Location: Jasper National Park, Alberta
Timeline: February 2016
Client: Parks Canada
For those who want both the comfort of soaking in natural minerals and the pleasure of panoramic views, hidden within Jasper National Park up on the Canadian Rockies, is the Miette Hot Springs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Miette features the hottest natural springs in the region. Managed by Parks Canada, the site is wheelchair accessible and equipped with change rooms, showers and accommodation, making it a family-friendly destination for those looking for a “hidden gem.”
The aquacourt at the Miette Hot Springs and road access were built in the 1930’s when visitor activity was on the rise. However, prior to this boom, the springs were used by Indigenous peoples as a source of healing and spirituality, and the land was an abundant area for hunting and gathering food. Nations including the Stoney First Nation and Keeseekoowenin Ojibwa were ousted from the area in the late 80’s.
“This is unceded territory,” explains Advantage GRP President, Tim Hopkins. “As an Indigenous company, working on the Miette Hot Springs can become a conversation starter on reconciliation. I can see that people on both sides are eager to have this discussion.”
Advantage GRP was contracted to restore one of the main cabins located at the springs called "the bunk house." The restoration work included roofing, deck building and drainage work.
The accommodations at the Miette Hot Springs are cabin structures that feature a vaulted ceiling, a design that utilizes the pitched roof as extra breathing space. Because the cedar roof deck served as the ceiling of the quarters inside, a question of waterproofing and insulation needed to be taken into consideration.
The Advantage team was told that the cedar had years of wear. For Hopkins, the aged lumber signalled that more thorough inspection was needed. The team found sections of rot in almost all the cabins when removing the roof boards from the underside and replaced a total of 240 boards.
“It was almost a quarter of the roof that needed to be replaced,” explains Hopkins.
Because of the number of boards that required replacement, the team at Advantage GRP needed a solution that would not interfere with the project deadline. After sourcing the rough lumber, the team decided to mill the cedar on site using a planer and dado blade to create a tongue and groove system.
“We needed a solution that would get us the amount of cedar efficiently without sacrificing quality,” details Tim. “With an on-site mill, we lost no time.”
The exterior of the roof, pitched at a standard 4:12, was finished with a commercial-grade standing seam metal roof. A Suprema waterproof membrane was added after installation of the roof deck to ensure an extra back up that would keep the cabin dry. “If the metal would fail for some reason, it would still keep the interiors safe from rain or snow,” explains Hopkins. By adding 3-inch insulation foam between the roof and ceiling, the cabins were turned into four-season accommodations.
An Unusual Work Hazard
Despite the cold climate, the Advantage team says their greatest work hazard was not the terrain, season or temperatures of the Rockies, but its wildlife. “They’d come in waves,” says Hopkins, recalling the herds of mountain goats that frequented the walkways at the hot springs. “We would wave and yell warnings from the rooftop to visitors who weren’t aware that the male goats are particularly territorial.”
On several occasions, the billy goats managed to lodge their horns underneath the work vehicles trying to consume the salt that accumulated on the underside. Another time, one found its way in the back of a vehicle to where the tools were stored. “He made himself at home,” laughs Hopkins. “He was quite comfortable.”
One evening, Hopkins and his team watched as a bear attempted to sniff its way into their cabin after picking up some fresh pizza. “We hunkered ourselves in and waited for hours,” remembers Hopkins. “It was a yearling, so we knew his mom was probably nearby.”
Decks & Drainage
“You could tell by the way it was initially designed, that the drainage was an afterthought,” explains former-Advantage GRP Project Manager, Adam Nelson. The drainage which was initially centred in the middle of the room was later designed into the wall.
It was important to the team that the deck guarded against the weather but also had the aesthetics of an enjoyable area. “You want a deck that people would want to spend time on,” says Nelson. “Wood always gives that feeling.”
But wood isn’t always as durable, and while it made for a cozy interior for the cabin, it wouldn’t have the longevity to withstand the climate of the Rockies. The solution was found in a wood-alternative composite product called TREX. Made from recycled a blend of 95% recycled wood and plastic film, the product promised low-maintenance, high-performance and eco-friendly decking. As a result, the deck appeared to have a wood finish, without requiring any of the maintenance. Metal rails and posts were installed as final touches.
A Catalyst For Conversation
While the Miette Hot Springs holds a rich Canadian history that dates back to the early 80’s, Graeme Hamilton of the National Post notes that visitors will not find “much trace of the Indigenous people whose ancestors resided and hunted there.”
For Hopkins, working on this project with an Indigenous team meant that a renewed discussion of reconciliation seemed hopeful. “I’ve spoken to people from both Indigenous communities and the government,” he says. “It seems we’re on the brink of having those conversations, but they have not happened yet.”
Due to a recession in the Saskatchewan oil economy, Advantage GRP had the opportunity to work with members of the James Smith First Nation for this project. Hopkins points to this as a successful aspect of the Canadian government’s Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business (PSAB). “When you hire an Indigenous company, what you get is a stronger national economy because it acts as a balancing agent,” Hopkins explains, stressing that the PSAB gives an opportunity for Indigenous businesses like Advantage GRP to get projects that include them in the economy’s bigger picture.