BY RYAN WELLICOME
The philosophical concept of a future assured and bound by history is one that has been pondered and condemned, ironically, by many figures considered to hold historical significance.
Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said, “We are not the makers of history. We are made by history.”
What history means to those in the present is a question that has been long asked.
The Lacombe and District Historical Society (LDHS) wishes to help provide an answer.
Executive Director Marie Péron is often posed with the question “What do you do?” by those who have yet to find that answer.
“To a lot of people, it’s difficult to sometimes wrap their head around what we do,” she said. “What we do is actually provide a very important service. We collect information from the community be it through objects, personal histories or newspaper clippings. We write books and re-interpret and package that information together, but really what we are doing through all of our activities – whether it’s a school tour or me putting something away into safe storage in the archive – it’s helping to inform that next generation and to keep that information so that they can keep building on it.”
In 1971, the Michener House was threatened with demolition. A group of community members believed that it should not be demolished but preserved because of its historical significance thus the Lacombe and District Historical Society – then called Maski-Pitoon – was born. In 1972 the Society won its first victory, securing the Michener House and saving it from destruction. The historical structure was the birthplace of former Governor General of Canada Rt. Hon. Roland Michener, after whom it was named.
“This started a whole movement for heritage preservation and for valuing heritage in our community and looking at what is important to our community with regards to the beautiful downtown that we have,” said Péron. “It made the community question how to go about preserving that, how would we go about sharing that with our community and making sure that we treasure this part of our history. They felt it was important to preserve the legacy of Roland Michener to showcase his birthplace. It was not only important to the community but it was important to the Province.”
Though the Society had secured the building, creating the Michener Museum was a process of much toil. The house wasn’t opened as a museum until 13 years after its purchase in 1984.
“It took them many years to actually be able to purchase the home, restore it and then finally open it as a museum,” said Péron. “It was a huge amount of work they had to put into saving this place.”
Throughout its 45 year history, the organization has worked to acquire, archive and preserve buildings, materials and objects of historical significance within Lacombe. The Society’s museums and archives are teeming with household objects, clothes, written materials, photographs and many other things that all tell a portion of the region’s narrative.
LDHS was instrumental in the creation of Bylaw 397 or the Heritage Resources Committee Bylaw which created the Heritage Resources Committee. The committee was created in order to further the work of preserving heritage sites through designation by the City. Once a building is designated it is protected by the City under a new bylaw. Five such buildings in Lacombe have gone through this process and are preserved under municipal law.
St. Andrew’s United Church was the first of the five to be designated a Municipal Heritage Resource by the City of Lacombe in August of 2014. The church was constructed from 1908-1909 and has retained many of its original elements such as the brick cladding, steeple and windows.
Following St. Andrew’s, The Lacombe Blacksmith Shop received the designation in late 2015, then the Young residence this past June and the Kanngiesser Building in August; finally, the Society’s flagship and home base, The Michener House received its official designation this past weekend.
Bylaw 397 was a product of the Heritage Management Plan drafted in 2012. The plan was created to ensure the City could preserve heritage resources in a responsible and effective manner.
Péron believes that the LDHS’s purpose is not only to preserve history, but also to teach future generations. To use history to inform the decisions of the present and provide context.
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