Preserving Heritage for Future Generations: Heritage Barns of Flagstaff County

Thank you to guest writer, Sydney Hampshire, for sharing her experience of documenting built heritage in Flagstaff County.

Growing up in Northern Alberta kept myself, my siblings, and my parents a long way away from our extended family. We had only occasional visits with both sets of grandparents, which caused a disconnect between us. However, this disconnect also built a mystique around the lives of the past generation – and with it came an inherent curiosity.

My grandmother, Joy Hampshire (nee Innes), was born, and lived all her life in Flagstaff County after her mother and father immigrated from Scotland. Flagstaff County harbours an abundance of built heritage structures that showcase the region’s rich past. As a child, I was exposed to this heritage on each trip we took to our grandparents and I remember becoming terribly intrigued by this built heritage and the relics of my grandmother’s past. I remember each visit to Grandma’s farm required a visit or two to nearby abandoned homesteads. Each trek into a forgotten house, shed, or barn brought me great excitement: What would I find? What would I see? What would I infer about the people that used to live there?

I believe we all have a little bit of this adventurous spirit in us; it comes from a desire to understand the unknown and seek out answers. While exploration and mystery may be intriguing, it may also be the product of lost information. The tangible heritage that I was observing as a child holds stories of real people, but as a child I was guessing what those stories might be. The real information about them had already been lost or forgotten. The desire to prevent the loss of that information, and with it the dangers of guessing, is what brought me to the project, “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff.”

Heritage Barns of Flagstaff

The “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff” (HBoF) project began as a partnership between Flagstaff County and myself while I was an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta and a Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) scholar. The PLLC is an interdisciplinary leadership program at the University of Alberta. The program aims to create leaders who can guide positive change in the world through the University of Alberta’s commitment to “uplifting the whole people” (the University of Alberta’s Promise).

I approached Flagstaff County in 2015 for an opportunity to learn about leadership in rural Alberta as part of my “Stretch Experience”, a 200-hour leadership practicum and part of the PLLC’s programming. Flagstaff County offered me the reigns of a heritage database they had been compiling and my Stretch Experience became the “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff” project. I just finished my third summer on the project in August 2018, culminating in the documentation of over seventy barns and other sites of historic interest within the Flagstaff Region.

Title slide for presentation of Stretch Experience at PLLC Retreat, August 2016.

In August of 2017, “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff: Volume I”, a full-colour hard-cover coffee table book, was published and features nearly two dozen barns from the online database. A second coffee table book is set to be released later this month. Of course, all the sites I visited are documented and publicly available online through the HBoF database. In this way, anyone who wishes can enjoy the barns within the municipal district of Flagstaff County.

The barns in the database tell the story of both past and present use and give opportunities for revival and for future use. The HBoF project aims to increase understanding and appreciation of rural agricultural histories through the documentation of heritage barns. The project uncovered a wealth of knowledge, all of which will be readily available to future generations. Furthermore, each and every barn is a work of art, making them ideal speaking points for heritage preservation. Many of the stories were fit for the big screen: an open-range rancher who had a run-in with a notorious cattle rustler, a farmer (or two!) who wanted to build a different kind of barn, stonemasons who supplemented their farm income with work in Edmonton on the Flatiron Building, and a wealthy family audacious enough to build an exact replica of a barn on the Prince of Wales Ranch, now a Provincial Historic Resource.

This past summer’s research included other types of heritage sites as well. I invite you to read up on Colonel Patrick J. Daly, CMG DSO, and Alice Ann (nee Knight) Daly, RRC in the database. Not only were they an adventurous and brave pair but they also settled on a particularly interesting piece of land in the Flagstaff Region. Other notable sites include abandoned family coal mines, a Roman Catholic Church and a United Church, a landform of great importance to indigenous peoples, and a dancehall barn.

The Value of Heritage

Heritage can be embodied by memories, written histories, and/or physical objects like clothes, tools, and structures. The inheritance of these objects and ideas gives individuals the opportunity to understand the lifestyles and life histories of their ancestors, and develop a vested interest in, and appreciation of, the past and their culture.

Throughout my time with Flagstaff County and the HBoF project, I encountered the following response from residents of our Region:

“If you had only come by a few years sooner, Sydney. For then my kin would still be alive and they could have told you. . . Oh what they could have told you.”

This was always my strongest motivation for the project; for when an elder dies, a library is burned.

This is the greatest danger we face when looking into the past, especially a past that is not immediately ours. Lack of recorded knowledge results in ambiguity and uncertainty and leaves inference as our only tool of discovery. You might remember that this was also the greatest reason that I ventured into the past as a child; to revel in the unknown. However, we can’t allow the unknown to continue into adulthood. If we do, we lose the knowledge and stories of those before us.

“Heritage Barns of Flagstaff” is an attempt to preserve heritage for future generations. It conserves knowledge so that we don’t continue to guess about the lives and motivations of past individuals and communities. It is our hope that attention will be brought to heritage conservation and Flagstaff County’s rich history. Cultural heritage is not just part of our past, it helps us design our future. As such, we must not wait until scarcity elicits demand for these historic resources.

As for me, I still thoroughly enjoy exploring the past. I love the thought that resilient people of all backgrounds make up the history of our land and help inform a better future.

Sydney Hampshire, compiling author of “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff: Volume I”, designer of http://www.heritagebarnsofflagstaff.com, and UAlberta Alumni.

Written By: Sydney Hampshire

3 thoughts on “Preserving Heritage for Future Generations: Heritage Barns of Flagstaff County

  • Thanks for the barn article. I have also been documenting barns in Southern Alberta, My interest is largely about the socio-economic stories the barns tell. Large families, hand-milked cows, preservation of hay, hired hands, educating kids about biology, and pride of ownership. We aren’t building barns of that grandeur today.

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