Thursday, May 8

CBK Radio 540 Watrous Building Rich with Memories from Another Era

For most listeners of CBC Radio 540 in Saskatchewan, the shows produced in Regina come whithout too much thought about how the content ends up on the airwaves, into their home or car radio. Watrous, Saskatchewan is rather omnipresent as the location of the transmitter and tower for CBC's AM band in the province. Most of us know this, but never ask ourselves why the Watrous connection?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the old transmitter building on the edge of Watrous. Behind it sits a much smaller, newer building where the current transmitor is housed. Yet this old "Art Deco" structure from 1929 is of much greater interest. The local heritage society has published a nice write-up on its history.

The original CBK Radio 540 building in Watrous, Saskatchewan.
The transmitter is apparently to this day the most powerful in Canada, because of the flat surroundings and the airwave conductivity of the soil content I am told. I encourage you to visit the virtual tour organized in collaboration with CBC in 2012. The place came with complete radio studios, an announcer's lounge and temporary living quarters, as the photos from the 2012 tour show. I wonder if these temporary living quarters were not the fall-out shelter from the cold war era that was added in the early 1960s? The operation was completely self-sustaining in terms of back-up generator capacity and life-sustaining staples.

The map of Canada on the floor depicts transmitter locations a mosaic of quarter-inch battleship linoleum.
Today's challenges are not that different from those faced in any heritage conservation project. Asbestos decontamination, building envelope integrity, maintenance and safety. Who knows what the future has in store for this remnant of the past in a fast-evolving industry that has shifted squarely to web casting capacity-building. Let's hope as much as possible of this piece of Saskatchewan history can be saved.

Monday, March 24

Historic Wolseley Courthouse Gets New Lease on Life

Photo: Claude-Jean Harel
The Government of Saskatchewan will soon hand over keys to the Wolseley Courthouse to the Town of Wolseley.  The arrangement will see the community turn it into municipal offices and space for community organizations as part of an effort to protect this 119 year old provincially-designated heritage property.

The building ceased operation as a courthouse in 1909, but continued to serve as a public building in the community for many years.  Although the 3,820 square foot building has been vacant for several decades, the building and grounds have been maintained by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Central Services.

The Town of Wolseley has historically played a very active role in the stewardship of its built heritage assets, including the Opera House and the town’s unique swinging bridge. Wolseley is one of the four Main Street Saskatchewan communities chosen as three-year demonstration projects in 2011, along with Maple Creek, Indian  Head and Prince Albert. Tree of these choices have close associations with the Trans-Canada Highway, and premumably were identified as promising locations partly because of their presumed ability to lure drive-through traffic on Highway #1.

It is also worth noting that Wolseley has a long history of successes in municipal beautification and placemaking undertakings which have earned it many accolades over the years. Wolseley was named one of Canada's prettiest, most historic towns by Harrowsmith Country Life in 2000

The Wolseley Heritage Foundation has proposed three key phases to the Courthouse building rejuvenation initiative:
  • the revitalization of the exterior of the Wolseley Courthouse;
  • the rehabilitation of the interior of the building making it ready for occupancy; and 
  • the move of the municipal government offices and public spaces into the courthouse.

“This is a significant undertaking for our community,” Wolseley Mayor Dennis Fjestad said.  “The Courthouse testifies to the tremendous optimism and forward thinking shared with our first settlers.  Once again we have the opportunity to demonstrate that pioneer spirit.  Acquisition of heritage property carries with it both pride and responsibility.  It creates a great potential for future use of our historic Courthouse and represents a strong commitment for the preservation of our past.”

A joint effort between the Town of Wolseley, the Wolseley Heritage Foundation and the province will help cover the costs of the restoration.  The town has agreed to provide $300,000 and the Wolseley Heritage Foundation has committed to raising $218,000.  Central Services will provide funds of $100,000 a year for three years to help bring the building back up to standards.

Photo: Claude-Jean Harel
Built in 1894-1895, the Wolseley Courthouse is the oldest existing courthouse building in Saskatchewan and the only one built during the era of the Territorial Government.

(written and edited using files from Central Services Communications)

Monday, March 17

Dogsledding Interpretation Gets Creative at RCMP Heritage Centre

Brad Muir (l) and Joel Potié of Sundogs Sled Excursions introduce of of their star Alaskan Huskies.

One would think the RCMP Heritage Centre might face significant hurdles in bringing to life the role dogsledding played historically, as a means of transportation in its more remote detachments. Let's face it, kennels are quite a different matter to manage onsite in a museum setting. Who would prepare the food, feed the dogs and pick all that smelly stuff that comes out the other end? Call it a stroke of genius or just plain common sense, for Sundogs Sled Excursions' and veteran Parks Canada interpreter Brad Muir, developing a game to convey to kids what the amount of work keeping sled dogs really is like, is nothing short of brilliant.

Brad and his guide partner Joel Potié had kids racing around the room with magnum-sized "pooper-scoopers" recently at the RCMP Heritage Centre, as part of the Journées du Patrimoine that was put on for francophone and French immersion students from around Regina. This certainly was a cool way to introduce these young budding adventure travellers to what it's like to drive a dog team. Joel explained to everyone in French what different parts of the sled were from harness configuration to breaking systems, so passengers, guide and dog team get to travel safely along snowy northern trails. That is where these would-be mushers would have to normally go to meet Brad and Joel in action on their staging grounds in Christopher Lake, just north of Prince-Albert. 

Until the time comes, let's just settle in earnest for one of Brad's favourite sayings: "Long may you run!"

Saturday, March 15

Heritage Properties as Meeting Event Venue

St.John's Anglican Cathedral in Saskatoon may well have become one of the beloved buildings of Saskatchewan's heritage community since the local congregation undertook a major conservation projet a few years ago that would help ensure the building is safe an sound for at least another 100 years. The preservation work inside and outside the building may have initially been carried out in the context of its centennial celebrations in 2012, but the exercice itself ended up having much deeper consequences on the people who call this place of worship theirs.

When people get together to raise funds for restauration projects, they start asking themselves who they can ask for help, what partnerships can they envisage to make it happen. They create teams and work as teams to sollicit support, advice and find the necessary expertise. In the process, the congregation becomes stronger and recruits new friends, possibly even... new members. A renewed sense of belonging emerges and contributes to sustaining the momentum. Well, that is the kind of story that resonates and speaks of success, that makes St. John's all the more attractive as a venue for events -- especially those events that celebrate heritage conservation achievements -- such as those held during Heritage Week.

Heritage properties contribute immensely to a community's sense of place. They nurture its pride. When a heritage property is suitable as event venue in its current form, with volunteers, space and exceptional accoustics, then it can do much more for a community. It becomes part of a community's tourism capacity, it can impart that local flavour to meetings and conferences, aspects inherently tied to program development potential.

In an age when the value of walkable cities and neighbourhoods become increasingly attractive to event planners looking for innovation and personalized programs, centrally-located  heritage properties that come with a wide range of human resources and connections are more likely to rise to the top as preferred choices.

Thursday, March 13

Clydesdales Make Laval Winter Carnival Standout

They were lining up to go for a ride at Regina's Laval high school pavillion in North Regina this weekend. That's what it was like all afternoonon this this fine early March saturday, welcome relief after a lenghty cold spell. And while some Carnival participants focused on their snow sculpture creations, others couldn't wait to get on Harvey McFarlane's wagon, pulled by his Sanguine Clydes.

Harvey has always been a bit of a story teller and very few children say no to an invitation to sit in the front with him and take the reins for a moment.

Some kids -- well only one actually -- even get to drive the Clydesdales without the wagon. That's Harvey's granddaughter.

Harvey tells me Jordan has been showing his horses since she was three. It's not hard to believe when one looks at her go.

Let's hope Jordan keeps honing her skills for a few more years yet. An old tradition becomes young again when the young ones take it on as their own!

Thursday, February 13

Peak 2 Peak BASE Jump in Whistler Apparently Leads to Women's Arrest

The young woman featured in this video probably didn't expect this much trouble when she allowed a BASE jumper to film her as he exited the gondola he had boarded with her a few minutes earlier, before exiting through flight. Unfortunately, it appears the gondola's door sustained significant damage as a result of the stunt, and the RCMP has made an arrest, according to a CBC report.

Living dangerously may have its charm, but sometimes charm bears a price higher than one would consider afforbable, especially when one's life is at stake. This time fortunately, it seems the price will be limited to a court appearance and its consequences for those involved.

Friday, January 3

Colorado's Breckenridge Resort - A Real Town

Funny how that is the first thing Breckenridge Resort Chamber's Rachel Zerowin said when I asked her to describe this charming tourism destination:"It's a real town". It certainly feels like it.

First, it was a gold mining settlement on the American Frontier. By the time mining activities tapered somewhat, a community had established itself in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, right in the middle of a triangle between Vail to the West, Denver to the Northeast and Colorado Springs to the Southeast.

With a permanent resident population of roughly 3,500, the place has become a World-class winter sports destination that can attract up to 40,000 people during major events.

I liked Brekenridge, its mining heritage appeal and the local hospitality. I'll be sure to go back in the not-too-distant future.