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Fort Macleod group pushing cultural heritage tourism program

Dave Coutts

Dave Coutts

Fort Macleod must develop a plan for programming and promotion of all its assets to capitalize on a growing trend of cultural and historic tourism.
A committee that spent the past eight months considering the future of The Fort — Museum of the North West Mounted Police determined enough studies of Fort Macleod’s assets have been done over the past 30 years.
“The time for studying is over,” committee member Dave Coutts said. “It’s time to put some action to those studies.”
Coutts met last week with town council, the Chamber of Commerce and Empress Theatre Society to get support for a proposal to hire an experienced consultant to develop a plan.
The plan, which Coutts hopes to fund with provincial grants, will unite the Fort Museum, Empress Theatre, Main Street, Legacy signage system and Union Cemetery for promotion and programming.
“It’s time to get some input from the community as to how we can take advantage all of these cultural and historic assets that we have and turn them into a real attraction that will make Fort Macleod a real destination point,” Coutts said.
The idea is to get tourists not just to stop for a quick visit to the Fort Museum or Empress Theatre, but to enjoy a longer stay.
“There’s enough here to have them to stay for a day,” Coutts said. “If we can get them to do that it will help businesses, it will help stabilize our community.”
Fort Macleod Historical Association struck a committee of president Mike Bourassa and board members Coutts, Terry Malone and Larry Pearson of Alberta Culture.
The committee was charged with studying the future of the Fort Museum as well as the value, display and storage of the museum’s collection.
The committee was also to look at the feasibility of the Fort Museum and the 1884 North West Mounted Police Barracks provincial historic site being incorporated.
“This was something internally we needed to get a report on,” Coutts said.
After eight months of work the committee determined the present displays are well done and protected; artifact storage areas are crowded.
“One of our conclusions was eventually we need to put everything together in a climate-controlled building and properly catalogued and stored,” Coutts said.
The outside displays will eventually need to be moved indoors in order to protect them.
“All those things that we have over at the Fort, every single solitary thing is irreplaceable,” Coutts said. “They’re one of a kind and you have to protect them.”
The Fort Museum’s collection is valued at $3-million to $5-million and cannot be insured because the artifacts can’t be replaced.
“The collection that we have is considered to be one of national significance in terms of North West Mounted Police and First Nations interpretation,” Coutts said. “It’s really important to protect them.”
At present the Fort Museum has more artifacts and manuscripts than it has room to house and display.
“There is a capital expenditure coming down in the next 10 years that needs to be addressed if they want to preserve this collection.”
The committee also looked at the 1884 barracks site, which is an important provincial and national historic site.
“Right now it’s not being utilized or displayed in a way that fits that national and provincial designation,” Coutts said. “It’s just there and nobody is doing anything with it.”
Historic Main Street, the Empress Theatre, the Legacy signage program and Union Cemetery are other important Fort Macleod assets
“All of that should be integrated together into some kind of promotion and programming that raises the profile of the history that we’re so proud of here in Fort Macleod,” Coutts said.
The comprehensive plan will recommend an organizational structure, a promotion plan, volunteer involvement and marketing under cultural heritage tourism.
“Federal, provincial and territorial governments have been working the past five years on a cultural heritage initiative,” Coutts said. “We see an opportunity because of all the cultural and heritage assets we have here to set us up as a destination point.”
The consultant would also be charged with working with the community to get the plan going.
The time line involves having the scope of the work done by September.
If a decision on the grant funding is forthcoming by October, the consultant would be hired next January to start work that will take about 18 months.
Coutts, a former MLA for Livingstone-Macleod, will meet with the ministries of culture and tourism to ask for money.
“This heritage tourism opportunity is going to be there in the future for us to grab hold of,” Coutts said. “If we don’t plan now to take advantage of that, given the financial situation that both the Empress and the Fort are under, we might not be here to take advantage of it.”
“We have all these wonderful assets and we should be the icon of a heritage tourism destination in southern Alberta.”

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