Lacombe Historical Society facing loss of up to $70,000 in wake of provincial budget cuts

Melissa Blunden, Lacombe and District Historical Society executive director, shows off one of the oldest quilts in their collection as part of a heritage quilt display at the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre. The quilt, which features a log cabin traditional pattern, is made of wool and linen with a silk binding, and the dark purple material likely comes from a mourning dress which were worn six months after a death and sometimes used afterwards to complete quilts. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The Lacombe and District Historical Society could see a loss of up to $70,000 in the wake of the UCP government’s austerity budget.

In a release issued last week, the society said they weren’t sure of the full impacts, but expressed concern over cuts outlined in Budget 2019, which will see programming, operation hours, and employment, particular for summer students, affected going forward.

“The society needs the support of the community now more than ever and urges residents to reflect upon the value of work all non-profit organizations give to your local communities,” said Lacombe and District Historical Society Executive Director Melissa Blunden.

The society receives $25,000 from the Alberta Museums Association annually, and had banked on another $12,500 from the Alberta Museums Association for 2020. They also were expecting $10,000 from the Alberta Lottery Fund, and some $5,000-$8,000 each from the Alberta Volunteer SCiP incentive, Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP), and the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, much of which may not be realized.

Chief amongst the society’s concerns is the dissolution of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, an arms-length organization that will now see its responsibilities in overseeing the province’s heritage absorbed by the Department of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women (CMSW), as well as an eight per cent reduction for preservation grants.

Preservation grants allowed the historical society to undertake the original preservation of both the Michener House Museum and Blacksmith Shop Museum, as well as its 2019 restoration. With their reduction, such efforts may not be possible in the future, and could affect local property owners’ and potential decisions on having their buildings designated as municipal historic resources, which would afford them access to provincial grants.

STEP was also axed, a program that has been crucial in enabling the society to hire summer students and “will have direct implications for museums across the province, including the Lacombe & District Historical Society, who rely on this program for staffing, limiting our capacity to participate in seasonal tourism, be open to visitors and deliver programming.”

Further, through Bill 20, the Alberta Lottery Fund, which put $331 million towards 8,000 charities in Alberta in 2017-18 will also be eliminated in a move Finance Minister Travis Toews says will streamline government operations and save $13 million. During debate in the Alberta Legislature, he said the elimination of the fund won’t stop gaming revenue from going to charities and non-profits.

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Still, there will be an eight per cent reduction in Community Initiatives for 2019-20, and a 34 per cent reduction for the Community Facility Enhancement Program, both of which the society had planned to take advantage of to attain a new building for collections and community archives.

The budget also got rid of the Heritage Markers Program, which was going to be part of the society’s 50th anniversary plans for 2021.

In a direct Facebook response to one of the Lacombe and District Historical Society’s posts on the subject, CMSW Minister Leela Aheer said “there will be a small reduction in the total amount for heritage, but all programs will continue through the department and processes will remain the same, including the grant funding.”

Concern remained, however, and the society met Oct. 24 at the Flatiron Museum to draft a letter to Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr. The society also says it will now turn to the community for support.

“In light of recent budget announcements, the Lacombe & District Historical Society has reached out to the various heritage groups in the City of Lacombe and Lacombe County in an attempt to foster partnerships to avoid the loss of any of our regional community heritage resources,” said Blunden.

“What future partnerships may look like is unknown at this time. We are, however, dedicated to maintaining our shared history.”

Those looking to help, or find more information, are asked to contact the Lacombe & District Historical Society at (403)782-3933 or