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

Using the Standards and Guidelines

How do you determine whether or not a proposed change (what we call an intervention) is appropriate for a historic place? Would a fresh coat of paint preserve the heritage value of an old house? Does painting the brick affect its heritage value as a Municipal Historic Resource? How do I choose the colour of paint?

Using the Standards and Guidelines_Page_10Answers to these questions and more are found in the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada (or the S&Gs for short). Introduced in 2003 and revised extensively in 2010, the S&Gs are the definitive framework for heritage conservation in Canada, having been widely adopted by municipal, provincial, and federal authorities as a tool for determining how to conserve and manage change to historic places.

The S&Gs provide a foundation of conservation principles organized around fourteen standards, a standardized vocabulary of conservation terms, a straightforward decision-making process, and practical conservation guidelines for a wide range of resource types. Used in conjunction with Statements of Significance, the S&Gs also play a role in determining if work is eligible for conservation grants from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

The presentation below, from the 2012 Municipal Heritage Forum, offers an overview of the S&Gs as a tool for municipalities to manage the historic places identified through surveys and inventories and subsequently protected as Municipal Historic Resources.

PRESENTATION: Using the Standards and Guidelines

Written by:  Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser.

Application of the Standards and Guidelines to replace the cedar shingle roof on Old St. Stephen’s College

Old St. Stephen’s College, designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1983, and office of the Historic Places Stewardship Section (the authors of RETROactive), is getting a new roof. The work is compliant with the principles and recommendations outlined in the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Below is a brief description of the conservation work that will be completed throughout April and May 2012.

The roof over the west wing and its multiple hip-roofed dormers are cited in the Statement of Significance as character-defining. The design for the cedar roof replacement may seem straight-forward at first, but when planning this work it was important to consider not only the look, but how the roof would perform. The introduction of new underlay products and flashings were examined in order to better help keep the water out and extend the service life of the roof.

For any historic place, the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada must be consulted for all proposed interventions.  In this case, a cedar shingle finish for roof surfaces, ridge caps and dormer side walls was verified as appropriate with reference to general Standards 1 to 9 and Standards 10 to 12 for rehabilitation treatments (see pages 22 and 23 in your Standards and Guidelines document).  Standard 8, in particular, confirms the replacement “in kind of any extensively deteriorated or missing parts of character-defining elements, where there are surviving prototypes.”

In addition to the replacement of the shingles, the opportunity to introduce new weatherproofing materials was presented.  Particular areas at risk with this roof were identified, which included the six dormers penetrating each side of the peaked roof, along with multiple valley and ridge flashings.  Also complicating the design is the presence of deep gutters with internal drains just behind the brick and cast-stone parapets.  A new continuous ice dam membrane underlay was proposed that would be installed from the parapet through the gutter, to the top of the dormers, lapping the membrane up the dormer sidewalls, and to the underside of window sills.  This has been likened to installing a weatherproof girdle under the shingles, covering most of the roof surface, to help protect the vulnerable complicated intersections from leaks.

The proposed introduction of new underlay material to this roof was confirmed in the Guidelines for Roofs (page 142), where it is recommended to “improve the detailing of roof elements, following recognized conservation methods, to correct faulty details.”  Such improvements, however, should be physically and visually compatible with the authentic roof detailing.

So, all the boxes are checked with regard to the west wing’s roof replacement and the protection of its heritage values.  The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada provides a defendable verification that planned work for historic places retains recognized heritage values.

Written by: Tom Ward, Manager of Heritage Conservation Advisory Services

What information did you miss?

Municipal Heritage Services Staff, L-R: Michael Thome, Brenda Manweiler and Matthew Francis.

At the 2011 Municipal Heritage Forum, “Roadmap to Success,” four concurrent breakout sessions provided by staff of the Historic Places Stewardship Section, Culture and Community Services allowed attendees to learn about managing a successful municipal heritage conservation program. Find out what you missed: click below to obtain PDF versions of the presentations.

“Creating Heritage Advisory Bodies that Work for your Community” – Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Heritage Advisory Bodies (HABs) are boards, committees or commissions established through municipal bylaw. The community members appointed to the HAB advise council on heritage conservation matters and assist with the implementation of heritage initiatives (such as a Municipal Heritage Survey or a Municipal Heritage Inventory). This presentation discusses the ingredients necessary to establish an effective HAB.

“How to Designate and Approve Interventions to Municipal Historic Resources” – Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

A Municipal Historic Resource may not be destroyed, disturbed, altered, restored or repaired without the written approval of the applicable municipal council, or their designate. This presentation provides an overview of the designation and alteration approval processes.

“Getting your Municipal Historic Resources Listed on the Alberta Register” – Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

The Alberta Register of Historic Places is a listing of formally recognized historic resources in Alberta. Owners of Municipal Historic Resources and Provincial Historic Resources listed on the Register may apply for cost-shared conservation funding through the Historic Resource Conservation category of the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program. This presentation reviews the eligibility and listing process.

“Understanding the Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada” – Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada provides practical guidance on the preservation, rehabilitation and restoration of historic resources. This presentation is a general introduction to the principles and recommended/not recommended actions contained in the Standards and Guidelines.

NOTE: For a complete collection of the 2011 Municipal Heritage Forum presentations, please click here.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Not Just a Pane: Historic Windows


Windows are an integral part of a building system. They transmit light, control heat flow, are a means of egress, frame exterior views, and are significant elements that contribute to the design of the building. Windows are complex units and are made up of many different components that can be decorative, functional or both. 

Why are historic windows important? 

Historic windows are often character-defining elements. Character-defining elements are the materials, form, location, spatial configurations, uses and cultural associations or meanings that contribute to the heritage value of a historic place and must be retained in order to preserve its heritage value. Furthermore, historic windows are elements that directly reflect a site’s craftsmanship and design and are usually constructed out of particular materials. They are usually quite detailed and in some instances retain original glazing units.

Left to Right: Beatty House, Rimbey; Cronquist House, Red Deer; Pine Lake Holy Trinity Church, Pine Lake

Common misconceptions about historic wood windows 

On a daily basis I field questions about the replacement of historic wood windows. A typical case is a historic site with historic windows that have not been looked at in some time and have deteriorated to some extent due to weathering. A common misconception is that replacement of these historic windows with a modern unit is cheaper and will increase the thermal efficiency of the building through higher R values. 

Research in performance standards for timber sash and case windows in Scotland has taught us that estimated costs including painting of window components, repairing damaged putty and re-caulking where necessary within a regular maintenance program eliminated the cost of a major restoration project every five years. Another thing to consider is that modern sealed units, when they fail are not maintainable and must be replaced outright. 

It is also interesting to learn that a single glazed window in conjunction with an exterior or interior storm window is comparable to a modern sealed unit. A single glazed window has an R value of 0.6 while a single glazed window with wood storm has an R value of 2.0. The top of the line triple glazed window with low E coating and argon has an R value of 3.5. Overall windows in general are thermally inefficient in comparison to a typical wall with 4” batt insulation that has an R value of 12. 

Planning for historic wood window conservation work 

When planning for any conservation work we always take the approach of minimal intervention. Preserving historic material and maintaining historic material is the first step and outright replacement, if necessary, is the last option. 

In most cases simple epoxy repairs to wood, adequate prepping of the wood surface (manual scraping), the application of an appropriate primer and brushed on layers of exterior paint is all that is needed to repair historic windows and to prevent deterioration.

For more severe cases, putty replacement, replacement of broken or damaged glazing, and dutchman (splicing in of new wood) may be required. 


  • Historic windows have heritage value.
  • Historic windows have demonstrated good durability and maintainability.
  • Always assess and document each window before proceeding with conservation work.
  • Compile historic photographs and refer to the Statement of Significance in your planning process.
  • Minimal intervention should be the first approach.

Remember, you can save on costs and achieve the same thermal efficiency through conservation.

Written by: Ophelia Liew, Heritage Conservation Advisor 

Standards and Guidelines: Second Edition Now Available!

 Just in time for Heritage Week, the second edition of the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada has been uploaded to the Historic Places website. Check out the new edition!

What are Standards and Guidelines? 

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada is a pan-Canadian guide for understanding and planning interventions to historic places. The document is based on decades of evolved heritage conservation principles and practices and inspired by international heritage charters.  

Staff members from the Historic Resources Management Branch of Alberta Culture and Community Spirit have actively participated in the development of the first and second editions, in cooperation with heritage professionals from all provincial, territorial and federal agencies. It is truly a pan-Canadian guide. 

How are Standards and Guidelines used? 

In Alberta, the Standards and Guidelines can be used by anyone needing guidance on how to approach interventions to a historic place. In 2003, the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada became the official standard for evaluating interventions to Provincial Historic Resources designated under the Historical Resources Act and for heritage conservation projects eligible for cost-shared funding through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.  

What’s New for the Second Edition? 

The second edition has not changed the basic guiding principles found in the original document. The Standards and Guidelines have been expanded to now fully explain each of the fourteen standards and to elaborate on guidelines for archaeological resources and cultural landscapes. 

For a printed copy of the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, contact:

Written by: Tom Ward

Manager, Heritage Conservation Advisory Services Program

Welcome to RETROactive!

Welcome to RETROactive, the official blog of Alberta’s Historic Places Stewardship Section!

Have you ever wondered what makes a historic place, historic? Are you curious to know which places in your municipality are protected Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources? Have you always wanted to learn how heritage conservation can benefit your municipality? OR, are you a history enthusiast and want to learn more about the unique and significant places in Alberta? On RETROactive Historic Places Stewardship staff will post regular updates about their work with Alberta municipalities and feature historic places throughout Alberta.

Guided by the Historical Resources Act and the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, Historic Places Stewardship provides a full range of services, programs and incentives for the conservation of historic sites. We work with individuals, municipalities, historic groups and organizations to ensure responsible management, protection and promotion of Alberta’s historic places. To learn about the range of programs offered through the Ministry of Culture and Community Spirit please read our About page.

Be the first to receive a RETROactive post: join us on Facebook or subscribe to RETROactive and get updates emailed to your inbox (see links to the right). We also encourage you to participate. Please submit comments and ask questions! (Before doing so, we encourage you to review the Government of Alberta’s Comment and Trackback Policy.)

Travel along with our staff as they crisscross the Alberta prairie in the on-going saga of Alberta’s historic places. We hope you enjoy the ride!