Heather Cram has spent most of her professional career with HTFC Planning and Design, formerly Hilderman Thomas Frank Cram. A 33-year veteran and Principal Emeritus of her firm, she has developed strong ties with client and community groups through an emphasis on listening carefully to their needs and working collaboratively on planning solutions.
A familial background in architecture and design led Cram to high school summers working on a housing project in Thompson, Manitoba. In an era when few women worked in architectural practice, she encountered scepticism and lower wages, all of which fuelled her drive to achieve. Becoming the mother of young children required further organizational and time management skills. While landscape architecture was ultimately revealed to be a better fit for her skills, this circuitous route wound through two years of fine arts, four years of architecture and later night classes in the 1960s at the University of Manitoba. It ultimately brought Cram to the attention of Garry Hilderman, with whom she started working in 1981, mostly on residential and streetscaping projects, combining design skills with community development capabilities.
Her particular and enduring interest in art led to ground level work with the Urban Idea Centre, an early creative effort at public art in Winnipeg. She moved into work on the Millennium Planning Committee, in 1997, and then on to chair the Winnipeg Arts Council’s Mayor’s Task Force for Public Art. Developed at the request of Mayor Glen Murray, this committee established the first formalized approach to public art in Winnipeg, sometimes a tough sell but now a valued requirement in urban design. Cram stayed with the committee for many years, helping to develop the operating principles. Art remains a special interest and informs much of her work in design details and aesthetics.
In building the reputation of HTFC, Cram led a number of projects which involved careful listening to community needs and aspirations. This process has pushed the traditional definition of landscape architecture, pulling her own career into broad directions. Within a long list of projects undertaken, patterns emerge of a professional willing to engage at many levels on diverse subjects, one experience building upon the last. For example, Cram was the point person on a team planning trails and landscaping for an interpretive centre in Ignace, Ontario, where plans evolved to include developing storylines for the museum that included the lumber industry, the local First Nations community and a fire watch system for the extensive forest resources. In that process, she also honed her skills as an expert exhibit designer.
It was a natural progression to then bring her company’s talents into a much larger project in the development of Manitou Mounds near Rainy River, Ontario. Investigation of this First Nations’ site called for a light footprint but deep listening skills as the landscape contains evidence of 30 village and camp sites and 17 ancient burial mounds, together designated in 1969 to be of national historic significance and highly significant to the Ojibway Nation. On its 90-hectare site, Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre grew to include a large circular interpretation structure, educational programming, and interpretive trails, more and more of which fell to Cram and her colleagues at HTFC. Their work on the site deepened to include collaborative outreach within the local community, commissioning artwork, governance and in more recent years, developing the business plan for updating the site. In depth and breadth, this project illustrates their corporate phrase ‘We build the Environment’. Cram remains deeply moved by and committed to this long-standing project and the relationships involved.
Business and community development projects fill much of Cram’s resume, with projects ranging from Wolseley Building Communities to site development at several local schools, the Kenora Harbourfront Development and Pedestrian Walkway, and the Winnipeg Folk Festival Site Development. Straight-forward landscape sites range from the attractive new Cancer Care Building, the Lindenridge Shopping Centre and the Asper Jewish Community Campus. The Forks Public Art Program and the Citizens Hall of Fame in Assiniboine Park benefitted from Cram's artistic side, while her deep-set ability to listen and collaborate were evident in planning projects on multi-disciplinary teams, such as a Masterplan for Brandon University green spaces and the Pays Plat Interpretive Feasibility study in Schreiber, Ontario. The year 2014 found her immersed in a team approach to pull together client groups and dedicated working boards into the Assiniboine Park Conservancy in a major revitalization of Assiniboine Park, the crown jewel of the City’s park system.
Volunteer board work and worthy community efforts have always been encouraged with her firm, with examples of Cram’s work scattered throughout the province. While dismissive of awards because “it’s more important to honour the vision of the client,” Cram was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2000 for significant contribution to her fellow citizens, as well as the CSLA National Honour for The Forks Commemorative Plaza in 1995 and regional merit for the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park in 1994.