Lacombe designates Fraser-MacDonald Building as historic resource

Members of Lacombe Heritage Resources committee, city council, and the Lacombe Medi-Spa and Laser Centre team and building owner Trish Bowen, second from left, stand in front of the Trans-Canada Air Lines map lining one of the front interior walls of the Fraser-MacDonald building during an event formally celebrating its designation as a municipal historic resource on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The Fraser-MacDonald Building now joins several of its downtown neighbours in being protected and preserved for years to come.

On Thursday, the home of Lacombe Medi-Spa and Laser Centre, located at 4709 49C Ave. in the downtown core close to the Flatiron Building, finally received its formal designation as a municipal historical resource after it was approved by council over a year ago in September 2018.

Trish Bowen, who owns the building, admitted it took some convincing to pursue designation, given she thought it had been previously designated.

“I didn’t realize it wasn’t and they just put plaques up,” Bowen said. “I talked to Jennifer (Kirchner) and said for sure we want to designate it and that was the start of it. It’s really exciting.”

She bought the building because of her own love for heritage buildings that stemmed from hearing stories of her great grandmother and her family who’d grown up living in a sod house in Forestburg. Not wanting to move to there, she decided to look at the historical properties locally and was able to purchase the Fraser-MacDonald building.

Fraser-MacDonald Building, Lacombe, pictured in 1925. (Lacombe & District Historical Society)

Built in 1920 by Jessie Fraser and Allan MacDonald, it certainly fits the definition of a historic building with its classical-revival style, from its wood and multi-paned glass storefront, to the detailed brick fascia. In fact City Planner Jennifer Kirchner says it’s one of the last Edwardian buildings to be built in the community, as architecture styles changes shortly after its construction.

It’s also emblematic of Lacombe’s emergence as a predominant commercial and agricultural centre in central Alberta at a time when all were rebounding after the First World War.

“It was built to serve a couple purposes – it provided a home for an insurance agency and it was also connected to the Hudson’s Bay Land (registry) so it provided important roles of selling people land and helping them protect their space,” Kirchner said, noting the Fraser-MacDonald duo also worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

“Over time it also served as a travel agency, different commercial uses and now is the medi-spa.”

A “quaint, little one-storey” building, its defining elements include its rectangular shape, commercial from and recessed entrance, not to mention its masonry construction.

Amongst its more unique features is the pressed-tin ceiling, the brick fireplace in one of the back rooms, and a large wall safe, not to mention a large map that spans one of the storefront walls, where the medi-spa’s pedicure chairs now sit.

“It’s from a company (Trans-Canada Air Lines) that was a precursor to air Canada. The map is from the 1950’s,” said Kirchner. “Typically something like that would’ve been generic advertising for a company. Usually, after a building changes hands and it’s not longer serving that same use, those things would disappear, but it is still in impeccable condition.

“It could be one of the last ones left in Canada.”

Those features are loved by not just the owner and the medi-spa team who work in the building, but their clients.

“It’s a great conversation starter with our clients and they love being in an old building,” said Anna-Maria Marten, who runs the medi-spa. “A lot of times they’re laying and numbing so with the ceiling in the other room, they always look at it and talk about how pretty it is.

“We do have people that just come into the spa just to see the building.”

Lacombe now has seven sites in the city that have been designated as municipal historic resources, including St. Andrew’s United Church, the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop, Michener House, the Young Residence, the Kanngiesser Building and the Lacombe Cenotaph in Lest We Forget Park.

Additionally, the Flatiron Building, Michener House, Blacksmith Shop, M & J Hardware Building, the Urquhart Block and Campbell Block have received designation at the provincial level.

Anyone who owns a building 50 years or older is eligible to designate their building, provided it has historical value and the original integrity of its character-defining elements has been maintained. Amongst the benefits of designating a building is the ability to access the City of Lacombe’s grant program that aids in maintenance of such properties, as well as any grants that are available at the provincial level.

The municipal historic resource program, however, is owner-driven, so for now there’s nothing on the near horizon for future designations of local buildings or sites.

Anyone interested or wanting to more about the municipal historic resource designation program is asked to contact Jennifer Kirchner at planner@lacombe.ca or (403) 782-1264 ext. 228.

For more information on the Fraser-MacDonald building, visit http://lacombe.ca/home/showdocument?id=11061.

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