Fort Saskatchewan Approves Historic Precinct Site Master Plan

The City of Fort Saskatchewan is one step closer to realizing their vision for the development and interpretation of a significant community amenity through Council’s recent approval of the Historic Precinct Site Master Plan Guiding Document. Located adjacent to the City’s downtown and along the edge of the North Saskatchewan River, the Historic Precinct provides a unique opportunity to showcase the cultural history of Fort Saskatchewan and to develop a space for public learning and enjoyment.

Historic Precinct Area
Historic Precinct Area

The Approach

The Historic Precinct contains an array of man-made and natural elements that contribute to the telling of the story of Fort Saskatchewan. Project consultants EIDOS Consultants Inc. and Marshall Tittemore Architects approached the conceptualization of the space as a cultural landscape, wherein:

“An important part of the Precinct’s heritage value is found in the relics of law and order and public works, including buildings, structures, sightlines, earth mounds, plant materials and features that remain in situ. These relics constitute part of the heritage value of the area by providing tangible evidence of how it was transformed and used by the NWMP, Canadian Northern Railway, the Province and the City.” (Historic Precinct Site Master Plan, page 9).

The planning process sought to integrate local values into the final plan and therefore included public and stakeholder consultation through surveys, open houses and workshop sessions.

The City of Fort Saskatchewan’s Diane Yanch, Culture & Historic Precinct Supervisor and Richard Gagnon, Director of Culture Services display a copy of the completed Historic Precinct Master Plan
The City of Fort Saskatchewan’s Diane Yanch, Culture & Historic Precinct Supervisor and Richard Gagnon, Director of Culture Services display a copy of the completed Historic Precinct Master Plan

The Master Plan

The Master Plan involved considering the long-term development and interpretation of the historic precinct, including integration of existing Provincial Historic Resources, recommendations for pedestrian circulation and way-finding, interpretation opportunities and development of a conceptual design for a new Interpretive Centre. A detailed phasing plan was also provided to allow the City to structure implementation in a coordinated and cost-effective manner.

Historic Precinct Site Master Plan
Historic Precinct Site Master Plan

The uniqueness of the site is exemplified by the existence of three Provincial Historic Resources within its boundaries including the North West Mounted Police Post, the Fort Saskatchewan Museum (Courthouse), and the Canadian Northern Railway Station. These three historic resources are proposed to be key elements in the interpretation and programming of the Historic Precinct and are considered as Historic Precinct Nodes in the Master Plan.

  • Original 1875 Fort Site Node – This Provincial Historic Resource is presently an open native grass field and will remain untouched during development, with the long term goal of undertaking small scale research and public archaeology programs in partnership with interested academic institutions, archaeological societies and the Province of Alberta.
  •  Fort Saskatchewan Museum and Cultural Village Node – The Fort Saskatchewan Museum (Courthouse) is a designated Provincial Historic Resource. The Master Plan calls for the land surrounding the Courthouse to be utilized as a ‘cultural village’ in which historic buildings and artifacts will be displayed.
  •  Railway Node – The CNR Station will continue to be space for use by community groups. The area around the Station will be enhanced to include an opportunity to showcase other rail infrastructure, landscaping and opportunity to enhance access to the adjacent Legacy Park and farmer’s market plaza.

Other Historic Precinct Nodes proposed within the plan include a Gaol Node, Religion Node, MétisNode and First Nations Node.

Next Steps

The City will continue with planning the programming for the future Interpretive Centre with hopes of breaking ground by the end of 2014. Conservation Plans have been prepared for the Courthouse/Museum and CNR Railway Station to ensure that on-going improvements and maintenance are consistent with accepted conservation practices. In accordance with the terms of designation, approvals will be obtained for any projects within the site that will affect the Provincial Historic Resources as well as work in the vicinity of the NWMP Police Post due to the high archaeological potential of the site.

Proposed General Concept Design of the Interpretive Centre
Proposed General Concept Design of the Interpretive Centre

The Historic Precinct Master Plan was partially funded by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation under the Heritage Management Plan grant category of the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program. Though Heritage Management Plans typically take the form of a document that outlines policy and a process for municipal designation, the grant category is flexible and can apply to projects that involve planning and policy development for the stewardship of historic resources more broadly. The Historic Precinct Site Master Plan is an example of how the program can be tailored to meet the unique needs of municipalities.

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

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