Happy Holidays 2016!

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The staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch wish you a safe and happy holiday season. If you missed it last week, our holiday post was about St. Nicholas Peak!

RETROactive hit a big milestone this year – 5 years of publication and over 250,000 views all time! Thanks to you, our amazing readers, for your support. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Our top 5 posts of 2016 were:

  1. Hollywood in the Canadian Rockies
  2. Changing Animals: Alberta’s Ice Age Megafauna and Wally’s Beach
  3. Blood Kettles and Buffalo Jumps: Communal Hunting on the Plains of Alberta
  4. Alberta on Fire: A History of Cultural Burning
  5. Power and Powder: Early Guns in Alberta

RETROactive will be taking a break over the holidays — we will resume publishing on January 4th, 2017. We look forward to seeing you all in the New Year!

Five-hundred Years of History at McKinnon Flats: New Discoveries Made in the Aftermath of the 2013 Flood

You may have recently seen a news story about archaeological finds at McKinnon Flats, approximately 22 km southeast of Calgary (see below for news links).  Today, McKinnon Flats is a popular recreational area, used for fishing, hiking and bird watching.  But did you know that five centuries ago it may also have been used for bison hunting and camping?

Archaeologists of Lifeways of Canada Limited have been contracted by Alberta Culture and Tourism to find out about early settlement at McKinnon Flats.  They’re part of Culture and Tourism’s three-year Post-Flood Investigation Program, which was initiated to record the effects of the June 2013 southern Alberta flood on archaeological and palaeontological sites along rivers such as the Bow, Highwood, Sheep and Kananaskis.  As a result of the program, 100 new archaeological sites were identified and additional information was gathered at 87 sites that had been recorded prior to the flood.  Many of these sites were found eroding from the riverbanks, with some in need of investigation before they disappeared entirely. Read more

Haunted Heritage Part 2: Abandoned Ghost Towns of Alberta

In keeping with the haunted heritage theme started last year, I thought it would be fun to look at some other spooky places in Alberta. Some of the most haunting places in our province are deserted ghost towns. Along any lonely stretch of highway, travellers are bound to come across the decaying remains of one of Alberta’s abandoned towns. Desertion of these small settlements occurred when local natural resources were depleted and transportation routes shifted elsewhere. With no reason for being, these towns became nothing more than crumbling relics of a bygone era.  Read more

Hollywood in the Canadian Rockies

Marilyn Monroe Nearly Drowned,’ read the headline, tucked away in the entertainment pages of the Calgary Herald for August 14th, 1953. Monroe was on location in Jasper National Park for the filming of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster western, River of No Return, when she slipped and fell in the icy waters of the Maligne River. Although pulled to safety by her co-star Robert Mitchum – and a dozen other crew members who quickly rushed to her rescue – she suffered a badly sprained ankle.

The cast and crew had caused quite a stir when they first arrived in the tiny mountain town of Jasper on the 25th of July. Two thousand people, more than the population of the town itself, were on hand to greet the train when it arrived from Vancouver. Director Otto Preminger, when first arriving on location, made a complete circle, shook his head and said, “I guess it doesn’t really matter where I point the camera. We are absolutely surrounded by scenery.”

Marilyn Monroe in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of 'River of No Return', 1953. (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta PA3057.7)
Marilyn Monroe in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of ‘River of No Return’, 1953. (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta PA3057.7)

1953 wasn’t Hollywood’s first foray into using the Mountain Parks as a cinematic backdrop; filmmakers already had a long love affair with Banff and Jasper dating back to the 1920’s with one of the earliest movies being Cameron of the Royal Mounted, filmed in Banff and released in December of 1921. The film was produced by Canadian Ernest Shipman. A prolific filmmaker of his day, Shipman produced 12 movies between 1919 and 1922. It was at this time however that large Hollywood interests, supported by the U.S. State Department, began exerting control over foreign markets, vertically integrating the production, distribution and exhibition of films, effectively putting independent filmmakers out of business and ending a successful decade of domestic film making in Canada. Read more

Haunted Heritage

In Alberta, autumn is the perfect mix of sun-soaked days and brisk star-filled nights. Our trees are coloured all sorts of stunning shades of sunburst, heralding the changing seasons. As the winds snatch away the golden foliage, only bare lonely branches are left swaying eerily in their place, it’s the perfect time for telling tales of ghosts and spooky places. From haunted hotels to spooky schoolhouses, Alberta has a rich history rife with ghostly tales. It’s no wonder we love to share local tales of the paranormal.

Here’s our top 5 list of the spookiest heritage sites:

1. The McKay Avenue School: Built between 1904 and 1905, the McKay Avenue School is an early twentieth-century, three-story building situated in the heart of Edmonton’s Downtown district. The building has a red-brick façade with sandstone trim, round arches over the windows, and imposing columns flanking the main entrance. The building hosted the inaugural session of the Alberta Legislative Assembly. It’s also connected to early educational institutions in Edmonton and is an example of stately Richardson Romanesque architectural style.

McKay Avenue School circa 1913, Edmonton (photo courtesy of Provincial Archives of Alberta)
McKay Avenue School circa 1913, Edmonton, said to be haunted by spirits of children and a worker who fell from the roof to his death (photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta).

The school is now home to the Edmonton Public Schools Archive and Museum run by the Edmonton Public School Board. Tales abound of possible paranormal activity in the building including objects mysteriously moving around, water taps found running, and lights being turned off and on by Read more

Alberta’s New Heritage Marker – Raymond Stampede

Visitors to this year’s Raymond Stampede got to learn more about the fascinating history of the event with the installation of the latest Alberta Historical Resources Foundation heritage marker. The marker details the history of the event – the first of its kind held in Alberta – dating back to 1902, when prominent rancher Raymond Knight decided to organize a skills competition for local cowboys and ranch hands. The success of the Raymond Stampede inspired the organization of similar events across Alberta, with a growing range of events and prizes that attracted more and more competitors. Held in dozens of communities across the province each year, rodeos have long been significant cultural events in Alberta that strongly reflect its great agricultural heritage.

Raymond Stampede's new heritage marker.
Raymond Stampede’s new heritage marker.

The marker was installed on June 25, 2015 at the site of the Stampede in Raymond Knight Memorial Park. The Town of Raymond applied for the development of the heritage marker through the Alberta Heritage Markers Program. The program was established in 1955 to promote greater awareness of the historic people, places, events, and themes that have defined the character of our province. The program brings Alberta’s dynamic history alive through heritage markers placed at roadside pullouts, within parks, and in other community locales.

Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer