Labour Day Weekend at Alberta’s Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres and Museums

If you’re looking for some family fun this Labour Day weekend, consider visiting one of Alberta’s Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres or Museums. There is a lot of great programming that offers something for everyone – from strolling through gardens and learning about 1920s fashion, to carriage rides, guided hikes and tours, and getting your hands dirty and bellies full at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum Harvest Festival! Many of our sites, centres and museums are open year round but several others will be closing for the season after Labour Day. Don’t miss your opportunity to visit these sites before they close for the year!

In Southern Alberta, the Brooks Aqueduct and Leitch Collieries Read more

Managing Heritage: the City of St. Albert’s new plan

Heritage Management Plan Final Feb 2013_Page_01Over the past year, Municipal Heritage Services staff collaborated with City of St. Albert staff and the St. Albert Arts and Heritage Foundation on developing a municipal heritage management plan. A grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, through the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, partially funded the planning process.

The City of St. Albert Heritage Management Plan includes many objectives. A few key elements of the plan include:

  • a list of strategies and objectives for sustaining a successful heritage program in St. Albert, including the appointment of a heritage advisory board for community members to advise the council;
  • it complements existing civic plans including the Municipal Development Plan, the Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan, the Cultural Master Plan and the Tourism Master Plan;
  • provides a process to add new qualifying places to the St. Albert Heritage Inventory; and
  • includes a process for nominating sites on the inventory for designation as Municipal Historic Resources, among other protective strategies.

The plan also includes a provision to establish a reserve fund that can be used to help finance conservation work on Municipal Historic Resources and for raising public awareness of St. Albert’s heritage.

We are excited to see St. Albert implement the plan over the next decade. If you’d like to discuss the possibility of developing a heritage management plan for your community feel free to contact MHPP staff.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Barrier Free Access to Historic Places: the Little White School

At the 2012 Municipal Heritage Forum Ann Ramsden, Director of Heritage at the Musée Héritage Museum, provided a presentation on the conservation work completed at the Little White School. Specifically, she spoke about ensuring barrier free access. Thank you, Ann, for sharing this case study.

Little White School, St. Albert
Little White School, St. Albert

The Little White School is a two-room schoolhouse in the City of St. Albert. It was constructed by the St. Albert Roman Catholic School District #3 in 1946 and used as a school until 1987. It was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource in 2009 because it is valued for what it can tell us about Roman Catholic public education in St. Albert. The school is now owned by the City of St. Albert and managed by the Arts and Heritage Foundation.

When the museum acquired the building, it needed some conservation work. The stucco, doors and windows needed to be rehabilitated. The shingles were replaced and a ventilation system was incorporated into the roof to prevent condensation. Water was also leaking into the basement through the foundation. The biggest challenge, however, was ensuring barrier free access to the building.

Rear view of the Little White School, St. Albert
Rear view of the Little White School, St. Albert

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada not only provides advice on how to rehabilitate building elements like stucco, windows or a roof, it also provides advice on planning additions (or other alterations) needed to accommodate changing uses of a historic place. Historic places certainly do not lose their integrity by adding a means of barrier free access. Additions that are compatible with the historic place, yet visually distinguishable from and subordinate to it are welcome, especially if they help ensure the continued use of the place.

Classroom, Little White School, St. Albert
Classroom, Little White School, St. Albert

The Little White School gained an addition that contains a wheel-chair accessible entrance and elevator. This is now the main entrance and provides room for students who visit the school to store their coats and boots. The classrooms received a preservation treatment; one of the classrooms is now being interpreted as a 1940s era classroom. The Musée Héritage Museum invites primary school classes to the school to learn more about St. Albert’s history. Students can come and spend a day at the historic school and learn how students from the 1930s thru to the 1950s experienced school. (The Musée Héritage staff has developed several lesson plans around various themes in St. Albert history.)

Download Ann Ramsden’s presentation: Little White School, St. Albert.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Planning a future for St. Albert’s Historic Places

The City of St. Albert is hard at work on a heritage management plan, with assistance from the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program. A heritage management plan will help St. Albert conserve its historic resources. Would you like to help? Please take a few moments and share your thoughts with St. Albert on the conservation of historic resources by completing their survey.

St. Albert, like many of Alberta’s communities, is growing rapidly. Growth is certainly not bad in itself, but it can threaten a community’s historic resources if there are no plans to identify and mange them. This is particularly true in a community like St. Albert: many of their historic places were built during the 1960s in modern architectural styles. We often overlook modern buildings when thinking about historic places, although they can tell us a great deal about a community’s past.

Understanding why a historic place is valuable, even protecting it through Municipal Historic Resource designation, are first steps. A community needs to encourage proper conservation and maintenance and ensure each historic resource has a contemporary use that requires minimal change.

The St. Albert heritage management planning project had its first open house with a few dozen residents at St. Albert’s Musée Héritage Museum on June 20th. You can view the presentation given that night (available on the City of St. Albert’s website as a PDF). You can take a look at the Heritage Management Plan page on the City of St. Albert’s website for more information.

Stay tuned for future updates.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

St. Albert – Just who is the City Named for Exactly?

A previous RETROactive post notes that the City of St. Albert is celebrating its Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary in 2011. Such anniversaries are rare in Alberta, so St. Albert’s big year is worth at least one more post. St. Albert is one of the oldest communities in Alberta. It received its current name in 1861. Most people believe that the city was named for Father Albert Lacombe, OMI, and it was…kind of.

Portrait of Father Lacombe, ca. 1900, (A2283, Provincial Archives of Alberta)

Albert Lacombe was born in 1827 at Saint-Sulpice, Lower Canada (now Quebec). He was ordained in 1849 and was sent to Pembina, Dakota Territorywhere he met with and accompanied the Métis on their hunts. After a short posting in Lower Canada in 1851/52, he was sent to the Red River Settlement to assist Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché, who sent him to the Lac Ste. Anne Mission northwest of Edmonton. Although Lac Ste. Anne would be his base for the next seven years, Lacombe travelled throughout Central and Northern Alberta ministering to the Métis and native people of those regions. Due to its poor agricultural prospects, Lac Ste Anne had been deemed unsuitable as a permanent mission site and a search was made for a more promising location. On January 14, 1861, Father Lacombe and Bishop Taché arrived at “Big Lake Settlement,” a Métis community immediately northwest of Fort Edmonton on the shores of, you guessed it, Big Lake. The surrounding lands seemed ideal for agriculture and the settlement’s proximity to Fort Edmonton made it much easier to minister to the Cree and Blackfoot peoples trading at the post. Climbing a nearby hilltop, where they ate a meal of tea and pemmican, Bishop Taché reportedly stuck his staff in the snow and declared to Lacombe, “You were right. This sight is magnificent. I choose it for a new mission and I want it to be called St. Albert, in honour of your patron saint. Here you will build a chapel.”

Albert Lacombe’s patron, or name saint, was Saint Albert of Louvain. In 1191, Albert of Louvain was chosen to be Bishop of Liege (in Belgium), but his appointment was disputed by Emperor Henri VI of the Holy Roman Empire, who had been excommunicated by Pope Celestine III for imprisoning Richard I of England. Henri VI appointed his own candidate to the bishopric of Liege. Albert appealed to the pope and to Archbishop William of Rheims. Although Albert’s appointment was confirmed, he was accosted and murdered by Henry VI’s supporters. Albert of Louvain was later canonized and his feast day is acknowledged on November 21.

Father Lacombe with Chiefs at Earnscliffe (home of Sir John A. Macdonald), Ottawa, October 1886. Front Row, L to R: North Ax (Piegan), One Spot (Blood) Middle Row, L to R: Three Bulls (Blackfoot), Crowfoot (Blackfoot), Red Crow (Blood) Back Row, L to R: Albert Lacombe, Jean L’Heureux (P200, Provincial Archives of Alberta)

So, was St. Albert named for Father Albert Lacombe? In a way it was, but it is more correct to say that the City of St. Albert and Father Albert Lacombe are both named for the same person – St. Albert of Louvain. Incidentally, for many years it was believed that Albert Lacombe’s patron saint was a different Albert, namely Albertus Magnus, or St. Albert the Great, who was Bishop of Regensburg (1260-1262) and an advocate for the harmonization of science and religion. However, Albert the Great was not canonized, or elevated to the sainthood, until 1931 – 15 years after Father Lacombe’s death and 70 years after the establishment of the mission, making it unlikely that either the mission or the missionary would have been named for Albert the Great.

Father Lacombe had a relatively short connection with the mission at St. Albert. He did build a chapel along with a flour mill, a bridge across the Sturgeon River and a school near Fort Edmonton, but his stay at the new mission site was short. By 1865, he was tasked with establishing an itinerant mission to the east and south, living with, working with and more directly influencing the Cree and Blackfoot people. Over the next seven years he would travel from Rocky Mountain House in the west, Fort Victoria (Pakan) in the east, St. Albert in the north and Fort Benton, Montana Territory and St. Louis, Missouri in the south. In 1872, he was reassigned to the Red River Settlement. Although he returned to the west in 1882, he was more closely associated with southern Alberta for the rest of his career and life. Albert Lacombe died in Midnapore, now part of Calgary, on December 12, 1916.

The community of St. Albert grew slowly in stature and population through the years. A post office was established in 1880. It was erected as a village in 1899 and as a town in 1904. By 1911, the population had reached approximately 600 people. By 1971, the population had reached 11,800. Six years later, on January 1, 1977, St. Albert became a city with a population of about 24,000 people. St. Albert is currently the province’s sixth largest city with 60,138 residents.

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator

City’s Location

National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 H/12 –St. Albert

Latitude/Longitude: 53° 38′ 13″ N & 113° 37′ 13″ W

Alberta Township System: Twp 25 Rge 25 W4

Description: Immediately north-west of Edmonton on the Sturgeon River.

Additional Resources

More information about Father Albert Lacombe, OMI can be found in:

Huel, Raymond, “Lacombe, Albert,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, edited by John English and Réal Bélanger, Vol. XIV, (accessed 25 May 2011).

Sesquicentennial Celebration?


Did you know that a special Alberta community is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year?  For that matter, do you know what a sesquicentennial is?  It’s a 150 year anniversary and the City of St. Albert is marking that major milestone in 2011.  At the heart of the celebrations is the Father Lacombe Church situated on Mission Hill.  Erected in 1861, the church is the oldest extant building in Alberta and embodies the community’s early history as a Roman Catholic mission.  From those humble beginnings, St. Albert developed into one of the largest settlements between Red River and Vancouver.  Today, it’s a vibrant, prosperous city.  Learn more about this site and other historic places in St. Albert by visiting the Alberta Register of Historic Places and searching for “St. Albert” under the Municipality advanced search option.

Written by: Matthew Wangler, Manager of Alberta’s Historic Places Research and Designation Program