Garden of the gods: Áísínai’pi on the Great Plains

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Aaron Domes (Alberta Parks), Jack Brink (retired Curator of Archaeology at the Royal Alberta Museum) and Martin Heavy Head (Elder and cultural leader of the Kainai) for their input and review of this article.

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Terra Lekach, freelance archaeologist and artist

A muddy ribbon of water flows through southern Alberta on its way to the Missouri. Along the Milk River lies 3,000 years of beliefs etched and painted as rock art on sandstone walls. An 18 km stretch of the river meanders through 149 archaeological sites displaying several thousand individual rock art images. The art documents millennia of spiritual connections to a sacred landscape and centuries of cultural change during European settlement on the Great Plains.

Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the Milk River in southern Alberta. Image created by Todd Kristensen.
Over 60 per cent of rock art in Alberta is found in Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi and over 8 per cent of Indigenous rock art in Canada is found along this small stretch of the Milk River. Image created by Todd Kristensen, with input from 13 heritage managers across Canada.
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Intersections and Intertwinings: Understanding the Métis Sash

Written by: Laura Golebiowski, Indigenous Heritage Section

Editor’s note: November 14-20 is Métis Week, the annual invitation to remember the leadership, advocacy, sacrifice and legacy of Louis Riel, and to celebrate the continued achievements of Métis peoples across their homelands.

RETROactive readers will already be familiar with Matt Hiltermann for his extensively researched accounts of the Métis presence in southern Alberta. Did you know he is also a skilled fingerweaver and sashmaker? With Matt’s help, writer Laura Golebiowski dives into the historical roots and evolving cultural significance of the Métis sash. Note: banner image above courtesy of Travel Alberta.

Métis public historian Matt Hiltermann is the first to note the origins of the Métis sash are convoluted and obscure. Though several cultures produced woven textiles, the sash’s beginnings are understood to lie with the traditional weaving practices of eastern woodland First Nations, combined—quite literally—with woolen goods introduced by early French visitors. The coming together of these two cultures and crafts produced a unique item truly of its time and place. “It couldn’t have happened any other way or anywhere else.”

With practical beginnings, the sash likely served numerous functions, including a rope, tumpline (a carrying strap worn across the head), pocket, tourniquet, emergency sewing kit or belt. The earliest designs were that of the double-chevron or arrowhead. The Assomption sash, or ceinture fléchée (“arrow belt”), proliferated with the fur trade and made its way to west. Varying colours and designs were used to signify rank, status and trading allegiances or employment.

“A gentleman travelling in a dog cariole in Hudson’s Bay with an Indian guide,” 1825. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-1052.2 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. Although not explicitly identified as such (typical of exclusionary practices of the time), the middle individual driving the cariole and wearing a traditional capote, leggings and sash is very likely Métis.
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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2020 Update Part One

Written By: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

This week’s post is an update on the Archaeological Survey’s permit management program from 2020. In Alberta, as elsewhere in Canada, archaeological sites are protected and managed through legislation, as archaeological sites and artifacts are thought to be of value to Albertans. Most of the work archaeological permits since the 1970s have been issued to professionals, or consultants, working in the cultural resources management (CRM) field.

Consultants in this field work with developers and the Archaeological Survey to ensure that proposed developments, such as subdivisions, well sites, waterlines, etc., will not impact known or potential archaeological sites. This work is crucial to ensure that Alberta’s development industries can continue while also avoiding impact to archaeological resources, which are non-renewable and best left in the ground. Since the permit management system was legislated in the 1970’s, CRM consultants have recorded tens of thousands of archaeological sites in all areas of Alberta and made immeasurable contributions to the stories and knowledge of Alberta’s past.

This infographic looks at some of the details of Alberta’s permit management program- How many permits are we issuing? How many are CRM (mitigative?) Where are the permit projects this year in the province? What types of research activities are archaeologists carrying out under their permits? Please stay tuned for Part Two of this infographic, which will look at archaeological sites recorded in 2020.

You can explore previous Survey in Numbers to compare statistics year over year.

Historic LGBTQ+ site destroyed by fire

The Milla Pub, once home to Edmonton’s first official gay bar, was destroyed by fire Tuesday night.

In 2019, legendary playwright, actor, performer and director Darrin Hagen wrote about the history of Club 70 for RETROactive. With the physical building now gone, take a few moments to learn the history of an important part of Edmonton’s, and Alberta’s, LGBTQ+ community.

Haunted Heritage Part Five: Spooktacular Places

Editor’s note: Interested in more haunted heritage? Read parts one through four, if you dare!

Written By: Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator

As Halloween approaches, it is time once again to turn our attention to tales of ghostly encounters and strange otherworldly places. This year features stories of alleged paranormal activity and legends of the unexplained, perfect for sharing around the fire on star-filled autumn nights.

The University of Alberta, Edmonton

With construction beginning between 1910-1911, the University of Alberta campus has accumulated a wealth of alleged ghost stories and tales of the paranormal over the decades. One ghostly legend concerns Corbett Hall located on the southern end of campus. It is said to be the home of a benign female entity who is often seen walking across the stage in the building’s auditorium. Pembina Hall is also famed for stories of supposed paranormal activity. Here rumors persist of a ghostly young nurse searching the building aimlessly for a loved one. Another well-known story describes the apparition of a boy with blue lips, dressed in a distinctive plaid shirt that wanders near Athabasca Hall’s exterior.

Ring House One is also believed to be haunted by a former female resident. According to witness accounts, the female entity was known for moving objects from one place to another, turning lights on and off and locking doors left unattended. Visitors have also described hearing the distinct sound of riffling papers when alone and feeling cold gusts of phantom winds when coming up the main stairway of the building. Convocation Hall, housed in the old Arts Building, is also said to be the home of a legendary antique pump organ believed to play spectral music. In this story, the phantom musician was rumored to have played haunting melodies night after night during WWII, when there was no one to be seen anywhere near the instrument. 

University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta. View of the Arts Building 1926. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1811.
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COVID resilience: Experiencing Alberta’s smaller provincial historic sites in new ways

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Program Coordinator, Victoria Settlement and Fort George & Buckingham House

What can you find at Alberta’s provincial historic sites? History, of course. But what about an unstoppable fount of creativity?

Connecting Albertans with history is what staff a provincial historic sites do, but COVID closures have placed some particularly unusual barriers in the way of achieving this mission. Since some provincially-owned and operated historic sites were unable to open for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, staff had to find creative new ways for our communities to connect with the history we steward.

Below is a whirlwind tour of a few of the innovative ways Alberta’s smaller historic sites invited guests to explore their shared heritage.

Rutherford House

Since the house was closed to visitors, Rutherford House staff (and its smallest resident, Rutherford Mouse) picked up stakes and travelled for a visit to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.  They spent the summer inviting other visitors at the Ukrainian Village to join in a couple of Rutherford House programs.

The first program, Rutherford Mouse Visits the Country, was a scavenger hunt for young guests. Children (and adults) were invited to explore Pylypow and Hawreliak Houses and see if they could catch Rutherford Mouse visiting with his country friends by spotting his miniature mouse furniture and belongings hiding inside the houses, on window ledges, and beside the big-people furniture and artifacts. Children excitedly shared what they had discovered. More than 200 people took on the challenge!

Our second program, Making a House a Home, was an opportunity to compare and contrast the houses and interiors of the Rutherfords’ two residences here in Edmonton, as well as Pylypow and Hawreliak houses. Who had the fanciest floors? Whose house was a pre-packaged one? Did they all have maids? Where did everyone sleep? Almost 100 people took the opportunity to explore these amazing buildings.

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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. In solidarity, orange shirts are worn to honour and remember the children who died at Residential Schools, to witness the healing journey of Survivors and their families and commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.

The inspiration for Orange Shirt Day came from residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad, who shared her story of her first day of residential schooling at six years old, when she was stripped of her clothes, including a new orange shirt her grandmother bought her, which was never returned. The orange shirt now symbolizes how the residential school system took away the Indigenous identities of its students.

To support the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, you can purchase an orange shirt at a number of Indigenous-owned businesses:

How to participate

September 30, 1:30 pm
Zoom and Facebook Live

Join guest curator Tanya Harnett for a free virtual exhibit talk. Tanya will share her experience curating the Residential Schools exhibit to share the history and realities of the residential school system in Alberta.

Tanya Harnett is a member of the Carry-The-Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan. She is an artist and a professor at the University of Alberta in a joint appointment in the Department of Art and Design and the Faculty of Native Studies. Tanya is also a member of the Royal Alberta Museum’s Indigenous Advisory Panel.

This talk will be streamed on Zoom, and on the RAM Facebook page

Register to join the Zoom presentation here.

September 30, 10:30 am
Zoom and Facebook Live

Attend a virtual reading of Shi-Shi-Etko by Nicola Campbell. Shi-shi-etko is a young girl who has four days before she leaves home for residential school. Her family has many teachings to share with her, about her culture and the land. This book is appropriate for children aged 4-8.

This virtual story time will be streamed on Zoom, and on the RAM Facebook page

Register to join the Zoom presentation here.

Continue to learn

One of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is that all Canadians educate themselves on the true history of Indigenous peoples. There are books to introduce children to the history of residential schools, and to help understand the Indian Act and Indigenous Rights. In the spirit of reconciliation, we must continue to listen, learn about and understand Indigenous history and culture, and recognize the long-standing Indigenous presence and sovereignty in this land.

Indigenous Reading List

Okotoks adds three historic resources to Alberta Register

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer

Recently, some new Municipal Historic Designations have been added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. These resources are have been deemed by their municipality to be of significant heritage value to their community. Like Provincial Historic Resources, municipally designated properties are protected under the Historical Resources Act and qualify for conservation grants from the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program.

Of the most recent Municipal Historic resources designations added to the Register, three of them are located in the Town of Okotoks.

Okotoks Post Office

The Okotoks Post Office is a two-storey wood frame building with a boom town façade and is clad in pressed metal siding resembling a stone pattern. It is centrally located in Okotoks on North Railway Street (formerly Macleod Trail). The post office building is amongst the town’s earliest buildings and was a focal point of the community, being located across from the Canadian pacific Railway station. The building was constructed in 1890 by Herbert Bowen, a local general merchant and post master for the community. When John Paterson bought the store in 1892, he also became the postmaster. The building was the site of the post office from 1891 to 1900, and again from 1907 to 1937. The heritage value of the Okotoks Post Office is due to its association with the town’s early development, being an anchor business and service that the community would grow around. It is also significant for its association with George Paterson, son of John Paterson, who continued in his father’s role of merchant and postmaster and was a noted community member, serving as school board trustee and mayor and belonged to numerous community organizations. The building is also architecturally significant as a representation of an early-twentieth century commercial establishment.

Okotoks Post Office, December 2019 showing the pressed metal siding and boomtown façade. Source: Town of Okotoks.
Okotoks Post Office, 1921. Source: Okotoks Museum and Archives.
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Heart of a Historic Prairie Oasis: Restoring the Duke of Sutherland Bungalow

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

The southern Alberta horizon shimmers in the summer heat and seems limitless as one drives across southern Alberta near Brooks. Approaching the region, indistinct bands of green in the distance thicken and, like a mirage, resolve into shelterbelts and dense stands of trees. The striking, even surreal, contrast with the surrounding semi-arid prairie is the result of large-scale irrigation works of the early twentieth century financed and backed by, among others, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Conceived to make “Palliser’s Triangle” fertile for agriculture and settlement, these works included the Bassano Dam, hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals and ditches and the Brooks Aqueduct, a 3.2 km-long reinforced concrete flume. One of the largest aqueducts of its kind in the world and an engineering tour de force when built, the decommissioned aqueduct is both a Provincial Historic Resource and a National Historic Site of Canada.

Duke of Sutherland Residence or Bungalow, south facade, September 2021. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

At the epicentre of this transformed landscape, just outside Brooks, lies the Duke of Sutherland Site Complex, a Provincial Historic Resource comprised of a large residence, a barn and pumphouse, Delco generator building and remnants of irrigation ditches on an approximately two-hectare site. This was the administrative heart of a 2,752-hectare agricultural colony of Scottish and English settlers established in 1909 by the Fourth Duke of Sutherland of Scotland. Eager to invest in Canada and to promote irrigation and farming in the Brooks area, the Duke was a major CPR shareholder whose extensive holdings including a large ranching operation on rented CPR land.

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The Last Baron

Editor’s note: The Last Baron debuts on CBC Gem on Sept. 17. It will be shown on CBC-TV in Alberta and B.C. at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18. If you want to support the filmmakers, they are currently crowdfunding to help finance a feature-length version of The Last Baron. Photos in this story courtesy of Amber Bracken/Back Road Productions, unless otherwise noted.

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

Spend enough time driving down the highways and range roads in Alberta, chances are you’ll pass an old grain elevator. Hulking wooden structures stretching to the sky, weathered by decades of neglect. These prairie cathedrals are a ubiquitous tribute to how things used to work, before the inevitable march of technology pushed them aside. Drive down those same roads, through the villages and towns dotting Alberta, and you’ll find another symbol of how things used to work. This time, in the form of a structure you or I may take for granted: the humble diner. Specifically, the once-omnipresent eatery of so many small Alberta towns. Before Alberta had McDonald’s, it had the Burger Baron.

Premiering this Friday on CBC Gem is The Last Baron, a uniquely Albertan documentary about the history of the Burger Baron. Written, directed and co-produced by local writer and filmmaker Omar Mouallem, The Last Baron tells the story of how a community of Lebanese immigrants, through ownership of Burger Baron franchises across Alberta, supported their families, friends and communities by slinging fries, burgers and shakes to hungry Albertans. The film touches on the murky history of the original Burger Baron intellectual property, relationships between franchisees and the future of the Burger Baron business model.

Mouallem is also in an ideal position to tell this story: his family opened a Burger Baron restaurant in High Prairie in 1987. He remembers: “Originally, my dad planned on calling it Prairie Pizza.  It wasn’t the plan to call it a Burger Baron. It was a last minute idea suggested to my Dad by his uncle in Slave Lake, who also owned a burger Baron. He said, ‘Look, you’re on Main Street. You’re on a main highway, and the main street of town. Burger Baron is a good name. It has done great things for us. You should just go ahead and use it to.’ And he did.”

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