A giant aircraft carrier made of ice? A giant aircraft carrier made of ice.

Written by: Sara Bohuch, BA Archaeology (Simon Fraser University) , MSc Conservation Practice (Cardiff University) 

In terms of places rich with classified war time projects and military intrigue, Alberta is rarely the first spot that people think of. But history holds no bias in terms of where it takes place, and Alberta had its own part to play in the eccentric branch of the military arms race circa WW2. This was in part due to the plentiful excess of one of Canada’s most abundant and hated elements: ice. 

In 1943, the Chief of Combined Operations for the British War Office had a point to prove about ice. His name was Lord Mountbatten, and he sincerely believed that ice could be used to defeat the Nazi menace during WW2. To establish his argument, he brought two huge chunks of it into the 1943 Quebec Conference. The secret conference was host to the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Mountbatten had to justify the validity of his ice-related project to the leaders and their staff.

In front of a skeptical crowd of WW2 brass, he set up two ice blocks right next to each other. The first block was pure ice, while the block next to it was a new manmade composite mixture of ice and wood pulp. He retreated to the other side of the room, removed his gun, and shot a bullet into the first ice block. It predictably shattered to pieces. Mountbatten then reloaded his gun, took aim at the second block, and fired. This time, the bullet could not penetrate the ice, instead ricocheting completely off the block, flying through the pant leg of a nearby admiral, and ending up in the wall. The new material remained remarkably intact.

Artist’s rendering of what would be Project Habbakuk. Source: cnn.com.
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Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection comes to the PAA

Written by: Kate Rozon, Private Records Archivist

Did you know the Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection covers a wide array of subjects about Alberta’s history dating back to before Alberta was even a province?

In August 2018, the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) acquired the records of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), following years of negotiations with OMI Lacombe Canada. Since their acquisition, the PAA and several volunteers have been arranging, describing and processing this extensive and historic collection of the religious missionary order. The collection consists of over 400 metres of textual records, thousands of audio records and film, more than 50,000 images and hundreds of maps and drawings.

The ultimate goal is to have the entire collection processed by 2023. At that time, we hope to see the publication of a two-volume finding aid consisting of Oblate administrative histories and a catalogue of the entire collection. This will help researchers understand and navigate this important resource.

But for now, here’s a sneak peek at some of the objects from the OMI.

Archaeology through a different lens: Thin section analysis of lithic materials

Written by: Emily Moffat, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

By examining the microscopic details of a lithic material, the geological history and characteristics of the rock comes into focus, which contributes to our understanding of the archaeological record. Archaeologists use this information to understand how people made tools, how they collected or traded stones, and how they moved around past landscapes. Thin sections therefore provide a different lens through which we can view human behaviour.

Thin sections are extremely fine slices of material that are viewed under a microscope to observe details not visible to the unaided eye. Petrography is the detailed description of the composition and texture of rocks and although it started in the field of geology, it has since been applied to archaeology. Petrographic analysis of thin sections has proven to be a powerful tool in better understanding archaeological materials, such as stone tools and other lithic artifacts, by furthering our knowledge of the rock types that they were made from.

To make a thin section, a small cut of rock is adhered to a glass microscope slide and polished down to a thickness of about 0.03 mm. At this point, the sample is so thin that light can pass through it. Petrographic microscopes are specifically designed to view rock thin sections because they have light polarizers that reveal unique optical properties of minerals. By viewing the rock under these polarizers (termed plane polarized and cross polarized light), the minerals within the sample can be identified and small-scale features that give clues as to how the rock formed become visible.

Rock thin section and petrographic microscope. Source: Emily Moffat.
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Recognizing and Researching Residential School Sites

Today is  Orange Shirt Day, a national day held annually to open the door to conversations about Canada’s residential school system. It’s a time to acknowledge the experience of former students and create meaningful discussion around the effects of residential schools and the dark legacy left behind.

In this spirit, the Heritage Division of Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women has developed a new resource guide to assist researchers, former students, Survivors, Survivor groups or communities to research and recognize residential school sites and stories.

Whether you are part of community or organization helping to recognize a former school site or you want to learn more through archival and historical research or from a museum exhibit, the new Resource Guide for Researching and Recognizing Residential School Sites may help in this important work.

The Big Voice Drummers finish a victory song as a Red Deer City Cemetery monument is unveiled, honouring four children who died while attending Red Deer Industrial School (2017).

 

So much owed to so few: Albertans in the Battle of Britain

Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS

On August 20, 1940, Sir Winston Churchill, recently named Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, gave a speech to the House of Commons and uttered one of his most well-known statements: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Churchill was referring to the efforts of air personnel fighting in the air war over the United Kingdom, an air war now known as the Battle of Britain. This week will see ceremonies and events in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. 

In 1940, Germany began an air offensive on British cities and military installations, attempting to force the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the skies and soften Britain’s defences enough to allow for an invasion. As the Battle of Britain occurred early in the Second World War, the majority of Allied air personnel that took part were British. However, pilots and other aircrew from many Allied nations took part, including a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadron.

Some members of the RCAF also served with the RAF, with a number of Canadians enlisting directly with the RAF in the years preceding the war. Exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, but sources suggest that up to 112 Canadians and one Newfoundlander saw action in the skies over the British Isles during the months-long air battle. Many of those men lost their lives either during the Battle of Britain or in other engagements in the weeks, months and years that followed.

Following the end of the Second World War, there was an effort to commemorate the military personnel that made the ultimate sacrifice. This commemoration took many forms, one of which was to name geographical features and places for war casualties. In Alberta, three geographical features and a railway point were named for pilots that lost their lives in the air force operations around the time of the Battle of Britain.

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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources

Editor’s note: Welcome to the final post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will discuss how the evaluation of a historic resource at the provincial and municipal level may result in complimentary or differing heritage values. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer, Historic Resources Management Branch


Complementary and differing values

Alberta’s Historical Resources Act empowers both the Government of Alberta and municipalities to designate, or recognize and protect, a range of historic resources whose preservation is in the public interest. These resources can be places, structures or objects that may be works of nature or people (or both) that are of palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest. Albertans value these historic resources because our past, in its many forms, is part of who we are as a society and helps give our present significance and purpose.

As of July 2020, there are currently 390 Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and 413 Municipal Historic Resources (MHR) in Alberta, some 60 of which are designated both provincially and municipally. These resources merit designation for various reasons, from their association with significant events, activities, people or institutions; as representative examples of architectural styles or construction methods; for their symbolic and landmark value; or their potential to yield information of scientific value.

Heritage values are described in short Statements of Significance, which are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. In this post, we look at examples of heritage values that municipal and provincial governments recognize and how local and provincial values may align, differ or complement each other.

Plaques or markers are often used to identify designated historic resources. These plaques, affixed to Strathcona Public Library in Edmonton, show that it has been designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and a Municipal Historic Resource. PHRs are identified by a blue, enamel button or marker. MHRs can be identified by a variety of plaques and markers depending on the procedures of the municipality. Source: Historic Resources Management.
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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Statements of Integrity

Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will talk about the importance of developing Statements of Integrity, and how they help to both increase understanding and manage change to historic resources over time. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Tom Ward, Manager, Heritage Conservation Advisory Services, Historic Resources Management Branch


Statements of Integrity

The process for evaluating if an historic place merits designation under the Historical Resources Act (HRA) starts with determining if and why it is significant. Then, determining whether it retains sufficient physical integrity to convey that significance. Earlier blog posts described how to develop a Statement of Significance (SOS). The next step works through whether enough of the physical features that relate to the heritage values exist, and are in acceptable condition to convey heritage values. Not all places merit designation as historic resources, especially if integrity is in question.

Below is an outline of what goes into determining integrity and how to summarize findings in a Statement of Integrity (SOI). It is important to remember that the development of an SOS and SOI are complementary processes. The information and facts discovered by each related investigation help to compliment, influence and improve each document to enable the best decision possible in terms of proceeding with a designation.

Understanding what is of value

A review of the heritage values expressed in the SOS provides the person analyzing the integrity of a place with a reminder of why it is potentially of historic significance and what details may be important. The heritage values and the period of significance are critical to keep in mind when observing and evaluating the historic place.

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Innocuous Modern: Edmonton’s hidden urban design

Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)

Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen.

There are minuses to living in a largely post-war city like Edmonton. Ask any urban planner and they’ll point to the era as the antithesis to good urban design.

New suburbs were built around the private automobile, not a streetcar or trolleybus. Roads became wide and winding; lots large, density low. More and more, basic needs became further and further out of reach for anyone who didn’t drive. Malls replaced traditional shopping corridors. Downtown struggled, stagnated and effectively died. The inner core rotted. There’s no denying that the post-war push saw a shift in lifestyle that most North American cities have yet to recover from.

7918 144 Avenue

But perhaps one minuscule caveat to the era exists: the architecture that dots these car-centric subdivisions. It’s a style one could almost dub “Innocuous Modern” — pieces of Modernism that sit largely ignored or unnoticed, passed by thousands each day without a second thought. They’re often restrained, but still unique, examples of a mid-century era styling that are perfectly inoffensive and never draw the eye with any semblance of gaudiness.

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Reverting Colonial Cartography: Searching for Drift-Pile Camp

Written by: Karl Giroux, Consultation Director, Driftpile Cree Nation and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Adviser

Editor’s note: On July 24, 2018, Driftpile Cree Nation conducted a site visit with representatives of the Historic Resources Management Branch. The purpose of the site visit was to identify the “Drift-Pile Camp” referenced in the journal of George Mercer Dawson, as he traveled what is now Alberta for the Geological Survey of Canada in the late 1800s. Below, Laura Golebiowski (Aboriginal Consultation Adviser, Historic Resources Management Branch) and Karl Giroux (Consultation Director with Driftpile Cree Nation) share their experiences visiting the location.

“The Athabasca River derives its name from the great lake into which it flows, which is called A-pē-pas-kow by the Crees. The upper part of the river is known as Mas-ta-hi-sī-pī or Great River.

On reaching its north bank on our traverse from Sturgeon Lake, Mr. MacLeod and I had arranged to separate, Mr. MacLeod continuing on overland toward Dirt Lake, while I intended to make a canoe and descend the river. As no traces had yet been found of the party which was supposed to be on the way from Edmonton to meet us, we now set fire to a great pile of drift-logs on one of the bars, and sent one Indian up and another down the river to seek for information, but all with no result. It was further unexpectedly found that no cottonwood trees suitable for making a canoe existed in the valley, and as the river was evidently quite unsuited to be descended on a raft, by reason of its swiftness and the number of shoal bars which occur now on one side and now on the other, it became difficult to know in what way the programme could be carried out. It was finally decided to use the canvass cargo-covers and blanket wrapped in the construction of a canoe. To this all hands devoted themselves for three days, when we had the satisfaction of seeing a large canoe, properly framed and strengthened, which when painted over with a mixture of bacon fat and spruce gum was nearly water-tight.”

The above text is taken from George Mercer Dawson’s 1881 Report on Exploration from Port Simpson on the Pacifica Coast to Edmonton on the Saskatchewan. George Dawson was a Nova Scotia-born geographer who conducted numerous expeditions for the Geological Survey of Canada, beginning in 1875 until his unexpected death in 1901.

George Dawson LAC
George Mercer Dawson, then Assistant Director of the Geological Survey of Canada in May 1885. Source: Library and Archives Canada.

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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers- 2019 Update

Written By: Colleen Haukaas (Archaeological Survey)

This week’s post is an update on archaeological project and site data for 2019 from the Archaeological Survey. Click the image below the see the full size.

Archaeological Survey in Numbers 2019

Disclaimer: the archaeological site counts for 2019 may not be final. They are constantly being updated as consultants and researchers submit their reports to the Archaeological Survey.

See previous infographics from this series here:

Archaeology and Development: Statistics from the Historic Resources Management Branch

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part One: Archaeological Permits

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Two : Archaeological Permit Holders and Companies

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Three : Archaeological Site Investigation

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2017 Update

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2018 Update