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

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


Note : This post was originally published on RETROactive July 12, 2011.

Log house at the Oxley Ranch Site.

When the Montana cattle industry began to thrive in the aftermath of the American civil war, and the extension of railways to the western states, many cattle barons began to extend their activity north of the 49th Parallel. Sensitive to the encroachment of American influence in western Canada, the Dominion government took several measures to ensure the “Canadianization” of this region. A Department of the Interior was formed to oversee developments on the central prairies, a North-west Mounted Police force was formed to establish law and order, and a Dominion Lands Act was passed to see to the orderly disposition of Crown lands to British subjects, or those who would agree to become British subjects. Plans were also put in place to extend a transcontinental railway through the region. Read more

A New Roof for St. Ambrose Church

Located on a quiet residential street in Redcliff, Alberta, St. Ambrose Anglican Church is distinguished by its buttressed brick masonry exterior, steeply-pitched gable roof and pointed arch windows. These characteristics strongly identify the 1914 church with the Gothic Revival style popular in the Victorian era for ecclesiastical architecture in England, a style also eagerly adopted by Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches across Canada. Unlike many churches, though, St. Ambrose was modelled on small Anglican parish churches in England and is a variant of the Gothic Revival style seldom found in Alberta.

St. Ambrose’s architecture hearkens back to England but the building’s local roots are evident in the “clinker brick” masonry exterior, an overfired brick with distinctive irregular or lumpy shapes and striking colour variations. Clinker brick resulted from high firing temperatures in the kiln which caused the clay to partly vitrify or melt, sometimes to the point where clumps of bricks would fuse together and had to be broken apart. This lack of uniformity was appreciated for its decorative qualities and the clinker brick at St. Ambrose was produced at the Redcliff Brick and Coal Company just blocks away. The combination of far-reaching colonial stylistic influences and distinctive local materials contributed to the church’s designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 2008.

St. Ambrose Church from the northwest in 1914, with inset showing the original narrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and rows of slightly offset shingles (inset) to create shadow lines and decorative horizontal bands across the roof. Glenbow Archives photograph NA -2701-5.

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On a bitterly cold afternoon, at 3:55pm, Nathan E. Tanner, Minister of Lands and Mines turned a valve at the Leduc No. 1 oil well as a rig hand held out a burning rag, setting alight a massive column of smoke and flame that roared hundreds of feet skyward. That event took place on February 13, 1947, seventy years ago today and it heralded in a new era for Alberta. An era of rapid development and prosperity fed by the now discovered reserves of oil deep under the province.

“It flared hundreds of feet” is how tool push Vern Hunter described the lighting of the flare as the Leduc No. 1 oil well was brought in on February 13, 1947. Source, Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1342

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Dealing with Graffiti at Historic Places

Historic places are unfortunately fair game for graffiti attacks – sometimes especially so when these places are visible and widely recognized landmarks. Defined as writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly onto walls and other surfaces, graffiti from a heritage conservation perspective is an intervention to be removed or reversed. It clearly differs from old markings that are an acknowledged and legitimate part, or “character-defining element”, of a historic place. Examples of the latter are prisoners’ inscriptions etched into the basement cell walls of the Cardston Courthouse or, on the opposite side of the law, North West Mounted Police members’ initials carved into the sandstone outcrops overlooking Police Coulee at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. These special cases contribute to heritage value rather than obscure or detract from it. Read more

Claiming their Ground – Three Pioneering Alberta Women in their Professions

October is Women’s History Month in Canada, when we celebrate the achievements of women throughout our past and use their stories to inspire Canadians today. The twentieth century saw women entering occupations previously the exclusive domain of men. A variety of circumstances combined to allow these advances, including the rise of public education, social activism culminating in universal suffrage, legal challenges that established women as “persons” and the upheaval created by two world wars. These changes are not sufficient to explain the careers of the three women described in this blog; it took determination, persistence, courage and intelligence for them to succeed and carve a place for themselves as professional women in these fields that were predominantly, if not exclusively, the preserve of men.

Diane Loranger, geologist, ca. 1946-1947. (Glenbow Archives, IP-14A-1470)

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