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What's brewing at Canmore's NWMP Barracks

CANMORE – As one of Canmore’s oldest historical buildings, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) Barracks has plans for revitalization this coming August.
Syrian Coffee
Sevan Gower serves up some Syrian coffee made in the traditional way with sand at the NWMP Barracks in Canmore on Saturday (June 8). Gower is selling the sweet cardamom infused coffee on weekends. Photo Credit: Aryn Toombs

CANMORE – As one of Canmore’s oldest historical buildings, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) Barracks has plans for revitalization this coming August.

With the Community Facility Enhancement Program Grant from the Town of Canmore, the revitalization process will start with the inside of the barracks

“The barracks hasn’t really had any new signage or interpretation done since the early 2000s, so this is a chance for us to reinterpret the story and maybe make it a little more accessible to visitors and locals as well,” said Amy Herr, collections assistant at the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre.

Additionally, Herr said there are plans to transition it into a more community-driven space. The Barracks site has plans to host temporary exhibits every six months, from community-based exhibitions to local artists.

Changes are already underway with two new additions to the Barracks site, Siding 27, a new and unique coffee shop and a re-enactment actor portraying a coal-miner from the 1890s.

“The Barracks was for the majority a retail space for a long time, so we’re kind of transitioning away from having it be a retail space and back into a heritage interpretive space. We’re also looking to get more people in to make it into more of a community centre,” said Herr.

In the back of the barrack is Siding 27, a local coffee kiosk owned by Sevan Gower. It’s a unique style of coffee, blended very finely and served with spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. What makes her coffee even more interesting is that it is made over sand, a traditional fashion.

“A long time ago, people didn’t have any stove or coffee machines to make coffee. The way was to just any pot, fill it with sand and put it over firewood because sand protects your containers from burning. That’s why you get the heat that you want without burning your containers. So this is an old idea and I’m just trying to do something unique and different,” said Gower.

On the front porch of NWMP Barracks, sits Douglas Sinclair, a coal miner from the 1890s. Depending on the day, Sinclair will either be playing music from his banjo or mandolin, or singing historical mining songs dating back as early as 1876.

Behind the character Douglas Sinclair, is the NWMP’s re-enactment actor, Grant Stewart Hilts who created the character in order to engage with travellers and locals alike. His mission was to pique visitors interest into Canmore’s coal-mining past.

“It’s not just acting, it’s almost like improv because I have to go off the prompts and reactions of people I’m talking to, so it’s kind of like any small detail from what life was like back then and what it was like to work in the coal mines, it helps for sure. So research is definitely key,” Hilts said.

With both Siding 27 and Hilts’ Douglas Sinclair, the museum's plan to transform the space into a community site is already on its way. The NWMP Barracks will be closed for reconstruction in early August and will be reopening at the end of August.