Author: Michael

I'm employed by Alberta's Ministry of Culture and Tourism as a Municipal Heritage Services Officer. I edit RETROactive, among other things.

Heritage is #Trending

Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other types of social media can connect heritage conservationists throughout the world. We sometimes get so focused on the brick, stone or wood that we forget that successful heritage conservation is built on relationships between people, according to Kayla Jonas-Galvin, a heritage planner based in southern Ontario. Social media websites allow user to create and share content with each other. In her keynote address at the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum in Lacombe, Kayla highlighted the many ways social media enables communication between heritage professionals and members of the public.

Kayla Jonas-Galvin speaking to the delegates at Municipal Heritage Forum. (October 16, 2014)

Kayla Jonas-Galvin speaking to the delegates at Municipal Heritage Forum. (October 16, 2014)

Kayla speaks from experience. She has worked for the Heritage Resources Centre (at the University of Waterloo), the Architectural Conservatory of Ontario and ARA Heritage. She finds that social media is a key tool in promoting heritage conservation. She is responsible for, among other things, founding the #builtheritage twitter chat – a twitter chat sponsored by the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation. What started as a small group of heritage conservationists discussing heritage and conservation issues quickly grew into a large international discussion that drew in many people beyond hard-core conservationists.

Kayla emphasised that social media shouldn’t be complicated—it’s just another way to have a conversation. It’s an opportunity to talk to several people, often separated by vast distances, as though they were sitting in the next room. With this in mind, Kayla founded #builtheritage twitter chats to spark discussion of heritage conservation issues with people outside Waterloo. She started the chats by simply tweeting a few people that she was interested in talking to about problems of conserving historic places. The chats quickly grew to attract conservationists from all over the United States, Canada and around the world. People who had never met were suddenly talking to each other about the problems and opportunities they faced when trying to conserve historic places in their own communities. Anyone could participate and in time many people who normally did not think about heritage conservation were suddenly involved. At one point, Gloria Estefan replied to a tweet about the Miami Marine Stadium.

So how do we use these tools? Kayla emphasised the importance of setting goals. Who do you wish to reach and what do you want to say? Facebook and Twitter (just two examples) connect people in different ways. Twitter’s short text messages allow large groups of people to chat in real time, while Facebook allows users to share and comment on pictures and weblinks with friends easily.

Kayla related stories about how social media is bringing heritage preservation into the mainstream. There are many groups on Facebook that love to share old photos. The Vintage Edmonton Facebook page currently has over 11 000 followers. Hundreds of people who probably don’t consider themselves heritage conservationists share pictures and stories of Edmonton’s history.

To be effective, says Kayla, it’s important to have personality and to talk to other people. Don’t treat social media channels as just as a means of delivering announcements—talk to people. Social media is another avenue to start a conversation.

If we all encourage people to share photos, sound records and videos we’re probably going to be surprised by the number of people who want to discuss our common heritage. We need to start asking ourselves what about my heritage can be shared over social media and who do I want to share it with.

You can start the conversation over at the Alberta’s Historic Places facebook page, the @ABHistoricPlace twitter feed or by commenting on this article.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Heritage Awards

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation gives out Heritage Awards biennially. The Heritage Awards recognise individuals and groups work to conserve, protect and interpret Alberta’s rich and diverse heritage. The 2014 awards ceremony took place in Red Deer on October 16th.

Our colleagues over at the Alberta Culture and Tourism blog just published an article detailing the award winners (see Heritage Award recipients give Albertans a prize). It contains details of the event, including a list of award winners. You should check it out!

The ceremony was a great night where some very worthy Albertans were recognized for their work in conserving and interpreting Alberta’s heritage. Our very own Gary Chen, Heritage Conservation Advisor (and shutter-bug extraordinaire) was on the scene. We have some great pictures from the awards ceremony we’d like to share with you.

The staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch congratulate each and every award winner. The tireless work they do in preserving Alberta’s heritage is welcome and appreciated, by us and many, many other Albertans. We couldn’t do what we do without the support and encouragement of people such as these.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Icons of Lethbridge’s historic Chinatown

Bow On Tong entraceway (2014.04.17)

The Bow On Tong Building and the Manie Opera Society Building are two well-known places in downtown Lethbridge that contribute to the distinctive cluster of buildings that make up Lethbridge’s Chinatown district. Recognizing their remarkable history and exceptional significance, the City of Lethbridge’s council recently designated each as a Municipal Historic Resource. The buildings are now undergoing comprehensive rehabilitation, including extensive structural repairs and the careful retention of historic elements found nowhere else in Alberta. I had the opportunity to visit these fascinating places just before Easter, gaining a glimpse into Lethbridge’s Chinese community during the first half of the last century.

Ted Stilson showing me Apothecary's showroom and work area. (April 17, 2014)

Ted Stilson showing me Apothecary’s showroom and work area. (April 17, 2014)

A 1907 City bylaw restricting all laundries to this area was enforced only if the laundry was Chinese-owned. Other Chinese-owned businesses followed the laundries into the neighbourhood west of Galt Gardens. The Bow On Tong was constructed in 1916 in the middle of the city block known as Chinatown, on 2nd Avenue South. Beside it stood the Manie Opera House Building (not its original name), built about a decade previously. Lethbridge’s Chinatown had begun.

The basement of the Bow On Tong Building in the middle of rehabilitation (April 17, 2014)

The basement of the Bow On Tong Building in the middle of rehabilitation (April 17, 2014)

My tour of the buildings started on the main floor of the Bow On Tong and was led by Ted Stilson, coordinator of Lethbridge’s Main Street Program, and Kevin Peterson, general contractor for the rehabilitation project. I learned that Way Leong, a Chinese apothecary, opened the Bow On Tong Co. in the 1920s, from where he dispensed traditional remedies to the Chinese community. Shelves and cupboards, labeled with Chinese characters, line the walls of the small shop and tell of Mr. Leong’s practice which operated here into the 1950s. Several of the varnished wood drawers still contain the apothecary’s supplies and equipment. (Unfortunately, while I was there, I did not have the pleasure of meeting Way’s son, Albert Leong, who lived in the building up until rehabilitation work started.)

The basement of the Manie Opera Society is just as interesting. Even with all the construction work going on, I could make out traces of the frail partitions dividing the basement into little rooms. Immigrant coal miners from China once lived down here; their tiny, cramped quarters wallpapered in newspaper still clinging to the walls. A few rooms seem to have been decorated with pictures of American celebrities clipped from magazines—icons of the popular culture of their new homeland.

Kevin Peterson shows us a portion of one of the makeshift walls. Pictures of american celebrities cut out of magazines are everywhere. (April 17, 2014)

Kevin Peterson shows us a portion of one of the makeshift walls. Pictures of american celebrities cut out of magazines are everywhere. (April 17, 2014)

Rehabilitation began last year when cracks appeared in the upper wall of the Bow On Tong, leading to the discovery of structural problems throughout both buildings that was slowly causing them to collapse. Major parts of the work are now in progress include the shoring up of a crucial load-bearing wall shared by both buildings and upgrades to meet the current fire code. Even with the urgency of the structural repairs, the work is being done with painstaking care to avoid destroying historic materials. The pressed metal ceiling of the apothecary, for example, has been carefully removed piece by piece. Each piece is numbered and its location mapped before careful cleaning and repainting. After structural reinforcement of the ceiling and the installation of new fire-resistant drywall (required by the building code), the ceiling will be reassembled, with each piece installed in the sequence in which it was removed.

The ambitious and painstaking work I saw is a testament to the dedication of the community of Lethbridge, which has supported the project through local fundraising activities and the donated time of many volunteers. Kevin Petersen, the general contractor, has himself contributed much of his own time. When the rehabilitation work is complete, Albert Leong will return to his lifelong home in the Bow On Tong Building. It, and the neighbouring Manie Opera Society Building, will continue the legacy of Lethbridge’s Chinatown.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

National Main Street Conference

This is the second in a series of posts on our experience attending the National Main Street Conference in Detroit.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 National Main Street Conference recently, in Detroit, Michigan. Several Albertans were there with me, including four people representing two of our main street communities: the Town of Olds and the City of Camrose. The (U.S.) Main Street Program has been operating in the United States for over 35 years now. As Alberta continues to revitalizes our its Main Street program, we continue to learn from the American counterpart.

The Canadians after the opening plenary session. Each american state formed a delegation, so we formed one of our own.

The Canadians after the opening plenary session. Each american state formed a delegation, so we formed one of our own.

In the late 1970s, the (U.S.) National Trust for Historic Preservation was exploring ways to facilitate the preservation of historic downtowns. All over North America, businesses and residents had been leaving downtown and moving to new suburban neighbourhoods and consequently many historic places were neglected and being abandoned. The National Trust realized that solving the problem would not be as simple as restoring dilapidated buildings; restoring historic commercial areas meant bringing people back down town. It launched a three-year Main Street Project in 1977 to study ways to revitalise declining downtowns. The main street pilot project was so successful that it was made a permanent program in 1980 and was soon helping hundreds of communities throughout the United States revitalise their historic commercial areas.

A Main Street project works by pursuing four equally important activities: organizing business owners and residents around a common purpose; economic restructuring or strengthening the existing businesses while also diversifying the mixture of business types; designing a functional and pleasant streetscape that highlights the authentic historic places; and promotion, or rekindling a sense of pride in the downtown. Economic restructuring ensures that businesses are successful and the Main Street is able to pay its own way. Design ensures that Main Street has a functional and pleasant streetscape—built around authentic historic buildings—and creates an inviting place that people want to work, live and play in. Promotion ensures that the community (and visitors from away) know what the area has to offer and feel welcome. Organization ensures that business owners, residents and other stakeholders take shared responsibility for the success of their downtown.

The keynote by Donovan Rypkema presented a straightforward and compelling explanation of how the program works and why it works so well. (Mr. Rypkema is an internationally regarded specialist in the economics of historic preservation.) He argued that Main Street is the most effective, sustainable and “cheapest” economic development strategy he’s come across, for historic areas or otherwise. This is because the four pillars of a Main Street align with the four factors that set the value of real estate.

Mr. Rypkema compared the four pillars of Main Street (design, organization, economic restructuring and promotion) with the four forces of value: economic, physical, social, and political. Mr. Rypkema talked about how Main Street works because each of the four points is aimed at increasing a corresponding area of value. When an area restructures economically by ensuring a mixture of complementary businesses, it increases the number of visitors and therefore the profitability of each business and consequently the value of the real estate.

A Main Street Program adds to the physical value of property when it restores dilapidated historic places and otherwise upgrades the streetscape. It adds to the social value of property by improving how the community feels about the area, by increasing local pride in a historic area. Finally, it adds to the political value of property when the range of possible, profitable and acceptable uses increases. He calls it the most successful economic restructuring programs ever tried in the United States. (On a somewhat related note, Mr. Rypkema joked that Main Street was working on smart growth and new urbanism before these planning philosophies were proposed.)

The best part about the conference was the opportunity to learn from peers in the Main Street movement. There were excellent sessions around all the four points. I attended lots of sessions on using social media effectively (big surprise) and community organization. I highly suggest that anyone interested in these ideas look into the National Main Street Center. I look forward to perhaps attending next year’s in Atlanta, Georgia.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Raymond works on a context paper

On April 16th I had the pleasure of attending an open house hosted by the Town of Raymond. They presented the penultimate draft of their historical context paper, drafted with the assistance of consulting firm Donald Luxton & Associates. The open house is the culmination of a process Raymond began with MHPP over two years. Several dozen people attended the event over the course of the evening and all were excited by the result of all this work.

Image of people attending the open house in Raymond discussing the context paper.

Attendees discussing Raymond’s heritage.

The context paper outlines 16 themes (people or groups, or economic or social forces) that shaped the community and, by extension, the physical environment of the town. The context paper will help Raymond identify historic places: a place is locally significant, and therefore worth preserving, if it somehow reflects the influence of one or more of these themes.

While context papers do not explain the full history of a community, each one can provide a visitor (like me) with a glimpse of how a community evolved over time and Raymond’s is no exception. The town was formed by Jessie Knight who financed the purchase of land in the area, helped establish sugar beets as an important crop, and helped start a sugar refinery in Raymond. The community was settled by Jessie’s son Raymond Knight (the town’s namesake) and other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The town quickly grew to include members of a variety of faiths, including Japanese Buddhists as early as 1902.

I was particularity fascinated to learn about the towns plan of survey, completed in 1901. It’s a unique combination of the urban planning ideas of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who redeveloped much of Paris in the 19th century. Haussmann’s plan for Paris—emphasising boulevards radiating out from central plazas—can be seen in the design of the central square and the radiating boulevards. Joseph Smith’s Plat of Zion—which emphasises large residential lots—is visible in the residential areas. The plan is unique, as far I know. Although it was never followed exactly, you can still see its influence in the width of the streets, the orientations of several buildings and the location of public buildings (like schools, the town hall and churches)

An image of the original plan of survey laying out Raymond.

The original plan of survey for what would become Raymond

This project is scheduled to conclude shortly. We look forward to seeing what transpires as Raymond moves to begin identifying historic resources.

Written by: Michael Thome Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

Alberta Historical Resources Foundation visits Olds

The Alberta Historical Resource Foundation held its first quarterly board meeting of 2014 in the town of Olds on February 21st and 22nd.

Alberta Historical Resources FoundationThe Foundation’s board members and staff look forward to the quarterly meetings, each held in a different Alberta community. This allows us to meet the Albertans who work so hard to conserve and promote our heritage; seeing and experiencing the fruits of their labour is both informative and a pleasure.

Friday afternoon began with a bus tour led by Donna Erdman, chair of the Olds Historical Society. Before we boarded the bus, Mitch Thompson of the Olds Institute surprised us by asking us to turn on our smartphones. Mitch showed us the new EverythingOlds.ca website—the Heritage Sites section contains video vignettes showcasing locally significant historic resources. (There’s much more community information on the website too.)

Once the bus got underway, Donna showed us some of the historic places the Town of Olds evaluated in 2009 (with the assistance of a Foundation grant and the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program staff). Many of these places have since been designated as Municipal Historic Resources.

Our bus first stopped at the Mountain View Museum and Archives. There were several interesting displays that used locally significant historical artefacts to highlight the region’s history. We also learned a bit about their archival holdings and viewed some of the contemporary art displayed in the adjoining art gallery.

Our next stop was the former Canadian Bank of Commerce, now home to [sic] Pandora’s Boox and Tea. The beautiful, classically-detailed bank building has been adapted for its new use as a book store and coffee shop. Pandora’s is in the heart of Uptowne Olds, the town’s historic commercial district.

Upon re-boarding the bus, we were slowly driven up and down the several blocks that make up the Uptowne area. We admired the many historic resources in the Uptowne. Olds is one of four communities that the Foundation has accredited through its Alberta Main Street Program. We were impressed by the conservation projects currently being undertaken on several buildings in the Uptowne area (some with the Foundation’s support).

We briefly visited the grounds of the Olds Agricultural Society. Olds’s large Ag society is one of the olds-est (pun not intended) Agricultural Societies in Alberta, having been incorporated in 1899. Our next stop was the Olds College.

Olds College celebrated its centenary in 2013. Founded in 1913, the college is Alberta’s largest and olds-est (there I go again) rural agricultural college. The campus has evolved with the college it houses, but amidst all the modern classrooms, laboratories, libraries and dorms are at least two buildings older that the college they’ve become an integral part of: a calf barn (now home to a herd of goats) and a horse barn. Both buildings were constructed in 1911, when what is now a campus was part of a provincial demonstration farm.

We ended our visit to Olds College by visiting to their state of the art brewery: an example of how the college contributing to Alberta’s future by being true to our agricultural past. The first class of brewers will graduate shortly.

The tour was followed by a meet and greet at the Pomeroy Inn. Thanks to Michelle Jorgensen (Heritage Advisor, Town of Olds) for organising an informative and fun event. It was a pleasure to meet and speak with Mayor Judy Dahl, and with  members of the town staff, the Mountain View Museum and Archives, the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development, Olds College and many citizens of the area who build the partnerships that protect and promote Old’s wealth of historic resources.

Everyone agreed that it was an afternoon well spent that reminded us of how important our work is; it was the best way for the board to get inspired before spending their Saturday immersed in paperwork.

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The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation has been collaborating with the citizens of Olds through its grant programs for over two decades. The Town of Olds has completed a full range of heritage planning projects with the assistance of the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program, including a heritage survey, inventory and management plan. As an Accredited Main Street Community, the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development (Olds Main Street sponsoring organization) was recently awarded a coordinator salary subsidy along with marketing, economic development, organization and design grants. The Heritage Preservation Partnership Program has also provided technical advice and conservation grants to a number of Olds’s Municipal Historic Resources.

Written by: Carina Naranjilla, Grant Program Coordinator, Alberta Historical Resources Foundation; and Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

More on the Deep Roots of Beaver and Human Relationships

Did you enjoy our recent post On the Deep Roots of Beaver and Human Relationships in Alberta? Have we got exciting news for you. Todd Kristensen just told me that Nature Alberta will publish an expanded version of the article in the next issue of their quarterly magazine.

“On the Deep Roots of Beaver and Human Relationships in Alberta” will be the feature article in the Winter 2014 edition of Nature Alberta Magazine.

Nature Alberta Magazine - cover - (Winter 2014) jpgIt should hit news stands soon. You can also contact Nature Alberta directly to purchase a copy. Congratulations Todd and Heiz!

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.