Visit to Chalmers Heritage Conservation Ltd

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Dave Chalmers at his shop, checking out some of the projects he has underway and generally nerding out over conservation materials and processes. It was awesome!

Dave started Chalmers Heritage Conservation in 2015 after working for years as a carpenter as well as for another restoration company, and it’s clear to me that he has found that rare intersection of passion, profession and opportunity. CHC employs a team of highly skilled craftsmen, including his younger brother and a number of European trained and experienced workers that share the same passion and vision for what they are doing.

CHC is currently working on the restoration of Calgary’s old City Hall and it was really cool to see how they were dismantling, indexing, repairing and restoring every single element for things like the windows, the lanterns and the clock face. 

The reason it was so inspiring to me is because of the research, thought and care that goes into every step of every process. And the interesting thing is that in a lot of cases, the “best new” way of doing things is almost exactly the way things were done in the past, with maybe a few tweaks that modern materials science can provide. 

Take for example something as straightforward as stripping and repainting a window sill.  I’m sure we spent a good 20 minutes discussing tools and techniques for removing paint from a piece of wood without damaging it, and it’s clear that Dave has thought long and hard about the best way to achieve the desired end result which isn’t just to make it look good – in fact it’s more about working with the processes and the finishes to ensure that the original piece of wood is nourished, stabilized and will last another 100 years. And look great at the same time.

Dave also walked me through a new paint system they are using imported from Scandinavia which is all natural, and so simple in principle the it’s a wonder that anyone would use a different approach for painting wooden structures. And again it’s steeped in traditional methods and approaches to preserving the material for decades, which has such obvious advantages when you understand how the system interacts with the underlaying materials that it was a real eye opener for me – I can’t wait to try it out on the Trend House.

The economic slowdown a few years ago presented a great opportunity for CHC, and they managed to acquire not only specialized equipment, but valuable talent from a local window manufacturing company that now enables them to produce their own windows and window inserts in-house. This gives them not only a terrific cost advantage, but more importantly enables them to control the quality of the product to match the work that they do, combining the best in traditional construction methods and appearance with the latest energy saving and material advantages where they can.

That’s just a small taste of the things that Dave shared with me on that visit and I have to say that for me it’s inspiring that there is a company with this kind of passion and dedication for preserving historic properties located in Calgary, and that there is enough opportunity locally to not only support this work, but to make it expand and grow.

Huge thank you to Dave and the crew for their time, and if you have any interest in their services etc I strongly suggest you get in touch with them.