Mr. Medalta David Jamieson
by Angela Stubbs
Show an interest in potteries, and David Jamieson will be delighted to talk about the Medalta Potteries Historic Site. He didn't intend to become so totally involved when he first learned of the project back in 1984, but 15 years later his work has netted him the prestigious Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Award of Honour.
Mark Rasmussen, co-ordinating director of the Foundation, says the award recognizes outstanding achievement and commitment to heritage.
"This is the first one we've given out in about five years. . . . The Foundation has been helping support the [Medalta] project for the last 10 years. . . . There were people before him, but it was David who found the necessary resources."
Born in Goldfields, Saskatchewan, Jamieson lived in Nova Scotia for many years before moving to Medicine Hat in 1980. A realtor by trade and active heritage proponent by inclination, he soon became director of the Medicine Hat Historical Society and president of the Southeastern Alberta Archaeology Society. His connection with the potteries began when he attended a slide presentation about the Medalta site, by local artist Jim Marshall. By the end of the evening Jamieson had signed on as a founding member of the Friends of Medalta Society, volunteers dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and development of the site into a living/working clay museum and interpretive centre.
Jamieson says he didn't have a vision, he just kept going with the flow. "The main thrust at that time was to obtain the Medalta property so we could maintain and preserve it," he says. "It was being vandalized, the weather was getting at it, and it was falling down."
The Province had declared it a Provincial Historic Resource in 1976, and the group applied and received National Historic Site status in 1985.
"When that happened we thought we had it made, but boy were we mistaken," Jamieson recalls. "We only had a few repairs done through minor grants of $10,000 and $20,000."
A generous, unexpected pottery donation 10 years ago led to an exciting twist to Jamieson's efforts. When Harry Veiner, the last owner of the 1930s Hycroft China Co., died in 1990, his family donated the plant, which was in better condition than Medalta, to the society. Jamieson saw an opportunity and envisioned a whole new life for the facility.
"Most of the major equipment was still in place," says Jamieson. "But it was derelict with pigeon poop all over, broken windows, the roof leaked like a sieve, and things were being stolen. It took a year to convince the board to take it over, then we decided to put the Clay Products Interpretive Centre at Hycroft and put up a display."
Jamieson says perseverance and hard work paid off. Under his direction, the society raised $1,620,000 to preserve this second Provincial Historic Resource. In 1994, the Great Wall of China display opened to the public. Twenty metres long, two metres high, it features 5,500 original pieces of Hycroft china. "We charged $3 a head and had almost 12,000 people come through in the first year, so we were able to divert some of the income as seed money for Medalta." A grant of $20,000 from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation in 1995 has also helped. As well, a great catalyst to the success of Medalta restorations was a meeting with Linda Christiansen of Canada Employment, Jamieson adds. The group successfully applied to the Section 25 Program, which provided people to help do repairs.
Gregarious and determined, Jamieson has been a director, vice-chairman, then chairman of the society since 1984. Over the years, he has sought support from private sector, municipal, provincial, and federal government agencies. Fundraising has been his forte, and he's helped bring in over $2 million for Medalta in the last six years. Four years ago, Jamieson initiated an "inner cabinet" to the board of directors, bringing together representatives of various funding agencies, the consulting architect, and fundraisers. "It's a visionary group-we discuss the big picture, the longer view of the project." The society keeps everyone better informed about the plans this way, and individuals see how approaches to one agency for funding might coordinate with applications to another. "They've become as enthusiastic about the project as we are," Jamieson explains.
Looking to the future, Jamieson says restoration work will continue at both plants, self-guided tours will be initiated at Hycroft, two Medalta buildings destroyed by fire in 1989 and '96 will be rebuilt and kilns restored, and the Artist-in-Residence building will be renovated. And what does Jamieson see in his own future? He's far from finished with Medalta. "I can't walk away from it-we've got machines to find yet, buildings to restore.
"I often go down to the plant in the evening when it's dark and relive in my mind the great progress we've made in six years from when the site was derelict. It makes me feel proud to be part of it," he reflects. "I've poured so much of my effort into this project, I think 100 years from now my ghost will come back to walk through the buildings and see what has happened." Angela Stubbs is a long-time editor and journalist in Medicine Hat. Ms. Stubbs’ article “Mr. Medalta David Jamieson,” is in Legacy (February-April 2000), pages 26-27
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