May 24-27, 2017
Michelle promised that her team could – and would – accommodate any big idea and they delivered!The place where the Alliance held its 2017 conference – the area that we now know as Calgary – has long been known as Moh’kinsstis and has been used by the Niitsitapi for more than 9,000 years. ‘Modern’ Calgary was first established at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers in 1875 and its population boomed. The First Nations of Treaty 7 truly set the stage for our time here.
Calgary's urban setting is enveloped by Alberta's Big Sky Country, a landscape which we were able to experience on jaunts out to Banff and to the Badlands during the conference. It was especially these journeys that helped us to better comprehend what also makes Alberta run: ranching, agriculture and natural resource extraction (oil, natural gas, and in the past, coal).
Of course as is the annual practice, the majority of Board members were already in town Wednesday morning for the 'committee' meeting in advance of the afternoon's full Board meeting. Discussion of communications and strategic planning provided the focus. This was a significant day given that the mantle of President was being passed from Carrie Gregory to Brenda Williams: the organization is in the best shape that it's ever been because of the former! The Board was very pleased to welcome its first student member, 2016 scholarship winner Jennifer Lauer. The inclusion of a student bodes well for our future.The conference kick-off took place Wednesday evening with a Welcome Reception at the Palliser Hotel, always a treat for the Alliance 'family'. A short time later, many attended a free public lecture to hear one of their compatriots share his 25 years in the conservation of Canada’s cultural landscapes at the Central Memorial Library (in spite of wind and rain).
As the lead off invited speaker, Sara Gruetzner, (CEO and President of Fort Calgary, recently retired) introduced us to the founding of Calgary and the phenomenon that is Fort Calgary at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. Two Parks Canada stalwarts, Bill Perry and Meg Stanley, provided the critical back story on that day’s afternoon destination, Banff National Park.A series of speakers kicked off the program exploring a wide variety of topics from the Alaska Highway to Gettysburg to the potential merit of Winnipeg’s elm trees as world heritage. The paper that continued to resonate through the conference, however, was that of exploring soundscapes in our lives.
On the first afternoon out, the bus took us to Banff National Park, the birthplace of Canada’s National Park System, a concept which looms large in the psyche of Canadians. En route, the city gradually gave way to the majestic mountains and we were soon deposited in the Banff townsite, ready to ramble.
The first stop was the Cascades of Time Gardens associated with the Park’s Administration Building. While it was regrettable that our visit coincided with a long needed site rehabilitation of the latter, it was still useful to hear our host, Steve Malins Cultural Resource Management Advisor, Banff Field Unit Parks Canada speak to the history, importance of the place, and the ongoing efforts to manage it.The second stop on the Banff tour was Cave and Basin, where we took advantage of ‘smiling’ delegates and a glorious backdrop to execute the classic group photo. Again, Steve provided the commentary, and time was spent exploring the (former) bathhouse and hot springs.
An impromptu sidewalk board meeting
A delightful afternoon out into the mountains ended with a return to the city centre and an impromptu sidewalk Board vote – an Alliance first – to confirm Blair Winter as a member of the Board. At that point, delegates ventured forth to find sustenance, and a good number took in the double overtime (ice) hockey game between Pittsburgh and Ottawa (who lost in that barn burner)!
Day Two – East Coulee/The Badlands
Presentations filled the morning: a double whammy from Dietmar Straub, our transplanted German colleague in Winnipeg, as well as the tale of the Empire Ranch in the Arizona desert and an interesting foray into post-industrial sites in Brazil. An update on the Mallard Island story (post-Saint Paul, 2014) was followed by an introduction to our afternoon destination on this day, the Alberta Badlands: Stefan Cieslik of Alberta Culture provided that overview. And then we were away, this time headed east.
While many were tuckered out on our return to Calgary, people wandered out to find sustenance and fellowship!
Day Three – Calgary
The third day of an Alliance conference is always characterized by the dragging of feet: this day was no different. It commenced with a recitation of the Calgary White Hat Pledge (save for Ted McLachlan, whose Winnipeg pride prevented him from engaging).A range of papers was prefaced by an overview of the City’s cultural landscapes program, by Michelle Reid, the hardest working conference organizer in Calgary. This helped to set the stage for the four places we were to visit that afternoon. The papers which rounded out the morning took us to Taos, Atlanta, the Canadian North, and Calgary’s own Paskapoo Slopes.
Of course, we couldn’t bring the morning to a close without the inspirational and seductive promo for March 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. Helen Erickson and Gina Chorover did a great job – tempting gastronomy and an evening neon sign tour?! – in laying out the reasons for participating next year.
And once again, we were off, but not so far this time. Stop one was the Reader Rock Garden. At the site, an old friend in Janet Washburn introduced a captivated audience to the legacy of William Reader. The better part of an hour was then spent wandering up and through the nooks and crannies of a most important and gracefully maturing garden restoration 10 years ago.
The second stop of the afternoon was but a short distance away, Central Memorial Park. Michelle Reid provided the background on this rehabilitation project, set as it is immediately west of the signature Carnegie Library. The ‘new’ park now boasts a fountain and a water play feature, not to mention a noted restaurant: all components of a rejuvenated park within a happening neighbourhood.
Our last stop of the day before the evening’s closing ‘banquet’ was at Nose Hill Park. From this lofty ‘undeveloped’ perch we could orient ourselves with the airport to the east, the downtown skyline directly south, and the ever-present mountains to the west. George Stalker introduced us to the wonderful Blackfoot Confederacy ‘monument’.
Once down off of Nose Hill and settled into Bowness Park – and notwithstanding the threatening lightning storm – the final evening began with a mad dash to the picnic shelter that would protect us from the inevitable rain. A filling meal of chicken, ribs, potato salad and coleslaw was provided, and for some of us, brought back memories of the 2007 closing feast outside of Athens, Georgia at the farm of Richard Westmacott.
A silent auction was held with the proceeds supplementing the ever important scholarship fund.
Four happy tables!
The Alliance would like to take this opportunity to thank its bevy of sponsors who provided the support that is instrumental in the successful execution of these events. We could not do it without you!
Thanks also to Kimball Erdman for stickhandling the Call for Papers and to Eric MacDonald and Ted McLachlan on the Student Scholarship file. (And also to Anne Hoover and Blair Winter for photographs for this summary record!)But we cannot finish without our deepest heartfelt thanks to Michelle Reid for her leadership of another exhausting (but great!) Alliance gathering!
We eagerly look forward to Tucson in March 2018!