Preserving Lacombe's heritage through heritage designation

A picture of Lacombe's 50 St. at night. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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Maintaining Lacombe’s historic charm is no easy task, but there are resources available to help heritage building owners preserve and protect their properties for years to come.

The City of Lacombe’s Heritage Management Program allows those with residences or commercial buildings 50 years of age or older to designate their buildings as municipal historic resources, thereby enshrining them as a glimpse into the community’s past, and preserving them for future generations.

“Lacombe is incredibly unique within the province. Per capita, we have, by far, way more historic buildings than the majority of municipalities,” said Peter Bouwsema, a citizen-at-large on the Heritage Resources Committee and a former Lacombe city councillor.

“We hear so often ‘wow, you’ve got such an incredible downtown.’ It’s because it’s maintained – it looks good. These old buildings are there and some of them have been around for well over 100 years – you don’t see a whole lot of that in the prairies, so it’s really cool.”

Historic places have been allowed to be designated by the province since 1978, but it wasn’t until 2006 when the Government of Alberta created the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program (MHPP) that communities realized they were able to create their own heritage conservation programs and designate buildings locally.

MHPP included training and tools to teach local government staff, volunteers and elected officials how to protect historic places with their communities, and contributed 50 per cent of the monies required for an inventory and survey of heritage buildings.

Lacombe, then still a town, took advantage of the program a decade ago. Forming the Heritage Steering Committee, they identified over 100 historic places in the community, that were eventually narrowed down to 55 that were placed on a Places of Interest List.

Statements of interest, explaining the background and historical defining characteristics of the buildings, were then created for each place, which then led to the creation of the Heritage Management Plan, as well as the formation of the Heritage Resources Committee.

“The Heritage Management Plan was necessary in order to say what we have and what we’re going to do to manage that heritage,” said Bouwsema.

Chief among managing heritage is designating buildings as municipal historic resources. To date, there are seven within the community, including St. Andrew’s United Church, the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop, Michener House, the Young Residence, Kanngiesser Building, the Lacombe Cenotaph, as well as the Fraser-MacDonald Building.

However, those on the committee say not everyone understands exactly what being a municipal designation entails.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions,” said Chuck Bourn, also a citizen-at-large on the committee. “Some people think they can’t ever change their building… it’s generally only the exterior or front of a building.”

Municipally-designated historic buildings have a list of key elements that define their historic character and it’s these elements – agreed upon by the city and property owner – that would be preserved, such as period window frames or roofs, or, in the case of the Kanngiesser Building, the red mortar.

Interior changes, such as flooring, paint colours, or kitchen upgrades, additions to the back of a building, unless listed as a character defning element, would be able to be changed.

As for the elements that would need to be preserved, designating them as a historic resource would provide a multitude of benefits.

“The ability to apply for municpal grant funding is a big one – and that can be for building maintenance or restoration, or improvement work, including upgrades to make the building more energy efficient,” said Bourn.

“Provincial funds may also be available…It does grant you some opportunity with the province if you’re municipally designated.”

Beyond potential grant funding, it ensures heritage homes stay in good repair and won’t be demolished and have their historic value disappear – not to mention reducing the costs and energy associated with building replacement structures in the community.

If buildings or other built structures must be torn down due to deterioration, however, the committee does salvage what they can from the building – such as old doors, doorknobs, railings and more – as a way to not only fund heritage work in the community, but promote reusing materials and diversion of waste from landfills.

“The message we really want to get out there is if you own a historic residence, or commercial building that’s over 50 years old, we’d love to talk to you and see how we can help you,” said Bouwsema.

For more information on heritage management, heritage designation or to look into what items are available for purchase through the Heritage Resources Committee, contact city planner Jennifer Kirchner at (403)782-1264 ext. 228 or email her at jkirchner@lacombe.ca.

Further information on the committee can be found on the City of Lacombe website, as well as their Facebook page @LacombeHeritage.

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