It’s an Edmonton landmark: a quaint, picturesque log cabin with breathtaking views of the city’s verdant river valley. Built in 1956, the Old Timers Cabin has long been a highly sought-after venue for weddings, meetings and other events thanks to its distinct character, rustic charm and convenient location. Situated along an arterial road just minutes from the downtown core, the Cabin is a daily sight for commuters. But what many might not realize is that the Cabin is more than simply an event venue–it’s also home to one of Edmonton’s oldest chartered clubs: the Northern Alberta Pioneers and Descendants Association (NAPDA).
Founded in 1894, NAPDA works to collect and preserve the stories of the hardy pioneers who built northern Alberta. Initially, membership was limited to those who could trace their family lineage in the area to 1905 or earlier, but over time it has expanded to include any Canadian citizens living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories or Yukon.
Today, although the bulk of the association’s work comes from operating the Cabin as an event venue, NAPDA remains committed to its original mandate of preserving the area’s history. Venue rentals serve to finance the organization’s programs and initiatives, but also offer modern-day users a glimpse into Edmonton’s heritage.
Part of the building’s charm lies in its traditional appearance, with its field stone foundation, planed poplar floors and solid spruce log walls. But after years of use as an event space, parts of the venue began to look dated. By the time Dorinda Emery stepped into the role of NAPDA’s Executive Director seven years ago, the Cabin was in dire need of renovations. Although the building was designed to have a certain antique appeal, its aging facilities and fixtures were rapidly becoming less charming to prospective renters.
“We knew we needed to update the washrooms–badly–but also wanted to move our administrative offices to the basement of the building,” says Emery, explaining that the basement had once been home to a live-in caretaker for the property, who had resided there with his family for more than 40 years. Now that it was vacant, NAPDA was ready to start renovations.
Before beginning renovations, however, NAPDA needed approval from the City of Edmonton. The Cabin is a designated municipal historic resource, located on park land, so any construction or updates Emery and NAPDA wanted to have done needed to be coordinated and approved by the city in advance. And what was intended to be a small project quickly grew in scope.
“We were preparing to do some small renovations, but ultimately there was too much about the building that wasn’t up to current standards and codes,” says Emery. “The costs kept going up as well, which was challenging at first for an organization of our size. We were very fortunate to have been able to work with SEF to make the work a reality.”
Today, the Cabin’s transformation is nearing its completion. From the outside, the building has maintained its old-fashioned charm. But the interior now features modern amenities, including a chic bridal dressing room, and modern bathrooms akin to those found in a luxury hotel.
“Over the past seven years, we’ve ended up changing the whole building,” says Emery. “If you saw what it was like when I first walked into it, you wouldn’t believe it.”
The hard work is paying off. The Cabin’s booking calendar is full, hosting around 100 weddings a year as well as dozens of corporate meetings, community events and celebrations. The venue keeps Emery busy, but its popularity enables NAPDA to continue to focus on connecting Albertans with the province’s pioneer heritage.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that the reason the association exists, and the reason we operate the Cabin and do these rentals, is to maintain historical ties,” she says. “It’s a fine balance, but we’re optimistic about what we can do.”
Once renovations are complete, Emery hopes the venue’s popularity will have an impact on NAPDA’s membership numbers. “As we have business people and community groups coming in here for events, we certainly want to see how we can get them involved. There’s a lot of room for growth in that regard,” she says.
The Sage Seniors Association was one of the first organizations to work with SEF back in our earliest days.