All the unique aspects of some older Red Deer homes — from prime ministerial visits to original woodwork — will soon be documented by city officials.
A two-year heritage survey is starting this spring on more than 200 Red Deer properties that are 70-plus years old, said Janet Pennington, the City of Red Deer’s heritage community development co-ordinator.
“This is what municipalities are supposed to do,” she added, under the Alberta Historic Resource Act. But Pennington also believes it’s a worthwhile undertaking for the city’s posterity.
“It’s really nice to have unique heritage buildings in our community,” she added, since their presence reminds us of the Red Deer’s history, and “helps give us a sense of community identity and pride.”
Pennington is confident interesting properties will be discovered during the survey. “We already know of one home where Sir Wilfred Laurier stayed there in 1910. It’s one of the most incredible houses,” she added, although the address couldn’t be revealed out of privacy considerations for the owners.
All never-before-surveyed Red Deer homes and commercial structures built before 1945 will be identified and photographed. “We want to know does the house look like it used to when it was originally built? Does it have vinyl siding on it?” said Pennington.
Building histories will also be compiled so heritage value can be assessed.
Not all older structures are worth preserving. Pennington is interested in finding the exceptional few — whether they are in mostly original condition, or have notable historic significance.
The owners will be approached to see whether they are interested in obtaining municipal or provincial historic designation for these buildings, she said.
This would make it possible to obtain grant money for restoration and conservation. It would also make it much harder to have the structures torn down in future — municipal or provincial government permission would be needed and Pennington said it’s virtually never given.
Red Deer has already lost buildings of significance. The downtown Arlington Hotel and the Botterill House, once located on Ross Street across from Jackpot Casino, were both demolished after inspections determined they were structurally too far gone and repairs would be too costly.
Pennington said one goal of the survey, which will cost $120,000 over two years (this year a $30,000 province grant was received and the city matched it), is to hopefully prevent other notable homes or commercial properties from falling into disrepair.
One eye-catching structure that already has historic designation is the old Red Deer armory and fire hall, which was turned into the children’s section of the Red Deer Public Library. Pennington said it needs a new cedar-shake roof, so the city has applied for a provincial grant towards the $200,000 cost.
Cronquist House is a “Red Deer resource,” while St. Luke’s Church and the Ross Street Cenotaph have received provincial historic designations. Pennington knows some property owners will balk at applying for historic designations for their buildings out of fear that future renovations will be restricted. But she said the province and municipality have become more accommodating about what’s allowed for historic buildings.
Even expansions projects can be approved, as long as they are in the character of the building, she added. “They cannot tell an owner, ‘You can’t paint your front door green.’ They are more flexible.”
The second phase of the survey — creating a consolidated inventory of all heritage sites in the city — will be done in 2016.