Pathway 13 in Profile: Building on our Natural and Cultural Heritage

By Riley Braun

Cochrane residents are definitely proud of their town.  Our western heritage and ranching foundation have helped shaped Cochrane over many generations, and remain among the most prized elements of the community.

Cochrane’s community spirit, western heritage and culture were noted as key assets by many participants in the Cochrane Sustainability Plan visioning process.  The sense from many Cochranites was that these elements need to be preserved – and that the small-town values and shared connections are among the best things about living in Cochrane.

Our western roots are celebrated extensively, at events including the Labour Day Weekend and the Cochrane Rodeo. The Town of Cochrane also enforces Western Heritage Design Guidelines for all commercial, industrial and institutional developments in an effort to help protect the community’s unique architecture.

The final Pathway in the CSP is all about preserving the best of Cochrane’s heritage:

Pathway 13:  We build Cochrane on the strengths of our natural and cultural heritage.

Targets:  By 2020, natural areas and habitat are maintained or increased.

The values of western heritage and meeting the needs of the current reality of the agriculture sector are reflected in the Town of Cochrane’s development, planning and decision-making processes.

The Cochrane Historical and Archival Preservation Society (CHAPS) is a group taking many steps to become a leader in sustainability.  The mission of CHAPS is to identify, preserve and protect important sites and buildings in Cochrane and to educate the public about our historical resources.

While many do not view cultural and historic research as sustainable practices, CHAPS sees history as a crucial part of Cochrane’s future. Progress depends on knowing where one comes from so that they know what to build on.

CHAPS was launched in 1999 by people interested in Cochrane’s history.  Over the years, it has become a means of getting all age groups interested in the past. Today, it is a leading group providing local history.

CHAPS has shown leadership through the actions it has taken. In fact, it has become a crucial tool for others and plays a key role in teaching the community about local history. Actions taken include placing plaques in front of many Cochrane businesses as a way to let others know about the significance of these sites. Both locals and tourists can learn facts about Cochrane sites.

Another CHAPS project was the addition to Cochrane’s local history book Big Hill Country, More Big Hill Country, which CHAPS President Gordon Davies sees as “a major accomplishment.” This gives insight to Cochrane’s past and provides easy access to the history of many families and settlements. Owning a copy of this book is a great way to realize how Cochrane has gotten to where it is today. In addition, the book’s success shows that many people want to learn about Cochrane’s past – and that helps give hope for the future.

These projects were made possible due to the work of many volunteers.

Gordon notes that there are many other projects that CHAPS want to undertake. Cochrane’s first hospital, built in 1909, is an important site that CHAPS hopes can be preserved. While it is being renovated for business use, it is hoped that the site’s integrity can be kept. Also, the Cochrane ranch cairn is a project that is meant to “celebrate four businesses that operated in the town’s early days” and played a major role in Cochrane’s development. Gordon explains that the dairy, creamery, brickyard and stone quarry will be recognized by the project. With the consent of the Town and the Government of Alberta, a plaque would also be added to explain the meaning of this site.

One key challenge for the group is preserving important sites. Many people do not understand the role of these sites and would rather see new developments. Therefore, these buildings must be moved. This is a costly and time-consuming job. CHAPS sees educating the public as the main means to solving these problems.

As well, key partnerships will raise the profile of these issues and increase local support.  Along with the Cochrane and Area Historical Association, local tours are provided. This showcases both groups and exposes people to local history. Help from local businesses and groups will help CHAPS to preserve sites that link the past to the present.

The success of CHAPS’ early work shows that it is possible for culture to be preserved. People should use the research and knowledge provided by CHAPS to become aware of the past.

Support for this group is also important. Many challenges remain that require the help of the community, such as keeping important buildings from being torn down. Gordon asks more residents to become members as “there is a growing need for support either through donations or further research.” While having long-time residents provides important input, new members of the community are needed to give another view on where Cochrane can go in the future.

CHAPS is a crucial link between Cochrane’s past and present. It is a great way for people of all ages to become involved in something that will have a lasting impact on the town’s culture and identity.

For more information on CHAPS or to become involved, contact Gordon at (403) 932-2295. The group meets the third Wednesday of each month and holds annual events such as the Spring Dinner and Historic Building Tour.

Riley Braun is a student with The University of Calgary and a volunteer for SPUR.