes the coordinators for two other programs, as well:

What kind of historic places are “out there” in Alberta?

The Coordinator of the Alberta Heritage Survey Program oversees a database of information about non-archaeological historic resources across the province. The Alberta Heritage Survey was established in the mid-1970s, has information dating back to 1971, and is being continually updated. Entries about individual resources include photographs, details of architectural characteristics, history, designation status, and location. This information comes from heritage surveys of neighbourhoods or building types, many of which have been commissioned by municipal governments and conducted by consultants and heritage groups. Today there are almost 100,000 individual resources documented on a searchable online database.

How do Geographical Features Get Names?

The Coordinator of the Geographical Names Program manages the process to formally name geographical features in Alberta. Names are chosen in accordance with international standards and guidelines, with preference usually given to names that have a demonstrated local and/or historical usage. The coordinator’s work includes communicating with governmental organizations from the municipal to international level, disseminating geographical names information from both popular and scholarly sources, maintaining records, and conducting related field and archival research. All this leads to making a recommendation on a name to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation board and the Minister of Alberta Culture.

How do places get designated?

The Historic Places Research and Designation Program’s largest responsibility, however, is the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program, which identifies, evaluates, and designates those historic resources that are most significant to the province as a whole. Resources eligible for consideration include structures, archaeological sites, palaeontological resources, and other works of humans or nature that are of value for their historic, cultural, natural, scientific, or aesthetic interest.

Once a resource is designated, its owner cannot destroy, disturb, alter, restore, or repair it without written approval from the provincial government. But the owner gains tangible benefits, including access to conservation grants and technical advice, and the intangible benefit of knowing that a valued property will be preserved and protected into the future. Currently there are some 360 sites protected as Provincial Historic Resources in Alberta.

Owners or advocates interested in obtaining heritage designation for a property often start by contacting Brenda for advice. She’ll ask questions to determine if the property is eligible for consideration, and to gauge whether designation should be pursued at the provincial or municipal level, or both. Occasionally one of the branch’s Heritage Conservation Advisers will make a site visit to answer property owners’ questions and assess the potential eligibility of their property for designation.

Once an application is received, Brenda administers the evaluation process. The Designation Committee, made up of her staff plus staff of the Heritage Conservation Advisory Services unit, meets about every six weeks to confirm the eligibility of new applications and to monitor the progress for sites currently under study. The Designation Committee works to determine if the site has heritage significance (according to five specific evaluation criteria), and a Heritage Conservation Adviser studies the site to determine if it retains enough integrity to communicate that significance. Much archival and onsite research is required to complete an in-depth evaluation. If the committee recommends designation and that is approved at a higher level, the owner is informed and his or her support is obtained, a designation order is signed, and the site is listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places, an online database of all designated historic resources in Alberta.

Benefits of Designation

Why would owners want their properties designated? Brenda explains: “They believe that they have a property that’s of significance. They want to keep it around so that future generations can enjoy it and benefit from it, so that it can continue to be a part of the communities that they live in. Also, the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation provides conservation grants to property owners of designated resources, which serves as a fantastic incentive for people to conserve their property for the long term.”

There have been about five new applications since Brenda started in her position nearly a year ago, so she estimates that five to ten per year would be the norm. Her team is currently working through the evaluation process for approximately twenty sites.

So Brenda’s job involves lots of paperwork and administrative management. But she never loses sight of what it’s all for: “So many people work in this field because they feel passionately about the buildings, and I’m certainly no different there,” she says. “But for me, so much of it comes down to the people: the applicants, the owners, the community members. The public is so passionate about the sites that they so want to see conserved. I love being able to work with the public to help them reach their goals of contributing to a legacy for Alberta.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Collaboration Is the fun part of Grant Program Coordinator’s Job

The Heritage Preservation Partnership Program of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation is the provincial funding program focused on helping individuals and organizations fund heritage initiatives. As Grant Program Coordinator, Carina Naranjilla keeps that program on track.

a photograph of Carina Naranjilla, Grant Program Coordinator, A.H.R.F.
Carina Naranjilla, Grant Program Coordinator, A.H.R.F.

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation is a lottery-funded agency within Alberta Culture. The Heritage Preservation Partnership Program is one of the Foundation’s three grant programs. Heritage Preservation Partnership grants are awarded in five categories: Historic Resources Conservation, Transportation/Industrial Artifact Conservation, Heritage Awareness, Publications, and Research. There are also two scholarships: the Roger Soderstrom Scholarship and the Bob Etherington Heritage Trades Scholarship.

At the close of the twice-yearly application deadlines, Carina logs the applications, then distributes them to the appropriate subject experts within the Historic Resources Management Branch to develop informed recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

“I’m not an archaeologist, a historian or conservation expert … so I rely on these people surrounding me in the branch for their technical expertise,” she explains. “My job is to coordinate with them, really putting all their expertise together. I set the timelines. We meet before they submit the technical evaluations to me. Then I edit [their evaluations], ensure the recommendations align with the funding policies and grants budget, check the accuracy of the financial information—a lot of detailed stuff.”

She emphasizes how important these evaluations are: “There are a lot a good projects, but you only have so much funds to distribute, so the challenge is to make sure that we are being fair and…when we deny an application or give reduced funding … we are able to provide the rationale” to explain that decision.

She consults with the Executive Director of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation on the evaluations and recommendations, and finalises the recommendations that go to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation’s board for review. She also assists “in the overall operation of the Foundation … administrative, financial, stuff like that.”

The Foundation’s board meets four times a year, and decisions about these awards are made at two of those meetings. Carina organizes the board meetings, along with managing other board interaction: “I look after drafting the agenda, coordinating the logistics, coordinating the materials and making sure they’re distributed on time—everything pertaining to the board meeting.” The two-day meetings, held in different locations around the province, always include a tour of the host community and opportunities for board members to meet with local heritage stakeholders. Carina particularly enjoys this outreach and the chance to see the local impact of grant-funded projects.

The recently announced conservation grants for owners of flood-impacted historic properties will mean more administrative responsibility for Carina. This special funding program will be run in the same way as the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program, but with different deadlines and a separate funding pot of $4.5 million. Carina is eager to see the applications that will come in at the first deadline, April 1.

She also manages two other programs of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation:

There are the Heritage Awards, presented every two years in the categories of Heritage Conservation, Heritage Awareness, Municipal Heritage Preservation, and Outstanding Achievement. Carina oversees the application and review process, and plans the awards ceremony. “It’s really fun to organize,” she says. She also collaborates with the Communications Branch, which generates media coverage to encourage nominations and publicize the award decisions. The next ceremony, scheduled for October 16, 2014, will be held in conjunction with the annual Municipal Heritage Forum for the first time. Carina anticipates that this will bring even greater attendance and attention.

In addition, the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation provides annual funding to five other provincial heritage organizations—the Alberta Museums Association, the Archives Society of Alberta, the Historical Society of Alberta, the Alberta Genealogical Society and the Archaeological Society of Alberta—and Carina administers that too.

“So, you’ve got to be organized,” Carina concludes about her multifaceted position. She has been with the Historic Resources Management Branch since 2000, and in her present position since 2009, after earning a master’s degree in industrial engineering and working as a Business Analyst in her home country, the Philippines, then holding diverse administrative positions in private industry and government in Edmonton.

While not a heritage specialist herself, Carina says she’s continually learning from her colleagues. For example, when she has time, she likes to “tag along” with the Heritage Conservation Advisers on site visits to view the buildings and projects they’re working on. “It’s great because you collaborate with all these people,” she says. “That’s the fun part of my job.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Creative Problem Solving Delights Head of Conservation and Construction Services

Alireza Farrokhi at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump during the 25th anniversary celebration in July 2012.
Alireza Farrokhi at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump during the 25th anniversary celebration in July 2012.

Alireza Farrokhi, Head of Conservation and Construction Services in the Historic Resources Management Branch, describes his work this way: “My unit is the operational arm of our branch. Other program areas protect historic resources and promote heritage conservation by designation, research, and advisory services to municipalities and private property owners; they tell how heritage conservation should be done. We are the group that does it.” Like other program areas, Conservation and Construction Services follows Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada closely.

Stewards of Provincially Owned Historic Resources

Conservation and Construction Services is responsible for “the heritage conservation, maintenance, and environmental management at all designated Provincial Historic Resources that are owned by the province.” That includes more than 50 restored historic structures, 14 operating historic sites, and 70 “mothballed” (vacant but stabilized) historic structures located at five sites not currently in use. The unit also collaborates with other government ministries—such as Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources Development; Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation; and Alberta Infrastructure (the property manager for all government-owned buildings)—if heritage conservation work is required as part of a larger project.

The seven-member unit (which includes three Heritage Conservation Technologists, a Restoration Foreman, and two Restoration Craftsmen) is currently working on numerous projects throughout the province. Staff members once covered specific geographic areas, but are now more likely to be assigned projects based on their expertise. Members of the unit make up the crew for smaller projects. Larger ones are contracted out, with unit staff overseeing the project planning and management.

Restoring and Conserving

The unit’s ongoing workload ranges from conducting multiyear, multistructure restoration projects to addressing specific conservation problems, including some “that come out of the blue.” One staff member works full time at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, east of Edmonton, restoring buildings one by one. Another has been restoring the log structures at the Perrenoud Homestead near Cochrane. Members of the unit have also worked recently at the Rutherford House in Edmonton, the Stephansson House near Markerville, and Victoria Settlement near Smokey Lake.

Two images contrasting the Hewko House at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village before and after its restoration.
Hewko House restoration at Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village: before (2008) and, after (2009)
Images showing different aspects of the St. Charles Mission re-roofing at Historic Dunvegan.
St. Charles Mission re-roofing at Historic Dunvegan

Heritage and Environmental Conservation

Alireza’s current projects involve restoring “environmentally challenged” industrial sites. He and a colleague are currently working at three that were critical to Alberta’s history: Turner Valley Gas Works, Alberta’s first natural gas plant and a key player in the creation of the province’s oil and gas industry; Greenhill Mine Complex, a historic coal-mining operation in the Crowsnest Pass; and the Bitumount Site north of Fort McMurray, the birthplace of oil sands extraction technology.

an image contrasting a scale model of the sulphur plant with the plant itself
Scale model of the sulphur plant at Turner Valley Gas Plant (top) and the genuine article (bottom)

“Back then, their focus was solely on energy extraction. They were not really concerned about the environment,” he says. “But now these are areas that we need to clean up with heritage conservation considerations, so we can’t just dig out the dirt and take it away.” Older structures and equipment must be rescued and stabilized; working in sections, contaminated soil and water must be removed, contained, and treated; nearby waterways must be monitored to verify that groundwater and surface run-off is now clean.

Other historic sites under the unit’s care often require environmental remediation as well, especially removal of asbestos and lead paint.

Regular Maintenance: Conservation at its Best

Conservation and Construction Services is also responsible for regular maintenance (as part of the heritage conservation process) at the sites under its care. To help with that, the unit is developing a maintenance manual for each historic structure. The manual will compile, for easy reference, all records of previous work conducted, related reports, cyclical maintenance requirements, and specific concerns to monitor “so we’re not caught off-guard.”

Alireza loves the challenge and creativity of heritage conservation work. “If a job is not challenging, it’s not interesting,” he says.

Modern buildings tend to develop predictable problems that have known solutions, he explains. But with heritage buildings, “the problems that we deal with don’t necessarily have known solutions. You have to come up with innovative ways of dealing with problems. I love that! It opens up the discussion. There are no right or wrong answers.” For every project, “you always consider the construction technology, what kinds of materials are used, why this is happening, and how you can resolve the issue without impacting the heritage fabric and values.”

An example is recent work at the Rutherford House, an interpreted site on the University of Alberta campus. The sun porch is used as part of the restaurant. Air leaked in through its windows, making the space hard to heat, and water condensation was rotting the wooden window frames and sashes. It was decided to add unobtrusive storm windows where none had existed before. That involved “coming up with different details, experimenting, discussing with our contractor what’s possible and what’s not, and monitoring the work along the way, experimenting to see if it works.” Now the heating and condensation problems are solved and the staff is “very happy,” Alireza says. And, “it would be very hard for you to pick out where the storm window is because it blends into the historic window as if it’s not there.”Images Showing the Rutherford House Sunporch before and after storm windows were added.

From Iran to Canada

Alireza started his career as a civil engineer in his home country of Iran, doing project management for the construction of large-scale industrial and high-rise buildings. His eyes were opened to heritage conservation work when the firm that employed him was building the subway system in historic areas of Tehran. The discussions about the heritage fabric encountered there were like “poetry,” he recalls.

Alireza earned a master’s degree in heritage conservation in Tehran, then he cofounded a private company specializing in heritage conservation—a risky business venture in a country where almost all conservation work is done by the government. The company grew into one of the largest of its kind in Iran.

His company helped with stabilization of heritage structures of the 2500-year-old Bam Citadel, which was damaged in a devastating earthquake in 2003 in which some 43,000 people lost their lives. While doing that work, Alireza questioned why, at the same time that thousands of displaced people lacked basic necessities, conservation professionals were routinely advocating the use of the most advanced and expensive documentation techniques instead of less costly ones (laser scanning rather than study of years of existing aerial photographs.

That led him to the University of Calgary’s doctoral program in Environmental Design, to explore how and why professionals in heritage conservation (and potentially in other fields as well) choose which documentation technology to use. Alireza joined the Historic Resources Management Branch as a Restoration Officer in October 2011, and has been in his current position since July 2013, while also completing his dissertation.

After working on ancient monuments and sites in Iran, doesn’t Alberta’s heritage seem rather modest by comparison? Not at all, Alireza insists! “It comes down to a question of values—what you value. Heritage is heritage, regardless of how old a particular structure is. It brings people together, it creates a sense of community, and those are the important factors.

“And the conservation approaches are similar all across the board. For sure, some techniques are different, but the overall approaches are the same, so whatever you do in one part of the world could be adapted for anywhere else.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Director of the Historic Places Stewardship Reflects on 35-Year Career

photograph of Larry Pearson, Director of the Historic Places Stewardship Section, at his desk.
Larry Pearson, Director of the Historic Places Stewardship Section.

As Director of Historic Places Stewardship, Larry Pearson heads one of the three sections that make up the Historic Resources Management Branch. Next October will mark Larry’s 35th anniversary doing heritage conservation work for the Province of Alberta—and he’s seen, and overseen, many changes.

Larry was completing a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Calgary, with a focus on heritage conservation, when he was hired as the Restoration Officer at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Within a few years, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village was amalgamated into the provincial Historic Sites Service, and eventually Larry became responsible for overseeing the architectural design work for all provincially owned sites undergoing restoration.

He was the project manager for a three-year effort to develop the Fort George and Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site—location of the first forts along the North Saskatchewan River, dating from 1792—into an interpreted site with a visitor centre and trail system. Later he headed a team, made up of colleagues he’d worked with at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, that researched and carefully dismantled St. Onuphrius Church Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Canadian Museum of Civilization (now called the Canadian Museum of History) acquired the small Eastern-Rite church to be part of the Canada Hall, its main permanent exhibit. That project won the 1997 Premier’s Award of Excellence as best team project.

Larry enjoys the challenge of planning restoration projects: “understanding how a building has changed over time, confirming what it looked like, deciding the appropriate period of significance that we want to return it to, and returning it to that period in a way that has minimal impact on historic fabric.” And he appreciates the value of collaborating (including having impassioned discussions) with colleagues from related disciplines. He continues to encourage that kind of teamwork in his current position.

As of 2000, Larry was managing what was then called Community Heritage Services, within the Historic Sites Service. Community Heritage Services was responsible for identifying and designating historic places as Provincial Historic Resources, and ensuring that their ongoing conservation preserved their heritage value, as well as providing assistance to community groups involved in heritage projects—a lot of what the Historic Places Stewardship Section does now. But this was somewhat outside the scope of the rest of the Historic Sites Service, which was focused on the development and operation of provincial historic sites. Meanwhile, other units involved in identifying, protecting, and supporting the conservation of historic resources were located in different branches of the Heritage Division. Because heritage resource management functions were diffused across the division, “the philosophical and policy discussions that needed to happen around how to identify, protect, and manage Alberta’s historic places didn’t happen,” Larry recalls.

In fall of 2000 he and colleagues from other branches within the Heritage Division were asked “to develop and implement a process that asked and answered the question: ‘Are we structured the best way we can be to accomplish what we’re being asked to accomplish?’” The result was a reorganization that established the current Historic Resources Management Branch in February 2001, gathering together functions that previously had been spread across other branches.

Larry was responsible for forming what was then called the Protection and Stewardship Section within this new branch, which he has headed since its beginnings. “The section’s programs are focused on identifying, protecting, and conserving Alberta’s historic resources,” Larry explains.

From the start he worked to ensure that “we had an established rulebook, a policy framework, about what we were doing.” His approach to conservation management was informed by his participation on the Association of Preservation Technology’s board of directors from 1984 to 1989, as a member of the training and conference committee, and later as program chair for its 1999 conference held in Banff. This work brought him in close contact with preservation professionals from the United States who were employing federal-level tools there, notably the U.S.’s National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

During the late 1980s, Larry led an initiative to develop a set of provincial standards and guidelines for the conservation and care of historic buildings. Alberta’s Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Designated Historic Places, which were based on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, were first printed in 1990, then revised and reprinted in 1993.

Then in 1999, Parks Canada began discussions with federal departments, provincial and territorial officials, and other stakeholders to develop a pan-Canadian strategy to identify and conserve Canada’s historic places. A team of representatives from provincial and territorial governments around the country worked intensively to develop a Canada-wide approach to heritage conservation.

The result was the Historic Places Initiative (HPI), launched in 2001, which over the next few years established the Canadian Register of Historic Places, Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, and a process for certifying that designated historic properties are conserved in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines. The HPI also provided federal funding to provinces and territories to help them implement the HPI, so that all provincial (and by extension municipal) historic places would be included.

Larry helped represent Alberta during the HPI planning process. Alberta was a key contributor to developing the HPI’s Standards and Guidelines. Alberta officially adopted the Standards and Guidelines in August 2003. Colleagues in his section ensured development of the Alberta Register of Historic Places and the listing of Alberta’s historic places on the Canadian Register.

Along with bringing these new guiding principles to the work of the section, which with the advent of the HPI had been renamed the Historic Places Stewardship Section, Larry also made a major organizational change: expanding the reach of the section by adding a new program area. Although municipalities had been empowered by the Historical Resources Act since 1978 to designate their own historic resources and implement protections for them, very few had chosen to do so, or even knew about this conservation tool.

Larry continues: “The federal government asked the provinces to reach out to their municipalities, to ensure they were included in the work of the Historic Places Initiative. So we took a portion of the federal HPI funding and developed the Municipal Heritage Services Unit. We flowed much of the federal money through to our municipalities. It was all about building municipal capacity. Within that unit, we developed a new program called the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program to provide matching grant funding to municipalities so they could identify through surveys and inventories what’s important to them, and to help them, again through funding, to develop [municipal heritage designations] and municipal historic resource management plans…So there was a very significant, concentrated effort on engaging municipal government.” The MHPP was officially launched in 2006, although aspects of it had been piloted in previous years. “It changed our focus,” Larry says.

More recently, the section’s responsibilities have grown to include the delivery of maintenance and conservation services related to historic sites and museums owned or operated by the Heritage Division, bringing further conservation expertise into the unit. The section also now provides research services in support of the interpretation programs of a number of these sites.

As Director of Historic Places Stewardship, Larry monitors, critiques, and signs off on all decisions made by the programs within the section. For example, he reviews recommendations on provincial heritage designation made by the Historic Places Research and Designation Program, approvals for proposed changes to designated resources made by the Heritage Conservation Advisory Services, and grant-funding recommendations made to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation by different subject specialists within the section. He also oversees “staffing, manpower, budget—administrative things.”

A big part of his job, he adds, is encouraging collaboration and teamwork among the staff of the section’s different program areas. “Nobody could do what they do without somebody else from another unit helping them,” he says, “which I think is one of the reasons why it’s such a strong section. They all know what everybody else does, and they all have a very clear, shared vision.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.

Work of the Branch’s Executive Director Is Varied, Unpredictable

This is the first of a series of articles introducing you to the staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch. We hope to give you a better sense what our staff does to protect, conserve and promote Alberta’s rich heritage. We begin by introducing you to our Executive Director.

As Executive Director of the Historic Resources Management Branch, Matthew Wangler relishes the variety of his job, and the great range of historic resources he gets to learn about in depth—from quarrying sites used by First Nations peoples for thousands of years, to unassuming buildings embodying the history of one of Alberta’s most remarkable communities, to one of the world’s few meteorite craters holding surviving impact fragments (one of his favourites!).

Matthew Wangler, Executive Director the Historic Resources Management Branch
Matthew Wangler, busy at work.

The Historic Resources Management Branch is charged with identifying, documenting, and protecting significant historic, archaeological, and palaeontological resources within Alberta. This is done through regulation of development that could impact such resources, along with education and consultation to help others (municipalities, property owners, community groups) to conserve or interpret their historic resources.

This work is accomplished by three sections that Wangler oversees: Aboriginal Heritage, Archaeological Survey, and Historic Places Stewardship. Wangler reviews the major regulatory decisions of these sections. He is also directly involved in those large initiatives that involve other ministries. One such task has been working to develop the recently announced flood relief funding programs.

In addition, Wangler is Executive Director of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. In that role he provides support to activities of the Foundation’s board, including its quarterly meetings, and he helps to ensure that funding decisions are implemented.

While some of his workload is predictable, much of it “comes out of left field,” he says. “It’s very common for an urgent issue to emerge the same day” that action is needed, “or the same hour, or the same minute.”

Often these concern potential risks to significant archaeological or built heritage sites that are not protected by municipal or provincial historic resource designation. The provincial government has the authority to require proponents of development projects potentially affecting such sites to undertake additional steps before their projects may proceed. For example, before being allowed to use land known or strongly suspected to hold evidence of early Aboriginal activity, a developer could be required to conduct an archaeological excavation. “So if an issue comes up that involves the exercise of this authority, I get involved. I have to make sure I understand all the ins and outs of the situation, so that I can brief [the responsible person] and he can make an informed decision.”

For instance, several years ago, City of Calgary staff alerted the Historic Resources Management Branch that a demolition application had been filed for a portion of the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company—an early and major employer that was highly influential in the development of Calgary and the region. The department responded by requiring the owner to produce a Historic Resources Impact Assessment.

Such requirements can buy time to educate property owners about the historical significance of their sites and the potential financial, environmental, and visitor-appeal benefits of conserving them appropriately. It also gives municipal planners time to propose conservation-friendly development alternatives.

A lot of property owners are simply unaware” of the benefits of conservation, Wangler says. “But in the vast majority of cases, you can educate them about the value of heritage, both culturally and potentially economically, and you can bring them on your side.”

In fact, lack of widespread awareness about Alberta’s heritage resources and the value of conservation is among Wangler’s most pressing concerns. Part of the problem is that the value of much of the work of the Historic Resources Branch may not be immediately apparent to the public, although the artifacts and fossils that are recovered, the historic buildings that are saved and reused, and the cultural sites of significance to Aboriginal communities that are preserved contribute to a range of social, economic, and cultural outcomes.

“But the solution is quite simple!” Wangler continues. He’s eager for his staff to engage in greater public outreach—writing blog posts, visiting school classrooms, speaking at public events—to build awareness of Alberta’s diverse heritage resources and the opportunities they offer.

“Have people talk about what they love and why they do what they do!,” he urges. “Every person who works for my branch has a passion for history and heritage, that’s why they ended up working here. You scratch a little bit under the surface, and you find that most people do have some connection to heritage and some native interest in it. It’s really not difficult to find and create allies.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.