Town of Peace River

Tour of the Peace (Part II)

I previously wrote about the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation board receiving a tour of historic places on the Peace River, during their May board meeting (see Part I). This blog post continues that tour with visits to the St. Augustine Roman Catholic Mission and the Twelve Foot Davis grave site.

The St. Augustine Roman Catholic Mission is located on the grounds of the Peace River Correctional Centre, south-west of the Town of Peace River. The church was once part of a mission established by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic religious institute of missionary priests. The oblates sent several waves of missionaries to western Canada during the second half of the 19th century. This church was built in 1894 by the oblate missionaries and brothers who ministered to First Nations and settlers in the area. It was part of the settlement that included farm buildings, a school and a small clinic. The vibrant religious community that lived here came to include members of the Sisters of Providence. In 1978 the site was designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Click here to read the Statement of Significance.

I first saw the church as we came round a small hill. Its size is striking. Even the most modest modern parish church is much, much larger than this tiny church. This church nevertheless housed a large community of worshippers. Entering the church, the other thing that strikes you is how carefully the building has been designed and decorated. You enter under a choir loft and the elaborate, pre-second Vatican council alter is visible against the opposite wall. Small statues of various saints are set upon wall mounted platforms surrounding the altar. Pointed-arch windows line the long-walls. They are simple but nevertheless designed with great care. The oblates efforts were even more impressive when you consider that these buildings were made of wood they hewed themselves.

The church was part of a settlement that included farm buildings, a convent and a school. The missionaries first served the surrounding aboriginal community and starting around 1907 the settlers. The sisters and the oblates ministered to the inhabitants and setters in the area, providing a church, school and makeshift hospital. The SS St. Charles, the fist steamboat on the Peace River, was built here in 1903. As the area was opened to settlement, the missionaries offered assistance to the newcomers who often arrived with very little.

Later, our tour concluded by visiting the Twelve Foot Davis grave site. Henry Fuller Davis was an American-born prospector who came to Canada to prospect during the Cariboo Gold Rush in the early 1860s. Davis earned his nickname (and a small fortune) by filing a claim on a 12 foot wide piece of land between two existing claims in Barkerville, BC. He subsequently began trading along Peace River in competition to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Davis requested of his friend, Jim Cornwall, that he be interred on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Peace and Smoky rivers. The spot is just adjacent to Greene Valley Provincial Park and offers a magnificent view of the two rivers and the town itself. The Town of Peace River, Northern Sunrise County and Alberta Parks jointly oversaw the recent landscaping of the site and installed interpretive markers (including some interesting audio recordings).

After taking in the breathtaking views, the board went to a reception hosted by the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre. They met members of the Town of Peace River council and many local history enthusiasts.

The board had a great discussion the next day and made several funding recommendations (which will be announced as soon as they are finalised. We had a great day and I know the board appreciates learning about how historic sites are conserved and appreciated.

Read Tour of the Peace (Part I), which featured the Board’s visit to the Northern Alberta Railway Station and the Shaftesbury Ferry.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Tour of Peace River (Part I)

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation held a board meeting in Peace River on May 11 and 12. The staff of the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre organized a tour of the area, allowing the board members to experience first-hand a few of the community’s historic places.

We began at the Northern Alberta Railway Station in Peace River. The wooden railway station still sits on its original sitting, adjacent to the railway tracks. The station was constructed in 1916 just as the railway connecting Peace River to southern Alberta was finished. The Northern Alberta Railway Company’s new line linked Peace River to the Canadian railway system and its opening increased the flow of people and goods coming into the region.

The station is divided into rooms for passengers, freight and staff. Historical artifacts are displayed throughout the building, and many relate to the operation of the railway station. The station was a communications hub; mail and freight first moved through here and later it housed the telegraph and telephone switching equipment.

The building has been beautifully restored and is used by Peace River’s Chamber of Commerce as a visitor centre for the community. It’s fitting that the building has been repurposed as a visitor information centre. The building will continue to welcome visitors to Peace River. It was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1988. You can learn more about the station by checking out its entry on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Later, we drove down the Shaftesbury Trail and arrived at the Shaftesbury Ferry. The ferry has been transporting people, vehicles and farm equipment over the Peace River for over 50 years. The confluence of the Peace and Smoky rivers is just south of the town. Without the ferry travelers arriving from south of the confluence would have needed to travel an extra 100 kilometers simply to get to Peace River. This would have been unworkable for a famer to haul grain or produce to market. Everett Blakely, a local resident, built a ferry privately in 1951. Mr. Blakely wanted to acquire farmland near the banks of the Peace south of its confluence with the Smoky and needed a ferry to access it. Mr. Blakely allowed his neighbors the use of the ferry and it quickly became indispensible. In 1977 the provincial government established a public ferry service on this location.

Seeing the ferry moored on the riverbank reminded me that Alberta transportation infrastructure is not just roads and our geography is more than just the plains. A hundred years ago, barges steamed up and down the Peace River loaded with goods and people. Both David Thompson and Sir Alexander Mackenzie both visited the area while exploring the northwest.

After visiting the ferry, we headed back towards Peace River. Stay tuned for Part II, to learn about other sites visited by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation board.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Planning in the Peace

Heritage Management Planning in Peace River

On May 10th, I had the pleasure of attending a heritage management planning open house, hosted by the Town of Peace River. The town wanted public feedback on the heritage management policies they have been working on with the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program since September. Posters describing the proposed designation and management policies where hung in various locations around the museum and staff were available to answer public questions. The open house was held near the river at the Peace River Museum and Mackenzie Centre. The plan includes two components: a Municipal Historic Resource designation policy and a plan to manage designated sites.

Open house attendees arriving at the Peace River Museum.

The Municipal Historic Resource designation policy explains how Peace River will determine if a site is historic and if it should be protected as a Municipal Historic Resource. The policy will specify who can nominate a site for designation and what the town must know about the history and condition of a place to make a recommendation to the town council. These policies will help the town decide if designating a site will protect a place that embodies an important part of Peace River’s heritage. It will help the Town determine if protection is in the public interest. The policy will also help the Town and property owners understand their obligations towards one another should a property be designated.

The second part of the management plan is the alteration permitting process. A Municipal Historic Resource cannot be altered without the municipality’s approval. The management policy will explain how an owner applies for a permit, what information they need to provide and how applications will be evaluated. For instance, it is important to be able to answer questions such as:

  • will the changes affect the heritage value of the historic place, allowing the destruction of character-defining elements?
  • will the changes impact the site as little as possible?
  • who within the municipal administration makes these decisions?

The management policy ensures that these questions are answered in a consistent and transparent way.

Staff at the Town of Peace River are putting the final touches on the management plan and will present it to Town Council in June. We will bring you more details after the plan has been approved by council.

If you have question about management planning or any other aspect of heritage conservation, check out the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program website or drop us a line.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer