In Service of Historic Alberta: A Decade on the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation’s Board of Directors

Languishing historic downtowns were revived, once again attracting businesses and customers. Modest but beloved churches were repaired to continue to serve their congregations and communities. An exquisite sandstone prairie mansion where history was made, the Lougheed House, was painstakingly restored to become a vital museum and events venue. These were some of the highlights of Tom Clark’s ten-year stint on the Board of Directors of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

Tom applied to join the Foundation’s board while serving on the Clearwater County Council for two terms and while chairing the Nordegg Historical Society (which he still does). His experience working with community groups and addressing heritage conservation concerns prepared him well to fill a spot on the board.

Tom Clark, former Director of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

Tom Clark, former Director of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

While the Foundation supports a number of programs, “the big thing was the adjudication of funds that people have applied for over the years for their different projects,” Tom explains. “There is an awful lot in the province…that needs restoration,” he notes. To maintain their integrity, historic places need the injection of funding and technical expertise that the AHRF can bring them.

The Foundation—which gets its money from the Alberta Lottery Fund—provides funding to projects that preserve historical resources or raise awareness of heritage in Alberta. Grants are awarded through three programs: the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program, the Alberta Main Street Program, and the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program. The last two programs are specifically for municipalities, but grants from the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program are available to anyone working to conserve or increase public awareness of a historic resource. They are awarded in five categories: Historic Resources Conservation, Transportation/Industrial Artifact Conservation, Heritage Awareness, Publications, and Research. There are also two scholarships: the Roger Soderstrom Scholarship and the Bob Etherington Heritage Trades Scholarship.

Tom saw a wide range of grant recipients during his time on the board: from “a local ladies’ group that want[ed] to restore the roof of a church” to National Historic Sites such as the Medalta Potteries of Medicine Hat, and the main streets of towns such as Camrose, Lethbridge, and Olds. “We’d get the people involved who owned these buildings,” Tom remembers. “We’d give it a facelift, and people would start coming [to the historic downtowns] again. It revitalized whole communities.”

In addition, the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation oversees the Provincial Heritage Markers Program (“if you’re familiar with those big blue historic markers throughout the province,” Tom says, “we were responsible for [selecting the topics for] those”). Tom explains that the Foundation is “also responsible for [approving recommendations for] the naming of places—if you wanted to name a mountain after your grandmother [while Tom was on the board], we reviewed it” (and probably rejected it).

Grant awards and other decisions that come before the board for approval are first reviewed by subject specialists on the staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch, who make recommendations. The Branch’s staff “put together a presentation and take it to the board, and we discuss it” at one of the quarterly meetings, Tom explains. “We do a bit of background [research] on it…and we ‘yea’ or we ‘nay’ it.”

One of the most memorable aspects of the Foundation’s meetings, from Tom’s perspective, was they are held in different spots around Alberta. As a result, Tom says, “In the ten years I’ve seen an awful lot of this province, and [have seen first hand] the projects that people were doing.” Last February, the board met in the town of Olds, where board members saw several properties that have benefitted from conservation grants from the Foundation, including the Dr. Hartman Residence, the Brown Residence, the Kemp Block, and Maybank Drug Store. The Town of Olds has received much help from the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program over the years, including funding and advising to produce a heritage survey, inventory, and management plan.

Tom adds that the board is ever-mindful that its “main objective is to try and preserve as much history in the province as we possibly can—with the cooperation of others. They’re not our projects—the project belongs to the group that’s applying. It’s their project; we just help them along.”

Tom, for many years, has driven forward just such a community project. As chair of the Nordegg Historical Society, Tom has helped marshal a “good strong volunteer program” that is restoring the Nordegg/Brazeau Colliers Minesite. As Tom explains, “Nordegg was a coal-mining town, and by 1955 the need for coal had diminished. In 1955 the town shut down. There was no pride of ownership there, because it was a company town.” The site stayed closed until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it was used as minimum security camp for adolescents. After that, “It was basically a ghost town.”

Tom continues: “In the late 1980s, the Nordegg Historical Society formed and proceeded to work diligently to try to preserve some of that [history]. Over the years, we got it to the point where we can take tours of it.” It is now both a National Historic Site and a Provincial Historic Resource.

Tom’s involvement in the restoration of Nordegg/Brazeau Colliers Minesite—when a deserted coal-mining town’s heritage was resurrected, explored, and celebrated—gave him a unique perspective on how heritage can be preserved and promoted through community initiative. Tom enjoyed all aspects of serving on the Foundation: “Everything. The whole gamut. The publications, [researching] the history on different things. The naming of places—we sat and discussed the naming of spots in the mountains.” Unsurprisingly, though, given his own participation in the Nordegg restoration, Tom found the work of the AHRF in aiding individuals, community groups, and municipalities in undertaking their own heritage restoration projects the most compelling of all the Foundation’s endeavours. “It’s one of the boards [I served on] that I will truly miss,” Tom concludes. “It was certainly educational.”

Written by: Gretchen A. Albers

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