The City of Lacombe is known for its historical structures and emphasis on preservation of its heritage.
Just take a look around the historic downtown core. On Main Street the prestigious Flatiron Building, once the Merchants Bank of Canada and now the Flatiron Museum and Interpretative Centre, stands strongly as a historical anchor.
Across the street are many other businesses still operating out of the heritage-rich 100-year-old buildings.
On any sunny afternoon, take a guided walking tour departing from the Michener House Museum on 51st St., and you will see not only the many painted murals that depict Lacombe in its early days, but also the beautiful buildings and architectural features of the historic downtown.
The City is home to three museums, all within walking distance from each other, including the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum that sits on 49th St.
This building, that functions both as a museum and a fully operational blacksmith shop, will soon be Lacombe’s second municipal historical resource.
At their regular June 15th meeting, City council began the process to designate the historic building as a Municipal Historic Resource by first approving the notice of intent and then giving a first and second reading to a bylaw towards the designation.
Councillor Peter Bouwsema said he was happy to receive the application from the Lacombe and District Historical Society, which is the group that manages the museum.
“It’s quite the fantastic little place,” he said. “We really do have a jewel here in Lacombe.”
The building sits on its original site and has already received a provincial historic designation in 2011. The shop was purchased by the Lacombe and District Historical Society in 1991 and was then restored as a museum.
After the 90-day approval waiting period, the designation of the iconic building will be approved by council on Aug. 24th.
The Lacombe Blacksmith Shop was established in 1902 and is recognized as an important building in the development of the City.
“We wanted to recognize the importance of the building to the history and narrative of Lacombe,” said Jennifer Kirchner, City of Lacombe planner and Lacombe and District Historical Society president.
Kirchner added although the building has a provincial designation, the municipal designation is a different way of acknowledging Lacombe’s history on a local level.
In the past, blacksmith shops provided a very important service to local residents, farmers and business owners through providing them with building supplies, tools, horseshoes and farm implements. Without local blacksmith shops, places like Lacombe would have failed to thrive in the early days.
“We really want to emphasize its contribution to Lacombe’s history and to blacksmithing,” she said. “It’s never been moved. It’s still in the same spot, the original location and it’s one of the oldest working blacksmith shops in the province.”
Once a month a group of hard-working volunteers gets together in the shop to work on projects and learn the historic skills of bending iron and forming it into shapes by heat and trip hammers.
The volunteers may by honing a vocation of yester-year, but the group mainly consists of a younger crowd, all under 50, who are eager to call themselves a metalsmith.
The group organizes public demonstrations and opens up the shop to the public each Sunday in July and August from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Kirchner said the shop is also a popular stop for school groups. “It’s loud and stinky,” she said. “It’s a very real and hands-on experience.”
This past Saturday, the volunteer blacksmiths participated in a tool-making workshop. The end product after eight or so hours of work was a handmade pair of tongs that could be customized to individual needs.
“The course provided us with skill development and allowed us to learn new techniques from different blacksmiths,” said Kirchner.
The first building in Lacombe to receive a Municipal Historic Resource designation was St. Andrew’s United Church this past year. The designation was noted as a milestone for the City, already known as a community that recognizes its history.
In 2009, the City began documenting its heritage resources in Lacombe through the creation of a Municipal Heritage Survey. St. Andrew’s United Church and the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum were two of the 55 buildings/resources identified in the Municipal Heritage Survey and the Municipal Heritage Inventory to be preserved.
The municipal designation will ensure the blacksmith shop, and other buildings that are later designated, will be preserved and protected. The designation also enables the shop to receive funds from grant programs and other initiatives to assist in repairs and restoration efforts towards the 113-year-old building.
A celebration of the new historical designation is planned for Sept. 26th to coincide with the annual Lacombe Culture and Harvest Festival.
The event will run at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include a barbecue, blacksmithing demos and other surprises.