Alberta Culture and Tourism manages the Online Permitting and Clearance (OPaC) system, which has two main purposes: to discover if a historic resource will be impacted by a proposed development and to regulate the approval of archaeological and palaeontological excavation permits.
Developers and municipalities use OPaC as a tool to determine if a proposed development may affect a historic resource. Before beginning development, the project’s proponent submits an application for approval to proceed. The application is reviewed by the Historic Resources Management Branch to determine if the proposed development has the potential to damage any historic resources, such as archaeological, palaeontological, historic or Aboriginal traditional use sites. The Branch reviews approximately 3,000 development applications each year!
Archaeologists and palaeontologists obtain permits through OPaC before proceeding with an excavation. Anyone who intends to excavate for the purpose of archaeological or palaeontological research must submit an application with the details of their project to the Historic Resources Management Branch for review. Permits are given out in order to regulate the amount of excavation activity that takes place in the province and to ensure that those who are excavating for archaeological and palaeontological purposes are qualified to do so. 500 applications for archaeological and palaeontological research permits are received per year by the Branch. The Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation has more information on the qualifications necessary to hold such permits and the conditions under which studies must take place.
Ten years ago, applications were managed the old fashioned, paper-based way and reviewing them was a much slower process. With the boom in the oil and gas industry, the workload increased substantially and this created the need for a more efficient permitting system. In 2009, the idea of OPaC was introduced as a semi-automated way to process applications. This was a welcome transition and has made the application procedure more convenient for developers who are seeking to conduct work on Alberta’s land as well as for the people managing the applications.
There are a number of advantages to the OPaC system:
It has brought a consistent approach to the process and ensures that applications and inquiries are addressed in a timely manner.
The online database stores information on the location of archaeological, palaeontological and historic resources as well as Aboriginal traditional use sites. This data is used to build a cumulative sense of the resources and developments that are on Alberta’s landscape. This way, strategic measures can be taken to protect the resources.
It serves as a starting point to capture heritage data and assists in identifying issues in advance to better protect Alberta’s historic resources.
With the help of the Geographic Information System (GIS), we can map the locations of proposed developments and historic resources to help identify and minimize potential conflicts.
OPaC has brought efficiency to the application process, but a wider significance lies in the fact that it supports a regulatory process that helps to discover historic resources that may otherwise go unnoticed and, therefore, unprotected – an important point, since the more we can preserve, the clearer picture we can create of Alberta’s past and this has immense benefits for future generations.
The Historic Resources Management Branch is responsible for the preservation and protection of Alberta’s historic resources as mandated by the Historical Resources Act. OPaC is a key tool in fulfilling this responsibility, as it allows experts the ability to easily and quickly determine the level of impact that could potentially threaten Alberta’s historic resources. Alberta Culture is committed to the preservation and protection of Alberta’s historic resources and this system helps to ensure that the opportunity for enhancing that knowledge is not lost.
For more information on OPaC, please refer to our website.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer, with special thanks to the OPaC team for their assistance.
Old St. Stephen’s College sits on the grounds of the University of Alberta near the bus loop. Did you know that it is the oldest building on campus? Designed in the early 1900s by Herbert A. Magoon, the building is a collegiate Gothic style that can be seen among early British universities. The college emulates a castle-like appearance and there are very few other examples like this in Alberta or even western Canada.
Over a century has passed since St. Stephen’s was constructed and the elm trees that were planted during the college’s early years have now grown to almost completely cover the building’s façade. This is a testimony of its endurance and the college’s longevity continues to contribute to its interesting history. This post will look at the unique construction of this structure and detail the notable features that make the Old St Stephen’s College a significant historic resource.
The construction of Alberta College South, as the building was first known, began in 1910 on the University of Alberta campus and welcomed 41 theology students the following year. The college first functioned as a non-denominational theological school and co-ed residence, offering the basics in biblical scholarship and trained students to become ministers. Church history, biblical languages, systematic theology and homiletics are just some of the courses that were available. Within a decade of the school’s opening, the theological program began to attract students from all over Canada and other parts of the world.
By the early 1900s, Edmonton was home to Alberta College South, a seminary of the Methodist Church, and a Presbyterian instructional college known as Robertson College. In 1925, the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches merged, forming the United Church of Canada. Around this time, the Government of Canada passed the United Church of Canada Act, declaring there to be an amalgamation when two or more colleges doing the same classwork were situated in the same locality. The outcome of this had the Robertson College relocate to Alberta College South and the institution was renamed the United Theological College. Two separate boards remained, one for the Methodist church and one for Robertson College, until 1927 when the two boards united and settled on the name St. Stephen’s College.
A new building was built immediately south of the original building in 1952. Old St. Stephen’s College (as it was henceforth called) continued to be used as a student dormitory, while the new St. Stephen’s College held classrooms and offices. By the 1970s, there was an increase in student housing around the university area and less students were choosing to reside at the college. Within a few years, Old St. Stephen’s was vacant and in danger of becoming a parking lot, until considerable protest was mounted by members of the public. Demolition was averted in 1979 when the Government of Alberta leased the property from St. Stephen’s College as office space for the Historical Resources Division of Alberta Culture. The building is now owned by the Government of Alberta and houses many employees of the Heritage Division. This past September, we celebrated 35 years of residency in the historic building.
Old St. Stephen’s College was designed by one of Edmonton’s first architects, Herbert A. Magoon. In the early 1900s, Magoon moved to Western Canada where there was an increasing amount of city development. He eventually settled in Edmonton and quickly became one of the city’s most reputable architects. Magoon was involved in designing a number of buildings that are now Alberta historic resources, including the Knox Presbyterian Church, the Metals Building, the H.V. Shaw Building in Edmonton and the Old Town Hall in Wainwright. A number of Magoon’s designs are of similar style to buildings found in Chicago, where he worked and studied architecture, indicating that he was influenced from his time spent there.
In the spring of 1910, H. A. Magoon was commissioned to design the future St. Stephen’s College. St. Stephen’s was inspired by the architectural style that was popular in Europe in the early twentieth century. The design of the building is consistent with the collegiate gothic style that was common to many colleges and universities built across North America during this time. This design was favoured because it emulated a British tradition found among some early universities. There are subsequent buildings on campus that are in line with the appearance of St. Stephen’s, including the Rutherford Library and St. Joseph’s College.
The exterior’s notable features are its red brick veneer, octagonal towers and battlemented fortifications, which give the structure a castle-like appearance. The overall design of the building fit with the vision of the principal to-be of Alberta South College, John Henry Riddell. Riddell wanted a building that would “stand out, conspicuous against the horizon…appearing so clearly…as to challenge every passer-by.” The resulting structure was an impressive brick building that has drawn comparison to St. James’s Palace in London.
The interior of Old St. Stephen’s has a number of distinguishing features that make the building unique, such as an entrance foyer with oak detailing, a fireplace in the former Dean’s office, a vault and the remnants of a gymnasium on the top floor. When the building was first constructed, it featured 65 bedrooms, a 300 person capacity assembly hall, faculty residences and a dining hall. In 1935, a classroom was converted into a chapel with stained glass windows, which still remains in the north wing of the first floor. The chapel contains the original wooden pews and pulpit that were crafted by a former St. Stephen’s student.
This is the oldest building to be constructed on the grounds of the University of Alberta, the province’s first post-secondary institution. Although separate from the University, the college has become integrated into the campus over the past century and has served as a recognized landmark in the university area. Old St. Stephen’s is an example that historic buildings need not necessarily be demolished, but they can successfully be reused, thus continuing the preservation of Alberta’s built heritage.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer
Plans for an elaborate armoury in Calgary were well underway prior to the outbreak of the First World War, as the need for a permanent, military training structure was apparent within the first decade of the twentieth century. The story of the construction of Calgary’s own armoury was a drawn out affair that lasted to nearly the end of the Great War. There were problems from the very beginning, including fierce opposition to the cost and chosen site of the armoury, a shortage of building materials and ultimately the outbreak of war. In the end, the result was a state of the art facility with a central drill hall surrounded by 117 rooms and complete with dining hall, shooting gallery and even a bowling alley. This post will examine the Mewata Armoury, a building that was established during the First World War, and its place as a significant symbol of military heritage in Alberta.
In the early 1900s, the Canadian military underwent a number of reforms to modernize it and establish permanent facilities for the army. The federal government set the ambitious goal to establish 350 new drill halls and the decision to construct these served a dual purpose. These structures were to foster a sense of military pride amongst Canadians while boosting recruitment and create a closer connection between civilians and soldiers. Calgary was considered part of Ottawa’s military expansion plan early on and the city became the headquarters for Military District No. 13 in 1907, which covered all of Alberta and the district of MacKenzie (a portion of the Northwest Territories at the time). This declaration was significant since it meant that the area was deemed to be an important part of the future of the Canadian military.
It was nevertheless the local military regiments, and not the federal government, that took it upon themselves to push for the construction of a new armoury. Calgary was growing rapidly in the early twentieth century and they felt they needed a facility to house their growing regiments. The city’s military organizations wanted a building that would better accommodate their soldiers and approached the federal government for approval to build an armoury in Calgary. Potential sites for the location were suggested over the next few years, but were all deemed insufficient and plans for the armoury were soon shelved.
It was not until Sam Hughes was appointed Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defence in 1911 that Ottawa’s plans for a modern militia were put in motion. Hughes undertook the responsibility of reforming Canada’s military and his ambitious agenda included the construction of armouries and drill halls across the country. Hughes promoted the volunteer soldier as the foundation of the Canadian military and believed that volunteerism was the most viable form of recruitment. He was also a strong supporter of building a shared place for civilians and soldiers. This belief was reinforced by the need for an armoury, as it would serve as a visible presence to foster civic pride, and in turn, increase the number of soldiers who enlist. In addition to providing an adequate space for training, the new structures were to be a permanent symbol of Canada’s military reform program.
Another supporter of this vision was the Calgary Conservative MP, Richard Bedford Bennett. Bennett agreed with Hughes’ plan for an elaborate military structure and wanted Calgary to have its own armoury. One of Bennett’s first decisions upon taking office was to lobby the federal government to establish such a facility. Although the city already held a number of rented military buildings for training purposes and used school grounds for parades, these sites were spread throughout Calgary and it was considered more practical to consolidate these into a single location. The city also remained without a permanent indoor space for military training during the winter months. Bennett considered this to be inadequate for a growing city and the proposal for an armoury was revisited. It took minimal lobbying on Bennett’s behalf to convince Hughes that Calgary was worthy of a magnificent armoury and the funds were soon allotted to begin building.
When it came to deciding on the location for Calgary’s armoury, Bennett had just one area in mind, Mewata Park. The site was already being used as an athletic field and had originally been designated a civic park for the people of Calgary. The site was centrally located, which meant that it would be impossible for the structure to be missed by many Calgarians during their daily commute downtown.
As the plans for the new armoury proceeded, the project was met with opposition, notably from Alberta Liberals, who felt that the federal government had no right to devote public land to a military institution. They also raised concern over the cost that would be incurred to construct the new building. The daily pro-Liberal newspaper, Morning Albertan, voiced their opinion against the construction of an armoury, citing that “an expenditure of such an amount would be a lavish and inexcusable waste of money.” However, this did not appear to be the sentiment of the majority of the citizens of Calgary. The opposition was soon squashed by people who came out in strong support of the armoury during the 1913 municipal election. This was a heated election issue that year and included a question on the ballot enquiring if citizens wanted to see the project move forward. More than 70% of voters were in favour of constructing an armoury at Mewata Park, indicating their support for the local military. In 1916, supporters were granted their request and the City of Calgary donated the land to the federal government to build the armoury.
The First World War erupted in August of 1914 and the armoury’s construction was therefore delayed for a few years. This was due to the city’s resources being allocated to more necessary and immediate projects for the war efforts. A brick shortage contributed to construction being deferred even further. Building was eventually underway in September, 1916 and was finalized in the fall of 1918. Once completed, the armoury was used as a training centre and demobilization depot for soldiers returning from WWI. Although it was too late for the armoury to be fully utilized for the war, the construction of an impressive military facility helped to encourage pride among its citizens.
Although the armoury’s interior has been remodelled substantially, the exterior has retained its original appearance as constructed in 1916. The building is one of only two similar structures in the province (the other being the Prince of Wales Armoury in Edmonton). The architectural design is a classic example of the gothic and Tudor revival, which was built to look like a fortress with its four corner towers and six smaller side towers. What makes the Mewata Armoury unique is its castle-like style, massive size and the use of brick and sandstone construction. This is one of the last buildings in Calgary that was created with sandstone.
Mewata Armoury remains a long-standing military landmark and shows the federal government’s commitment to a militia-presence in Calgary. A number of regiments have called the armoury home over the years, including the Calgary Regiment’s First Battalion (currently the Calgary Highlanders), the Second Battalion (now the King’s Own Calgary Regiment) and various cavalry units. Mewata Armoury has primarily been used as a military facility, but has also been a training centre for the police, a base for numerous Cadet Corps and is the headquarters for the Southern Alberta Militia District. Various sporting events have been held at the armoury and Mewata Park was still used as an athletic field. The armoury remains an important site, as it was constructed to connect the military with the civilian population, amidst the First World War.
This was the third part of a series commemorating the First World War. This series will look at a range of topics that will show Alberta’s involvement in this historic event.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer
Designation File # 177, in the custody of the Historic Resources Management Branch.
Lackenbauer, P. Whitney “Partisan Politics, Civic Priorities, and the Urban Militia: Situating the Calgary Armoury, 1907-1917.” Urban History Review 33, no. 2 (2005): 45-60.
“Mewata Armoury” Alberta Register of Historic Places. HeRMIS. (Accessed August 12, 2014).
Rowe, Allan “Historical Context Paper Mewata Armoury (Calgary),” Historic Resources Management Branch, Des. File #177. (April 25, 2014).
In Jasper National Park there are five mountains named for First World War Victoria Cross recipients with Alberta connections. The peaks are located within a series of mountains known as the Victoria Cross Ranges. The names of these mountains honour Private John Chipman Kerr, Private Cecil John Kinross, Captain George Burdon McKean, Private John George Pattison and Sergeant Raphael Louis Zengel.
The Victoria Cross was established in 1856 by Queen Victoria to recognize military personnel who demonstrated bravery when faced with the opposition during wartime. It is the highest military decoration that can be bestowed upon a soldier in the British Commonwealth. This post will look at the recipients of the Victoria Cross who the mountains in Jasper National Park are dedicated to.
Mount Kerr is named in honour of Private John Chipman Kerr, who served in the Alberta raised, 49th Battalion (Edmonton Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force. Kerr, originally from Fox River, Nova Scotia, moved to Spirit River, Alberta before enlisting for service in 1915.
On September 16, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, Kerr and his unit prepared to ambush German soldiers. As the lead bayonet man, Kerr was 30 metres ahead of his comrades and exchanged fire with enemy troops. The Germans, believing that they had been surrounded, surrendered to Kerr. Sixty-two prisoners were captured and 250 yards of enemy territory was seized. Kerr was injured and lost a finger in the attack, but reported back for active duty before the wound had been fully dressed.
For his actions on that day, Private Kerr was awarded the Victoria Cross.
After the war, Kerr returned to farming, worked in the Turner Valley oil fields and as a forest ranger. He enlisted in the Second World War and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. John Kerr died in Port Moody, British Columbia in February 1963. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Mount Kinross was named for Private Cecil John Kinross. Originally from England, he had immigrated to a rural Alberta farm with his family at the age of 16. He enlisted in the 51st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915 and later transferred to the 49th Battalion in France.
On October 30, 1917, during the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium, Kinross’s unit was under intense artillery fire. Showing no concern for his own personal safety, he took off alone and charged towards the enemy, killing six soldiers and destroying their machine gun. His action inspired his comrades and their unit to advance 300 yards into enemy territory. Kinross was severely injured in the battle and did not return to the front lines.
Kinross received the Victoria Cross for his act of bravery that day.
His citation announced “he showed marvellous coolness and courage, fighting with the utmost aggressiveness against heavy odds until seriously wounded.” Private Kinross was honourably discharged and he returned to Lougheed, Alberta, where he lived until his death in June of 1957. His Victoria Cross remains with his family and the miniature is on display at the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum in Edmonton.
Mount McKean is dedicated to Captain George Burdon McKean, who immigrated to Canada from England in 1902 to join his brother on a farm near Lethbridge. He studied at Robertson College, a theological school in Edmonton, and was an assistant minister at the time of his enlistment in 1915. McKean first enlisted as a Private in the 51st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and later became a Lieutenant in the 14th battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment).
In April of 1918, while stationed near Gavrelle, France, McKean led his troops in a raid against German forces. When his men hesitated, McKean took off alone towards the enemy’s heavily fortified trench, taking out two of their soldiers. This move instilled confidence in his unit, who quickly followed to seize the trench and capture its remaining soldiers. Lieutenant McKean was praised for his actions and was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation reads “This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives, for had not this position been captured, the whole of the raiding party would have been exposed to dangerous enfilading fire during the withdrawal.”
In addition to the Victoria Cross, McKean also received the Military Cross and the Military Medal for his service during the war. He was later promoted to Captain. After the war, he returned to England. He was killed in an industrial accident in November 1926. In addition to being commemorated by Mount McKean, in 2003, a public square in Cagnicourt, France was named La Place George Burdon McKean. His Victoria Cross is in the collection of the Canadian War Museum.
Mount Pattison is dedicated to Private John George Pattison. He was born and raised in England and moved to Canada in 1906 with his wife and four children. He worked for the Calgary Gas Company. In 1916, at 40 years of age, he enlisted in Calgary with the 50th (Calgary) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
In April of 1917 at Vimy Ridge, the 50th Battalion was advancing towards German occupied territory when they were confronted with heavy machine gun fire. Pattison charged forward to face the opposition and hurled grenades at the enemy which allowed him to take out the remainder of the German crew. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions and credited with making further advances possible. Pattison was one of four Canadians to receive the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
A few weeks later, Private Pattison was killed in action on June 3, 1917, during an attack on a German occupied power station in Lens, France. In addition to the mountain named in his honour, Pattison Bridge over the Elbow River in Calgary commemorates his service and sacrifice.
Mount Zengel is named in honour of Sergeant Raphael Louis Zengel, who came to Canada from Minnesota at a young age. The Zengel family initially settled on a homestead in Saskatchewan before Raphael enlisted to the 45th (Manitoba) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. He later became a sergeant in the 5th (Western Cavalry) Battalion.
On August 9, 1918 near Amiens, France, on the second day of a massive campaign against German forces, Sergeant Zengel’s platoon came under heavy machine-gun fire. He rushed ahead and met the defensive unit, killing two of their machine gunners and forcing the others to scatter. He was cited for his excellent work through the attack and for showing utter disregard for his own personal safety.
Sergeant Zengel was awarded the Victoria Cross for his contribution at the Battle of Amiens. (He had previously been awarded the Military Medal for his service at the Battle of Passchendaele). After the war he became a long-time resident of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. He died in February 1977. Branch No. 8 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Rocky Mountain House is named the R.L. Zengel V.C. to commemorate his award distinction. In 1936, the Geographic Board of Canada named Zengle Lake in Saskatchewan in his honour, misspelling his name in the process.
The tribute to these soldiers in 1951 was made possible by the co-operation of federal and provincial governments. However, at the time, the proposal created controversy. The issue’s resolution would bring about the creation of the Victoria Cross Ranges and an agreement between the Governments of Alberta and Canada still governs geographical naming in in Alberta today. That will be the subject of our next place names post.
Archaeology Day began in 2011 as an initiative to recognize the work that archaeologists do and to celebrate archaeological discoveries. This event helps to bring public awareness to the work of professional archaeologists.
The day is commemorated yearly on the third Saturday of October and was initially known as National Archaeology Day, which began in the United States. Archaeology Day has grown into an international movement and has become increasingly popular since its inception. Groups from all over the world participate by holding archaeological activities in their own areas. Tours, site digs and lectures give people the chance to experience the thrill of archaeology. Even Jeopardy! is getting on board – on October 17th there will be a special category in honour of the event.
In August of 1914, Canada entered the First World War, an arduous experience for Albertans who served on the battlefront and for those who remained in Canada. Thousands of men enlisted and quickly left Alberta for the front, leaving a gap in both the workforce and civil society. During the war, women took on many of these roles, opening a realm of new possibilities. Women helped raise funds for the Canadian Red Cross Society and entered the workforce, while others enlisted in the medical core as nurses. This post will give an overview of Canadian women in the First World War by looking at the shift in traditional labour roles, Canadian nurses and the voluntary initiatives that women organized. It is important to recognize the sacrifices that were made by these women and to show how they contributed to the war effort, on the home front as well as overseas.
For most Canadian women, participation in the First World War was limited to serving on the home front. With almost 50,000 of Alberta’s men deployed overseas, this created openings in the service and farming industries back home. The demand for more workers increased and jobs that were traditionally reserved for men were opened to women for the first time. The need for additional labour differed by region across the country. Central Canada, for instance, experienced a greater need for employees to work in munitions factories, while in Alberta, labourers were needed to assist with farm work. Other positions that women filled were administrative clerks, factory workers and as delivery vehicle drivers. Female participation in the clerical and banking fields increased significantly and there were women who remained in this line of work even after the war ended. Women were exposed to more job opportunities than ever before, whereas prior to the First World War, they were largely limited to domestic duties.
Between 1914 and 1918, there was an overwhelming need for labour and this compelled employers to hire women. Many employers, and even some women, viewed the female worker as a temporary substitute needed to meet a wartime emergency. Not surprisingly, women faced opposition at times for their participation in the workforce, particularly during the initial outbreak of the war in the street railway service and banking fields. In several cities across Canada, male workers with the railway system were outraged that women were allowed to be hired as conductors on their cars. While some areas disapproved of women taking on non-traditional labour roles, other employers recognized that women were a much needed source of labour. The Canadian government hired 1,325 women in civilian jobs, such as clerks and typists, with the military. Another 1,200 women were employed by the Royal Air Force in Canada to work in mainly technical positions, and by 1918, they had hired 750 female mechanics. This indicates that the prejudice against working women had to be overruled in order to alleviate the shortage of manpower. The war produced a necessity for human labour and this opened up a wider array of opportunities for women. The roles that women stepped into during the war years had a significant impact on the province by challenging traditional gender roles and began legitimizing the idea of women in the labour force.
Many women initially entered the labour market to demonstrate their patriotism, but this move had a number of positive effects. There was an increase in financial opportunities for women and wage disparity between men and women began to lessen. In addition, the war opened up a whole host of social opportunities. Women were participating more in the public sphere, both in the workforce and social circles, and this provided the foundation for a fervent energy that helped to ignite the women’s movement across Canada. Women desired greater participation in politics and the idea that women should vote and run for office quickly became mainstream. On April 19, 1916, this right was granted to Alberta women. Obtaining the vote was an achievement which contributed to an increased political consciousness amongst women in Alberta. This momentum continued and by the following year, Louise McKinney and Roberta MacAdams, had become the first women to be elected to the Alberta legislature. The dramatic increase of women in the labour field and social community was a significant force that paved the way for women’s rights in Canada.
There were a number of Canadian women who contributed their services abroad, primarily in the medical service field. The Canadian Army Medical Corps required a number of trained nurses to help provide medical care to Canadian soldiers. Trained nurses joined the Nursing Sisters of Canada and there was no shortage of volunteers. 3,141 nurses served in the medical core, with 2,504 of those serving overseas. There were women from Alberta who enlisted as military nurses and at the initial outbreak of the war in 1914, 10 nurses from Edmonton went abroad and assisted the troops serving on the front. Canadian nurses worked tirelessly to provide medical services to those who were wounded in battle and cared for recovering soldiers. They were commonly known as “bluebirds” due to their uniform colours. Later on, the nurses were referred to as the “Sisters” or “Angels of Mercy” by the soldiers. These monikers are indicative of the caring service that the nurses provided and were often praised for. Throughout the First World War, Canadian nurses were commended for their heroism and became well known for their compassion when treating the afflicted.
Women without nursing experience could enlist through the Voluntary Aid Detachment which was operated by the Canadian branch of the St. John Ambulance. V.A.D. nurses received basic first aid training and worked in hospitals as medical assistants and carried out general duties such as cooking and cleaning. The role of the V.A.D. allowed women who were not trained as nurses to be directly involved in the war efforts and approximately 2,000 Canadian women served as unpaid nurses during the First World War. Around 500 were sent to Europe and the majority remained at convalescent hospitals in Canada. Nine Edmonton women were trained as V.A.D.s and deployed overseas.
The First World War brought changes to the military medical services. Medical units were originally established in hospitals and then Casualty Clearing Stations were created near the frontlines to give faster treatment to the soldiers injured in battle. While this provided better service for the wounded, it put Canada’s nurses closer to combat. They faced the danger of enemy artillery attacks, air raids and also endured vermin, fleas and disease, just as the men in the trenches. Canadian nurse, Katherine Wilson-Simmie, details her account in The Memoirs of Nursing Sister Kate Wilson, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 1915-1917. While stationed near the front lines, Wilson-Simmie witnessed an unforgettable day when the first gassed soldiers were admitted for medical assistance. She describes the event as “an entirely new kind of warfare – horrible, and contemptible. It was a terrible experience for the men and for those trying to help them.” Women not only observed the abysmal conditions of war, they were eyewitness to the immediate impact that battle had on human life.
As the nurses returned from overseas, they could take pride in the contribution that they had made for their country, but they had also witnessed firsthand the devastating toll of war. Approximately 50 Canadian nurses lost their lives in the First World War. The Canadian Nursing Sisters are commemorated at The Nurses’ Memorial on Parliament Hill, Ottawa.
Women supported numerous initiatives across Canada and overseas during the First World War, but the Canadian Red Cross Society (CRCS) was the primary humanitarian organization in the country. Women were eager to serve the Red Cross which gave them the opportunity to participate in the war from the home front. The society provided aid and comfort to soldiers and their families who were affected by the war and women supported these relief efforts in a number of ways. They fundraised, distributed gifts, prepared care packages and medical supply kits as well as knitted extra clothing to send to soldiers.
When the war was declared, women endorsed the work of the Red Cross Society without hesitation and a number of auxiliaries emerged across the country during this time. This support allowed the Canadian Red Cross to provide relief assistance and volunteers visited recovering soldiers in British hospitals, attempted to trace missing people and helped Canadians correspond with their families and friends abroad. The society also worked with Red Cross affiliates overseas to fulfill requests for medical assistance when possible. A volunteer, and later Alberta resident, Madeleine Jaffray, was one of ten Canadian nurses who were recruited through the Red Cross to serve in the French Flag Nursing Corp. In Belgium, just miles from the frontlines, Jaffrey’s unit was frequently targeted by bombs. During one attack, her foot became severely wounded and was later amputated. She was awarded a French military medal, the Croix de Guerre, for her service and was the first Canadian woman to receive this honour.
With the help of donors and dedicated volunteers, the Canadian Red Cross Society established a headquarters in London, so they could better coordinate with the people on the front line in France. The organization also helped to create and maintain hospitals for soldiers who were wounded in battle. The Red Cross played a significant role by providing comfort and support services to Canadians. This was made possible through the voluntary services that were initiated by women on the home front. The Red Cross was a valuable organization in a time of need and gave women a variety of ways to help their loved ones who had gone overseas to war.
Alberta women contributed to the Canadian efforts to win the First World War in many ways. Initial participation in the war efforts was largely out of patriotic respect, but a number of outcomes emerged as a result. Notably, there was an increased female presence in civil society and the Alberta suffragist movement emerged. The efforts displayed by women during the Great War are remembered for the impact that they have had on women’s history in Canada.
This was the second part of a series commemorating the First World War. This series will look at a range of topics that will show Alberta’s involvement in this historic event.
To learn more about women in Alberta’s history, refer to the Alberta Women’s Memory Project, an initiative that was created to preserve and promote the history of women in Alberta.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer
Byfield, Ted, ed. Alberta in the 20th Century: The Great War and its Consequences 1914-1920. Vol. 4. Edmonton, Canada: CanMedia Inc., 1995.
On August 4th, 1914 the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on behalf of the British Empire, including Canada. The First World War had begun. 2014 marks the centenary of Canada’s (and thus Alberta’s) entrance into “The Great War,” a period which tested the province’s strength and demonstrated its resilience. This post will look at recruitment, life in the trenches, conscription and the final 100 days of the First World War.
In August 1914, communities across Canada prepared to serve, organising the people and resources that would be needed to assist the allied forces in victory. Canada was thrust into a situation that required everyone to help the war effort and Albertans responded without hesitation.
During the initial stages of the war Albertans were eager to volunteer, and within the first few days men from all over the province had enlisted for military service. Alberta supported the Canadian Expeditionary Force, including 180 cavalrymen from the 19th Alberta Dragoons, more than 400 from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 900 members from the 101st Edmonton Militia Regiment and more than 300 hundred men from the 103rd Calgary Rifles Regiment. By 1916, 24 battalions had been raised in Alberta, consisting of approximately 1,000 men each.
Reaching the trenches, the enthusiasm that volunteer soldiers felt upon enlistment quickly wore off. It became obvious to the men that they had been given inadequate training and the weapons they were issued, particularly the Ross Rifle, proved to be ill-suited for trench warfare. As soon as soldiers reached the trenches, they were met with deplorable conditions: vermin, rain, mud and disease were common and the horror of seeing friends and countrymen suddenly killed or maimed became a weirdly familiar experience. The letters that soldiers sent to friends and relatives back home, although often censored, detailed some of their experiences, but it was impossible to describe the realities of being in the middle of a war zone to civilians. One soldier, Private Maus, stated during correspondence with his uncle in Edmonton: “It is a rather muddy picnic, with fireworks free.” This illustrates Private Maus’ wry sense of humour, but also alludes to the dirty conditions and the never-ending noise of artillery fire that were commonplace. Men from Alberta served alongside other Canadians throughout four years of trench warfare.
A number of men enlisted for military service with the hope of fighting alongside their friends, relatives and neighbour, but very few of the battalions remained together. Units were regularly disbanded and their members reassigned to reinforce other battalions that had been depleted as a result of casualties. Only four battalions from Alberta remained intact and they fought in the front line at second battle of Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. They were the 50th battalion from Calgary; the 49th from Edmonton; the 31st, comprised of recruits from southern Alberta; as well as the 10th which recruited members from Calgary and Winnipeg. In total, around 49,000 men from Alberta enlisted as soldiers in infantry, artillery battery operators, field hospital workers, aircraft crews, as well as other equally important areas.
The strong number of volunteers who were initially eager to take on the duties of war had declined sharply by 1917. Once word had reached the home front about the death toll that accompanied war service, recruitment became a challenge. Prime Minister Robert Borden and his cabinet nevertheless felt a duty to maintain its front line ranks and, with the lack of new and willing recruits, talk of conscripting able bodied men into military service began. Borden had seen firsthand the toll Canadian soldiers paid while visiting hospitals in England and the battlefront in France. As a result, Borden pushed a conscription bill through Parliament, despite strong opposition, and mandatory enlistment was made law on August 28, 1917.
All eligible men were instructed to immediately sign up for military service. This included men who were unmarried or childless widowers between the ages of 20 and 34, although there were other exemptions. War-time workers who were deemed essential to the war effort and conscientious objectors were a few of the exceptions that men could apply for. In Calgary, 11,953 males requested exemption and 60% of Alberta’s conscripts who registered in Edmonton were deemed unfit to send to war. Conscription was passed with the intention of enlisting 70,000 new recruits from across Canada, but approximately 26,000 were sent to Europe. This was far less than Borden’s goal.
The final 100 days before the armistice were among the darkest, with Canadians fighting in a series of bloody battles in France. The Amiens campaign began on the foggy morning of August 8, 1918, when Canadian soldiers, along with the British, Australian and French forces, pushed through German defences within the first day. Albertans in the 10th battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force made significant advances, being the first to reach their offensive objective and they were soon followed by the 31st battalion. The Canadian forces forged ahead and up next was the region of Arras, where a large numbers of German defenses still remained. The battalions that had been raised in Alberta remained on the front line during the attack and assisted in taking control of the Drocourt-Quéant Line. This was a significant breakthrough for the allied forces in progressing towards the German border. What followed was a series of campaigns that showed the Canadians as a vital fighting force, and victory was claimed again in the subsequent, major battles of Canal du Nord, Cambrai and Valenciennes. Throughout these conflicts, the battalions made up of Albertans remained at the forefront of the action until the very end, with the liberation of Mons, Belgium. After years of violence, armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, and the conclusion of the war brought a mixture of shock and relief to Alberta’s soldiers.
Alberta paid the price for their involvement, with approximately 6,140 men killed and another 20,000 wounded. One in eight of those who enlisted never came back. The casualties of war were felt across the province. From the town of Gleichen, 250 men were deployed to fight and one in five of those soldiers lost their lives. Edmonton’s 49th battalion alone recorded approximately 1,000 losses, enough to assemble an entire battalion. In February of 1919, war veterans gradually began to return home, but the province had changed as a result of the First World War. Sacrifices were made by those who fought in the war as well as the by people who remained on the home front. From the social impact to the human toll, life in the province was altered for Alberta’s people in subsequent generations.
For more information on Alberta in the First World War, refer to Alberta in the 20th Century: The Great War and its Consequences 1914-1920 or Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed. The Great War: 1914-1918 features a number of editorials that are specific to Alberta.
This was the first part of a series commemorating the First World War. Over the next month, this series will look at a range of topics that will show Alberta’s involvement in this historic event.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.
Blue, John. Alberta: Past and Present. Vol. 1. Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1924.
Byfield, Ted, ed. Alberta in the 20th Century: The Great War and its Consequences 1914-1920. Vol. 4. Edmonton, Canada: CanMedia Inc., 1995.
There is a peculiar overgrown mound in a farmer’s field in Kneehill County, near the town of Three Hills. A weathered wooden door hung within a stone-frame sits against the embankment. The door opens onto a sandstone staircase leading downward into a vaulted, stone chamber. Welcome to the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter—what must be Alberta’s strangest starter home. We know that the builder must have been a skilled stonemason, but unfortunately we know little else about the craftsman or how the shelter was built. The one-of-a-kind shelter was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in January of 2011. This post will look at some of the theories we have developed in trying to solve the mystery of the origins of the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter and its current condition.
The Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter is significant for how sandstone was used to build its walls, ceiling and archway door. We estimate the shelter to have been built between 1900 and 1905. This makes the structure distinct when compared with other early homes that would have been built in Alberta around the same time.
A few theories have emerged over the years. Initial investigation of homestead records and local stories led many to believe that a George Schech built the shelter. Schech was reputedly a German immigrant and stonemason who came to Alberta in 1903 or 1904 after living in Wisconsin, Montana or Washington for a time. He apparently lived in the shelter while a frame house was being built on the same quarter section of land. Afterwards, it became a root cellar. Little else is known about Schech, as he apparently abandoned the farm and returned to the United States after only a few years of living on the homestead.
Another plausible theory emerged from our research and later on from additional oral history in the Three Hills area. The other theory is that the shelter was built in 1902 by a Mr. Stein who, like Schech, was also a stonemason from Germany. However, there is no existing record of a Stein homesteading in the area. There is evidence that Erick C. Stendahl or Erich Steendahl settled on the land that contains the Sunnyslope Shelter. It may be that “Stein” is an adaptation of Stendhal. However, Canadian census records state that Stendahl was originally from Norway, not Germany, and lists 1905 as his year of immigration to Canada. Additionally, a Declaration of Abandonment issued by the Dominion Lands Office for this quarter section was signed by Erich C. Steendahl in 1903. George Schech applied for a homestead on this land shortly thereafter. This further complicates the issue by not having definitive evidence to reference and verify. The information that has been compiled for both Schech and Stein or Stendahl is based on correspondence with residents from the area, census and homestead records.
Homesteaders who came to Alberta would construct a small temporary shelter, such as a tent, dugout or shack, before building a larger and more modern house. In that respect, Sunnyslope is no different. Early dugout houses in Alberta were shallow pits, often built into an embankment, with roofs made from poles, mud plaster and sod. Sod houses were usually the first “permanent” home built by a homesteader during the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century in areas without trees. Later on, a more solid structure, usually a wooden, frame house, was constructed for permanent habitation. A variety of building techniques were used throughout Alberta during this period, but stone construction is unique and Sunnyslope has load-bearing sandstone walls and a vaulted, sandstone ceiling.
This design is more fitting to the Great Plains of the United States, where dugouts were used as storm shelters. Stone became a popular option in areas of the American West and Midwest because there were fewer trees, and stone better shielded the little room inside from extreme weather, such as tornadoes. Structures like this were also used as temporary homes and storage cellars for supplies, fruit and vegetables.
Stonemasonry was much less common for simple buildings in Alberta, which makes the architecture of the shelter unique, but raises the question: why sandstone? A possible explanation is that the builder was influenced by the techniques used by homesteaders on the Great Plains of the United States, after residing there for some time. Since it appears that the builder of Sunnyslope was a stonemason, it is likely that he would have used the skills he was most familiar with to construct a first home.
The Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter is stable and the interior has remained intact for more than a century—all of which is a testament to the skill of the builder. The stone archway itself was rebuilt in 1978, when a new wooden door was also added. The use of mortared sandstone and distinct stone stairway remain the most significant elements of the structure. The site shows the innovations that were made by early homesteaders and their need for a quickly constructed living shelter, while revealing the realities of a temporary habitat for early settlers to the area.
The mystery of the site’s origins highlight Alberta’s exciting heritage and show the fascinating stories that have contributed to our history. While there are conflicting reports over who was responsible for the shelter’s construction, this tale shows the fun of reconstructing a 100 year old story. There is evidence to suggest that Schech or Stendahl (Stein?) could have built the shelter, but how can we know for sure?
Can you help us solve this whodunit? We invite all you history sleuths to leave your comments and perhaps help us piece together the puzzle. Any information, tips or stories can assist with creating a clearer picture of the past.
For additional details on the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter, refer to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. Homes in Alberta: Building, Trends, and Design 1870-1967, by Donald Wetherell and Irene Kmet provides more information on early homestead construction in the province.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.
The Edmonton and District Historical Society is holding their 18th annual Historic Festival & Doors Open event series! The festival runs from July 6th to 13th and includes museums, archives, historic sites as well as many bus and walking tours. This is an excellent opportunity to take part in the Edmonton region’s diverse heritage. More information and a full schedule of events can be found here.
Below are a few of the places operated by Alberta Culture that are participating in this week-long event.
The Provincial Archives of Alberta will be giving behind the scenes tours of areas that are not usually open to the public, including the vaults and conservation lab. Tours will take place on July 12th at 10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm.
Interpreters at the Father Lacombe Chapel are offering guided tours of the site and will have historic stories, photos and artifacts to complete the experience. Tours are available all week between 10am and 5pm.
The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is inviting visitors to learn about the restoration process while conservators work on Morecambe School. The tour will be given by our own Jim Nakonechny, a Conservation Technologist with the Historic Resources Management Branch, from 2pm to 4pm, July 8th-10th.
The Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site will be hosting ‘hear the voices of the domestic help’ with different activities planned for each day, including gardening Wednesday and bake day Saturday. The events will show the daily life of the help who served at Rutherford house during the early 1900s. This series runs July 7th-13th and is open 10am to 5pm.
Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.