Alpine Archaeology and a Pre-contact Stone Quarry in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park include some of the most rugged and remote mountains in Alberta; and for over 10,000 years, people have called these places home. A high alpine pass at the north edge of Jasper and south edge of Willmore holds clues of an important resource that ancient people visited year after year, in a place that nowadays only hardy back-packers and horseback visitors can reach.

Glacier Pass contains a quarry of stone that people used to make spear heads, knives, scrapers and other tools. The quarry was discovered by archaeologists B.O.K. Reeves and J. Elliot in the early 1970s. The rocks found there are what geologists call ‘concretions’ that were picked up as rounded cobbles by people long ago. Recent archaeological research tells us that the round rocks were then hammered to get rid of certain pieces and expose the best quality stone for making tools.

Stone cobbles like the ones here at Glacier Pass were picked up and worked into spear heads, knives, scrapers and other pre-contact tools. Source: Todd Kristensen.


A laboratory technique called hyperspectral scanning has confirmed that the composition of artifacts made from Glacier Pass concretions matches the composition of specific bands or portions of the cobbles from Glacier Pass. Glacier Pass concretions formed when bands of silica-rich rock grew around a core over millions of years. Some bands were good for stone tools while other portions of the rock were thrown out because they were too soft and/or unpredictable to flake or ‘flint knap’. Source: Todd Kristensen.

Based on the number of artifacts found by archaeologists, Glacier Pass was likely visited by small groups of people thousands of times over thousands of years. The stone quarry was part of a seasonal round when people moved from month to month to different areas to exploit or target different things. The alpine concretions at Glacier Pass were probably collected after the snow melted in summer or in fall when people hunted big game animals on high slopes like sheep and caribou.

Recent research by an archaeological team from the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Parks Canada and the University of Alberta has revealed that pre-contact people cracked Glacier Pass concretions to get at specific zones or bands of high quality stone that was ideal for making stone tools. The first two rows in this picture are mostly flakes removed while making tools. The bottom row (artifacts 11-15) are stone tools including knives, a core and a likely spear head that may be over 6,000 years old (14). Source: Todd Kristensen.

Modern visitors to Glacier Pass are unlikely to see tools: most of the artifacts there today are flakes of rock that people broke off while making stone tools. Almost all the finished products were carried away from the area. Visitors are reminded to respect the story of parks and mountain landscapes in Alberta by leaving all artifacts and rocks in place for others to experience. And remember that the land under our feet has a deep history full of geological wonders and human adaptations.

Glacier Pass between Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park is a beautiful and fragile place. To preserve the story of this landscape, and others in Alberta, visitors are encouraged to leave stones and artifacts in place. Source: Todd Kristensen.


Alberta’s African-American immigrant story


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2018. To recognize Black History Month, we here at RETROactive are pleased to share this important documentary with you again.

Winner of the 2018 Alberta Historical Resources Foundation 2018 Heritage Awareness awardWe Are the Roots is a documentary that tells the stories of African American immigrants who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.

In the film, you’ll hear stories from 19 descendants of original settlers, as they moved north to escape slavery, persecution and racism in America. Once in Canada, these families would then experience more discrimination, both in Edmonton and in rural communities they settled.

The film was produced and created through a partnership between documentary film production company Bailey and Soda Films along with Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots,

Click the image above to view the full-length documentary.


To a romantic and special Feast of St. Valentine <3

Well would you look at that, it’s Valentine’s Day! Whether you’re an adherent to the original feast honouring Valentinus, or just like getting flowers from a significant other, it’s the time of year to spend a greeting card-mandated night with your sweetheart.

In celebration of this special day, here are a few Alberta couples, young and old, showing their love for one another.

Fashion show for kids, taken in Edmonton’s McKernan neighbourhood on April 11, 1951. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Children on rides at the Exhibition in Edmonton. Photo taken July 17, 1947. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Last name Calihoo taken by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date unknown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Photo of couple, last name Calihoo, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date unknown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Valentine’s Dance by M.H. Charnetski Sr., taken in 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Photo of couple, last name Ellefnon, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date uknnown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Rev. Gray and Miss Dixon on railroad scooter. Photo taken Aug. 10, 1894. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Nick Spivak with C. Anton, February 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Brrrrrreathtaking Images of a Winter City

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta

Hey, remember a few weeks ago when the ENTIRE PROVINCE was under an extreme cold weather warning? Below 30, minus 40 weather for several days. Fun times, good stuff.

It was probably no surprise that folks wanted to hunker down and hibernate until temperatures become more seasonable (like a balmy -15C). But there are better options than hibernating! For example, visiting the Provincial Archives of Alberta’s new exhibit, BRReathtaking Images of a Winter City.

Featuring the work of award-winning Edmonton photographer Nick Ochotta, the exhibit highlights the beauty, fun and drudgery of living in a winter city.  As largest, northernmost metropolis in the world, it is better to accept that snow, ice and chilly temperatures are a seasonable and inevitable part of Alberta’s winter wonderland.  At least you can be warm inside looking at images of winters past. If they made it through, so can you!

The exhibit is on display until March 31, 2020, by which point the province may have thawed out. Maybe.

Surveying the land, sled in hand. Possibly near present-day Ezio Faraone Park in Grandin. Photo taken in 1953 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
A familiar winter scene by Templeman Bros. on 107 St. Photo taken in 1953 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
I’ll take the classic shovel over a leaf blower any day of the week. The hardworking man in the picture is also named Harry Snow. For real. Photo taken in 1948 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
View from 108 St. just south of Jasper Ave. Photo taken in 1948 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.