New Uses for Old Places – King Edward School, Calgary

April 17, 2014

New Uses for Old Places is a RETROactive series in which we are looking at examples from around Alberta of historic sites that have found interesting new uses for spaces that were originally designed for other purposes. In this last installment we will be looking at King Edward School in the neighbourhood of South Calgary as an example of adaptive reuse project underway to repurpose the building as a mixed-use arts incubator (a place that nurtures the growth and development of artists and arts organizations).

King Edward SchoolThe King Edward School was constructed in 1912 as a four-storey building that features a symmetrical design, rock-faced sandstone walls and a dressed sandstone front entrance. During its time as an institution of learning, the School also functioned as a community hub, hosting dances and other events. The school operated as versions of both King Edward Elementary/Junior High School and South Calgary High School. The school closed in 2001 and sat empty…until now.

In 2011, cSPACE Projects was established by the Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation for the purpose of promoting opportunities for artist and non-profit arts/community groups. cSPACE became the new owners of the property and is now embarking on an ambitious rehabilitation effort.

The project involved the removal of a 1960s addition that was deemed to be non-character-defining to the historic value of the place as well as the construction of a new addition and two adjacent art studio pavilions. Modelled around the concept of providing a ‘creative commons’, ‘learning commons’ and ‘community commons’, the finished product will include facilities for artistic production, exhibition and rehearsal and will serve as home to a range of arts organizations and independent artists.

To learn more about this project, watch this video:

As part of the project the owner and the City of Calgary have entered into an agreement to ensure that the King Edward School will be designated a Municipal Historic Resource.

(A related example is that of the Hudson’s Bay Company Stables / Ortona Armoury in Edmonton’s Rossdale Neighbourhood that is operated by the Ortona Armoury Tenants Association, a group established to coordinate the involvement of the wide range of artists and related groups currently utilizing the space. The property was designated as a municipal historic resource in 2004.)

Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.


Coming in Low

April 15, 2014

The story of the Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator at Leduc.

A photograph of the former Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator at Leduc, taken in 2007.

Leduc Grain Elevator in 2007. Photo by Judy Larmour, Courtesy of Alberta Legacy Development Society.

Have any elevator enthusiasts out there ever noticed that the former Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator at Leduc looks a little different? It is a unique low-profile version of the Pool’s single composite 130,000 bushel elevator built on a standard plan during the 1960s and 1970s. It’s also unique as the only grain elevator that lies directly under the flight path to the main runway of an international airport and therein lies a story.

In 1976 the Alberta Wheat Pool revealed its intent to build a new elevator at the siding in Leduc. It wanted an elevator that would have a large enough capacity to replace all their aging elevators on the row, allowing for easier and more efficient grain handling. A single composite elevator built to the standard design stood normally over 27 meters hight (approximately 90 feet). This was considered a navigational hazard for airplanes approaching the airport—too high to get clearance from Transport Canada. So the Alberta Wheat Pool engineers went back to the drawing board to adjust the design, reducing its height. Transport Canada was satisfied with the new design, gave the green light and Leduc issued a building permit. Work began under AWP construction foreman Jim Pearson in spring 1978.

All elevators were basically built the same way. First a hole was excavated, cement foundation pads were poured and the steel pan set flush in the pit. The crew began construction of the sturdy cribbed walls, built to withstand the weight of the grain. The cribbing timbers were laid flat and spiked together. The cribbing of the exterior walls continued in rounds, in step with the cribbing of the inside bins, so that the elevator rose at an even height. As the cribbing progressed the crew installed the leg to elevate the grain, the distribution spout or gerber, the hopper and scales on the work floor, and the loading spout to the track below. The cupola on top was put together with pre-cut wood studs and shiplap or plywood walls. Finally the driveway was added, and the whole structure was clad with wood siding.

At Leduc, as Pearson later explained, changes had to be made to the standard plan. Instead of the standard 67 foot walls, the walls and bins were cribbed up only 59 feet, and the cribbing strength was reduced proportionately to the overall height of the building. The standard rounds of 2 by 6 cribbing were reduced by 5 feet and the higher 2 by 4 cribbing by 3 feet. To partially compensate for the lost volume, the design incorporated an annex 10 feet longer than was standard, giving the structure a footprint of 38 feet by 100 feet.

Lowering the walls 8 feet was still not enough to meet the required height restrictions. Another factor came into play. Elevators compress when they are filled with grain. The term telescope is used to describe a number of ways to allow the building to move in response to changing loads without causing damage to the structure. Normally, the leg is in one piece, so the cupola must be high enough to clear it as the elevator compresses. The Pool, wishing to install two metal legs—one for receiving grain and one for shipping, as was common by the 1970s—had to devise special legs at Leduc. They were telescoped in the middle and moved with the elevator to allow a lower profile than the standard one piece leg. A floating pulley in the pit took up the slack in the belt inside the leg. This one-of-a-kind system designed by Pool engineers allowed them to construct the cupola thirty inches below the regular height. When the new elevator was complete it was about the same height as the three 1920s elevators that it replaced.

The flight path-friendly elevator, with a capacity of 121, 000 bushels, was more expensive than a standard elevator. It cost $592,752 to build and opened in December 1978—the official ribbon cutting deferred until April 1979. It proudly served the farmers of Leduc until July 2000. When its days were clearly numbered and it, too, was faced with demolition the newly formed Alberta Legacy Development Society sprang into action to ensure its survival. Designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 2003 and with fresh coat of paint in September 2007, it flaunts the once familiar and omnipresent Alberta Wheat Pool crest and logo.

So the next time you fly over Leduc into Edmonton, just before landing, look down to spot Alberta’s special stubby, one of the last Alberta Wheat Pool single-composite elevators standing and still the tallest building in downtown Leduc.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written by: Judy Larmour.


Creative Problem Solving Delights Head of Conservation and Construction Services

April 10, 2014
Alireza Farrokhi at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump during the 25th anniversary celebration in July 2012.

Alireza Farrokhi at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump during the 25th anniversary celebration in July 2012.

Alireza Farrokhi, Head of Conservation and Construction Services in the Historic Resources Management Branch, describes his work this way: “My unit is the operational arm of our branch. Other program areas protect historic resources and promote heritage conservation by designation, research, and advisory services to municipalities and private property owners; they tell how heritage conservation should be done. We are the group that does it.” Like other program areas, Conservation and Construction Services follows Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada closely.

Stewards of Provincially Owned Historic Resources

Conservation and Construction Services is responsible for “the heritage conservation, maintenance, and environmental management at all designated Provincial Historic Resources that are owned by the province.” That includes more than 50 restored historic structures, 14 operating historic sites, and 70 “mothballed” (vacant but stabilized) historic structures located at five sites not currently in use. The unit also collaborates with other government ministries—such as Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources Development; Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation; and Alberta Infrastructure (the property manager for all government-owned buildings)—if heritage conservation work is required as part of a larger project.

The seven-member unit (which includes three Heritage Conservation Technologists, a Restoration Foreman, and two Restoration Craftsmen) is currently working on numerous projects throughout the province. Staff members once covered specific geographic areas, but are now more likely to be assigned projects based on their expertise. Members of the unit make up the crew for smaller projects. Larger ones are contracted out, with unit staff overseeing the project planning and management.

Restoring and Conserving

The unit’s ongoing workload ranges from conducting multiyear, multistructure restoration projects to addressing specific conservation problems, including some “that come out of the blue.” One staff member works full time at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, east of Edmonton, restoring buildings one by one. Another has been restoring the log structures at the Perrenoud Homestead near Cochrane. Members of the unit have also worked recently at the Rutherford House in Edmonton, the Stephansson House near Markerville, and Victoria Settlement near Smokey Lake.

Two images contrasting the Hewko House at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village before and after its restoration.

Hewko House restoration at Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village: before (2008) and, after (2009)

Images showing different aspects of the St. Charles Mission re-roofing at Historic Dunvegan.

St. Charles Mission re-roofing at Historic Dunvegan

Heritage and Environmental Conservation

Alireza’s current projects involve restoring “environmentally challenged” industrial sites. He and a colleague are currently working at three that were critical to Alberta’s history: Turner Valley Gas Works, Alberta’s first natural gas plant and a key player in the creation of the province’s oil and gas industry; Greenhill Mine Complex, a historic coal-mining operation in the Crowsnest Pass; and the Bitumount Site north of Fort McMurray, the birthplace of oil sands extraction technology.

an image contrasting a scale model of the sulphur plant with the plant itself

Scale model of the sulphur plant at Turner Valley Gas Plant (top) and the genuine article (bottom)

“Back then, their focus was solely on energy extraction. They were not really concerned about the environment,” he says. “But now these are areas that we need to clean up with heritage conservation considerations, so we can’t just dig out the dirt and take it away.” Older structures and equipment must be rescued and stabilized; working in sections, contaminated soil and water must be removed, contained, and treated; nearby waterways must be monitored to verify that groundwater and surface run-off is now clean.

Other historic sites under the unit’s care often require environmental remediation as well, especially removal of asbestos and lead paint.

Regular Maintenance: Conservation at its Best

Conservation and Construction Services is also responsible for regular maintenance (as part of the heritage conservation process) at the sites under its care. To help with that, the unit is developing a maintenance manual for each historic structure. The manual will compile, for easy reference, all records of previous work conducted, related reports, cyclical maintenance requirements, and specific concerns to monitor “so we’re not caught off-guard.”

Alireza loves the challenge and creativity of heritage conservation work. “If a job is not challenging, it’s not interesting,” he says.

Modern buildings tend to develop predictable problems that have known solutions, he explains. But with heritage buildings, “the problems that we deal with don’t necessarily have known solutions. You have to come up with innovative ways of dealing with problems. I love that! It opens up the discussion. There are no right or wrong answers.” For every project, “you always consider the construction technology, what kinds of materials are used, why this is happening, and how you can resolve the issue without impacting the heritage fabric and values.”

An example is recent work at the Rutherford House, an interpreted site on the University of Alberta campus. The sun porch is used as part of the restaurant. Air leaked in through its windows, making the space hard to heat, and water condensation was rotting the wooden window frames and sashes. It was decided to add unobtrusive storm windows where none had existed before. That involved “coming up with different details, experimenting, discussing with our contractor what’s possible and what’s not, and monitoring the work along the way, experimenting to see if it works.” Now the heating and condensation problems are solved and the staff is “very happy,” Alireza says. And, “it would be very hard for you to pick out where the storm window is because it blends into the historic window as if it’s not there.”Images Showing the Rutherford House Sunporch before and after storm windows were added.

From Iran to Canada

Alireza started his career as a civil engineer in his home country of Iran, doing project management for the construction of large-scale industrial and high-rise buildings. His eyes were opened to heritage conservation work when the firm that employed him was building the subway system in historic areas of Tehran. The discussions about the heritage fabric encountered there were like “poetry,” he recalls.

Alireza earned a master’s degree in heritage conservation in Tehran, then he cofounded a private company specializing in heritage conservation—a risky business venture in a country where almost all conservation work is done by the government. The company grew into one of the largest of its kind in Iran.

His company helped with stabilization of heritage structures of the 2500-year-old Bam Citadel, which was damaged in a devastating earthquake in 2003 in which some 43,000 people lost their lives. While doing that work, Alireza questioned why, at the same time that thousands of displaced people lacked basic necessities, conservation professionals were routinely advocating the use of the most advanced and expensive documentation techniques instead of less costly ones (laser scanning rather than study of years of existing aerial photographs.

That led him to the University of Calgary’s doctoral program in Environmental Design, to explore how and why professionals in heritage conservation (and potentially in other fields as well) choose which documentation technology to use. Alireza joined the Historic Resources Management Branch as a Restoration Officer in October 2011, and has been in his current position since July 2013, while also completing his dissertation.

After working on ancient monuments and sites in Iran, doesn’t Alberta’s heritage seem rather modest by comparison? Not at all, Alireza insists! “It comes down to a question of values—what you value. Heritage is heritage, regardless of how old a particular structure is. It brings people together, it creates a sense of community, and those are the important factors.

“And the conservation approaches are similar all across the board. For sure, some techniques are different, but the overall approaches are the same, so whatever you do in one part of the world could be adapted for anywhere else.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.


Ever Wonder How a Grain Elevator Worked?

April 8, 2014

We’ve published articles on Alberta’s historic grain elevators in the past and they’ve struck a cord. We’re preparing a few more articles about Alberta elevator’s, so stay tuned. In the meantime, we though you may wish to know how a grain elevator worked.

A diagram illustrating how a standard grain elevator operated.

A diagram of a standard grain elevator.

The interior of a traditional elevator contained two open areas: an attached covered driveway and an open space under the suspended bins, known as the work floor, in the centre of the elevator. A fully-loaded vehicle was parked on the large receiving scale, which took up most of the driveway floor. The agent weighed a farmer’s fully-loaded truck, wagon or sleigh using a balance beam to the side of the scale. The farmer then dumped his load through a grate on the scale floor and the now empty vehicle was re-weighed. The agent took a sample of the grain, which he analysed for type and quality.

The grain flowed through the grate into the pit below. This pit was an open triangular shaped steel pan. The agent then used the leg to elevate the grain from the pan or pit. The leg stretched from the pit to the top of the elevator. The leg — originally powered by a 15 horsepower, one-cylinder gasoline engine mounted under the office, and later by an electric motor—was an endless belt with cups attached running inside a wooden chute up the elevator,. As the leg turned, it elevated grain to the head distribution spout or gerber. The gerber was moved from one bin spout to another to direct the grain to the desired bin. The gerber was controlled from the work floor with a wooden pedal and a large hand wheel attached to the front of the leg chute.

Most spouts in the cupola fed into a storage bins (there were at least 18 but often more). The load was stored in a bin holding the same type and grade of grain. One spout led directly outside the elevator on the track side; it could be positioned over the track for loading grain into grain cars. Another spout returned grain from within the elevator to the driveway where it could be dumped into a waiting wagon or truck.

When the agent wanted to ship a quantity of grain he drew grain from the selected bin into the shipping scale bellow the scale hopper. After it was weighed the grain was dropped into the pit, the leg re-elevated itand directed it through the gerber and into the rail car loading spout and down into a grain car waiting on the siding beside the elevator.

Written By: Judy Larmour.


Director of the Historic Places Stewardship Reflects on 35-Year Career

April 3, 2014
photograph of Larry Pearson, Director of the Historic Places Stewardship Section, at his desk.

Larry Pearson, Director of the Historic Places Stewardship Section.

As Director of Historic Places Stewardship, Larry Pearson heads one of the three sections that make up the Historic Resources Management Branch. Next October will mark Larry’s 35th anniversary doing heritage conservation work for the Province of Alberta—and he’s seen, and overseen, many changes.

Larry was completing a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Calgary, with a focus on heritage conservation, when he was hired as the Restoration Officer at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Within a few years, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village was amalgamated into the provincial Historic Sites Service, and eventually Larry became responsible for overseeing the architectural design work for all provincially owned sites undergoing restoration.

He was the project manager for a three-year effort to develop the Fort George and Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site—location of the first forts along the North Saskatchewan River, dating from 1792—into an interpreted site with a visitor centre and trail system. Later he headed a team, made up of colleagues he’d worked with at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, that researched and carefully dismantled St. Onuphrius Church Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Canadian Museum of Civilization (now called the Canadian Museum of History) acquired the small Eastern-Rite church to be part of the Canada Hall, its main permanent exhibit. That project won the 1997 Premier’s Award of Excellence as best team project.

Larry enjoys the challenge of planning restoration projects: “understanding how a building has changed over time, confirming what it looked like, deciding the appropriate period of significance that we want to return it to, and returning it to that period in a way that has minimal impact on historic fabric.” And he appreciates the value of collaborating (including having impassioned discussions) with colleagues from related disciplines. He continues to encourage that kind of teamwork in his current position.

As of 2000, Larry was managing what was then called Community Heritage Services, within the Historic Sites Service. Community Heritage Services was responsible for identifying and designating historic places as Provincial Historic Resources, and ensuring that their ongoing conservation preserved their heritage value, as well as providing assistance to community groups involved in heritage projects—a lot of what the Historic Places Stewardship Section does now. But this was somewhat outside the scope of the rest of the Historic Sites Service, which was focused on the development and operation of provincial historic sites. Meanwhile, other units involved in identifying, protecting, and supporting the conservation of historic resources were located in different branches of the Heritage Division. Because heritage resource management functions were diffused across the division, “the philosophical and policy discussions that needed to happen around how to identify, protect, and manage Alberta’s historic places didn’t happen,” Larry recalls.

In fall of 2000 he and colleagues from other branches within the Heritage Division were asked “to develop and implement a process that asked and answered the question: ‘Are we structured the best way we can be to accomplish what we’re being asked to accomplish?’” The result was a reorganization that established the current Historic Resources Management Branch in February 2001, gathering together functions that previously had been spread across other branches.

Larry was responsible for forming what was then called the Protection and Stewardship Section within this new branch, which he has headed since its beginnings. “The section’s programs are focused on identifying, protecting, and conserving Alberta’s historic resources,” Larry explains.

From the start he worked to ensure that “we had an established rulebook, a policy framework, about what we were doing.” His approach to conservation management was informed by his participation on the Association of Preservation Technology’s board of directors from 1984 to 1989, as a member of the training and conference committee, and later as program chair for its 1999 conference held in Banff. This work brought him in close contact with preservation professionals from the United States who were employing federal-level tools there, notably the U.S.’s National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

During the late 1980s, Larry led an initiative to develop a set of provincial standards and guidelines for the conservation and care of historic buildings. Alberta’s Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Designated Historic Places, which were based on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, were first printed in 1990, then revised and reprinted in 1993.

Then in 1999, Parks Canada began discussions with federal departments, provincial and territorial officials, and other stakeholders to develop a pan-Canadian strategy to identify and conserve Canada’s historic places. A team of representatives from provincial and territorial governments around the country worked intensively to develop a Canada-wide approach to heritage conservation.

The result was the Historic Places Initiative (HPI), launched in 2001, which over the next few years established the Canadian Register of Historic Places, Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, and a process for certifying that designated historic properties are conserved in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines. The HPI also provided federal funding to provinces and territories to help them implement the HPI, so that all provincial (and by extension municipal) historic places would be included.

Larry helped represent Alberta during the HPI planning process. Alberta was a key contributor to developing the HPI’s Standards and Guidelines. Alberta officially adopted the Standards and Guidelines in August 2003. Colleagues in his section ensured development of the Alberta Register of Historic Places and the listing of Alberta’s historic places on the Canadian Register.

Along with bringing these new guiding principles to the work of the section, which with the advent of the HPI had been renamed the Historic Places Stewardship Section, Larry also made a major organizational change: expanding the reach of the section by adding a new program area. Although municipalities had been empowered by the Historical Resources Act since 1978 to designate their own historic resources and implement protections for them, very few had chosen to do so, or even knew about this conservation tool.

Larry continues: “The federal government asked the provinces to reach out to their municipalities, to ensure they were included in the work of the Historic Places Initiative. So we took a portion of the federal HPI funding and developed the Municipal Heritage Services Unit. We flowed much of the federal money through to our municipalities. It was all about building municipal capacity. Within that unit, we developed a new program called the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program to provide matching grant funding to municipalities so they could identify through surveys and inventories what’s important to them, and to help them, again through funding, to develop [municipal heritage designations] and municipal historic resource management plans…So there was a very significant, concentrated effort on engaging municipal government.” The MHPP was officially launched in 2006, although aspects of it had been piloted in previous years. “It changed our focus,” Larry says.

More recently, the section’s responsibilities have grown to include the delivery of maintenance and conservation services related to historic sites and museums owned or operated by the Heritage Division, bringing further conservation expertise into the unit. The section also now provides research services in support of the interpretation programs of a number of these sites.

As Director of Historic Places Stewardship, Larry monitors, critiques, and signs off on all decisions made by the programs within the section. For example, he reviews recommendations on provincial heritage designation made by the Historic Places Research and Designation Program, approvals for proposed changes to designated resources made by the Heritage Conservation Advisory Services, and grant-funding recommendations made to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation by different subject specialists within the section. He also oversees “staffing, manpower, budget—administrative things.”

A big part of his job, he adds, is encouraging collaboration and teamwork among the staff of the section’s different program areas. “Nobody could do what they do without somebody else from another unit helping them,” he says, “which I think is one of the reasons why it’s such a strong section. They all know what everybody else does, and they all have a very clear, shared vision.”

Written by: Kerri Rubman.


A “Team Effort”, High River continues Heritage Inventory

April 1, 2014

For good reason, the Town of High River has been featured several times on the pages of RETROactive – for its heritage work - over the past few years: 

On Wednesday March 26th, at the aptly named Heritage Inn, a community Open House was held for the second phase of the Town’s Heritage Inventory. While the first phase focused primarily on evaluating historic commercial buildings in the downtown area, this second round concentrates more on residential properties that have heritage value to High River.  Hosted by the Town, the Open House featured attendance from both the professional heritage consultants engaged by the Town, as well as Historic Resources Management Branch staff.

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services talks with an owner of a Municipal Historic Resource.

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services talks with an owner of a Municipal Historic Resource.

Over 40 members of the community came out to participate in the Open House. Guided by Town staff, the consultant team, and members of the Heritage Advisory Board, attendees busily engaged themselves in providing local knowledge, writing comments about each of the properties identified for evaluation. Attendees from the community also had the opportunity to speak with Alberta Culture staff, to get answers about the Municipal Historic Resource designation process, or about tecnical conservation issues.

Alberta Culture Heritage Conservation Advisor Fraser Shaw provides information to a property owner at the High River Heritage Inventory Open House.

Alberta Culture Heritage Conservation Advisor Fraser Shaw provides information to a property owner at the High River Heritage Inventory Open House.

Open House events like these, which are integrated into each Heritage Inventory project, yield tremendous results – increasing knowledge of our historic places, and helping to create a meaningful future for them. As the Town’s Planning Coordinator, Jill Henheffer, shared, “It was totally a team effort.”

Good job, High River!


Challenges Are Also Opportunities for Director of the Archaeological Survey

March 26, 2014
Darryl Bereziuk, speaks with attendees after presenting at a meeting.

Darryl Bereziuk, Director of the Archaeological Survey, speaks with consultants and students after presenting at a meeting.

Darryl Bereziuk is relatively new as Director of the Archaeological Survey of the Historic Resources Management Branch—he is just coming up on his first full year in the role. He is no stranger to the branch, however. Prior to becoming Director, he was the Northern Regional Archaeologist for the Archaeological Survey. “So I still worked in this organization, for about eight years. So, you know, I’ve come up through the ranks, so to speak,” Darryl says.

The Archaeological Survey Section preserves, studies, interprets, and promotes Alberta’s archaeological resources. Much of Darryl’s job involves overseeing several management systems that have been put in place to protect and mitigate threats to archaeological resources in the province.

The “Heart” of the Archeological Survey

The first (and fundamental) system is the Alberta Archaeological Site Inventory—what Darryl calls “the heart” of the Archaeological Survey. The section maintains an inventory of more than 40,000 archaeological sites of diverse types: tipi rings, rock art sites, stone feature such as medicine wheels, and quarry sites where First Nations people obtained stone for making tools. Such resources are fragile and easily destroyed by resource extraction and other types of development—and Alberta is a very busy place for that, Darryl notes. The up-to-date inventory helps the Archaeological Survey to fulfill a main part of its mandate: to protect significant archaeological sites that we know about.

Various industries must submit their development plans for review as part of the Historical Resources Act (HRA) Regulatory Approval System. If it is considered likely that a development will impact archaeological sites, then a requirement might be issued to conduct an Historic Resources Impact Assessment (HRIA). These field studies serve to identify and assess the significance of archaeological resources before they are impacted by ground disturbance activities.

What are Historic Resources Impact Assessments?

HRIAs are aimed at examining how potential impacts to significant sites can be avoided or mitigated. The consultants, in Darryl’s words, “examine the potential conflict between archaeological resources and a project’s footprint, and then forward recommendations, on behalf of the industry, for avoidance or mitigation. The Archaeological Survey considers the consultant’s findings and issues a final recommendation.” The final recommendation from the Archaeological Survey might be that there are no further concerns arising from the study, and that development may proceed. Or, the Archaeological Survey might recommend either that the site be avoided entirely, or that industry conduct archaeological excavations of a portion of the site to compensate—with the knowledge gained from the excavation—for destroying the remaining portions. “These sorts of mitigation activities happen on a very regular basis,” Darryl explains. Darryl was a private archaeological consultant himself for about fifteen years prior to joining the government, helping industry clients to fulfill the requirements issued by the section he now directs —the Archaeological Survey. “That knowledge and experience has really served me well in this position,” Darryl remarks.

Obtaining Permits

Before undertaking any survey or excavation, an archaeologist must come to the Archaeological Survey for official permission to do the work, triggering the second major management process that the section oversees: the Archaeological Research Permit Management System. “It’s not necessarily the materials in the archaeological site that are important,” Darryl explains. Instead, it is usually the “association of how the materials are distributed across the site that allows you to get at the important information”—that is, what the site has to tell us about past human behaviour or activities. It takes special training to excavate sites to see this larger pattern, and because the act of excavation is destructive in and of itself, the Historical Resources Act requires that anyone conducting an archaeological investigation have a valid permit. Permit holders must have “the appropriate educational training and experience to ensure that the destructive activities that they will be conducting will lead to really good information about that site—and that the information content of the site won’t be inadvertently lost,” says Darryl.

Despite the solid foundation of these regulatory management processes, the Archaeological Survey Section faces a number of challenges. First, as Darryl puts it, “we have very limited capacity and yet we want to save as many archaeological sites as possible.” The job is complicated by the fact that “we have to protect the [sites] we know about as well as the ones we don’t yet know about.”

In order to make a recommendation that an assessment is needed in light of a proposed development, the Archaeological Survey has to demonstrate that there is a “very high likelihood” that archaeological resources will be impacted. However, archaeologists have surveyed only a small portion of the province and detailed information about site location is sparse for some areas. Accordingly, “we’re always looking at ways to become more sophisticated in making these recommendations” when it comes archaeological sites that are unrecorded, but that undoubtedly hold a wealth of information about the province’s history. The section’s answer to this challenge is to draw on new technologies.

Using  Technology

The Archaeological Survey had already been using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to regulate development near known archaeological sites, but has now started using this technology to create predictive models that gauge archaeological resource sensitivity across the vast unsurveyed portions of Alberta. Another new technology—LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), a method of remote laser scanning—is providing detailed digital elevations models that help to better pinpoint potentially sensitive landforms.

Another challenge is for the section’s archaeologists to conduct research of their own, on top of their regulatory work, since “part of our mandate is also to promote the appreciation of archaeological resources in Alberta.” The archaeologists engage in much public outreach to share their research, from writing magazine articles to giving talks at schools to participating in professional conferences.

Darryl and colleagues have been excavating—little by little, at the rate of three to four square metres per year—a site called Hummingbird Creek, located on the front range of the Rocky Mountains west of Rocky Mountain House. “It’s an amazing archaeological site,” Darryl enthuses, “that has super-imposed occupations—six, in fact—that extend back to 2,450 years ago. It represents the kind of multistratified site that allows archaeologists to really look at cultural change in the precontact period.”

Other archaeologists in the section are working on sites in the Oilsands region. Another has been visiting local collectors in Grande Prairie, mostly farmers who over the years have gathered hundreds of very significant artefacts from their lands. He photographs these artefacts or borrows them so that they can be analysed. This is a great project, states Darryl, that gives the Archaeological Survey a better idea of the character of archaeological sites in a region where large-scale farming operations have disturbed the significant majority of sites. Through engagement with local collectors, the Archaeological Survey can also educate them about the Historical Resources Act and other public outreach initiatives.

Responding to Disasters – Flooding

The last challenge mentioned by Darryl, like the other two, also provides an opportunity. The 2013 flood in southern Alberta destroyed homes and infrastructure, but Darryl states that “a lot of people don’t realize that…archaeological and paleontological sites were severely impacted by the flood,” as well. Archaeological sites tend to be concentrated near major river valleys because these watercourses were vital to precontact lifeways, Darryl explains. The Historic Resources Management Branch recently received $3 million to conduct exploratory surveys of the major flood-affected rivers in the Calgary region: the Bow River and its tributaries, the Elbow, Highwood, and Sheep Rivers. This project will take up much of the section’s “time and capacity” over the next two years, Darryl says. Some of the sites may have been completely destroyed, and the inventory of archaeological sites needs to be updated accordingly.

But the flood also created a unique opportunity, as it has also exposed new sites not previously observed by archaeologists. Bison bone beds that were kill sites for these animals have been left “just basically sticking out—[they are] very highly visible in some cases,” says Darryl. These sites along the river are vulnerable not only to natural erosion, as unstable cutbanks are reclaimed by the river, but also to collecting by the general public. “We’re racing against time to identify and preserve these sites,” says Darryl. “We will try to protect them from future flooding, and if that’s not feasible we may excavate the most vulnerable portions of those [sites] to ensure that we have that information before the next flood takes it away.” The Archaeological Survey Section, accustomed to meeting challenges, is doing what it takes to get this work done.

Written by: Gretchen A. Albers.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 991 other followers

%d bloggers like this: