Main Street Coordinators Meet to Learn and Strategize

February 25, 2014

Local leaders from Alberta Main Street Program communities met recently in Olds for information sharing, learning best practices, and ongoing conversations about the Four-Point Approach®.  

The program, established in 1987 and now renewed with a fresh format, revitalizes historic commercial areas through heritage conservation. The bar for participation is high: communities desiring to participate must complete a Heritage Inventory  of their historic commercial area and commit to meet detailed standards of performance. Those in the Alberta Main Street Program network have met these high criteria and are committed to achieving excellence.

Alberta Main Street Program staff and Coordinators outside the historic Bank of Commerce Building in Olds.

Alberta Main Street Program staff and Coordinators outside the Bank of Commerce Municipal Historic Resource in Olds. Back row, left to right: (Leon Durand, Chair, Uptowne Olds; Michelle Jorgensen, Town of Olds Heritage Advisor) Middle row, left to right: (Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer; Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services; Ted Stilson, Executive Director, Downtown Lethbridge BRZ; Carol-May Coty, Manager, City Centre Camrose; Ray Telford, City of Camrose Economic Development Officer; Ashley Stone, Program Director, Wainwright Buffalo Park Foundation. Front row, left to right: (Rita Thompson, Uptowne Olds; Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer; and Debra Aitken, Uptowne Olds Coordinator).

Alberta Main Street Program network members including Uptowne Olds, Downtown Lethbridge, City Centre Camrose, and Wainwright were represented at the coordinator’s meeting, the first in 2014.

Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser with Alberta Culture, who served as the Main Street Coordinator in Ponoka and Black Diamond, delivered an informative presentation on quality design for historic Main Street communities. A key aspect of this is the area of historic signage: what is, and what is not, appropriate. While in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a “wild West” ethic probably prevailed, with “my sign is bigger than your sign” approach usually winning out, commercial areas today are governed by sign bylaws and other regulations. Can these bylaws take into account historic significance and character? The answer is  a definite yes!  - but implementation requires careful planning.

The group learned that determining heritage values and understanding the historic area as a whole provides the basis to answering these kinds of questions. The afternoon learning session sparked many interesting questions and discussions among the Coordinators. Everyone left Olds energized and looking forward to the next quarterly Alberta Main Street Network meeting, which will take place in May.

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


MHPP and AMSP Application Dates Set for 2014

December 19, 2013

MHPP logo

The Municipal Heritage Partnership Program and the Alberta Main Street Program do not have formal deadlines for grant applications.

AMSP Logo

To maximize flexibility for communities, program staff receive applications from interested municipalities on a ongoing basis throughout the year. That said, since MHPP projects are funded by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, it is convenient for stakeholders to coordinate their applications with meetings of the Foundation’s Board, which generally take place on a quarterly basis. This allows time for staff to review applications and prepare recommendations for the Board, and for the board members to review materials in advance.

Please note that the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program does maintain formal deadlines, of February 1st and September 1st of each calendar year.

At the Nov. 29-30th meeting of the Foundation, the Board established its meeting schedule for 2014, which in turn gives us the requested dates for submission of MHPP and AMSP grant applications.

  • For the February 21-22 meeting in Olds, submit by January 27th.
  • For the May 9-10 meeting in Fort McMurray, submit by April 14th.
  • For the September meeting 12-13 in Pincher Creek, submit by August 18th.
  • For the November 28-29 in Edmonton, submit by November 3rd.

If you have any questions about MHPP or AMSP applications, please feel free to contact us.

Written by:  Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services


Alberta Historical Resources Foundation meets in St. Albert

December 11, 2013

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation

The Board of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation met in St. Albert, Friday November 29th and Saturday November 30th. The Board met to adjudicate grant applications for the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program, which supports:

In addition, the Foundation also considered grant applications from the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, and the Alberta Main Street Program.

Starting on Friday afternoon at St. Albert Place, the major civic centre for the City of St. Albert, and a Douglas Cardinal-designed Municipal Historic Resource, the Board was greeted by Mayor Nolan Crouse. The mayor, a committed supporter of heritage, spoke eloquently about the City’s storied past since its founding as a Catholic mission over 150 years ago. He also brought the AHRF Board members up to date about recent heritage happenings in St. Albert.

Departing from Council Chambers, Board members embarked upon a tour of the Musee Heritage Museum. They then headed out into the snow under a bright Alberta blue sky to visit the Little White School and the City’s Mission Hill area, home to multiple Provincial Historic Resources, including the Bishop’s Palace and the Father Lacombe Chapel.

Members of the AHRF Board and Alberta Culture Staff outside of the Father Lacombe Chapel, St. Albert.

AHRF Board Members and Alberta Culture staff outside of the Father Lacombe Chapel in St. Albert; (Left to Right: Bob Gaetz, Leah Millar, Don Totten, Laurel Hallliday, Board Chair Fred Bradley, Tom Clark, AHRF Grants Program Coordinator Carina Naranjilla, Executive Director Matthew Wangler, and Manager, Municipal Heritage Services, Matthew Francis)

The afternoon was capped off with an informative tour of St. Albert’s designated Alberta Grain Company Grain Elevator complex.

Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, St. Albert

Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, St. Albert

The Board got down to business with Saturday’s meeting, where numerous grant applications were reviewed and key funding decisions made. Board Chair Fred Bradley was very pleased to welcome the Honourable Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Culture, who joined the meeting for a lunchtime discussion of key issues. Minister Klimchuk offered thanks to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation for their dedicated work, and recognized several members who are completing their terms of service.

Stay tuned to RETROactive for further updates on funding decisions made by the Board at their November meeting!


Heritage Conservation and Sustainable Community Development

October 30, 2013

Every year, Alberta Culture staff come together for an annual Fall Gathering. This year’s event, which took place in early October, was jam packed with unique information and workshops, designed to offer us practical help in our work. The event allows us as members of the Alberta Public Service to get to know other staff from across the Ministry of Culture and to learn more about what we all do each day for Albertans. It’s our goal that this directly translates into the work we do each day to help engage communities and people across the province.

This year, I joined Larry Pearson, Director of Historic Places Stewardship with the Historic Resources Management Branch, to offer a workshop on “Heritage Conservation and Sustainable Community Development.” We didn’t just want to show our colleagues what we do to protect historic places, we wanted to demonstrate how protecting these places contributes to the “triple bottom-line” of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Reuse-Reduce-Recycle

Since reducing, reusing, and recycling has become integrated into the normal lifecycle of our consumer goods, why not apply that common-sense principle to our built environment as well? As urbanist Jane Jacobs used to say, “new ideas need old buildings.” The key message was that “the greenest building is the one that’s already built.” 

Schematic drawing of the Lougheed Building (Provincial Historic Resource) in Calgary, which was a case study in the presentation.

Schematic drawing of the Lougheed Building (Provincial Historic Resource) in Calgary, which was a case study in the presentation.

So many people were interested in the presentation, that we thought it would be worth sharing here on RETROactive.

Click on the link below to open the presentation:

Fall Gathering – Heritage Conservation and Sustainable Community Development

Written by:  Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services


Forum 2013 – Thank you!

September 26, 2013
forum attendees 2013

Participants in the 7th Annual Municipal Heritage Forum, gathered at Knox Church in Old Strathcona, September 20th, 2013.

On behalf of our whole Municipal Heritage Services team, we would like to express our sincere thanks to all those of you who participated in this year’s Municipal Heritage Forum at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and in the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area. The weather was gorgeous, we had fun together, and learned a lot about “The ABCs of Conservation.” 

Your contribution really helped to make the 7th Annual Municipal Heritage Forum a very positive event. We couldn’t have done it without you all! Whether you were presenting or just there to connect and share your local knowledge and experience, it all made a big difference.

You should see some of the great content from “The ABCs of Conservation,” including HD video of some of the Forum presentations, featured here on RETROactive over the next few weeks.

See you next year at Forum 2014! 


Heritage Forum 2013 – Save the Dates!

May 15, 2013
Strathcona Branch, Edomonton Public Library

Strathcona Branch, Edomonton Public Library

WHAT: Our 7th annual Municipal Heritage Forum!

WHERE: The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area

WHEN: Thursday September 19th at the Ukrainian Village & Friday September 20th in Old Strathcona

WHY: To help create a future for Alberta’s historic places.

While each year we try to carefully minimize scheduling conflicts with other important happenings on the heritage scene, sometimes overlaps occur. Some RETROactive readers will want to know that this year’s Forum is taking place at the same time and in the same fair city (Edmonton) as our friends from the Alberta Museums Association are hosting their Annual Conference. Please keep in mind that both the AMA Conference and our Municipal Heritage Forum allow for single-day registrations. This may allow some  attendees to maximize their trip to Edmonton to take in the best of both great events. We will also be co-hosting a reception with the AMA on Thursday evening, Friday 19th.

Full information on Forum 2013, schedules, and registration materials will be available soon! Stay tuned to RETROactive for details.


Main Street Conference Wrap-Up

May 1, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was live-blogging from the the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America. Here are some final thoughts, after returning home to Alberta.

2013 Main Street Conference

Culinary Revival in Historic Places

The final session of the Main Street Conference in New Orleans featured Robert St. John , a celebrity chef and authority on southern culture and food, as speaker. His humorous presentation focused on his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. There is a lot of focus these days—and not only in New Orleans—on how culinary excellence works hand-in-hand with revitalizing historic main streets. The food scene—in all its dimensions—is major player in today’s “cultural economy.”

Robert’s presentation reminded me how a number of our historic Alberta Main Street communities are great places to enjoy good food in authentic, fun environments. In particular, his presentation reminded me of Downtown Lethbridge, where an exciting food and coffee culture has emerged over the past several years. Other places in Alberta are seeing great new restaurants, coffee-houses, artisan bakeries, micro-breweries, and fantastic food trucks enrich and enliven neighbourhoods, and jump-start uses for historic buildings. There are some tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities out there. The historic vibe, feel, and values in our traditional commercial districts only adds to the appeal.

Next Year in Detroit - Works in Progress!

Detroit will host the 2013 Main Street Conference.

Detroit will host the 2013 Main Street Conference.

The wrap-up session concluded with a presentation by next-year’s host city: Detroit, Michigan. Now, much ink has been spilt describing Detroit’s catastrophic urban decline over the past few decades. Hundreds of blocks of blighted houses and commercial buildings have been bulldozed due to the severity of the situation. But that is all changing. Detroit is using Main Street’s Four-Point Approach® to bring its downtown back from the ashes. Jane Jacobs said that “new ideas need old buildings,” and that is definitely part of what is happening in Detroit.

It’s inspiring to see what is happening around the world, but it’s even more exciting to see what’s happening across Alberta, in our own backyard. Stay tuned to RETROactive for updates on historic main street news from across the province.

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services


The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street

April 17, 2013

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Tuesday was the last full day of the formal conference, while Wednesday features a number of post-conference tours to various Main Street communities. I, however, will be travelling back to Edmonton on Wednesday, via Houston and Calgary. Seeing as I would miss the extended tours, I signed up to participate in a mobile workshop called “The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street,” which showcased the renewal of this 18th and 19th century neighbourhood which had endured decades of decline. Now, two distinct districts are emerging along Upper Canal, one with historic theatres, focusing on entertainment, and another focused on biomedical research and development.

New Orleans Civil Rights Heritage: Can it be Conserved?

Canal Street Streetcar

Canal Street Streetcar

A group of about 20 of us hopped on one of the great streetcars that continually traverse Canal Street, the major thoroughfare through downtown New Orleans. Our guide, the Director of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans, pointed out numerous places of interest within this complex environment. One such building was a now-empty Woolworth’s store, which we learned had been the epicentre of the early Civil Rights movement in Louisiana; this Woolworth’s lunch counter was one of the first to be de-segregated in the 1950s. Now, however, the building lays vacant, and is currently slated for demolition.

A Historic Entertainment District – Renaissance

Across LaSalle Street from Woolworth’s stands the early 20th century Saenger Theater. Damaged extensively during Katrina, but also ailing for some time before that, the theatre was in urgent need of a multi-million dollar rehabilitation if it was to have a future. Through application of historic tax-credit support, in addition to a comprehensive business plan for sustainability, that project is now well under way. I took a picture of the sign to indicate the number of partners – both public and private sector – involved in this massive endeavour. In approximately two years time, this once-great movie palace will again become a centre for performing arts in New Orleans, and will anchor future development on Upper Canal.

Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans

Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans

Across the Street from the Saenger Theatre is the Joy Theater, a 1940s Art Deco gem, now restored to its period of significance. The Joy has already become a popular centre for performing arts and is driving the district as an entertainment hot spot. To my eye, it also bears some resemblance to Alberta’s Garneau Theatre , a Municipal Historic Resource, located in Edmonton.

New Technologies and Bio-Innovation

On the next block up from the theatres, several older buildings have been re-purposed for use as medical and scientific research facilities, and new infill, including a multimillion dollar, highly advance centre for “Bio-Innovation,” has been developed. The Upper Canal area will also become home to a new Veteran’s Administration hospital, a 2 billion dollar initiative, replacing an existing hospital devastated by Katrina.

The tour concluded with discussion about the ingenuity and collaboration required to facilitate these projects. It was intriguing to see an area like Upper Canal – very much a work in progress – and to anticipated the future results of the work being undertaken today.

I’ll conclude my live-blogging from the Conference with one more post on the final plenary session. Stay tuned!


Monday Main Street Conference Update

April 16, 2013

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Monday’s conference sessions offered rich content from professionals seasoned in Main Street leadership in various contexts. I attended three:

  •  “Creative Collaboration Efforts Between Main Streets and Municipalities”
  •  “Font of Information: Successful Graphic Communication for Main Streets”
  •  “Authenticity as Economic Catalyst”

Each presentation inspired my enthusiasm and got me thinking on a deeper level. While I could write a lot about each of them (and did take copious notes – it was good stuff!), for this post, please allow me to just summarize a few of my ‘take-aways,” from the first session.

The focus was on collaboration between Main Street Organizations and local governments, which is 100% applicable to the kind of work we do in Alberta, with MHPP and our Alberta Main Street Program. The presenters, which included the Mayor of Washington, Missouri, a city manager, and a State Main Street Program administrator with over 20 years experience, provided some really practical case studies from their work in Missouri.

John Simmons described the 16 year process he went through to conserve a “Richardsonian Romanesque” bank building in downtown Sedalia, Missouri. Built in 1888, the building had changed hands numerous times, and had suffered a major fire in the 1990s, leaving it roofless for two years.

Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri

Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri

John candidly described the efforts – including some failed partnerships in the past – that took place before the timing was right to make the conservation achievable. Even now, while considerable work has been done, the actual project is only beginning. John promised an update in two years on the “Missouri Trust Building.” Even though the story is still unfolding, it was a testimony to the tenacity required, sometimes over many years, for a community to achieve its goals of revitalization and heritage conservation. We’ve seen similar challenges with significant historic places in Alberta, and I can think of a few other major projects that may involve these same ingredients – partnerships, creativity, and commitment – if they are to garner both conservation and business success. Not all heritage conservation projects become success stories, but the key message from this session was that greater viability and sustainability is often achieved through partnerships.

After Monday afternoon’s two other excellent sessions, we had the evening free to explore the city a little. Here is a lagniappe of my photos from the remarkable French Quarter, steeped in history with a deep connection to Canada (well, pre-Confederation New France). Enjoy!


Main Street Conference – Opening Keynote

April 15, 2013

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

Sunday Afternoon / Evening

After a flight delay in Denver, I arrived in New Orleans just in time to arrive at the Conference’s opening plenary session. This event is always an enthusiastic kick-off to the conference, which (in addition to being educational) has the feel of a mega pep-rally. Each coordinating program brings in its delegation and waves placards announcing the place they are from. For instance, the delegation of Main Street communities from Wyoming was almost a hundred strong on its own! Clad in matching purple T-shirts, the Wyomingians proudly announce that they represent “the Wild West” in New Orleans.

Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.

Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.

Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary

Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary

The opening keynote presentation was given by Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, and described some of the benefits of looking at revitalization of downtown areas from a pedestrian perspective. (I’m pretty sure these princiles apply in Canada too). Walking is healthy, sociable, and environmentally friendly. It was an enlightening presentation. To increase walkability in our cities and towns, Jeff described how there needs to be:

  • A reason to walk
  • A safe walk
  • A comfortable walk
  • An interesting walk

So many factors go into increasing the walkability of our communities, but it is definitely worth taking a good look at becoming more walkable.

After the keynote, three communities were awarded the honour of “Great American Main Streets.”

I will devote another post to saying more about these unique communities, and what we in Alberta could perhaps learn from them. In the meantime, here is a photo of some of our fellow Canadians at the Conference in New Orleans.

Some members of the "Canada" delegation at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Conference

Some members of the “Canada” delegation – from Ontario and Saskatchewan - at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Conference


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