Recent Municipal Historic Resource Designations

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

Under the Historical Resources Act, Alberta’s municipalities have the authority to designate sites and buildings as Municipal Historic Resources. This designation authority gives municipalities the ability to ensure that the preservation of their community’s history and heritage. Municipal Historic Resources are eligible for listing on the Alberta Register of Historic Places, although there is no requirement for municipally designated resources to be listed on the Register. However, designated resources must be listed on the Register to qualify for Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women’s conservation grants. To be listed on the Register, a Municipal Historic Resource must certain documentation prepared that explain the heritage value of the resource and guide the management of the property.

Historic Resources Management of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women works with Alberta’s municipalities to list their Municipal Historic Resource Designations. A number of properties designated in previous years by a municipalities across the province have recently been added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

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Newbrook Observatory: Photographing world history in Thorhild County

Written by: Matthew Wangler, Executive Director, Historic Resources Management Branch

Alberta has a rich and fascinating history, and occasionally events in our past resonate with happenings of global consequence. That was the case in 1957, when a dedicated scientist working in a meteorite observation station in Newbrook captured the first North American image of Sputnik 1 – an object which came to embody both the fears and aspirations of a generation, and which heralded the beginning of a new age in science and geopolitics.

Sputnik I. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The roots of the Newbrook Observatory can be traced to 1946, when the United States and Canada agreed to work co-operatively on space science projects, particularly meteorite observations. The northerly situation of Newbrook – with its clear view of the night sky and its relative lack of auroral interference – made it an ideal location for establishing an observation station to assist in this joint effort. Constructed in 1951, the Newbrook observatory opened in 1952 as a field station of the Stellar Physics Division of Canada’s Dominion Observatory in Ottawa.

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Geographic Information Science and the Listing of Historic Resources

Written by: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

Join the Historic Resources Management Branch as we celebrate GIS Day 2020. GIS, or geographic information science, is a scientific framework for gathering, analyzing and visualizing geographic data to help us make better decisions. At the Historic Resources Management Branch, we have been using GIS since the early 2000s to better understand our historic resources.

GIS at the Historic Resources Management Branch

Alberta is home to tens of thousands of historic resources, and our Branch needs to be able to analyze where those resources are, if there are concerns about the resources, and the best way to address those concerns. At the Branch, we maintain several geospatial databases for our program areas: archaeology, palaeontology, Aboriginal heritage and historic structures. Each database is modified throughout the year as new information is made available (e.g. when new sites are recorded).

We investigate archaeological sites individually in research, but we also need to understand how sites relate to each other and to broader cultural and natural landscapes. GIS helps archaeologists understand these broader questions. The images below show how we use GIS to understand the broader context of archaeological sites Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Calderwood Buffalo Jump, courtesy of Todd Kristensen. Archaeologists have investigated the sites through methods such as survey, excavation and artifact analysis. Through GIS, we can then begin to understand the context of the sites within their local topography and see the gathering area, drive lanes and kill areas. We can also see how the sites fit into the broader tradition of bison jumps, pounds, and kill sites on the Great Plains.

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Remembrance Day: Commemorating the fallen through place names

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

November 11 is Remembrance Day. The day that Canadians are called to set aside in honour and recognition of its military service personnel that paid the ultimate price in their defence of our nation and its values. Canadians have fought in numerous wars and as the memories of some of those wars are fading as decades pass and the last surviving veterans of those wars pass away, it becomes even more important to remember those that fought and died and those that fought and lived to preserve the memories of their fallen comrades. Canada’s Commemorative Map is one of the ways to keep the memory of those sacrifices alive.   

In 2018, the Geographical Names Board of Canada launched Canada’s Commemorative Map, an interactive, digital map that highlights places and features in Canada that were named to honour and commemorate Canada’s war heroes and casualties. Source: Geographical Names Board of Canada.

Commemoration of Canada’s war casualties have taken many forms. Following the end of the First World War, there was a national effort to erect plaques, cenotaphs and other memorials in cities, towns and villages across the country. These memorials of the First World War are often the sites of our Remembrance Day services and ceremonies to this day. Some communities built needed infrastructure and facilities, such as arenas, performing arts centres, libraries and community halls dedicated to memory of those that gave their lives in military services.

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A cherished High River landmark reemerges

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

Recently, I visited the Maccoy Homestead in High River after seven long years of flood repairs and conservation. Nestled in Sheppard Family Park near the south edge of High River, this was the farm and home of well-known local resident Ruth Maccoy for over 70 years. Upon her passing in 1995 and at her bequest, the farm became Sheppard Family Park with the homestead as its nucleus.

The home is a charming 1883 whitewashed log building, the earliest structure on the site, with a frame addition and porch built by her parents in the 1920s and surrounded by a garden and picket fence lovingly tended by Ruth Maccoy over the years. Behind the house are a garden shed, a small guesthouse, and a root cellar set into an embankment, while the garage is located nearby. A path leads west through the trees to a footbridge over the Little Bow River, usually a shallow creek, to the historic water source in a natural spring.

One of High River’s first municipal designations, the Sheppard/Maccoy House was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource in 2009 by the Town of High River for its association with Ruth Maccoy and early settlement in the area. An exceptional example of an early farm, the site also exemplifies the contribution of women’s labour to homesteading and agriculture in rural Alberta and was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2015. The site is a good example of how complementary municipal and provincial heritage values tell a richer story and was the subject of a RETROactive post earlier this summer.

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So much owed to so few: Albertans in the Battle of Britain

Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS

On August 20, 1940, Sir Winston Churchill, recently named Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, gave a speech to the House of Commons and uttered one of his most well-known statements: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Churchill was referring to the efforts of air personnel fighting in the air war over the United Kingdom, an air war now known as the Battle of Britain. This week will see ceremonies and events in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. 

In 1940, Germany began an air offensive on British cities and military installations, attempting to force the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the skies and soften Britain’s defences enough to allow for an invasion. As the Battle of Britain occurred early in the Second World War, the majority of Allied air personnel that took part were British. However, pilots and other aircrew from many Allied nations took part, including a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadron.

Some members of the RCAF also served with the RAF, with a number of Canadians enlisting directly with the RAF in the years preceding the war. Exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, but sources suggest that up to 112 Canadians and one Newfoundlander saw action in the skies over the British Isles during the months-long air battle. Many of those men lost their lives either during the Battle of Britain or in other engagements in the weeks, months and years that followed.

Following the end of the Second World War, there was an effort to commemorate the military personnel that made the ultimate sacrifice. This commemoration took many forms, one of which was to name geographical features and places for war casualties. In Alberta, three geographical features and a railway point were named for pilots that lost their lives in the air force operations around the time of the Battle of Britain.

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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources

Editor’s note: Welcome to the final post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will discuss how the evaluation of a historic resource at the provincial and municipal level may result in complimentary or differing heritage values. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer, Historic Resources Management Branch


Complementary and differing values

Alberta’s Historical Resources Act empowers both the Government of Alberta and municipalities to designate, or recognize and protect, a range of historic resources whose preservation is in the public interest. These resources can be places, structures or objects that may be works of nature or people (or both) that are of palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest. Albertans value these historic resources because our past, in its many forms, is part of who we are as a society and helps give our present significance and purpose.

As of July 2020, there are currently 390 Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and 413 Municipal Historic Resources (MHR) in Alberta, some 60 of which are designated both provincially and municipally. These resources merit designation for various reasons, from their association with significant events, activities, people or institutions; as representative examples of architectural styles or construction methods; for their symbolic and landmark value; or their potential to yield information of scientific value.

Heritage values are described in short Statements of Significance, which are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. In this post, we look at examples of heritage values that municipal and provincial governments recognize and how local and provincial values may align, differ or complement each other.

Plaques or markers are often used to identify designated historic resources. These plaques, affixed to Strathcona Public Library in Edmonton, show that it has been designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and a Municipal Historic Resource. PHRs are identified by a blue, enamel button or marker. MHRs can be identified by a variety of plaques and markers depending on the procedures of the municipality. Source: Historic Resources Management.
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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Statements of Integrity

Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will talk about the importance of developing Statements of Integrity, and how they help to both increase understanding and manage change to historic resources over time. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Tom Ward, Manager, Heritage Conservation Advisory Services, Historic Resources Management Branch


Statements of Integrity

The process for evaluating if an historic place merits designation under the Historical Resources Act (HRA) starts with determining if and why it is significant. Then, determining whether it retains sufficient physical integrity to convey that significance. Earlier blog posts described how to develop a Statement of Significance (SOS). The next step works through whether enough of the physical features that relate to the heritage values exist, and are in acceptable condition to convey heritage values. Not all places merit designation as historic resources, especially if integrity is in question.

Below is an outline of what goes into determining integrity and how to summarize findings in a Statement of Integrity (SOI). It is important to remember that the development of an SOS and SOI are complementary processes. The information and facts discovered by each related investigation help to compliment, influence and improve each document to enable the best decision possible in terms of proceeding with a designation.

Understanding what is of value

A review of the heritage values expressed in the SOS provides the person analyzing the integrity of a place with a reminder of why it is potentially of historic significance and what details may be important. The heritage values and the period of significance are critical to keep in mind when observing and evaluating the historic place.

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Reverting Colonial Cartography: Searching for Drift-Pile Camp

Written by: Karl Giroux, Consultation Director, Driftpile Cree Nation and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Adviser

Editor’s note: On July 24, 2018, Driftpile Cree Nation conducted a site visit with representatives of the Historic Resources Management Branch. The purpose of the site visit was to identify the “Drift-Pile Camp” referenced in the journal of George Mercer Dawson, as he traveled what is now Alberta for the Geological Survey of Canada in the late 1800s. Below, Laura Golebiowski (Aboriginal Consultation Adviser, Historic Resources Management Branch) and Karl Giroux (Consultation Director with Driftpile Cree Nation) share their experiences visiting the location.

“The Athabasca River derives its name from the great lake into which it flows, which is called A-pē-pas-kow by the Crees. The upper part of the river is known as Mas-ta-hi-sī-pī or Great River.

On reaching its north bank on our traverse from Sturgeon Lake, Mr. MacLeod and I had arranged to separate, Mr. MacLeod continuing on overland toward Dirt Lake, while I intended to make a canoe and descend the river. As no traces had yet been found of the party which was supposed to be on the way from Edmonton to meet us, we now set fire to a great pile of drift-logs on one of the bars, and sent one Indian up and another down the river to seek for information, but all with no result. It was further unexpectedly found that no cottonwood trees suitable for making a canoe existed in the valley, and as the river was evidently quite unsuited to be descended on a raft, by reason of its swiftness and the number of shoal bars which occur now on one side and now on the other, it became difficult to know in what way the programme could be carried out. It was finally decided to use the canvass cargo-covers and blanket wrapped in the construction of a canoe. To this all hands devoted themselves for three days, when we had the satisfaction of seeing a large canoe, properly framed and strengthened, which when painted over with a mixture of bacon fat and spruce gum was nearly water-tight.”

The above text is taken from George Mercer Dawson’s 1881 Report on Exploration from Port Simpson on the Pacifica Coast to Edmonton on the Saskatchewan. George Dawson was a Nova Scotia-born geographer who conducted numerous expeditions for the Geological Survey of Canada, beginning in 1875 until his unexpected death in 1901.

George Dawson LAC
George Mercer Dawson, then Assistant Director of the Geological Survey of Canada in May 1885. Source: Library and Archives Canada.

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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers- 2019 Update

Written By: Colleen Haukaas (Archaeological Survey)

This week’s post is an update on archaeological project and site data for 2019 from the Archaeological Survey. Click the image below the see the full size.

Archaeological Survey in Numbers 2019

Disclaimer: the archaeological site counts for 2019 may not be final. They are constantly being updated as consultants and researchers submit their reports to the Archaeological Survey.

See previous infographics from this series here:

Archaeology and Development: Statistics from the Historic Resources Management Branch

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part One: Archaeological Permits

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Two : Archaeological Permit Holders and Companies

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Three : Archaeological Site Investigation

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2017 Update

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2018 Update