See you all in 2020!

On behalf of RETROactive, happy holidays to everyone out there. Whether you’re a new subscriber or have been a follower for years, we want to thank you all for your continued support. We’ll be back in mid-January with even more blog posts about Alberta’s unique history!

Mary or Sandy Lee with Christmas Tree, Mountain Park Alberta, ca. 1938, CL130, From the Charles Lee Fonds. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta


Harriet’s Magic Hat: The Disk Jockey

Written by: Sara King (Provincial Archives of Alberta) and Jared Majeski (Historic Resources Management Branch)

It was a magical time in Edmonton in 1980. One area code, the Rat Hole, liver and onions at the Silk Hat on Jasper Ave. It was also a time with enchanted headphones and a young, open-collared Bruce Bowie.

Harriet’s Magic Hats was an educational program for children created by ACCESS TV, which primarily explored different careers as a girl named Susan travelled around with the assistance of her Aunt Harriet’s collection of mystical headgear. In addition to being an example of local programming in Alberta, the episode is a time capsule of technology and popular culture of the time it was made.

630 CHED’s Bruce Bowie explaining to Susan how the music from vinyl records in their music library makes it out to the airwaves. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

In this episode, Susan mysteriously transports into the booth at 630 CHED, right in the middle of a broadcast from legendary announcer Bruce Bowie. From there, Bowie shows young Susan the radio ropes, from programming commercials to the station’s automated system for playing records.

With the exception of Wings' "Getting Closer" and a Donna Summer disco hit, the playlist from CHED in 1980 is pretty middle of the road easy rock. Nice to see some pre-Kim Mitchell Max Webster in the rotation too. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.
With the exception of Wings’ “Getting Closer”, ELO and a Donna Summer disco hit, the playlist from CHED in 1980 is pretty middle of the road easy rock. Nice to see some pre-Kim Mitchell Max Webster in the rotation too. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

This episode concludes with a jaunty montage of various Edmontonians biking, lounging, paddling and dancing along to the radio. Heck, even the bears and elephants are listening!

One can only assume a brave Valley Zoo employee had to climb that tree to place the radio. The bears seem to be enjoying the tunes at least. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

Sharon Alexander, the actress who played Susan in the Harriet’s Magic Hat series, would go on to do a ton of voice acting, as well as appear in episodes of The X-Files, Da Vinci’s Inquest, The Outer Limits and Cold Squad.

ACCESS TV was the designated educational broadcaster in Alberta, created by the Alberta Educational Communications Corporation (AECC), an arms length corporation of the Government of Alberta. From its founding in 1973 until its privatization in 1995, it would produce, broadcast, and distribute television-based multimedia, in partnership with Alberta Education and the province’s universities and colleges.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta has a collection of 1506 video cassettes, 1071 video reels, 2220 audio reels, 731 audio cassettes, and 240 16 mm film reels in our ACCESS TV fonds (PR3368) as well as 1198 films and other government records transferred to the archives when ACCESS was a government body. But not all of them are quite as magical as this one.

Pitch and Timber: A History of Human Relationships with Trees in Alberta (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the history of human relationships with trees in Alberta. If you missed part one, read it now.

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Development of Alberta’s Forestry Industry

From 1900 to 1910, population growth and steady local demand for lumber meant that most settlements had commercial sawmills. Because of the way that timber berths were leased to operators, most sawmills were small and portable. Some operators harvested in the summer and moved their timber using rivers, flumes (a series of wooden chutes that filled with water and carried logs), splash dams (a temporary wooden dam that held back water that would then be released in a surge to carry logs), and log drives along big rivers that brought wood to riverside mills or to rail yards in river valleys. But winter was generally the ideal time to log because wood could be moved by horses and sleds. Portable sawmills would move machinery on skis to temporary camps in western and northern Alberta. The seasonal nature was perfect for struggling families because farmers could work the fields in warm seasons and cut timber for mills in the winters.

A man poling down Athabasca River between 1937-39 (from the Chisholm Sawmill and Freeman River Lumber Camp). Log drivers floated along with the timbers to dislodge jams and notify the mills when shipments were arriving by water. Image A3790 courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
A logging camp (the Jackpine Wood Camp on Little Slave River in 1909) with men and their tools. Image A2532 courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Alberta’s forestry industry was younger than in British Columbia and neighbouring states to the south, many of which had various gold rushes that required commercial sawmills in the 1800s. It was fairly common for Alberta farmers to log in B.C. during winters in the early 1900s and many Alberta ranches provided B.C. logging operations with horses. A good-sized sawmill in B.C. or Alberta could employ several hundred men and up to 60 horses over the winter.

Read more