A Vibrant Culture Summit – Arts, Heritage and Redevelopment

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo 

On Thursday, September 20th I was invited to participate in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s Vibrant Culture Summit up in Fort McMurray. Attended by approximately 85 area residents and culture enthusiasts, the event sparked conversation about how to enhance local culture.

The day began with a keynote presentation by Gord Hume. As a former municipal councillor and author, he spoke about cultural planning, creative cities and how culture – when combined with economic, social and environmental factors – can produce dynamic, sustainable communities. Three panel discussions and various roundtable questions completed the day.

Attendees listening to my presentation on heritage conservation.

Panel One featured the City Centre Area Redevelopment Plan. Attendees were able to glimpse the sights and sounds intended for a revitalized City Centre. The arts and other cultural pursuits are central components in the plan.

Panel Two served as an update on the creation of Arts Council Wood Buffalo. Established in February 2012, the Arts Council will work with regional arts organizations to strengthen and promote arts in the area.

Panel Three was all about HERITAGE! Jack Peden, Vice President of the Fort McMurray Historical Society, spoke about early river travel in the region, which is a significant aspect of Fort McMurray’s history as the confluence of the Athabasca River and the Clearwater River is located in town. He also featured some of the restored vessels that now call the Fort McMurray Marine Park Museum home.

As the Municipal Heritage Services Officer responsible for working with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, I was also asked to be part of the panel. I provided a brief introductory presentation on heritage conservation and engaged the attendees in a game of “Is this a historic place?” Through discussion and laughter, it was determined:

  • yes, a historic place can be a 1960, 45 unit apartment building (i.e. Valleyview Manor in the City of Edmonton);
  • yes, a historic place can be a 1966 Safeway Store (formally recognized as a historic place by the City of Vancouver); and
  • yes, a historic place can also be a 160’ steel hangar built in 1953 and located at CFB Cold Lake.

These and other places, despite being relatively “new” and void of boomtown facades, ornate columns or other elements of traditional architecture can still be historic places. Historic places can be pretty or gritty, modern or traditional, modest or ornate, representative or symbolic…. Historic places reflect a community’s evolution – they help to tell the story of how a community has evolved into its present form. It is through the conservation of these varied places that a community’s unique identity is celebrated, enabling the community to be some place, somewhere as opposed to any place, anywhere.

I was very pleased to speak at the Vibrant Culture Summit. I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the cultural successes and challenges occurring in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo thereby allowing me to better understand the region’s varied heritage.  As a Municipal Heritage Services Officer I spend much of my time travelling Alberta meeting with municipal heritage stakeholders. Typically, these meetings are specific to heritage conservation as I advise municipal administration in their development of local heritage conservation programs, present information to councils on our Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, or provide specialized training on municipal heritage surveys, inventories and management plans to Heritage Advisory Bodies. Occasionally – and quite happily – I get the opportunity to speak to a wider range of community stakeholders, and be reminded that heritage conservation is but one aspect responsible for enabling vibrant and sustainable communities. Thank you, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, for offering me one of these opportunities!

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

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