Interpreting an Icelandic Settlement

Markerville Tour Booklet Re-vamped and Re-launched!

cover of the Markerville & District Historical Tour booklet
Markerville & District Historical Tour booklet

The Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society has just published a 3rd edition of the Markerville tour booklet. Re-named Icelandic Settlement: Markerville and District Historical Tour, the revised and re-designed booklet is packed with information and historic photographs.

Starting in the late 19th century, settlers of Icelandic descent arrived and started building a community on the banks of the Medicine River. The hamlet of Markerville never grew to any great size, but it was a vibrant community with several businesses as well as a church and hall. The Icelandic heritage of the early settlers gave Markerville a distinctive character.

Today, Markerville has four Provincial Historic Resources that help tell its story. The Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society owns and operates three: the Markerville Creamery, the Markerville Lutheran Church, and the Fensala Hall. The Stephansson Memorial, located just across the Medicine River in Markerville Park, is also a Provincial Historic Resource.

Close by is another Provincial Historic Resource, the Stephan G. Stephansson House, home of an early settler who became famous for his poetry in the Icelandic language. The house is also the centerpiece of the Stephansson House Provincial Historic Site, one of the interpretative sites run by Alberta Culture.

Markerville is located southwest of Red Deer, at the centre of Alberta’s historic Icelandic settlement area. This part of the province is not only scenic, it has a wealth of historic interest as well.

The tour booklet provides background information, and a route map to guide you through the tour.

Alberta Culture assisted the Stephan G. Stephansson Icelandic Society in revising the tour booklet; the society also received funding from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation to assist with the cost of its publication. Copies of the booklet are available from the Society at the Markerville Creamery Historic Site in Markerville.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

All Aboard for an Alberta Architecture Adventure!

The Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada held its 39th Annual Conference in Edmonton

Opening reception at Edmonton’s City Hall
Opening reception at Edmonton’s City Hall

From May 29 through June 1 delegates from across the country (and a few from the United States and Europe) were treated to presentations, discussions and tours addressing a variety of aspects of Canadian architectural history. The conference kick-off was hosted at Edmonton’s city hall, and featured a talk and tour by the building’s architect, Gene Dub. Not surprisingly, he had many interesting anecdotes and insights to relate—including the memorable connection between the building and the Edmonton Sun newspaper’s 3rd page Sunshine Girls!

Three full days of events followed. There were 10 session featuring over 40 speakers. To fit them all in, there were always two sessions on the go. How to choose? Would you rather learn about how cities are transformed by renewal, or what trends are influencing how architecture is taught in Canada? Are you more interested in the future of historic churches, or the place of Arthur Erickson in Canada’s architectural history? Those interested in a lively Pecha Kucha format discussion of the role of government programs in the conservation and commemoration of the built environment had to forego a panel discussion entitled “Architecture and the Canadian Fabric.” For students and professionals in the architectural history field, these are difficult decisions!

Jennifer Kirchner, Planner with the City of Lacombe, showed us around main street.
Jennifer Kirchner, Planner with the City of Lacombe, showed us around main street.

Of course, delegates also found time to socialize, make connections and catch up on all the latest work being done in the field. No conference is complete without receptions and a night on the town! The grand finale of the conference was an all-day bus tour of historic buildings and communities in central Alberta. The day was bright and sunny as the bus set off from Edmonton. First stop was the 1907 Wetaskiwin Court House, which was converted to serve as the city hall in 2006. Next on the route was Lacombe, where Roland Michener House and the Flat Iron Building are just two of the Provincial Historic Resources the delegates visited in the city’s historic main street area. After an excellent lunch, the group continued on to Stettler and boarded the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursion’s train for Big Valley.

SSAC members departing Stettler by train.
departing Stettler on a train

The Canadian National Railways Steam Locomotive 6060—also a Provincial Historic Resource—was in the shop, but the historic train cars were a great way to set the scene. Stepping off the train at the 1912 Canadian Northern Railway Station in Big Valley was like stepping back in time. This impression was reinforced by the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator which, though it was built in 1960, is of a type that changed little since the early 1900s. On the hill overlooking the town is the well-known “Blue Church”, St. Edmund’s Anglican.

Rowley's Grain Elevator Row.
Rowley Grain Elevator Row

The final stop on the tour was Rowley, where the spectacular Rowley Grain Elevator Row symbolizes Alberta’s agricultural heritage. After a barbeque, a wander around town, and musical entertainment by Robin Woywitka and the Super 92, it was back on the bus and heading for home. The on-board movie was “Bye Bye Blues.” Watch it if you get a chance—it was filmed on location in Rowley! By the time the bus dropped us off in Edmonton, it was after midnight. Some went directly to their Whyte Avenue hotel, but on Whyte the night was just getting started, so doubtless others continued their Alberta adventures into the wee small hours!

I’d like to thank the people and organizations who contributed to the success of the SSAC 2013 Edmonton conference. It’s impossible to name them all, but special thanks go out to:

delegates pose in front of the Big Valley station.
delegates pose in front of the Big Valley station.

I look forward to seeing you all next year.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

Birds of a Feather Studying Buildings Together


Architectural Historians Gather in Edmonton

The Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada is holding its annual conference in Edmonton from May 29 to June 1. This year’s event, Infrastructures and Institutions: Settings for Life, will bring people from across Canada together to share information and ideas about architectural history, heritage resource management and other related topics. Over 40 speakers will participate 10 sessions on the University of Alberta campus.

Ministry of Culture staff will make presentations in Session 5: The Role of Government Programs in the Conservation and Commemoration of the Built Environment. This will be a lively, Pecha Kucha format session that promises to be very interesting and engaging. Other sessions will address Aboriginal themes in contemporary architecture, teaching architectural or design history in Canada, the role of churches in our communities, and the place of Arthur Erickson in the history of Canadian public architecture, among other topics. The third day of the conference is given over to an all-day bus tour that includes a train ride and banquet.

You’re welcome to attend! To register, visit the conference page of the society’s website.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

All Aboard! Big Valley Canadian Northern Railway Station Celebrates 100 Years

Canadian Northern Railway Station, Big Valley

At one time, more than 800 communities in Alberta had a train station. This is no longer the case. Fewer than 10% of Alberta’s train stations remain today, and even fewer continue to serve their original purpose. The Canadian Northern Railway Station at Big Valley – designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2005 – is one of those few. Train excursions run regularly from Stettler to Big Valley, often with the mighty 6060 Steam Locomotive (also a Provincial Historic Resource) in the lead.

The Big Valley CNoR station in 2011

The Big Valley CNoR station received a restoration grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation this year, just in time for its 100th birthday. The Canadian Northern Society is planning a big party in honour of the centenary on Saturday, September 29. Check out the poster! Make sure your visit includes the roundhouse, which was designated along with the railway station. Another site worthy of note in Big Valley is St. Edmund’s Anglican Church – the Blue Church at the top of the hill – which was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2002.

The Big Valley CNoR station in 1979 (79-R0375-27)

Sixteen other train stations have been designated Provincial Historic Resources. They are at Camrose, Claresholm, Didsbury, Empress, Fort Saskatchewan, Heinsburg, High River, Lethbridge, Meeting Creek, Paradise Valley, Peace River, Red Deer, Sexsmith, Smoky Lake, Strathcona (in Edmonton), and Vegreville. The stations at Beiseker, High River, Red Deer and Strathcona have also been designated by their respective municipalities. Additional recognition for Alberta train stations has come from the federal government, which has declared those at Banff, Empress, Hanna, Jasper, Lake Louise, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Strathcona to be Heritage Railway Stations.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

What’s New with the Alberta Heritage Survey? (12.01)

There’s been some spring cleaning on the Alberta Heritage Survey website – it’s been tidied up, rearranged and revamped! Check out all the information and new links. You’ll find a description of the Alberta Heritage Survey (AHS) Program, and a link to an electronic version of Photographic Memory , the Provincial Archives of Alberta  exhibit which was previously featured on RETROactive (What’s New with the Alberta Heritage Survey? 11.01). As well, links on the website will take you to pdf versions of documents providing a wealth of information about the heritage survey process, and there are sections with details about HeRMIS, the AHS eForm, and historical walking and driving tour booklets.

This photograph is an example of what may be found on the Alberta Heritage Survey.

HeRMIS, the Heritage Information Management System, provides online access to the database where the Alberta Heritage Survey is stored. You can explore the records of the AHS by querying the database, using the Basic or the Advanced query window. Almost 100,000 records have been entered so far, and more are being added all the time. Images are the latest innovation. A search on the name “Siracky” using the text search field of the Basic Search brings up an interesting selection of buildings in east central Alberta. To explore the records, click on View Details. Once you are in a record you can double click on the images to see larger versions. Click on “Return to Search Results” to go back to the list and access another record.

The eForm is an exciting development that allows data, including images, to be submitted to the Alberta Heritage Survey via the internet. Now, information can be added to the database from anywhere with internet access. This feature is only available on a restricted basis, but you can follow the links to learn how it works.

Over the years, in cooperation with communities and groups across the province, the AHS has produced numerous historical walking and driving tours. Many of these are now out of print, but they are still available through the AHS web page, where pdf versions of 22 tours are available for downloading. As the very first AHS blog post, Spring Forward!  pointed out, a bit of heritage sightseeing is a perfect excuse to get out and enjoy the spring weather.

If you have any comments about the spruced up AHS web page, please contact Dorothy Field.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

Alberta’s Wooden Country Grain Elevators

In February one of our Facebook fans asked how many grain elevators still stand on the Alberta horizon. Dorothy Field, our Heritage Survey Program Coordinator has compiled some statistics.

The twentieth century saw the rise and fall – literally – of the wooden country grain elevator in Alberta. As rail lines spread across the province, grain elevators sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rain. The high water mark for wooden country grain elevators was in 1934. New elevators were added in every decade, but this has been exceeded by the rate of demolition or closure ever since. Check out the following “index” of Alberta’s wooden country elevators, called “elevators” for short in this list.

Rowley Grain Elevator Row, Provincial Historic Resource

Number of elevators in Alberta:

  • in 1934:  1,781
  • in 1951:  1,651
  • in 1982:  979
  • in 1997: 327
  • in 2005: 156
  • in 2012 on railway rights-of-way:  130

Number of communities with:

  • at least one elevator:  95
  • 2 or more elevators:  26
  • 3 or more elevators:  7
  • 4 or more elevators:  1 (Warner)
Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator Site Complex, Meeting Creek, Provincial Historic Resource

Additional statistics:

  • Number of elevators in Alberta’s longest row:  6
  • Oldest remaining elevator: 1905 (Raley)
  • Number of remaining elevators that pre-date 1910:  3 (Raley, St. Albert, De Winton)
  • Newest remaining elevator: 1988 (Woodgrove)
  • Decade with the largest number of surviving elevators:  1920s (33)
  • Decade with the second largest number of surviving elevators:  1980s (26)
  • Decade with the fewest (after pre-1910) number of surviving elevators:  1940s (5)
  • Number of elevators that have been designated a Provincial Historic Resource (PHR):  13
  • Number of communities with at least one elevator designated as a PHR:  10
  • Oldest designated elevator: 1906 (St. Albert)
  • Newest designated elevator:  Leduc (1978)
Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, Paradise Valley, Provincial Historic Resource

For a list of communities in Alberta with designated and non-designated elevators, please click here.

Please Note:

  • Grain elevators that have been moved off railway rights-of-way – to a farmyard or a museum, for instance – are not included in these statistics.
  • Grain elevators located on railway rights-of-way where the rails have been torn up are included in these statistics.
  • Concrete or steel elevators are not included.
  • Elevators used for other purposes, such as seed cleaning or fertilizer storage, are not included.
  • Most of these elevators were last documented by the Heritage Survey in 2005. It is possible that some of the elevators on the list are now gone.

Additional Information:

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

What’s New with the Alberta Heritage Survey? (11-02)

In 1989, a computer database was created to store the information collected since the early 1970s by the Heritage Survey Program. Data entry has been ongoing ever since. Over the years, technology has advanced, and the Heritage Survey database software has been updated a number of times. Among the most exciting developments is the ability to store and retrieve images. There are several hundred thousand photographs in the Heritage Survey collection waiting to be uploaded, so it will take a while to catch up! Watch this blog to learn about some of these images as they’re added.

Negative Roll 71-R0001

Scans from this 1971 roll were recently uploaded. Check out the photos of five important buildings on the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton: the Arts Building (HS 53226), Rutherford House, the South Laboratory (HS 9445), the Power Plant, and Old St. Stephen’s College.

Rutherford House, boarded up in 1971. (HS 71-R0001-13)

It is fascinating to see what has changed, forty years on! For instance, in 1971, Rutherford House (HS 22330) was empty and boarded up. Today, it is designated as a Provincial Historic Resource (PHR), has been restored and operates as a Provincial Historic Site. One image of the Power Plant (HS 9441) shows a clear view to Garneau, a residential neighbourhood, one block east. Now, that view is blocked by the five-storey Rutherford North Library, built in 1973, and the Hub Mall, built in 1972. In 1971, Old St. Stephen’s College (HS 29047) still had its cylindrical metal fire escape slides. Its role as the home of the Historic Resources Management Branch was yet in the future, as were the extensive renovations that transformed the building from a student residence into government offices. Today, Old St. Stephen’s
College is a Provincial Historic Resource, and the home of the Heritage Survey Program.

Click the above links to view images on the Heritage Resources Management Information System (HeRMIS) website.

Written by:  Dorothy Field, Historic Survey Program Coordinator

What’s New with the Alberta Heritage Survey? (11.01)

Special Exhibit: Photographic Memory

The Alberta Heritage Survey is a collection of data and photographs documenting over 100,000 historic resources across the province. The database is still growing, and is accessible online via HeRMIS, the Heritage Resources Management Information System: Heritage Survey on HeRMIS. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the Heritage Survey is the thousands of images that have been taken for it since 1968. This column will feature stories about images that are being added to HeRMIS, and the sites they illustrate, so check back for updates. Meanwhile, you can take in an exhibit that features the Heritage Survey photo collection, Photographic Memory, at the Provincial Archives of Alberta until December 2011. (Click on the image below for more information.)

The PAA is located at 8555 Roper Road, in Edmonton. Map  Driving Directions


Phone: (780) 427-1750  Reading Room Phone: (780) 427-1056  (Toll Free: First dial 310-0000, then dial the full ten-digit phone number of the office you wish to reach.)

Please Note: The Heritage Survey exhibit can be viewed during regular open hours, Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 4:30 pm, and until 9 pm on Wednesdays. It will be up until the end of January. Please note that the Provincial Archives of Alberta will be closed December 26-28, 2011.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

Spring Forward!

We’ve changed the clocks, it’s warming up, and the annual crop of potholes is appearing. Spring must be just around the corner. If you’re itching to get out and enjoy the fresh air, why not add some heritage to your outing? Check out the PDFs of walking and driving tours on the Heritage Survey Programwebsite – from Coleman to Grande Prairie and places in between, there’s a whole bunch to choose from!