It’s All About Context

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation awarded the Municipal District of Big Lakes a grant to aid them in developing a context paper, the first step in completing their first inventory of potential historic places. On June 6th, I facilitated a workshop for members of the M.D. of Big Lakes’s Heritage Advisory Committee. The daylong workshop was about context papers: what they are, what they’re used for and why you cannot identify or understand historic places without them. The committee was appointed by council last year to find ways to protect local historic places. In March, they finished the first phase of a municipal heritage survey.

Members of the Heritage Advisory Committee (unless otherwise noted), left to right: Mike Sekulich; Amanda Backs, Assistant Development Officer; Pat Olansky, Community Development Officer; Garth Lodge; Harvey Nielsen; Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

We started the day by discussing heritage value. A context paper at its simplest and most useful is a document that describes a community’s heritage values. What is heritage value? In Canada it is commonly defined as, the aesthetic, historic, scientific, cultural, social or spiritual importance or significance” assigned to a place. In other words, heritage value can be articulated through a historic place’s ability to tell us something about the past: perhaps how people lived during a particular time-period, how a certain type of building was constructed, how an important event took place, among other things. Each community will value the past differently. In fact, members of the same community will think that different aspects of their common history are important. The first step when evaluating historic places is for a community to decide what their common heritage values are.

Why is understanding your heritage values so important? Heritage value is communicated through a historic place’s materials and form. It isn’t a place’s age or uniqueness that makes it significant; significance is rooted in a place’s ability to teach us about the past. You can’t decide if something is a historic place unless you understand the heritage values that make your historic places significant. Distinguishing between places with heritage value and old buildings that cannot offer a window into significant aspects of the past is the key.

Over the summer, the M.D. of Big Lakes will determine what their community’s heritage values are and describe them in writing. The result is called a context paper. Heritage value can be nebulous, but writing a context paper before looking at specific places helps answer the question “why should we conserve this place”. Once the context paper is finished the Heritage Advisory Committee can determine the significance of potential historic places.

We then spent the afternoon discussing what Big Lakes’ heritage values might be. We worked through a list of eight themes:

  • community life;
  • health and welfare;
  • economic development;
  • learning;
  • music and the arts; politics,
  • government and law enforcement;
  • religion and spirituality; and
  • transportation.

Each theme was intended to be a starting point to discuss events, groups or people that reflect the theme; each theme was to be inclusive of all people, places and time periods within the municipality.

One of the great parts of my job is the opportunity to learn about each community’s unique history and Big Lakes didn’t disappoint. The committee members began telling stories illustrating some of these themes, talking about events and people that made Big Lakes what it is. In just one afternoon, I learned that mink farming, logging and commercial fishing on Lesser Slave Lake were important sources of income. I learned about the sports days, rodeos and community dances that were the important social events. We started to organise these stories under sub-themes and even components within subthemes.

The committee will be working with a consultant on the context paper over the summer. When the committee finishes the framework, the results will be presented to the community for further input and then written up. The context paper will give the Heritage Advisory Committee the framework within which to evaluate individual places for heritage value. If a place contains buildings or other works that illustrate one of the themes from their context paper, it is a historic resource.

Evaluating individual places for heritage value will be the subject of a future workshop, probably in the fall. I’m really looking forward to reading drafts of their context paper, in the meantime.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Vulcan RCAF Station and Beyond…

Throughout the last year, one hundred potential historic places in the Vulcan region have been photographed and carefully documented in a Municipal Heritage Survey project. Of these sites, twenty-one were also selected to be evaluated for eligibility, significance and integrity in a Municipal Heritage Inventory project, all to help determine potential candidacy for Municipal Historic Resource designation. For this project, Vulcan County partnered with the Town of Vulcan and the villages of Carmangay, Champion and Milo. Working collaboratively, and with the services of a heritage consultant, a wide range of places were captured. From commercial buildings, residential homes and community churches, to a fire brigade building, a tree, a grain elevator, a railway trestle, a dry ditch and the Vulcan RCAF Station – an array of places were documented, showcasing some of the unique resources in the region.

Completing the Municipal Heritage Survey and Inventory projects will allow applicable municipal staff, councillors and residents to better understand the older places that make their communities unique and liveable. From this understanding, municipal officials will be able to make informed decisions about which sites may merit protection and conservation for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. Essentially, projects like this serve as a foundation for establishing local heritage conservation programs that identify, protect and manage significant historic places and which contribute to sense of place and community identity.

To help guide this collaborative initiative, the Vulcan Business Development Society served as lead coordinator. As well, a heritage steering committee comprised of municipal staff and community stakeholders was formed. Together, with the services of a heritage consultant, this project has served as a starting off point for a variety of potential heritage initiatives.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

PHOTO: Heritage Committee (pictured from left to right): Racille Ellis, Champion Community Representative; Paul Taylor, Town of Vulcan Councillor; Marjorie Weber, Vulcan and District Historical Society; Cody Shearer, Vulcan Business Development Society; Katie Walker, Village of Milo Councillor; Richard Lambert, Vulcan and District Historical Society; Amy Rupp, Village of Champion CAO; Kym Nichols, Village of Carmangay Mayor; Leslie Warren, Vulcan Business Development Society; William Roebuck, Kirkcaldy Community Club; Liza Dawber, Vulcan County. Missing: Bill Lahd, Milo Community Representative.


High River Heritage Work off to a Great Start!

Back in August, we announced on this blog that the “cool little town” of High River was one of four communities to be approved for funding from the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program. Over the next year High River will be completing a Municipal Heritage Inventory project. Shortly after the funding announcement, I met with Town staff in High River, and since then the community’s heritage planning efforts have gotten off to an excellent start.

Over the Summer, a key staff appointment was made by the Town. Vidya John, a new member of the Planning and Development Team, and High River’s new Heritage and Cultural Planner, will lead and guide the Town’s Heritage initiatives. Vidya brings with her a background both in the arts, as well as in urban planning – a stellar combination to help a community create a future for its historic places.

One of the key assets to any community in carrying out a project like a Municipal Heritage Survey or Inventory is a Heritage Advisory Body, or “H.A.B,” for short. This group, which may otherwise be known as a “Committee,” “Board,” “Commission,” “Group,” or “Team,” is formally appointed by a municipal council, and provides strategic advice to Council on heritage-related matters.

The Sheppard/Maccoy House, located in the Town of High River, is a designated Municipal Historic Resource.

On September 26th, High River’s Town Council approved the creation of a Heritage Advisory Board, which will provide community-based advice on the Inventory project. Soon the HAB members will be selected and High River’s Heritage conservation work will be off to a great start with their Heritage Inventory project.

Great job, High River!

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

Note: The Alberta Register of Historic Places lists both Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources located in High River. Click here to read about these sites.

Vulcan: A Regional Collaboration

Over the next nine months the Vulcan region will be a hive of activity. Vulcan County has partnered with the Town of Vulcan and the villages of Carmangay, Champion and Milo to complete both a Municipal Heritage Survey and a Municipal Heritage Inventory. Working collaboratively, and with the services of a heritage consultant, a range of potential historic places within these municipalities will be documented and a number of places of interest will also be evaluated for eligibility, significance and integrity.

Completing these projects will allow municipal staff, councillors and residents to better understand the older places that make their communities unique and livable. From this understanding, municipal officials will be able to make informed decisions about which sites may merit protection and conservation for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Pictured from Left to Right: Racille Ellis, Champion Community Representative; Paul Taylor, Town of Vulcan Councillor; Marjorie Weber, Vulcan and District Historical Society; Cody Shearer, Vulcan Business Development Society; Katie Walker, Village of Milo Councillor; Richard Lambert, Vulcan and District Historical Society; Amy Rupp, Village of Champion CAO; Kym Nichols, Village of Carmangay Mayor; Leslie Warren, Vulcan Business Development Society; William Roebuck, Kirkcaldy Community Club; Liza Dawber, Vulcan County. Missing: Bill Lahd, Milo Community Representative.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

MHPP comes to Drumheller

  
The Town of Drumheller spans the banks of the Red Deer River north-east of Calgary in the Canadian Badlands. You probably know Drumheller as the home of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, but it should be famous for more than fossils. Like all of Alberta’s communities, places throughout Drumheller reflect its unique history. In Drumheller these places show us Drumheller’s evolution from a ranching town to a regional service centre and as the site of over 130 coal mines. 

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (MHPP) recently trained the Drumheller Heritage Steering Committee appointed by Town Council. This is the first step MHPP takes when helping a municipality evaluate local historic places.    

Over the next several months, the committee will develop a context paper defining the people, groups and events that Drumheller feels contributed to its development. The next step will be to identify sites in Drumheller that reflect these influences. Hopefully, many of these sites will have “heritage integrity”—that is, the sites must have enough historic material to reflect the reasons why they are important to Drumheller. If they do, a Statement of Significance will be written for each site.

The Statement of Significance explains why the site is valued and what about it must be conserved for it to remain historic. The statements will help Drumheller decide how best to preserve locally significant historic places.   
The Navy League building may be one of the sites evaluated in the Town of Drumheller's Municipal Heritage Inventory project.

If you would like to learn more about conducting a Municipal Heritage Inventory, please read the Evaluating Historic Places manual found on the MHPP website. If you would like to discuss options please contact MHPP staff.

  
Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer  

 

Village of Holden: Holdin’ their Heritage!

 
The Village of Holden, a community of 398 residents in east-central Alberta, is currently completing a Municipal Heritage Survey and Inventory project with funding assistance from the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (Alberta Historical Resources Foundation). Approximately 60 sites within Holden have been documented through the survey phase of the project and 24 sites have been evaluated for historical significance as part of the inventory. Completing this project has allowed the Village to get a better hold on their heritage.
 
At an information session held in January 2011 owners of evaluated properties were able to learn more about the project and discuss the possibility of Municipal Historic Resource designation. 
 
Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer
Village of Holden, Heritage Committee (Left to Right: D. Maruszeczka, K. Stokowski, P. Nahirniak, B. Manweiler (MHPP), K. Whiteside)

 

Dollars and Sense: MHPP Funding

 

Commercial buildings, recreation facilities, houses, churches, industrial structures and all the fascinating places in between – does your municipality want to learn more about its older buildings, structures and landmarks? The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (MHPP) provides cost-shared funding opportunities to Alberta municipalities for the identification, evaluation and management of local historic places. MHPP also offers guidance and training to Alberta municipalities to enable the identification and conservation of local historic places.

Funding proposals from municipalities are accepted on an on-going basis. These proposals are then reviewed by the board of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. Funding proposals received:

  • by April 8, 2011 will be reviewed at the May 2011 Board meeting
  • by August 12, 2011 will be reviewed at the September 2011 Board meeting
  • by October 28, 2011 will be reviewed at the December 2011 Board meeting

If you would like to learn more about MHPP funding opportunities, or discuss project ideas please contact MHPP staff.

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation also supports a range of community and individual heritage initiatives through the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

How do I start?!

 

Since you are reading this blog, it’s likely that you’re someone who cares about historic places.  Whether it’s the corner coffee shop that has always served as a local gathering place, or the ornate church at the centre of town with a soaring steeple, historic places are places of meaning that help us define our communities.

You may be thinking – “how can I help conserve the places that matter to me and my community?” Many Albertans may not be aware that their locally significant historic places can be legally protected at the municipal level. That’s right – you heard it here. Since 1978, local governments in Alberta have been empowered by the Historical Resources Act to protect their own historic places through designation as Municipal Historic Resources.

Perhaps you are an owner or steward of a place you believe is historically significant and are interested in seeing that place protected. Or maybe you are a municipal councillor, administrator, or staff person responding to requests from your residents:

  • Dig into the history for yourself – there is no substitute for understanding the background and context of the place. Local archives, land titles, municipal records like building permits, organizational Minutes, conversations with seniors/elders, and family photo albums are great sources to try and deepen our knowledge of the past – especially about our historic places;     
  • Get involved Does your community have an established Heritage Advisory Body? Ask your municipal staff or Councillor if you do, and if, so, let them know about the historic places that matter to you. If you don’t yet have a “HAB,” offer to help your community get one started;
  • Request an Evaluation – Alberta Culture and Community Spirit’s Municipal Heritage Partnership Program can help your municipality to determine its heritage values and evaluate places that are of interest. This can happen through a project called a heritage inventory, or on a more ‘one-off’  basis. MHPP staff are available to help local governments “get the ball rolling” and engaged in conserving their heritage.
In short, if you’re keen to see your historic places conserved for future generations of Albertans, MHPP staff are here to help.
Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services