Heritage Forum 2013 – Save the Dates!

Strathcona Branch, Edomonton Public Library
Strathcona Branch, Edomonton Public Library

WHAT: Our 7th annual Municipal Heritage Forum!

WHERE: The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area

WHEN: Thursday September 19th at the Ukrainian Village & Friday September 20th in Old Strathcona

WHY: To help create a future for Alberta’s historic places.

While each year we try to carefully minimize scheduling conflicts with other important happenings on the heritage scene, sometimes overlaps occur. Some RETROactive readers will want to know that this year’s Forum is taking place at the same time and in the same fair city (Edmonton) as our friends from the Alberta Museums Association are hosting their Annual Conference. Please keep in mind that both the AMA Conference and our Municipal Heritage Forum allow for single-day registrations. This may allow some  attendees to maximize their trip to Edmonton to take in the best of both great events. We will also be co-hosting a reception with the AMA on Thursday evening, Friday 19th.

Full information on Forum 2013, schedules, and registration materials will be available soon! Stay tuned to RETROactive for details.

Main Street Conference Wrap-Up

A few weeks ago, I was live-blogging from the the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America. Here are some final thoughts, after returning home to Alberta.

2013 Main Street Conference

Culinary Revival in Historic Places

The final session of the Main Street Conference in New Orleans featured Robert St. John , a celebrity chef and authority on southern culture and food, as speaker. His humorous presentation focused on his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. There is a lot of focus these days—and not only in New Orleans—on how culinary excellence works hand-in-hand with revitalizing historic main streets. The food scene—in all its dimensions—is major player in today’s “cultural economy.”

Robert’s presentation reminded me how a number of our historic Alberta Main Street communities are great places to enjoy good food in authentic, fun environments. In particular, his presentation reminded me of Downtown Lethbridge, where an exciting food and coffee culture has emerged over the past several years. Other places in Alberta are seeing great new restaurants, coffee-houses, artisan bakeries, micro-breweries, and fantastic food trucks enrich and enliven neighbourhoods, and jump-start uses for historic buildings. There are some tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities out there. The historic vibe, feel, and values in our traditional commercial districts only adds to the appeal.

Next Year in Detroit – Works in Progress!

Detroit will host the 2013 Main Street Conference.
Detroit will host the 2013 Main Street Conference.

The wrap-up session concluded with a presentation by next-year’s host city: Detroit, Michigan. Now, much ink has been spilt describing Detroit’s catastrophic urban decline over the past few decades. Hundreds of blocks of blighted houses and commercial buildings have been bulldozed due to the severity of the situation. But that is all changing. Detroit is using Main Street’s Four-Point Approach® to bring its downtown back from the ashes. Jane Jacobs said that “new ideas need old buildings,” and that is definitely part of what is happening in Detroit.

It’s inspiring to see what is happening around the world, but it’s even more exciting to see what’s happening across Alberta, in our own backyard. Stay tuned to RETROactive for updates on historic main street news from across the province.

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Tuesday was the last full day of the formal conference, while Wednesday features a number of post-conference tours to various Main Street communities. I, however, will be travelling back to Edmonton on Wednesday, via Houston and Calgary. Seeing as I would miss the extended tours, I signed up to participate in a mobile workshop called “The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street,” which showcased the renewal of this 18th and 19th century neighbourhood which had endured decades of decline. Now, two distinct districts are emerging along Upper Canal, one with historic theatres, focusing on entertainment, and another focused on biomedical research and development.

New Orleans Civil Rights Heritage: Can it be Conserved?

Canal Street Streetcar
Canal Street Streetcar

A group of about 20 of us hopped on one of the great streetcars that continually traverse Canal Street, the major thoroughfare through downtown New Orleans. Our guide, the Director of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans, pointed out numerous places of interest within this complex environment. One such building was a now-empty Woolworth’s store, which we learned had been the epicentre of the early Civil Rights movement in Louisiana; this Woolworth’s lunch counter was one of the first to be de-segregated in the 1950s. Now, however, the building lays vacant, and is currently slated for demolition.

A Historic Entertainment District – Renaissance

Across LaSalle Street from Woolworth’s stands the early 20th century Saenger Theater. Damaged extensively during Katrina, but also ailing for some time before that, the theatre was in urgent need of a multi-million dollar rehabilitation if it was to have a future. Through application of historic tax-credit support, in addition to a comprehensive business plan for sustainability, that project is now well under way. I took a picture of the sign to indicate the number of partners – both public and private sector – involved in this massive endeavour. In approximately two years time, this once-great movie palace will again become a centre for performing arts in New Orleans, and will anchor future development on Upper Canal.

Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans
Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans

Across the Street from the Saenger Theatre is the Joy Theater, a 1940s Art Deco gem, now restored to its period of significance. The Joy has already become a popular centre for performing arts and is driving the district as an entertainment hot spot. To my eye, it also bears some resemblance to Alberta’s Garneau Theatre , a Municipal Historic Resource, located in Edmonton.

New Technologies and Bio-Innovation

On the next block up from the theatres, several older buildings have been re-purposed for use as medical and scientific research facilities, and new infill, including a multimillion dollar, highly advance centre for “Bio-Innovation,” has been developed. The Upper Canal area will also become home to a new Veteran’s Administration hospital, a 2 billion dollar initiative, replacing an existing hospital devastated by Katrina.

The tour concluded with discussion about the ingenuity and collaboration required to facilitate these projects. It was intriguing to see an area like Upper Canal – very much a work in progress – and to anticipated the future results of the work being undertaken today.

I’ll conclude my live-blogging from the Conference with one more post on the final plenary session. Stay tuned!

Monday Main Street Conference Update

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Monday’s conference sessions offered rich content from professionals seasoned in Main Street leadership in various contexts. I attended three:

  •  “Creative Collaboration Efforts Between Main Streets and Municipalities”
  •  “Font of Information: Successful Graphic Communication for Main Streets”
  •  “Authenticity as Economic Catalyst”

Each presentation inspired my enthusiasm and got me thinking on a deeper level. While I could write a lot about each of them (and did take copious notes – it was good stuff!), for this post, please allow me to just summarize a few of my ‘take-aways,” from the first session.

The focus was on collaboration between Main Street Organizations and local governments, which is 100% applicable to the kind of work we do in Alberta, with MHPP and our Alberta Main Street Program. The presenters, which included the Mayor of Washington, Missouri, a city manager, and a State Main Street Program administrator with over 20 years experience, provided some really practical case studies from their work in Missouri.

John Simmons described the 16 year process he went through to conserve a “Richardsonian Romanesque” bank building in downtown Sedalia, Missouri. Built in 1888, the building had changed hands numerous times, and had suffered a major fire in the 1990s, leaving it roofless for two years.

Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri
Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri

John candidly described the efforts – including some failed partnerships in the past – that took place before the timing was right to make the conservation achievable. Even now, while considerable work has been done, the actual project is only beginning. John promised an update in two years on the “Missouri Trust Building.” Even though the story is still unfolding, it was a testimony to the tenacity required, sometimes over many years, for a community to achieve its goals of revitalization and heritage conservation. We’ve seen similar challenges with significant historic places in Alberta, and I can think of a few other major projects that may involve these same ingredients – partnerships, creativity, and commitment – if they are to garner both conservation and business success. Not all heritage conservation projects become success stories, but the key message from this session was that greater viability and sustainability is often achieved through partnerships.

After Monday afternoon’s two other excellent sessions, we had the evening free to explore the city a little. Here is a lagniappe of my photos from the remarkable French Quarter, steeped in history with a deep connection to Canada (well, pre-Confederation New France). Enjoy!

Main Street Conference – Opening Keynote

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

Sunday Afternoon / Evening

After a flight delay in Denver, I arrived in New Orleans just in time to arrive at the Conference’s opening plenary session. This event is always an enthusiastic kick-off to the conference, which (in addition to being educational) has the feel of a mega pep-rally. Each coordinating program brings in its delegation and waves placards announcing the place they are from. For instance, the delegation of Main Street communities from Wyoming was almost a hundred strong on its own! Clad in matching purple T-shirts, the Wyomingians proudly announce that they represent “the Wild West” in New Orleans.

Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.
Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.
Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary
Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary

The opening keynote presentation was given by Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, and described some of the benefits of looking at revitalization of downtown areas from a pedestrian perspective. (I’m pretty sure these princiles apply in Canada too). Walking is healthy, sociable, and environmentally friendly. It was an enlightening presentation. To increase walkability in our cities and towns, Jeff described how there needs to be:

  • A reason to walk
  • A safe walk
  • A comfortable walk
  • An interesting walk

So many factors go into increasing the walkability of our communities, but it is definitely worth taking a good look at becoming more walkable.

After the keynote, three communities were awarded the honour of “Great American Main Streets.”

I will devote another post to saying more about these unique communities, and what we in Alberta could perhaps learn from them. In the meantime, here is a photo of some of our fellow Canadians at the Conference in New Orleans.

Some members of the "Canada" delegation at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Conference
Some members of the “Canada” delegation – from Ontario and Saskatchewan – at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Conference

Alberta’s Historic Places in New Orleans?!

2013 Main Street Conference

Yes, you read it right.

For the next few days, RETROactive (well, me, Matthew Francis) will be down in New Orleans representing Alberta at the U.S. National Trust Main Street Conference. This annual gathering brings together leaders from hundreds of historic communities from across North America, as well as representatives from State and Provincial coordinating programs. In addition to Alberta, Canadians from Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan will also be in attendance. This is an incredible opportunity to learn from the stories of revitalization through heritage conservation. In particular, we’ll be seeing first-hand how New Orleans’ cultural economy has contributed to the city’s post-Katrina recovery. In between sessions, I’ll try to provide some real-time highlights from this excellent learning event. This knowledge will then be brought back to Alberta, to benefit the communities in our Alberta Main Street Program. Current members of the program’s network are:

  • Downtown Lethbridge
  • Wainwright
  • Uptowne Olds

Community Heritage Interest Expressed in Mountain View County

Since the Fall, I’ve been talking with some folks from Mountain View County about Alberta’s historic places programs. The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program has worked with many of Mountain View’s neighbours – Red Deer County, the M.D. of Bighorn, and Clearwater County –  and now they too are  exploring opportunities to conserve their historic places. They’re also looking for innovative ways to connect the unique places their communities have to offer with cultural tourism.

Greg Campkin, a member of the County’s Economic Development Committee, invited me (Matthew Francis) down to Mountain View to speak at a great event on Tuesday evening, March 19th. County Council chambers served as the venue, and were filled with a capacity crowd.

At the meeting, I shared a little bit about the basics of heritage conservation, our Alberta approach, and also described some of the ways community can both showcase their historic places, and become more “visitor friendly.” I got to meet some great people from Water Valley, Sundre, and others from around the County.  I’m looking forward to keeping the conversation going and seeing how we can work together to create a bright future for Mountain View’s historic places.

Things are happening in Mountain View County!

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

Front Cover of MHPP Manual

Stephen Avenue – One of Alberta’s Unique Cultural Landscapes

Stephen Avenue - where the historic meets modern.
Stephen Avenue – where the historic meets modern.

Back at our Place Matters! Municipal Heritage Forum in November 2012, we heard a dynamic presentation from City of Calgary Senior Heritage Planner, Darryl Cariou, about Stephen Avenue. He described – with his usual wit – the history of the Avenue from its early days through the various “pedestrian mall” concepts popular from the 1960s through the 90s. One of the most compelling aspects of the presentation was the juxtaposition of images and photographs of the Avenue over the decades.

Stephen Avenue Walking Tour (Municipal Heritage Forum 2012)
Stephen Avenue Walking Tour (Municipal Heritage Forum 2012)

Here is a link to Darryl’s image-rich presentation of Stephen Avenue.

Numerous Provincial and Municipal Historic Resources line Stephen Avenue. What some of you may not know is that this historic district is actually a National Historic Site of Canada, commemorated as such by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 2001. The Parks Canada website describes the importance of Stephen Avenue as:

Calgary’s Stephen Avenue provides a direct link to the unique circumstances that shaped the character of urban development on the Canadian Prairies between the 1880s and 1930.

The typical prairie city was a distinct entity from the beginning: built according to a gridiron plan oriented to the convenience of the railway and its station, with a spatial organization that placed retail and financial businesses close to the station, industry on the outskirts of the core, and residential areas in outlying suburbs that were serviced by streetcar systems. The combination of rapid growth, gridiron plan and distinct commercial, industrial and residential zones distinguished western cities from their older eastern counterparts.

During Calgary’s “sandstone era,” entrepreneurs converged on Stephen Avenue, building rows of commercial blocks in brick and stone that reflected the dramatic growth in the retail sector of the Canadian economy at that time. This street became the hub of Calgary’s retail district, strategically situated near the station and rail yards, and at the convergence point for streetcar lines leading to the city’s outskirts.

The remarkable thing about Stephen Avenue is that it continues to perform its original function as Calgary’s main street, despite the dramatic changes that have transformed retailing and urban cores across the country. Today, the rows of two to six storey commercial buildings that line both sides of the street continue to house a broad range of retail services, while their designs reflect the architectural revival styles of a bygone era, in sharp contrast to the office towers that now encircle the area.

Saved from redevelopment through the efforts of far-sighted Calgarians in the 1970s, the buildings along Stephen Avenue serve as reminders of the central role that retail streets have played, and continue to play, in sustaining the vitality of Canada’s cities.

Whether you stroll Stephen Avenue this summer as a tourist, rush along the street during your lunch break or dine in one of the many restaurants along the Avenue, perhaps the next time you experience Stephen Avenue you will take a moment to breath in the history and heritage of this significant cultural landscape!

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

Century Homes Calgary wins Governor General’s Award

Century Homes Calgary logoAt the Place Matters! Municipal Heritage Forum back in November 2012, we heard about a highly successful community program called “Century Homes Calgary.” This initiative engaged hundreds of Calgarians in showcasing the unique heritage of their 100-year old homes, with over 500 homes participating.

In June 2012, the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation awarded a Heritage Awareness Grant for this creative initiative.

Recently, the Century Homes Calgary project, and its parent organization the Calgary Heritage Initiative Society, received recognition as the 2012 English winner of the prestigious Governor General’s Award for Community Programming.

A house participating in Century Homes Calgary
A house participating in Century Homes Calgary

Here are the two presentations made at the Forum about the Century Homes Calgary project:

The group’s presentation at our Forum generated a lot of interest from other communities to learn how they could develop similar events.

Congratulations on your award and thank you for being an inspiration!

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

City of Medicine Hat sees two new listings on the Alberta Register

A community rich in Alberta history – boasting not one but two National Historic Sites of Canada – the City of Medicine Hat recently had two of its designated Municipal Historic Resources listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

St  John's Presbyterian Church Medicine HatSignificant for its status as the oldest church building in Medicine Hat, and the home of the City’s oldest religious congregation, St. John’s Presbyterian Church was listed on the Register in late 2012.

Just this week, another historic place designated by the City, the Merchants Bank of Canada, was also listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. Constructed in 1899, the Merchants Bank is valued not only as the first permanent bank branch in the City, but also as an important building constructed of brick, in a city where brick was historically an important and characteristic local material, and brick-making a key industry.

Merchants Bank, Medicine HatCongratulations to the City of Medicine Hat and the owners of these two properties for being listed on the Alberta Register!

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services