Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada: the Occasional Paper Series in 2020

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Jack W. Brink, Royal Alberta Museum

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper Series No. 40 with its first two articles, which are available for free download here:

The atlatl weights of Saskatchewan

The rock art of the Williams Coulee site, EcPl-16, southwestern Alberta

Individual articles are published online throughout the year and the final compiled volume is typically released in spring. We encourage submissions from archaeologists in cultural resource management (CRM), universities and other heritage professions.

Archaeologists used a computer software program (Dstretch) to enhance the images of painted figures in southern Alberta (image by Jack Brink).

Occasional Paper Series No.40, “Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada, 2020” features articles with a broad range of topics about archaeology on the Northern Plains and Boreal Forest. The first paper summarizes an interesting stone tool called an atlatl weight that hunters on the plains used for several thousand years. The second paper documents an impressive archive of rock art found in a small coulee rock shelter in southern Alberta. Both articles relied in large part on discoveries reported and shared by farmers and ranchers. Look for four more articles to be released in the next two months to complete the volume.

We hope the volume informs future work and research in Alberta. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee. Past volumes are available for free download here:

Back on the Horse: Recent Developments in Archaeological and Palaeontological Research in Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 36 (2016)

After the Flood: Investigations of Impacts to Archaeological Resources from the 2013 Flood in Southern Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 37 (2017)

The Swing of Things: Contributions to Archaeological Research in Alberta Occasional Paper No. 38 (2018)

Advancing Archaeology: Industry and Practice in Alberta, Occasional Paper Series No. 39 (2019)

Documenting a Heritage Tree: Digital Preservation of Calgary’s Stampede Elm

Editor’s note: Digital documentation of the Stampede Elm was conducted by Dr. Peter Dawson and Madisen Hvidberg from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary, in partnership with the City of Calgary. A digital archive post of the Stampede Elm, created by University of Calgary archaeology PhD students Christina Robinson and Madisen Hvidberg, can be found here.

Written by: Madisen Hvidberg, MA

When asked to think of something that is “heritage,” what comes to mind? Most likely you will think of things like grand monuments, temples and old buildings. Maybe you know some specific UNESCO World Heritage Sites, or you think of archaeological heritage like excavations and artifacts. No matter what you think of, I would guess that it is probably unlikely that your first thought was…a tree.

Biological and living heritage sites can also be testaments to history. Gardens, parks and trees can represent past initiatives for beautification or utilitarian uses of the plants, and can be just as much of a part of the heritage of a place as buildings or objects. In North America much of the biological heritage within major cities is related to European settler aesthetic for planted trees and gardens, a desire to add more wind breaks in open areas, and the City Beautiful Movement of the 1890s and 1900s. The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy popular in the early development of North American cities, which suggested beautification would promote social harmony and as such led to the establishment of many parks, gardens and tree-lined boulevards.

Calgary’s History of Trees

Calgary was no exception to the influences of this movement, which were largely brought to the city by William Pearce who envisioned Calgary as a “city of trees”. Pearce was a surveyor, engineer and statistician, and when appointed as an inspector for the Dominion Land Agencies in 1884, he used his position to reserve land along the north side of the Bow River. That land today is Calgary’s landmark boulevard Memorial Drive. Pearce reserved other lands for parks and started a local tree farm to find different types of trees that could grow in Calgary’s climate, with the goal of encouraging Calgarians to plant their own gardens and groves.

William Pearce, ca 1880. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-339-1.
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Reciprocity and Renewal: The Blackfoot Seasonal Round

Written by: Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisers

Oki! For many of us, the spring season represents new life and a fresh start. But did you know, in Blackfoot culture, the new year begins in the spring? Aboriginal Consultation Advisers Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, both based in Treaty 7, discuss the significance of the seasonal round: a concept that not only structures the year, but also our relationships to the land and one another.

We meet today on Kainai Nation at an area called Weasel Fat Bottom, a flood plain on the south side of the Oldman River. These flats also served as an ideal traditional camping location, with proximity to water, cottonwood tree stands and grazing areas. The trees provide shelter from the wind, and beneath them medicinal plants and berries grow. We are here to learn about the seasonal round: a concept that has guided the travel, occupation and relationships of the Niitsitapi (how the Blackfoot refer to themselves, translating to “the real people”) since time immemorial, and one that still has important teachings today.

Blair First Rider stands in front of a modern medicine wheel, built during a recent Blackfoot Confederacy gathering. Source: Laura Golebiowski.

In the old days, Sky Being Ksisstsi’ko’m (Thunder) gave the Niitsitapi the Thunder Medicine Pipe Bundle. The pipe offered protection, as well as a promise that Ksisstsi’ko’m would bring the rains that would make the berries grow large and ripe. Accordingly, the new year is marked by the first clap of thunder of the first rainstorm. It is commemorated with ceremony: the gathering of the seven Societies and the opening of the sacred bundles. Through prayer, song and dance, the relationships and commitments between Niitsitapi and the Creator, the Sky Beings and the land, are renewed and affirmed. As Betty Bastien wrote in Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: the Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi, “During these ceremonies we acknowledge and give thanks to our alliances for another cycle. We ask for continued protection, prosperity, long life, growth, and strength.”

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Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

At an online event on March 8, 2020, Seamus O’Regan, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada launched Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names: Women on the Canadian Landscape. This interactive, digital map was developed by the Geographical names Board of Canada to highlight approximately 500 places and geographical features in Canada that are named for women.

Screenshot of the “Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names” Interactive map. Source: Natural Resources Canada.

March 8 was International Women’s Day; a day acknowledged around the world to raise awareness of issues facing women, such as gender equity, and to celebrate the social, cultural and political achievements that have been made by women to their communities, regions and nations. The map was launched on that day as part of those annual celebrations.

Through history, the recognition of women has tended to be forgotten. For generations, women have been largely voiceless in history; overlooked by default and design. The essential domestic role of settler women has not been discussed to the same extent as the work of their husbands, fathers and brothers breaking the land, even though these women toiled and suffered just as men had. Even women who were admitted to the professional, scientific or professional world have often seen their accomplishments ignored or downplayed in favour of those of their male colleagues. The same trends are found in the world of cartography and place naming.

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Hidden in plain sight: The story of Edmonton’s Bowker Building

Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)

Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen unless otherwise noted.

Symbology of all kinds litters the facades of Edmonton’s Bowker Building. Up, down, left, right, there’s something to be found. The Chief and arms. The Wild Rose, symbolizing Alberta itself. The heads of bison, symbolizing power, strength and durability. The Queen’s Crown on each door handle, symbolizing the monarchy. Even its long-time name, ‘The Natural Resources Building,’ a symbol of Alberta’s bountiful wealth.

For being in the throes of the Great Depression, all its bangles, wingdings and baubles may have seemed like another instance of government waste. But for the United Farmers of Alberta it came with good reason. When they commissioned the building it was seen as righting a fifteen-year-old wrong.

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Fingerprints in Glass: Obsidian and Ancient Human Relationships

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

A butchered bison leaves bones behind; a fur trade post leaves rotting walls for archaeologists to discover. But humans are more than what we eat and build. To many, our lives are defined by relationships to other people. How do archaeologists in Alberta uncover and reconstruct human relations from 10,000 years ago when not much preserves in the soil?

Archaeologists use microscopic clues to link stone artifacts back to the quarries where the rock originated; this “provenance” work can reveal ancient networks. In a blend of geochemistry and sociology, researchers use volcanic rocks in particular to understand how groups interacted and moved across landscapes for millennia.

Obsidian arrowhead found in the Grande Prairie area of northwest Alberta. Source: Todd Kristensen.
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Black History Month 2021

Editor’s note: From the largest student occupation in Canadian history to larger-than-life historical figures, here are handful of laws, events and people that contributed to the Black experience here in Canada. Follow the links below for more in-depth information on these events and people.

Written by: Garnett Glashen

Viola Desmond
Not only was Viola Desmond a successful businesswoman in Nova Scotia, she was an advocate for equal and fair treatment of Black people at a time when they were viewed as lesser peoples in Canada. Many will note that Viola Desmond recently became the first woman of colour to be enshrined on any Canadian currency, however few know the battles that were led by Viola Desmond, to provide an equal opportunity for Black Canadians to acquire skills, enter trades and participate in social activities that were traditionally reserved for people who weren’t Black.

Produced by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this short documentary tells the story of Viola Desmond’s famous act of resistance in a Nova Scotia Theatre.
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Portraiture from the Ernest Brown fonds

Editor’s note: In our continued recognition of Black History Month, the Provincial Archives of Alberta has shared a collection of portraits of Black Albertans from photographer Ernest Brown. The Ernest Brown fonds contain around 50,000 negatives and other materials, predominantly from the years 1880-1960.

One of the earliest professional photographers in Alberta, Ernest Brown moved to Edmonton from England in April 1904. In Edmonton, Brown went to work as an assistant to C.W. Mathers, the city’s first photographer. Three months later, Brown bought the rights to Mathers’ portrait studio and in 1905 the studio expanded into the Ernest Brown Company Ltd.

Little is known about the subjects in the photographs below. Likely, the only records kept from these photo sessions was the name of the person who booked and paid for the session.

Black History at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Editor’s note: In our continuing recognition of Black History Month, RETROactive contributors from the Provincial Archives of Alberta highlight some of the resources available for researchers wanting to know more about the history of Alberta’s Black community.

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist and Karen Simonson, Reference Archivist

Researching the history of Black communities in Alberta can be challenging.  Sources can be limited and potentially scattered among many institutions within Alberta’s heritage communities.  Much of the access is dependent on knowing a person’s name or having some additional background clues or information.  But the history of Alberta’s Black communities can be teased out of the records preserved by the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), and all the resources described below are available for researchers to see and consult for themselves during regular opening hours of the reading room.

Unidentified woman with dog, ca. 1920 (Ernest Brown fonds, BP2-15552)

In addition to published books and newspapers providing context to the community, the PAA is fortunate to have received donations of records from private individuals such as Fil Fraser, Selwyn Jacob and Junetta Jamerson.  While these records can only tell part of the story, looking more closely at some familiar holdings at the PAA reveals perhaps some unexplored and unexpected traces of Alberta’s Black history.

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Canada Post commemorates an Alberta community for Black History Month

Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

February is Black History Month, a time dedicated for the commemoration of the history, heritage and legacy of the Black community in Canada. Since 2009, Canada Post has produced a series of commemorative postage stamps recognizing aspects of Canada’s Black community. These stamps have featured individuals and communities as well as military contributions and sporting accomplishments. In 2012, John Ware, southern Alberta’s famous Black cowboy and rancher was featured.

These stamps – the 13th issue in Canada Post’ Black History Month series – tell the stories of two Black communities nearly one hundred years and thousands of kilometres apart. Both rose from hardship to survive and grow for a time and served as stepping stones for the success of future generations of Black Canadians. Source: Canada Post.

This year, Canada Post turned the spotlight once again to Alberta, this time producing a stamp recognizing the community of Amber Valley.  

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