Old Strathcona joins the Alberta Main Street Program

AMSP LogoAfter several years of planning, and preparing a thorough application, Edmonton’s Old Strathcona district has joined the Alberta Main Street Program. Previously designated as a Provincial Historic Area in 2007, Old Strathcona is well known as one of Alberta’s most significant, historic commercial areas. The application was approved in late February by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation,  but was announced publicly for the first time last night, April 28th, at the Annual General Meeting of the Old Strathcona Foundation. This means that Old Strathcona joins a network of other dynamic, historic communities, like:

The Alberta Main Street Program uses the well established Four-Point Approach to foster excellence in historic commercial areas.

The announcement was made by Matthew Wangler, Executive Director of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, on behalf of the Honourable Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Culture.

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Executive Director Matthew Wangler presents the Alberta Main Street Program Membership to Angie McDow, President of the Old Strathcona Foundation.
Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Executive Director Matthew Wangler presents the Alberta Main Street Program Membership to Angie McDow, President of the Old Strathcona Foundation.

While unable to attend in person due to commitments in Southern Alberta, Minister Klimchuk commented that Old Strathcona’s “cherished landmarks are a boon to the social, cultural and economic sustainability of the community. This is one of the reasons the Alberta Main Street Program was initiated – to help communities achieve their conservation goals for the long-term benefit of Albertans.”

2014 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Old Strathcona Foundation, which will serve as the primary sponsoring organization for the Old Strathcona Main Street Program. The “OSF” has a tremendous legacy of heritage conservation and community engagement, and the Alberta Main Street Program is looking forward to partnering with them as together we look to create a meaningful future for this already vibrant historic urban landscape.

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation visits Olds

The Alberta Historical Resource Foundation held its first quarterly board meeting of 2014 in the town of Olds on February 21st and 22nd.

Alberta Historical Resources FoundationThe Foundation’s board members and staff look forward to the quarterly meetings, each held in a different Alberta community. This allows us to meet the Albertans who work so hard to conserve and promote our heritage; seeing and experiencing the fruits of their labour is both informative and a pleasure.

Friday afternoon began with a bus tour led by Donna Erdman, chair of the Olds Historical Society. Before we boarded the bus, Mitch Thompson of the Olds Institute surprised us by asking us to turn on our smartphones. Mitch showed us the new EverythingOlds.ca website—the Heritage Sites section contains video vignettes showcasing locally significant historic resources. (There’s much more community information on the website too.)

Once the bus got underway, Donna showed us some of the historic places the Town of Olds evaluated in 2009 (with the assistance of a Foundation grant and the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program staff). Many of these places have since been designated as Municipal Historic Resources.

Our bus first stopped at the Mountain View Museum and Archives. There were several interesting displays that used locally significant historical artefacts to highlight the region’s history. We also learned a bit about their archival holdings and viewed some of the contemporary art displayed in the adjoining art gallery.

Our next stop was the former Canadian Bank of Commerce, now home to [sic] Pandora’s Boox and Tea. The beautiful, classically-detailed bank building has been adapted for its new use as a book store and coffee shop. Pandora’s is in the heart of Uptowne Olds, the town’s historic commercial district.

Upon re-boarding the bus, we were slowly driven up and down the several blocks that make up the Uptowne area. We admired the many historic resources in the Uptowne. Olds is one of four communities that the Foundation has accredited through its Alberta Main Street Program. We were impressed by the conservation projects currently being undertaken on several buildings in the Uptowne area (some with the Foundation’s support).

We briefly visited the grounds of the Olds Agricultural Society. Olds’s large Ag society is one of the olds-est (pun not intended) Agricultural Societies in Alberta, having been incorporated in 1899. Our next stop was the Olds College.

Olds College celebrated its centenary in 2013. Founded in 1913, the college is Alberta’s largest and olds-est (there I go again) rural agricultural college. The campus has evolved with the college it houses, but amidst all the modern classrooms, laboratories, libraries and dorms are at least two buildings older that the college they’ve become an integral part of: a calf barn (now home to a herd of goats) and a horse barn. Both buildings were constructed in 1911, when what is now a campus was part of a provincial demonstration farm.

We ended our visit to Olds College by visiting to their state of the art brewery: an example of how the college contributing to Alberta’s future by being true to our agricultural past. The first class of brewers will graduate shortly.

The tour was followed by a meet and greet at the Pomeroy Inn. Thanks to Michelle Jorgensen (Heritage Advisor, Town of Olds) for organising an informative and fun event. It was a pleasure to meet and speak with Mayor Judy Dahl, and with  members of the town staff, the Mountain View Museum and Archives, the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development, Olds College and many citizens of the area who build the partnerships that protect and promote Old’s wealth of historic resources.

Everyone agreed that it was an afternoon well spent that reminded us of how important our work is; it was the best way for the board to get inspired before spending their Saturday immersed in paperwork.

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The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation has been collaborating with the citizens of Olds through its grant programs for over two decades. The Town of Olds has completed a full range of heritage planning projects with the assistance of the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, including a heritage survey, inventory and management plan. As an Accredited Main Street Community, the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development (Olds Main Street sponsoring organization) was recently awarded a coordinator salary subsidy along with marketing, economic development, organization and design grants. The Heritage Preservation Partnership Program has also provided technical advice and conservation grants to a number of Olds’s Municipal Historic Resources.

Written by: Carina Naranjilla, Grant Program Coordinator, Alberta Historical Resources Foundation; and Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Main Street Coordinators Meet to Learn and Strategize

Local leaders from Alberta Main Street Program communities met recently in Olds for information sharing, learning best practices, and ongoing conversations about the Four-Point Approach®.  

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.

Alberta Main Street Program staff and Coordinators outside the historic Bank of Commerce Building in Olds.
Alberta Main Street Program staff and Coordinators outside the Bank of Commerce Municipal Historic Resource in Olds. Back row, left to right: (Leon Durand, Chair, Uptowne Olds; Michelle Jorgensen, Town of Olds Heritage Advisor) Middle row, left to right: (Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer; Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services; Ted Stilson, Executive Director, Downtown Lethbridge BRZ; Carol-May Coty, Manager, City Centre Camrose; Ray Telford, City of Camrose Economic Development Officer; Ashley Stone, Program Director, Wainwright Buffalo Park Foundation. Front row, left to right: (Rita Thompson, Uptowne Olds; Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer; and Debra Aitken, Uptowne Olds Coordinator).

Alberta Main Street Program network members including Uptowne Olds, Downtown Lethbridge, City Centre Camrose, and Wainwright were represented at the coordinator’s meeting, the first in 2014.

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.

Creating a Future for Alberta’s Historic Main Streets

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

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

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

The Alberta Main Street Program was at a crossroads in 2007

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

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

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

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

downtown Lethbridge
Downtown Lethbridge

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

The Main Street movement

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

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

The Main Street Movement is showing a new way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The renewal years

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to the year ahead

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

Camrose

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


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

Olds

Uptowne Olds
Uptowne Olds


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

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

Wainwright

Main Street, Wainwright.
Main Street, Wainwright.


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

Lethbridge

Lethbridge's Chinatown.
Lethbridge’s Chinatown.

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

All good historians look to the future

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

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

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

MHPP and AMSP Application Dates Set for 2014

MHPP logo

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and the Alberta Main Street Program do not have formal deadlines for grant applications.

AMSP Logo

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.

Please note that the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program does maintain formal deadlines, of February 1st and September 1st of each calendar year.

At the Nov. 29-30th meeting of the Foundation, the Board established its meeting schedule for 2014, which in turn gives us the requested dates for submission of MHPP and AMSP grant applications.

  • For the February 21-22 meeting in Olds, submit by January 27th.
  • For the May 9-10 meeting in Fort McMurray, submit by April 14th.
  • For the September meeting 12-13 in Pincher Creek, submit by August 18th.
  • For the November 28-29 in Edmonton, submit by November 3rd.

If you have any questions about MHPP or AMSP applications, please feel free to contact us.

Written by:  Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

Take our Survey; Win a Prize.*

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

HC_logo_e_2013x2

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

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

AMSP Logo

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

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

Family Annual Pass, Alberta

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

TAKE OUR SURVEY –>

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

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

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation meets in St. Albert

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation

The Board of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation met in St. Albert, Friday November 29th and Saturday November 30th. The Board met to adjudicate grant applications for the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program, which supports:

In addition, the Foundation also considered grant applications from the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, and the Alberta Main Street Program.

Starting on Friday afternoon at St. Albert Place, the major civic centre for the City of St. Albert, and a Douglas Cardinal-designed Municipal Historic Resource, the Board was greeted by Mayor Nolan Crouse. The mayor, a committed supporter of heritage, spoke eloquently about the City’s storied past since its founding as a Catholic mission over 150 years ago. He also brought the AHRF Board members up to date about recent heritage happenings in St. Albert.

Departing from Council Chambers, Board members embarked upon a tour of the Musee Heritage Museum. They then headed out into the snow under a bright Alberta blue sky to visit the Little White School and the City’s Mission Hill area, home to multiple Provincial Historic Resources, including the Bishop’s Palace and the Father Lacombe Chapel.

Members of the AHRF Board and Alberta Culture Staff outside of the Father Lacombe Chapel, St. Albert.
AHRF Board Members and Alberta Culture staff outside of the Father Lacombe Chapel in St. Albert; (Left to Right: Bob Gaetz, Leah Millar, Don Totten, Laurel Hallliday, Board Chair Fred Bradley, Tom Clark, AHRF Grants Program Coordinator Carina Naranjilla, Executive Director Matthew Wangler, and Manager, Municipal Heritage Services, Matthew Francis)

The afternoon was capped off with an informative tour of St. Albert’s designated Alberta Grain Company Grain Elevator complex.

Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, St. Albert
Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, St. Albert

The Board got down to business with Saturday’s meeting, where numerous grant applications were reviewed and key funding decisions made. Board Chair Fred Bradley was very pleased to welcome the Honourable Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Culture, who joined the meeting for a lunchtime discussion of key issues. Minister Klimchuk offered thanks to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation for their dedicated work, and recognized several members who are completing their terms of service.

Stay tuned to RETROactive for further updates on funding decisions made by the Board at their November meeting!

Meet our new Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Hi everybody,

Rebecca G_2013.11.14 (1)My name is Rebecca Goodenough and it is a real pleasure to introduce myself as the newest member of the Historic Places Stewardship team. I have read the bios of Historic Places staff on RETROactive with much interest over the past few years, wondering if (sigh) I might ever have such an amazing job. So it is with much excitement and a lot of humility that I introduce myself as the new Municipal Heritage Services Officer. I look forward to meeting a many of you over the coming months.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I came to the field of heritage conservation more recently and the majority of my education and work experience has been within the world of land use planning. I have worked in both the private and public sectors in British Columbia and Alberta. Most recently, I worked for Strathcona County as a Planner.

My interest in heritage grew from personal curiosity. I read books and took every opportunity to attend a course, lecture, meeting or conference related to heritage. The more I learned, the more I became a believer that heritage conservation is a means to achieving a great many of the long-term goals that planners and other community builders try to achieve through their day-to-day work: sustainable development, building a sense of place, quality in design, local economic development. All of these goals and more I believe are achievable through building a culture of respect for our past.

While with Strathcona County, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to complete a Professional Specialization Certificate in Heritage Conservation Planning through the University of Victoria. This program provided me with a strong foundation in the principles and practices of the field. I also helped to establish Strathcona County’s heritage program, which included participation with the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program.

I hold degrees in Political Science from the University of Alberta and in Northern and Rural Community Planning from the University of Northern B.C. In my spare time, I enjoy participating in a few activities (at a very pedestrian level) including running, cross-country skiing and playing the piano. And, of course, I am still reading and attending those courses, lectures, meetings and conferences because there is always so much to learn!

I hope to bring my experience working with a range of communities and my understanding of municipal processes to my work with the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and Alberta Main Street programs. More importantly, I look forward to meeting all you advocates for local heritage out there and hearing about the significant places in your communities.

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Lacombe wins the Great Places in Canada competition!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Kirchner, Planner with the City of Lacombe, showed us around main street.
Jennifer Kirchner, Planner with the City of Lacombe, showed us around main street.

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

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

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

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