Which of you RETROactive readers out there doesn’t love the annual Municipal Heritage Forum? What started in 2007 as a small “Summit for Stakeholders,” has grown into something which has brought Alberta’s heritage community together, building connections and raising the bar. We have received lots of positive feedback on the Forum over the years, and – we have to be honest – it’s also a lot of fun to put on!
Mark your calendars now – October 22-24th – we are linking up our already dynamic Forum with the premier, Canada-wide heritage conservation conversation. We’ll converge in Calgary, one of Canada’s most energetic cities, for a few days of exploration, engagement, and inspiration.
At the 2014 Lacombe Forum, Fred Bradley, Chair of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, announced that the Foundation would be assisting 120 Albertans – including municipal heritage advisory boards, Main Street communities, students, and others – to attend the Heritage Energized through sponsored registrations. Henry Maisonneuve, Alberta Governor of Heritage Canada the National Trust, thanked the Foundation for their strategic partnership in this way, stating that he looked forward to a strong contingent of Albertans participating. Stay tuned to RETROactive for additional information on how you may be eligible for one of these spaces.
I came this close to writing this post in the third person. I then returned to my senses, and decided to just go for it and write a brief personal message here to you terrific RETROactive readers. I’ll be moving on from my much-loved role of Manager, Municipal Heritage Services. In early February, I’ll be returning to my hometown of Chilliwack, B.C., where I’ll be serving as Executive Director of that historic community’s Museum and Archives.
My long-time colleague Michael Thome, who will be serving as Acting Manager, asked me to share a few fun memories. So here goes:
Spending more than 100 days ‘on the road’ in 2006, when we were launching the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, conducting “MHPP Roadshows” in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat, as well as presenting to over 75 municipal councils! You don’t realize the sheer scale, breadth, and beauty of Alberta until you get out driving its highways and backroads. Most people don’t realize that a municipality like Mackenzie County or Wood Buffalo are larger than Switzerland!
Getting to know all of the best burgers and fries places across Alberta. (You’ll have to get in touch with me if you want access to this top-secret list!)
Launching the Municipal Heritage Forum as a “Summit for Stakeholders” in 2006. Back then, there were lots of people doing great local heritage conservation work across Alberta, but most of them didn’t know each other well. That first Forum, which we put on at the World Trade Centre in Edmonton – gave people a chance to get to know each other, and put a face to a name. After that, people doing heritage in Smoky Lake County or Yellowhead County felt free to call other people they had met, ask questions, and share what had worked for them. Since then the Forum has of course grown, and I am thrilled to see how delegates have really taken ownership of it and made it their own dynamic, learning community.
We saw a new way forward for the Alberta Main Street Program, and built a flexible and sustainable paradigm of doing a fantastic program, that needed a new approach. Now, we have a tremendous, creative network of historic communities (Lethbridge, Olds, Old Strathcona, Camrose, and Wainwright), animating their heritage commercial districts with energy, conservation, and high-quality urbanism.
I remember attending one Council meeting (at a municipality which shall remain nameless), where the delegation presenting before me was a zealous farmer who came in coveralls, straight from the harvest fields – and slammed a heavy rock down on the Council table – THUD! He was irate and relayed the story that the County staff must have knocked this rock into his field during Winter snow removal, as he insisted he “hadn’t had a rock like that in his field for three generations!” The rock had been kicked up and shattered the window of his combine. He requested compensation for half the cost of replacing the damaged window. I thought the man’s claim was reasonable. Before you knew it – there was a motion passed to provide the compensation. Now that’s democracy in action! (That same County did then proceed to do some tremendous heritage planning work over the next few years, legally protecting a number of its significant historic places through Municipal Historic Resources designation).
We saw the number of designated Municipal Historic Resources (legally protected by local governments) grow exponentially, from under 70 in 2006 to well over 300 in 2015, with 240 already listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places!
Of all the memories of projects – from Pincher Creek down south to Fort Vermilion up north – I still have to say the greatest memories are the people. Working with local Heritage Advisory Boards was so enjoyable because the “why” is so compelling. The people who do it are there for a reason – they love their historic places! It was also great to work collaboratively with the municipal staff and heritage planners across the province. I know that I have learned a lot from their knowledge and experience – and there is still so much to learn! And, of course, I had the privilege of working as colleagues day in, day out with the best team of heritage professionals in Canada here at Historic Resources Management.
Thanks – to all of you – for the memories! Let’s keep on creating a future for our historic places.
Written by: Matthew Francis, former Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the final keynote presentation at the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum in Lacombe blew everybody away. Larry Laliberté, GIS Librarian at the University of Alberta, opened Forum attendees’ horizons with an intriguing presentation entitled, “Historical GIS: Connecting Collections.”
In his presentation, Larry described how history’s main mode of communication is narrative, while Geography’s distinctive form of expression is visual. If we begin to connect these two methodologies, as can now be done through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, it opens the doors to new perspectives and insights. This is what Laliberté described as a type of “visual narrative, a spatial story, a landscape liturgy.”
This shift in thinking from text to visual has been described as a kind of “spatial turn” in the way people conceptualize the world around them, past, present and future. In 2012, the Editorial Journal of Map and Library Geographies (8:177-180), put it this way. It is “a change in thinking from finding and retrieving information from text-based means to doing so visually, from geography or location-based methods.”
One only has to be aware of such popular social media as Foursquare to see how popular and ubiquitous this so-called “spatial turn” has become. GIS technology can give us practical and insightful ways to consider and deepen our knowledge of the historic places all around us. Compelling blogs such as #LostYEG: Lost Edmonton explores how the street scape has evolved over time.
The GIS tools now widely available create an opportunity for “Spatial History.” This is an approach to studying or exploring the historic past that “combines and uses a multitude of sources that can be situation in space as well as time.”
Laliberté used one of his recent projects – which involved historic maps – as a case study to open up the topic for our Forum attendees. He and his team have analyzed 1913-1914 fire insurance plans from the City of Edmonton. These maps were scanned and then geo-referenced with contemporary maps, yielding detailed map layers that could be studied. Additional information gleaned from the 1911 Census allowed researchers to understand in detail the density of the built environment along Jasper Avenue, along with a high degree of demographic detail about the people who lived there at that time. When you mix in archival materials such as historic postcards and other sources, which can be tagged for location, a rich environment of information is created. It was almost something like creating a “Google Streetview,” type of experience for the early 20th century.
As Larry mentioned, this new field of Historical GIS is not an end in itself, but rather a research tool, an approach by which we can access or look at history and historic places. It does not provide the answers to the historical questions we may have, but it certainly does expand the toolkit by which we can begin to construct or unearth those answers.
Leaders in the Alberta Main Street Program met in Lethbridge this week for their quarterly network meeting and some strategic training. The Main Street Program is a dynamic network of communities engaged in community regeneration through heritage conservation.
Each community presented a brief update on the work of their program, including organizational work in Camrose and Old Strathcona, and streetscape initiatives and adaptive re-use projects in Olds and Wainwright.
A walking tour was co-led by Ted Stilson, Executive Director of the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ and Main Street Coordinator, and Belinda Crowson, President of the Historical Society of Alberta. As we strolled through the historic downtown area, on a warm Farmer’s Market morning, Main Street leaders were able to see first-hand some of the significant heritage conservation work that has taken place in Lethbridge under the auspices of the Main Street Program.
The group especially appreciated getting a tour of the work in progress on the Bow On Tong Building, which has also been featured on RETROactive.
After the walking tour and lunch at Mocha Cabana, one of the City of Lethbridge’s Municipal Historic Resources, historically known as Bell’s Welding, the group participated in a lively training workshop led by Jim Mountain, Director of Regeneration Projects for Heritage Canada the National Trust.
Jim facilitated a very informative, interactive session on “The Role of the Main Street Coordinator.” His insights, gleaned from years of experience as a practitioner in heritage-led regeneration – both in Fort Macleod and across Canada – were beneficial for both our seasoned veteran Coordinators and also our newer leaders.
Alberta’s Main Street leaders are already looking forward to the next network meeting and training session, to be held in Old Strathcona at the end of November.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, the Archaeological Survey of Alberta published a highly-regarded series of occasional papers, known affectionately in archaeological circles as the “Blue Series,” for its characteristic cover colour.
Robin Woywitka, Cultural Land Use Analyst with the Historic Resources Management Branch commented on how this rich collection of literature has become a coveted resource, with well-worn copies sought after by professional archaeologists and others interested in the field.
Woywitka observed, “The two series were established in the 1970s and 1980s to help disseminate the results of archaeological work conducted in the Province. Thirty five Occasional Paper volumes and 17 Manuscript Series volumes were issued from 1976-1994. These volumes cover the entire breadth of human history in Alberta, from the late glacial to the recent past, and from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains into the Parkland and Boreal Forest.”
It’s now online!
As it turns out, the series is not just a relic of the past, but has stood the test of time. Now, by popular demand, the whole series is available online free for download! Jared Majeski, Heritage Division Web Assistant, collaborated with Woywitka to see the project through to completion. Many avid archaeologists have requested this, and those requests have been heard.
In addition, the series is being revived! New contributions to the Occasional Paper series are welcome. The new series will focus on the annual review style volumes that were a hallmark of the original Occasional Papers. Please consider submitting a manuscript on topics of Alberta archaeology (submission guidelines are here). The deadline for submissions for the 2014 annual review volume is January 31, 2015. Ideas for edited thematic volumes that stretch beyond the confines of Alberta are also welcome.
Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.
The program, established in 1987 and now renewed with a fresh format, revitalizes historic commercial areas through heritage conservation. The bar for participation is high: communities desiring to participate must complete a Heritage Inventory of their historic commercial area and commit to meet detailed standards of performance. Those in the Alberta Main Street Program network have met these high criteria and are committed to achieving excellence.
Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser with Alberta Culture, who served as the Main Street Coordinator in Ponoka and Black Diamond, delivered an informative presentation on quality design for historic Main Street communities. A key aspect of this is the area of historic signage: what is, and what is not, appropriate. While in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a “wild West” ethic probably prevailed, with “my sign is bigger than your sign” approach usually winning out, commercial areas today are governed by sign bylaws and other regulations. Can these bylaws take into account historic significance and character? The answer is a definite yes! – but implementation requires careful planning.
The group learned that determining heritage values and understanding the historic area as a whole provides the basis to answering these kinds of questions. The afternoon learning session sparked many interesting questions and discussions among the Coordinators. Everyone left Olds energized and looking forward to the next quarterly Alberta Main Street Network meeting, which will take place in May.
Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services.
To maximize flexibility for communities, program staff receive applications from interested municipalities on a ongoing basis throughout the year. That said, since MHPP projects are funded by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, it is convenient for stakeholders to coordinate their applications with meetings of the Foundation’s Board, which generally take place on a quarterly basis. This allows time for staff to review applications and prepare recommendations for the Board, and for the board members to review materials in advance.