Algonquin College is Making Built Heritage Hip

Photos by Alex Mazur.

With Canada’s 150th anniversary fast approaching, the face of Ottawa has been quickly evolving. The new expansion of the Rideau Centre, the LRT system and the plans for LeBreton Flats will transform the façade of the capital, proving that Ottawa is moving towards the future.

But amidst this progress, as Canada grows older it’s equally important to remember the stories and the structures that built our nation.

That is why Algonquin College’s Perth Campus Heritage Institute is an integral part of the nation’s capital region. Going into it’s 27th year, the Institute is the oldest of its kind in Canada, and the only campus that offers both heritage carpentry and masonry programs.

“What makes something heritage is the story,” says Chris Hahn, Dean of Algonquin’s Perth Campus, who highlighted Perth as a perfect backdrop for the Institute. Heritage Perth is currently celebrating its 200th anniversary, and has many homes and buildings that are as old or nearly as old as the town itself; structures the people of Perth take great care to maintain.

“We’re in Eastern Ontario, which is where Upper and Lower Canada started so we’ve got a lot of concentration of built heritage,” Hahn continued. “There’s a huge density of talent around this area. Because we’ve been at it so long and because we’re so connected with good partners like Parks Canada and the National Capital Commission we’re in a unique place to really make a difference in built heritage.”

Many graduates, especially from the Masonry – Heritage and Traditional program, get the opportunity to work on important projects like the rehabilitation of the Parliament buildings.

The stereotymy roof made this summer is on display at the Perth Campus.

Yet, the Institute is not only focused on Ottawa’s downtown core; Hahn says Algonquin wants to invest in skills that will help keep more of Canada’s built heritage at the forefront. That’s why this summer the Institute ran an introduction to blacksmithing and a cedar kayak-building course. Some of the masonry students and graduates were also involved in the Legacy Dry Stone Bridge in downtown Perth over the summer, a structure that is meant to stand a guaranteed 800 years, and that’s a low estimate. Other masonry students were sent for the second year in a row to the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site in Churchill, MB to work with Parks Canada to restore the Cape Merry battery that was built in the 1800s.

The college also offered a two-week Stereotymy course, a traditional practice of geometry without abstract formulas used in French carpentry specifically in constructing roofs. Pat Moore taught the course this year; he is a former graduate from both the masonry and carpentry programs at Algonquin and he studied in France to learn how to use the French geometric tradition. The students used that knowledge to build a beautifully simple yet complex roof structure for a gazebo on display at the college.

Finally, Jack Hollinger, the coordinator of Algonquin’s Carpentry and Joinery – Heritage program participated in a wood conservation technology course (ICWCT 2016), hosted in Oslo, Norway, this summer. The six-week course hosted professionals from 21 different countries, so experts from around the world could learn and exchange ideas about wood conservation.

The stage for the course was specifically set in Norway due to the country’s intimate relationship with woodworking, where Hollinger got to study Stave churches, one of Norway’s most notable contributions to woodworking.

Along with technical knowledge, Hollinger brought with him a renewed appreciation for his work, inspired by Norway’s reverence for craftsmanship.

“I think we have a real need for thoughtful people in the trades, and that’s why I do what I do now,” says Hollinger, who adds that every year students enter the program who are already very skilled — just the people who should be carpenters, and in choosing to do so, are providing a real service for their community.

Hahn emphasizes it is the area’s community of like-minded, thoughtful people that makes the Perth’s Heritage Institute experience unique. The students benefit from a network of skilled people that lasts much longer than a the time earning a diploma, and that’s why people travel from all over Canada and the world to be part of Algonquin’s efforts to keep history alive.