Lacombe should soon have its first municipal designated historic site.
At a heritage event held at St. Andrew’s United Church on Dec. 12 it was announced that the City of Lacombe had received its first application, from St. Andrew’s United Church, for it to be designated as a historic site.
Councillor Peter Bouwsema, who has been involved in this process since it started in 2009 with the Heritage Municipal survey, said this is an important achievement for the City of Lacombe that shows the community’s commitment to its heritage.
“It’s an understanding of where we have come from and where we are going,” said Bouwsema. “I think it’s really important for everybody to understand that and I think that makes it significant.”
He added that a fair chunk of taxpayer dollars were used to implement this program and that is another reason this possible designation is important. It is commonly known that Lacombe has quite a large number of historic buildings in the community.
Bouwsema said that visitors to Lacombe often comment on how rare it is to see such a ‘gem’ within Alberta and it is something he would like to see preserved.
He added that tourists already visit Lacombe to see its many historic buildings (including some that have been converted into museums) and that this new municipal designation program could have economic spinoffs related to increased tourism.
James (Jim) Dixon, a long-time member of the St. Andrew’s congregation, said that, while St. Andrew’s is a church, the building is also a community facility and its use extends far beyond just the members of its congregation.
He said choirs often practice at the church and he believes there was a daycare run out of the building at some time as well.
Dixon said that the original part of the church, which was built in 1909 and has been built onto extensively over the past 105 years, is beginning to show signs of age. There are some problems with the outer masonry and he hopes that with this new program the church may be able to procure some funding to repair it and keep this historic monument in the community for many more years to come.
“The ownership of real estate by religious institutions means you are essentially living tax-free when it comes to municipal taxation,” said Dixon.
“On the other hand, you can only live of the contributions of the congregation as opposed to the many other people who might use this facility.”
City of Lacombe Planner Jen Kirchner said that St Andrew’s United Church will be going through the designation process in the New Year.
Named after the apostle Andrew, the church was built as a Presbyterian church but later became the home of one of Canada’s first United Churches when the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations of Lacombe amalgamated.
When original construction was completed, the building was half the size of the existing sanctuary, which has been added onto again and again over the years. St. Andrew’s is home to Lacombe’s only church bell. It was also included in the structure’s original construction and at the time cost the church only $120.