Thanks for the memories!

I came this close to writing this post in the third person. I then returned to my senses, and decided to just go for it and write a brief personal message here to you terrific RETROactive readers. I’ll be moving on from my much-loved role of Manager, Municipal Heritage Services. In early February, I’ll be returning to my hometown of Chilliwack, B.C., where I’ll be serving as Executive Director of that historic community’s Museum and Archives.

Matthew Francis led the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and the Alberta Main Street Program from 2007-2015
Matthew Francis led the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and the Alberta Main Street Program from 2007-2015

My long-time colleague Michael Thome, who will be serving as Acting Manager, asked me to share a few fun memories. So here goes:

  • Spending more than 100 days ‘on the road’ in 2006, when we were launching the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, conducting “MHPP Roadshows” in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat, as well as presenting to over 75 municipal councils! You don’t realize the sheer scale, breadth, and beauty of Alberta until you get out driving its highways and backroads. Most people don’t realize that a municipality like Mackenzie County or Wood Buffalo are larger than Switzerland!
  • Getting to know all of the best burgers and fries places across Alberta. (You’ll have to get in touch with me if you want access to this top-secret list!) 
  • Launching the Municipal Heritage Forum as a “Summit for Stakeholders” in 2006. Back then, there were lots of people doing great local heritage conservation work across Alberta, but most of them didn’t know each other well. That first Forum, which we put on at the World Trade Centre in Edmonton – gave people a chance to get to know each other, and put a face to a name. After that, people doing heritage in Smoky Lake County or Yellowhead County felt free to call other people they had met, ask questions, and share what had worked for them. Since then the Forum has of course grown, and I am thrilled to see how delegates have really taken ownership of it and made it their own dynamic, learning community.
  •  We saw a new way forward for the Alberta Main Street Program, and built a flexible and sustainable paradigm of doing a fantastic program, that needed a new approach. Now, we have a tremendous, creative network of historic communities (Lethbridge, Olds, Old Strathcona, Camrose, and Wainwright), animating their heritage commercial districts with energy, conservation, and high-quality urbanism.
  • I remember attending one Council meeting (at a municipality which shall remain nameless), where the delegation presenting before me was a zealous farmer who came in coveralls, straight from the harvest fields – and slammed a heavy rock down on the Council table – THUD! He was irate and relayed the story that the County staff must have knocked this rock into his field during Winter snow removal, as he insisted he “hadn’t had a rock like that in his field for three generations!” The rock had been kicked up and shattered the window of his combine. He requested compensation for half the cost of replacing the damaged window. I thought the man’s claim was reasonable. Before you knew it – there was a motion passed to provide the compensation. Now that’s democracy in action! (That same County did then proceed to do some tremendous heritage planning work over the next few years, legally protecting a number of its significant historic places through Municipal Historic Resources designation).
  • We saw the number of designated Municipal Historic Resources (legally protected by local governments) grow exponentially, from under 70 in 2006 to well over 300 in 2015, with 240 already listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places!

Of all the memories of projects – from Pincher Creek down south to Fort Vermilion up north – I still have to say the greatest memories are the people. Working with local Heritage Advisory Boards was so enjoyable because the “why” is so compelling. The people who do it are there for a reason – they love their historic places! It was also great to work collaboratively with the municipal staff and heritage planners across the province. I know that I have learned a lot from their knowledge and experience – and there is still so much to learn! And, of course, I had the privilege of working as colleagues day in, day out with the best team of heritage professionals in Canada here at Historic Resources Management.

Front Cover of MHPP Manual

Thanks – to all of you – for the memories! Let’s keep on creating a future for our historic places.

Written by: Matthew Francis, former Manager, Municipal Heritage Services.