The Alberta Register of Historic Places: Questions and Answers

Editor’s note: For our next instalment recognizing National Historic Places Days, we look at the Register of Historic Places, what information it contains and how to use the database to search for historic resources. It’s recommended that while you read this article, you follow along on the Heritage Resources Management Information System. This database works best using Internet Explorer.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

Alberta’s provincial and municipal governments have recognized and protected over 800 historic resources. Did you know that information about all of these significant sites is available to the public? Read on to find out all about where this information is located, and how you can learn more about Alberta’s historic places.

What is the Alberta Register of Historic Places?

The Alberta Register of Historic Places is a searchable database of legally protected historic places in Alberta, including sites designated by the province and by municipalities.

Where can I access the Alberta Register of Historic Places?

The register is available to the public on the HeRMIS (Heritage Resources Management Information System) website. Here it is possible to find information about the location, significance and level of designation for designated historic resources. In addition to this data, the website also includes photographs and an interactive map.

What sorts of things are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places?

A wide variety of historic resources have been designated in Alberta, reflecting the range of resources that are significant to Albertans. In fact, if it’s not a small moveable object, human remains, or no longer in its historic context, just about anything that’s provincially or municipally significant could be designated and listed on the register. There are things on the register you might expect, like the Legislature Building in Edmonton and the Rowley Grain Elevator Row, near Big Valley. There are also unexpected things, like significant geological features such as the Whitecourt / Woodlands Meteorite Impact Crater, or important biological sites like the Wood’s Douglas Fir Tree Sanctuary in Calgary. There are all kinds of other designated historic resources, including industrial sites and machinery, palaeontological sites, engineering structures, homes, commercial buildings, churches and more – all of them illustrating some significant aspect of Alberta’s history.

What can I do with the Alberta Register of Historic Places?

You can search the register to learn about a wide variety of topics relating to Alberta’s history – from archaeology to architecture to astronomy, from the prairies to the Rockies and the 49th to the 60th parallel. You can use the Map Search function to plan a tour to view historic resources within a community or along a route between communities.

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This summer, enjoy some of Alberta’s historic parks, green spaces and recreational areas

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

In July 2021, Canada is marking Historic Places Day, or Days as the case may be. First declared in 2017, Historic Places Day is an initiative of The National Trust of Canada as an opportunity to highlight historic places across Canada, to tell their stories and encourage Canadians to learn about, experience and interact with them to foster a better appreciation of the important role these places have in the lives of Canadians and how they impact the quality of life in our communities.

Historic places take many forms, from old and grand public buildings and monuments to small and homey bungalows and farmhouses, to workers cottages, archaeological and paleontological sites, museums and cenotaphs. With summer now here and people looking for opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, we thought it opportune this year to feature some of Alberta’s parks and outdoor public spaces that have been designated as historic resources. So, grab your walking shoes or hiking boots, bring your camera and lots of water, and let’s explore some these historic parks across the province. 

Reader Rock Garden – Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource

Located adjacent to Calgary’s Union Cemetery, the Reader Rock Garden is an early twentieth-century naturalistic garden composed of rocks, primarily local sandstone; trees; water features; and paths.  The garden was designed by William Roland Reader, superintendent of parks and cemeteries for the City of Calgary from 1913 to 1942. Reader was heavily influenced by the City Beautiful movement, which advocated for the inclusion of well-designed green spaces in urban environments. Under Reader’s leadership, Calgary saw the establishment of many parks, playgrounds, golf courses and tennis courts around the city and the planting of trees along city streets. Reader created the Rock Garden as a semi-private park, it was located around the superintendent’s cottage, now a reconstructed elements in the park, and as a living, laboratory where he experimented with thousands of varieties of plants. Reader’s botanical experiments and meticulous observations influenced horticulture across North America through his writings and the distribution of seeds.  

The Reader Rock Garden was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in November 2006 and a Municipal Historic Resource in January 2017

The Reader Rock Garden early in the season, showing bedding plants and green spaces
Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The Reader Rock Garden in bloom, 2008. Source: City of Calgary
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A Crack Runs Through It: Repairing the West Wall of Lethbridge’s Chinese Free Masons Building

Editor’s note: Our first article recognizing #HistoricPlacesDays takes us to southern Alberta. The banner image above, featuring low-lying rear lots with gardens in Lethbridge’s Chinatown in 1956, looking west, is courtesy of the Galt Museum and Archives.

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

Since its construction in 1924, the Chinese Free Masons Building has been an anchor in the physical and social fabric of downtown Lethbridge and on of Alberta’s most intact historic “Chinatowns”. A large crack zigzags across the west wall of the Provincial Historic Resource and propagates east down the block, telegraphing through the walls of its historic neighbours and terminating at the old No. 1 Fire Hall. The crack recently presented repair challenges and is the legacy of a historic landscape and a transformed physical and cultural geography.

1990s photograph from the northwest with the west wall crack and previous repairs clearly visible toward the back (right) half of the building. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Some 12,000 years ago, as the Laurentide ice sheet retreated toward Hudson Bay, torrents of meltwater carved deep channels across southern Alberta, including today’s Oldman River valley. Long tributary coulees reached like fingers from the valley’s east side, a pattern evident today along the escarpment behind the Galt Museum. One of these coulees extended east between what is now 2nd and 3rd Avenue South and appears in early plans and photographs of Lethbridge. Uneven and difficult to build on, the block attracted Chinese immigrants and entrepreneurs who established new businesses on lots that were strategically close to the fledgling town centre but slightly apart from it, a development pattern reinforced by discriminatory policies of the day that relegated Chinese-owned businesses to marginal land away from the commercial core.

A fire insurance map of 1910 predates the construction of the Chinese Free Masons Building on Block 19 Lot 5 (blue outline) but notes infilling of the ravine or coulee (circle at lower left). Arrows indicate the original extent of the coulee eastward through Block 19. Source: Library and Archives Canada, with added annotations.

Development has infilled the coulee such that the historic landscape today survives only in the sunken rear lots of the Bow On Tong Company Building and Wing Wah Chong Company Building, both of which are Municipal and Provincial Historic Resources. These low-lying back yards were historically put to good use, providing direct access to basement apartments for newly arrived immigrants from China and serving as vegetable gardens (see banner image at top of page). Though hidden, the buried coulee survives as relatively weakly consolidated infill soil under the back portions of the block’s historic buildings. These areas move and crack as soil compacts, takes up water from the poorly drained rear lots, or moves seasonally where shallow rear foundations are susceptible to frost heave. The rear lot at the Chinese Free Masons Building has been infilled but unstable soil conditions persist and cause structural movement and recurrence of the west wall crack despite repeated patching.

1924 photograph, possibly showing the Masonic hall’s grand opening. Source: Galt Museum and Archives photograph 19800128000.

Foundation underpinning on deep piles into undisturbed soil would stop the structural movement and cracking but is very costly. A local architect assessed no immediate threat to the building and recommended a practical and cost-effective crack repair alternative. This consisted of saw cutting a new flexible control joint into the outer wythe or layer of brick beside the old crack, to accommodate ongoing structural movement while maintaining integrity as a weather seal. The existing crack was too irregular for proper installation of a reliable sealed joint. As a precaution, the established crack was also repaired with flexible sealant, into which masonry sand was pressed to resemble a traditional mortar joint and disguise the repair as much as possible.

Conservation work normally favours traditional materials but a deep mortar repair risked “locking” the wall in place and causing cracks to appear elsewhere. Correctly formulated lime mortars can absorb some movement and even “self heal” as free lime recrystallizes within emerging hairline cracks — but structural movement at the Free Masons Building demanded a more elastic joint.

Paint failure on second floor interior west wall, April 2019. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

The second floor offers a large open space that has served as a Masonic hall for almost a century. The interior walls are original plaster applied to the interior face of the brick masonry exterior walls. Coated with many layers of paint, the walls deteriorated rapidly after the interior was repainted to hide smoke damage after a fire in 2009. Driving rain through the west wall crack was initially suspected as a moisture source but the extensive paint failure was actually in another location. Further assessment determined that the problem was excess moisture within the wall combined with the wall’s inability to dry through impermeable layers of paint.

The west wall is thus a highly porous brick that readily absorbs moisture. Like many old brick buildings, the Chinese Free Masons Building uses a high-quality, durable brick on the front facade with less expensive bricks on the side walls that were often intended to be protected by adjacent buildings. Mortar joints also play a role: lime mortar both binds the masonry and actively wicks moisture in the wall to the surface, where it then evaporates. However, as mortar weathers, leaching of the lime binder reduces this wicking action and eroded joints provide more surface area for water absorption, effectively turning a wall into a sponge. On the wall’s inner face, permeability declines with each layer of paint and as old alkyd paint ages. The most recent repainting was the last straw: acrylic latex paint is vapour-permeable but drying of the wall fabric relies on liquid (if microscopic) capillary moisture transfer. The result is that moisture absorbed through the exterior brick trapped within the wall literally pushes the paint off the plaster.

Second floor (Masonic hall) with far wall after plaster repairs and application of clay paint, March 2021. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

To correct the problem, peeling interior paint was stripped by hand and moisture-damaged plaster was patched with a compatible gypsum plaster free of latex or polymer additives that might otherwise impede prevent drying. A special, highly permeable clay-based paint was applied to the wall and colour-matched to the historic interior. Combined with renewing or “repointing” the exterior masonry with a compatible lime mortar, these measures avoid sealing the wall and instead restore the historic fabric’s intrinsic ability to absorb, buffer and release moisture by drying to the interior and exterior. The repaired west wall with its new control joint and evidence of the old crack are a testament to ancient landforms, local history and Lethbridge’s evolving urban landscape.

View from northwest in June 2021 with new control joint on west wall and muted expression of historic crack. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Sources:

C.B. Beaty and G.S. Young, The Landscapes of Southern Alberta: A Regional Geomorphology (Lethbridge: University of Lethbridge, 1975), 66-77.

For a discussion of the early development of Lethbridge’s Chinatown, see David Chuenyan Lai, Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1988), 90-91.

Historic sites slowly, surely and safely reopen

Editor’s note: Starting July 3, the National Trust for Canada is hosting Historic Places Days. All next month, RETROactive will feature blog posts highlighting places to explore and events to participate in.

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

After more than a year of being shuttered, historic sites and museums around Alberta are beginning to reopen. And with some restrictions and caution around traveling, it’s the perfect time to go head out and explore the sites right in your own backyard!

While some self-guided sites like the Okotoks Erractic, Brooks Aqueduct and Frog Lake Provincial Historic Site have been accessible for several months now, some of the larger historic sites, museums and interpretive centres are now ready to open their doors. Below is a quick roundup of reopened historic sites; click on the visitor guideline links to learn how each site is keeping visitors and staff safe.

Frank Slide Interpretive Centre

Located in the stunning Crowsnest Pass, the interpretive centre tells the story of Canada’s deadliest rock slide.
Visitor guidelines

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Through vast landscapes, diverse programming and exhibits, you can experience 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture at this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
Visitor guidelines

Provincial Archives of Alberta

The archives acquires, preserves and publicly makes available records from government, individual people and organizations for researchers of all ages. Along with the PAA opening its doors to the reading room again, they are also unveiling a brand new exhibit about the history of beauty competitions and pageants in Alberta.
Visitor guidelines

Remington Carriage Museum

The largest museum of its kind in the world, the Remington Carriage Museum tells the story of horse-drawn transportation in North America.
Visitor guidelines

Reynolds-Alberta Museum

Located in Wetaskiwin, the Reynolds-Alberta Museum interprets Alberta’s mechanical heritage through authentic interactions, exhibits and hands-on programming.
Visitor guidelines

Royal Alberta Museum

The Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) is the largest museum in western Canada and one of the top museums in Canada. Located in the Arts District in downtown Edmonton, the museum helps to collect, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit objects and specimens related to the heritage of Alberta’s people and natural environment
Visitor guidelines

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the study of ancient life. In addition to featuring one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs, the museum offer a wide variety of creative, fun, and educational programs that bring the prehistoric past to life.
Visitor guidelines

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

A short drive east of Edmonton, at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village you’ll hear stories of solitude, survival, and perseverance while discovering how Ukrainian immigration made a significant impact on Alberta’s cultural identity.
Visitor guidelines

Beauty pageant exhibit finally ready to take centre stage at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist

As businesses and public facilities around the province slowly begin to reopen, Alberta’s museums, historic sites and archives are also excited to welcome visitors through their doors. And at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), a new exhibit 18 months in the making is finally ready to take centre stage in the gallery lobby. Prairie Royalty officially kicked off on June 10.

1948 Calgary Stampede Royalty. (Left to Right) Stampede Queen Gloria Klaver, and Ladies-in-Waiting Margaret Forsgren and Shirley Kemp. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P5154.

Prairie Royalty explores the popularity of beauty pageants and competitions in Alberta in the decades after World War II. During this period, the coronations of young and accomplished women as Stampede Queens, Dairy Princesses, Queens of the Winter Carnival, and other local royals were highly anticipated events at community celebrations. More than mere beauty pageants, the competitions factored in community service as well as skills such as speaking ability, product knowledge, horseback riding and, for dairy princesses, their skills at milking cows.

Contestants for the Miss Snow Queen of the Canadian Rockies, 1956.  Left To Right: Nancy Knaut (Miss Camrose), Mary Basso (Miss New Westminster), Geraldine Rowe (Miss Penticton), Elizabeth Le Gras (Miss Calgary), Marina Lynch-Staunton (Miss Crowsnest Pass), Roberta Jones (1955 Snow Queen), Josephine Taborski (Miss Lethbridge), Donagh Webber (Miss Edmonton), Dalyce Smith (Miss Yukon), Elaine Swanson (Miss Medicine Hat), and Prim Heckley (Miss Jasper).  Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA270/6.

Inspired initially by a photograph of a Dairy Queen, development of Prairie Royalty took place steadily over a period of 18 months. Selecting the perfect images from the many beauty queens represented in the photographic holdings of the Provincial Archives was a difficult task, and the entire PAA staff pitched in to help narrow down the selection. With final images in place, the exhibit curator researched the images to understand their context more completely, including one involving a news story of a protest outside a pageant. Once the research and writing stage was completed, a designer created the perfect visual identity to capture the exhibit’s playful and nostalgic nature. After completing the installation of the framed images and other graphics in the gallery lobby, the exhibit made its big debut as soon as the PAA could open to the public.

Shirley Clark, 1968 Dairy Princess of Canada. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA4399.

One of the more interesting revelations from the research stage was that most individuals involved in these competitions later acknowledged that their fame was fleeting, and being a queen or princess was merely a brief phase in their lives and careers as teachers, mothers, lawyers, artists, activists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.  In contrast to that perspective, there are those whose experience as prairie royalty has led to a lifetime of community involvement.  Since 1972, the Calgary Stampede Queen’s Alumni Committee, which includes past queens, ladies in waiting, and princesses, has worked with the Stampede organization to promote its events as well as to raise funds for children with special needs in the Calgary area.

Revisit that time when, just for a moment, an everyday Albertan could become Prairie Royalty.  The exhibit will be on display in the PAA’s gallery lobby at 8555 Roper Road until May 2022.  Admission is free. Please consult the PAA’s website at provincialarchives.alberta.ca for the hours and operations. May Queens, Dairy Princesses, Rodeo Queens, and Snow Princesses – long may they reign!

From Buffalo Hunting to Cattle Ranching: The Métis of the Belly River

Editor’s note: In honour of National Indigenous History Month, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Marsii Matt!

Written by: Matt Hiltermann

The history of the Métis in the MacLeod-Pincher Creek area before 1874 is difficult to parse, due in-part to the shifting nomenclature of the area. During the 19th century, the Belly River was variously applied to not only its modern course, but also the Oldman river between its confluence with the Belly and its confluence with the Bow. Sometimes, its French name, the Gros Ventre River, was even applied to the entirety of the South Saskatchewan. As such, determining where events took place along the so-called “Belly River” can be difficult to determine. Most references to the Belly River, however, likely take place in what is now the Oldman River watershed, so these early accounts are pertinent to discussions of the Métis history at Pincher Creek, Fort MacLeod and Lethbridge.

The lack of literature – both primary and secondary – reflects the distance of the Oldman-Belly watershed from imperial – and  later colonial – record makers, such as fur traders and missionaries, who were situated primarily on the North Saskatchewan and Missouri Rivers, hundreds of miles away. Still, while evidence is sparse, the few sources that ventured into the Oldman-Belly Watershed inevitably make mention of Métis people or of Métis families in the area. 

The earliest accounts of trading parties into the Belly River country come from Peter Fidler, who wintered among the Peigan there in 1793.  Beyond that, it is only mentioned once between 1795 and 1821. The Belly River only comes back into focus during the 1822, when Francis Heron led a party of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employees and contracted Freemen into the region as part of the HBC’s Bow River Expedition. On October 27, 1822, “Mr Heron and his Party consisting of Messrs. J.E. Harriott[,] Dond. Manson, Hugh Munro, Alexr Douglas and Twenty men” departed for the Oldman-Belly Watershed. It is worth noting that Harriott would spend most of his career trading with the Blackfoot at Rocky Mountain House and Peigan Post (aka Old Bow Post), while Munro would marry a Piikani woman and live out most of his life among the Blackfoot. It not clear who the other 20 men on the expedition are, although the likes Jimmy Jock Bird, Louis Brunais (Bruneau), Jack and George Ward, and Michel Patenaude were probably among their numbers, as all of these freemen had or would later develop kin connections with the Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina or Gros Ventre, and remained active in the Southern Alberta Trade throughout the 1820s. [i] These men were Métis themselves or gave rise to prominent Métis families.

“Country between the Red River Settlement and the Rocky Mountains showing the various routes of the expedition, under the command of Capt. John Palliser, 1857-1858.” Source: Historical Maps Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary. 
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Following in their Footsteps: The Nakota Trail of 1877

Editor’s note: Abawashded! June is National Indigenous History Month, an invitation to honour the history, diversity, strength and contemporary achievements of Indigenous peoples.

Written by: Barry Mustus (Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation) and Laura Golebiowski (Aboriginal Consultation Adviser)

Like many Albertans, I have spent a considerable portion of the last year outdoors. I have become better acquainted with my neighbourhood and city parks, and have spent most weekends hiking, camping or cross-country skiing in the mountains. I am grateful to be in a position (both in terms of privilege and location) to access the diverse and beautiful outdoor spaces that our province provides. 

When you recreate outdoors, do you consider whose traditional territory you are on? Do you think about those who walked these trails and enjoyed these landscapes before you?

Barry Mustus does. An Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation member currently based in Whitecourt, Barry has dedicated numerous years to the research and reidentification of a historic Indigenous trail network which extended from Lac Ste. Anne north to Whitecourt and beyond. To date, Barry’s work has focused on a 30 km stretch of trail from the Hamlet of Blue Ridge, southeast of the Town of Whitecourt, to Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park. Referring to the trail as, “The Nakota Trail of 1877” (the year Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation signed an adhesion to Treaty 6), Barry’s efforts strive to demonstrate how Nakota peoples have shaped, and continue to shape, this region of what is now Alberta.

The Stoney people, also referred to as the Assiniboine, have long occupied this area. In 1859, James Hector, a companion of Captain John Palliser, noted a group of Stoney camping at the confluence of the McLeod and Athabasca Rivers, where present-day Whitecourt is located. Earlier still, fur trader Alexander Henry makes mention of a Stoney presence in the Upper Athabasca in 1808. Today, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation is the most northwestern representative of the Siouan language family and has four reserves: the largest at Glenevis near Wakamne (Lac Ste. Anne) with three satellite reserves at Cardinal River, Elk River and Whitecourt.

Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Family, Peter Alexis and Wife, Lac Ste Anne. Unknown photographer or date. Source: Library and Archives Canada. 
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Inside the Archives’ Vault: The Future of Work

Time to take a trip back to the future of the workplace of 1992, courtesy of the Public Affairs Bureau. Public promotional materials such as these often capture information aside from the original intent of the production. In this case, the video documents the early steps of the switch from the analogue to the digital in the office, the state of the economy after the recession in the early eighties, changing gender norms in employment, and the general sociopolitical atmosphere of the time. Some of the innovative trends featured, such as working from home, have persisted and become ubiquitous. However, the career change pivot from shoeing horses to being a clinical psychologist was likely as unusual then as it would be now.

Check out the rest of the Provincial Archives of Alberta video collection on YouTube, including a handful of oddly calming chess instructional videos from the early 70s.

Strathcona garage designated a Provincial Historic Resource

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

A well-known anchor building in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area has recently been designated as a Provincial Historic resource.  And it’s also now listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Front (north-facing) façade of the Strathcona Garage showing some of the building’s character-defining elements, notably the crenellated parapet roofline, escutcheons and the contrasting ornamental highlights (lintels, sills, name and date stones), 2019. Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women.

The Strathcona Garage is located in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood on the corner of lot at 81 Avenue and 105 Street. Its heritage significance rests in its association with the early automobile industry in Alberta. It is a significant and rare remaining example of a building from the early twentieth century designed and built specifically for the era’s fledgling, but rapidly growing automobile sector.   

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Sandstone Conservation in Chinook Country

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

Paskapoo sandstone has been maligned for poor durability, compared to Indiana limestone and sandstones from Ohio or Spain that have been used for conservation projects in Alberta. But to be fair to our homegrown sandstone, masonry in general suffers in Alberta’s climate and in the intense sunlight, drying winds and freeze-thaw cycling in areas like southern Alberta. De-icing salts used for public safety during the long winter months are the nemesis of historic masonry and will relentlessly attack sandstone, limestone and granite alike. How stone is laid in a wall, masonry mortar composition, and design details all contribute to how stone performs over time.

An imposing landmark in downtown Lethbridge, Southminster United Church is a large 1913 building (additions in 1914 and 1950) with a bold Modernist 1961 chapel. The Classical Revival original building dominates with its symmetrical front facade, prominent pediment, monumental engaged columns and exterior of buff-coloured brick with sandstone details. Interestingly, while stone decoration of the 1950 north addition superficially resembles the regional sandstone, it is actually imported Indiana limestone, a different and relatively durable material. Other notable Lethbridge buildings with this combination of local and imported stone are the Galt Museum (former Galt Hospital) and the Bowman Arts Centre (Manual Training School), both Provincial Historic Resources. Lethbridge designated Southminster United Church as a Municipal Historic Resource in 2016.

Circa 1915 photograph from the southwest showing the original 1913 building with its prominent columns and pediment and the 1914 hall addition at left. Source: PA-4032-61, University of Calgary Glenbow Archives Collection.
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