When it comes to historical artifacts, who decides what is worth saving?
This question becomes all the more poignant when that artifact is a building… a business or someone’s home perhaps.
Point blank the question is, quite simply put, who determines if a building lives or dies? Each spring I find myself surrounded by the hulking masses of structures in the throes of death. Their decaying beauty both fascinates and saddens me.
As many of you know, I travel to Fort Steele Heritage Town each spring with my students. In fact, 2014 will mark the 10th year anniversary of my annual trek into historical immersion. Therefore I have had a fair amount of time to walk the streets of this historical site. A historical site that is not a contrived tourist attraction but a town that died due to an event as simple as the placement of railway track.
Fort Steele, originally named Galbraith’s Ferry, was a rapidly growing center of commerce and prosperity up until the early 1900s. Unfortunately the movement of the CPR spur line to Joseph’s Prairie (current day Cranbrook) resulted in its decline and decay. Luckily, in 1967 the British Columbia Parliament deemed it to be a historical site and the long process of restoring an entire town commenced.
Please know, the restoration has been a long process that has involved countless hours of work by many who have volunteered both their time and money. But I have to admit, with each passing visit, I find more and more often, I am drawn not to the restored and beautiful buildings, but to those that are slowly decaying as the march of time passes over them.
Again and again I find I wonder why the decision was made that these decaying homes and businesses were not worthy of restoration and saving. Was it because they were too far gone by the time the restoration process began in this little town? Was it lack of overall funding? Perhaps it had to do with historical significance. Were these structures deemed of little historical importance and therefore left to die.
Historical significance. Selfishly one could foolishly think that any home or personal business that you have breathed life into should be considered significant. Then practicality sets in and we know this is not a reality. As my own personal story unfolds around me I am left wondering what will be the ultimate demise of the homes I have lived in. Will they too one day fall to the decay of time, my own story and steps upon this earth quickly forgotten. It is a sobering thought.
Perhaps that is why these rotting structures never cease to fascinate me as I peer into broken windows and sagging door frames. The peeling paint, torn wall papers and fabrics whisper to me. Unfortunately the whispers are far too soft and even with the muffling of the outside world as I poke my head into the quiet to have a better listen, I find I still cannot hear the stories of their past inhabitants. I know that each of these buildings has a story to tell of the people who once walked within their walls, and it saddens me that the whispers are further lost with each passing year as the elements work their slow decay on the timbers and trappings.
It is during these moments of exploration that I find myself wishing I could go back in time and see these now derelict structures in their glory. I wish to see pristine paint, vibrant colours and rooms full of the hustle and bustle of life. I wish to know the stories of those who brought life to these now decaying masses.
Truth be told I wish I could go back in time and be an advocate for these buildings and find a way to save them, because by saving the structure, the stories of those who lived, laughed and loved within their walls are preserved as well.
For don’t we all wish that our own stories will be forever preserved and not left to die.