Archivists enjoy downtown tour at annual general meeting

Matt Gardner
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A tour of Prince Albert’s historic downtown area highlighted the annual general meeting of the Saskatchewan Council of Archives and Archivists (SCAA) on Friday.

Members of the SCAA congregated at the P.A. Historical Museum for their 2014 convention, which kicked off with a presentation by Main Street Prince Albert executive director Bob Gill.

The archivists had requested that Gill offer a presentation on his program and how it has helped revitalize the downtown area.

“We always have a workshop or a presentation involved with our AGM to get people to come out … In the years past, we’ve had just the board members show up for the AGM, and we’d like to see more people get involved,” archives advisor Cameron Hart said.

The SCAA has approximately 70 institutional members from across the province, ranging from Estevan in the south to La Ronge in the north.

Underscoring the role of the archiving profession in urban revitalization efforts, Hart noted that individuals and organizations tend to rely on archival material to understand what makes buildings historic and why they should be refurbished.

“You’re seeing buildings that are maybe over 100 years old, and the information about why it’s important to the city of Prince Albert is in the archives,” he said.

Gill’s presentation explained the role of Main Street P.A. in providing financial assistance to the revitalization of downtown by restoring historic buildings.

He also noted parallel efforts such as promotion (cash mobs, street fairs, downtown walking tours, façade improvements), economic restructuring (tax incentives, business cross-promotion) and increased bylaw enforcement that have helped improve the downtown image.

Following his presentation, Gill led the archivists on a brief tour around the downtown area, pointing out many of the features on buildings that have been refurbished with the help of the Main Street program.

The tour followed a path along the river and down First Avenue East before returning to the museum via Central Avenue, and included stops at historic buildings such as the National Hotel.

You’re seeing buildings that are maybe over 100 years old, and the information about why it’s important to the city of Prince Albert is in the archives. Cameron Hart

Gill noted that the hotel, which is more than 100 years old, previously counted branches of the Bank of Ottawa and Imperial Bank of Canada among its neighbours.

“No wonder it was the No. 1 hotel in Saskatchewan for years, because all the loggers, miners, whoever could walk out of their bank and go straight over and suck on some suds, which was perfect,” he said.

Walking along Central Avenue, Gill pointed to two buildings, the larger of which was formerly the Strand Theatre, that now houses North Star Trophies and Screenprinting.

“This smaller one was not built at the same time,” Gill said. “It was built later, but when they built it they built it with the same design as the small one.”

The archivists enjoyed a pleasant surprise when RNF Ventures president Kelly Miller offered to conduct an impromptu tour inside one refurbished historic building, which serves as the home of his company.

“We’ve tried to maintain the same sort of look using modern stuff,” Miller said.

“I think it looks pretty good. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do with the back yet, but nobody sees the back much.”

SCAA members appeared impressed by the tour and the downtown revitalization efforts.

“It’s great to see people understanding why it’s just not a building (where) you tear it down and build new,” Hart said.

“You’re understanding that this is a part of the community and it’s just not the building, but what’s inside the building -- coming up with the story behind the building and why it’s important.

“When you tear down something and build it new, it’s always going to be, ‘Well, it used to be this, it used to be that.’ And now you can say, like the tour we just had -- ‘It is this, it is that.’”

Organizations: P.A. Historical Museum, Prince Albert, National Hotel Imperial Bank of Canada Strand Theatre Saigon River Restaurant

Geographic location: La Ronge, Central Avenue, First Avenue East Ottawa Saskatchewan

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