Bread, salt and water: the history of Doukhobors in Alberta

Editor’s note: The following blog post is part one of a two-part series looking at the history and influence of Doukhobors in Alberta.

East of the Crowsnest Pass, nestled within the small community of Lundbreck, sits a simple white building clad in asbestos shingles and covered with metal roof. The structure looks utilitarian and spare; it could easily be mistaken for the kind of modest community halls one occasionally sees in Alberta’s small towns. While the building is almost entirely non-descript, the history that it embodies is extraordinarily rich.

The history of the Alberta Doukhobors is an essential chapter in the story of one of the largest experiments in communal living in North America. Approximately 7,500 Doukhobors came to Canada in 1899, at the time it was the largest mass migration in the country’s history. In stark contrast, at a 2018 meeting of Doukhobors in British Columbia, a grim question was posed: will there be any Doukhobors active in their faith by 2030? Between their noteworthy arrival at the end of the nineteenth century and their dwindling membership today, the Doukhobors have lived a tumultuous and compelling experience in Canada. This post attempts to explore the vision and roots of the Doukhobor community, and their early experiences in Canada.

Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundbreck, 2013
The Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundreck (also known as the Doukhobor Hall [dom or house]) is one of the few tangible reminders of one of the most remarkable communities of people to ever settle in this province.
Read more

Boomtown heritage building ready for new life

The rehabilitation of the Tipton Investment Company is now complete! Designated a Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource, the building is located within the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. It was constructed in the early days of the 1900s and survives as one of the last wood “boom town” style commercial structures in the district.

The current owners, with the assistance from their consultants, contractors, and provincial and municipal heritage regulators, have successfully preserved the heritage values of the modest single-story structure while expertly incorporating an addition. The rehabilitation not only changes the property to a creative two-story multi-tenant complex, but does so while honouring the wood building as the primary heritage value on the lot. Now that’s how it’s done!

The rehabilitation of the Tipton Investment Company is a shining example of how to keep what is of value, provide upgrades to services and Read more

Frost is in the air!

This post was originally published on RETROactive on October 31, 2012. However, since we live in Alberta, this topic is almost ALWAYS relevant – what to do about frosty windows!

With winter coming, some owners of historic places might be witnessing the formation of frost on their single pane wood windows and storms, most notably on the second storey. The reasons for this will vary and subsequently so will the solutions. Generally speaking, a little frost now and again should not harm the window frame but a more persistent formation will saturate the surrounding material and, in the long run, potentially cause significant damage. Should this be the case, ignoring the situation is far from the recommended solution.

Frosty window. Note the closed storm window vent cover. During the winter it should be open.

So what is one to do?  The first step, as with any intervention on a historic place, is to develop an understanding of the problem.  What is causing frost to form on the window? The answer: warm moist air comes in contact with the cold glass and condenses, which then freezes on the surface. So how does one mitigate this? Should you let the house freeze so that the interior temperature matches the outside, or should you turn the house into an oven to eliminate any and all moisture in the air? Obviously, neither scenario is plausible.

So what is one to do – replace the windows?  Speaking from a heritage conservation perspective, replacing authentic historic windows would be the equivalent to someone shaving their head bald because they found a grey hair. Historic windows have, in my experience, proven themselves to be longer lasting than any modern window and can continue to serve their function with proper care and maintenance, while modern windows wear out and routinely need to be replaced.

As air moisture is the general cause of frosted windows, controlling it would appear to be the most appropriate approach. However, there is more than one way to control moisture during the winter. One can control moisture levels with a dehumidifier, or by preventing it from reaching the cold glass with weather stripping techniques. As well, one could better manage the presence of moisture with exhaust fans and insulation. Any combination of these efforts will help to reduce the frost on windows but it should also be noted that there are pre-existing systems that should be taken advantage of in regards to this problem.

Storm windows traditionally have three holes at their bases with a flap cover. During the winter, these should be open to let moisture and condensation escape. When bugs arrive with spring, close the flap. Double hung windows generally have locks where the sashes meet – use them to tighten the window and reduce air leakage. Should you decide to proceed with a form of weather stripping, concentrate on the interior side of the window and allow the storm window to breathe. This will create a micro-climate (similar to the ventilation in one’s roof), which should help prevent frost and therefore better sustain and protect the window.

Hopefully, the preceding information will be useful for those who might be dealing with frosty windows. There are many articles on the Internet, which tackle this issue and propose similar, different and additional solutions ranging from “free to expensive”.  As a Heritage Conservation Adviser, my advice, and that of the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, is to start with the minimal approach.  With any luck, that is all that will be needed.

Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser.

“Isn’t it good, Norwegian Wood?”

So, a colleague of mine here in the Historic Resources Management Branch recently returned from a course on wood conservation in Oslo, Norway.

While he didn’t find out why John Lennon lit a former lover’s house on fire as the song strangely suggests, he did attend the 2018 International Course on Wood Conservation Technology (ICWCT). A biennial course that gathers academics, professors and scientists from around the world (including two from Canada) to deliver lectures, ICWCT also combines this with field work and theory centered on the practice of wood conservation.

1280px-Borgund_Stavekirk,_Norway
The Borgund Stave Church in Lærdalen, Norway was built just before 1150. From the Middle Ages up until the beginning of the twentieth century the use of pine tar was restricted to the protection of churches, since it was both time-consuming  and expensive to produce. This goes a long way towards explaining why outdoor woodwork on the stave churches from the twelfth century which has been protected with pine tar is preserved in an excellent condition. Norwegian church accounts reveal that the local farmers and villagers were obliged to apply fresh tar to the external walls of the stave churches at ten yearly intervals*. Photo by: AzaToth

Heritage Conservation Technologist Evan Oxland went to Norway to learn more about technical and theoretical aspects of wood conservation, as well as what other contemporary international approaches there are out there. He was the only Read more

Alberta’s Wooden Country Grain Elevators – Update

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 6th, 2012 and again on August 26, 2015. Interest in grain elevators remains strong, so a revisit seems in order. Some additional data has been added, an updated list of communities with elevators can be accessed below, as well as a variety of resources and documents relating to Alberta’s Grain elevators.

The twentieth century saw the rise and fall—literally—of the wooden country grain elevator in Alberta. As rail lines spread across the province in the early 1900s, grain elevators sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rain. The height of wooden country grain elevators was reached in 1934. New ones continued to be added until the 1990s, but with increasing numbers being demolished, these icons of the prairie became scarcer. Today, the remaining wooden country grain elevators number only about six percent of the maximum reached in the 1930s. Check out the following “index” of Alberta’s wooden country grain elevators, called “elevators” for short in this article.

Number of elevators in Alberta: Read more

Another Log in the Wall: Preserving Historic Timber Architecture in Alberta

test-wall-5
The uncoated timber Slemko Barn at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a variety of building components representing different species, thickness of section, and orientation of wood grain. Source: Evan Oxland, 2017

“Sustainability is not possible without durability […] Once constructed a building becomes a machine that ‘needs to be fed’.” -Joseph Lstiburek, 2006

In Alberta, there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of raw uncoated timber used in historic architecture, including farmhouses at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and log churches at Historic Dunvegan. Penetrating oils and wood coatings help prevent the primary causes of wood deterioration, but when these historic structures must be preserved in perpetuity, how do you assure the building material will last when it was originally built to make it through only a decade or two?

This is where Alberta Culture and Tourism’s Conservation and Construction Services comes in. Read more

Exterior Rehabilitation and Restoration of Old St. Stephen’s College

Historic photo of Old St. Stephen’s College circa. 1915.

After about three years, the Old St. Stephen’s College – Provincial Historic Resource has now completed the planning and implementation of its exterior rehabilitation and restoration project which started a number of years back with its cedar shingle roof replacement.

This recently completed scope involved foundation upgrades and stair revisions to the ground level access points of the building, including the addition of a compatible, distinguishable and subordinately designed barrier-free access ramp, as well as masonry repairs and the replacement of the 1980’s metal storms with more historically appropriate wooden units that will have the added benefit of allowing more natural ventilation in the building. Additional work also included the rehabilitation of the former fire exit door openings, the return of the round window at the top level of the building and the addition of vented caps to the non-functional chimneys. Read more