Note : This post was originally published on RETROactive July 12, 2011.
When the Montana cattle industry began to thrive in the aftermath of the American civil war, and the extension of railways to the western states, many cattle barons began to extend their activity north of the 49th Parallel. Sensitive to the encroachment of American influence in western Canada, the Dominion government took several measures to ensure the “Canadianization” of this region. A Department of the Interior was formed to oversee developments on the central prairies, a North-west Mounted Police force was formed to establish law and order, and a Dominion Lands Act was passed to see to the orderly disposition of Crown lands to British subjects, or those who would agree to become British subjects. Plans were also put in place to extend a transcontinental railway through the region. Read more →
On a bitterly cold afternoon, at 3:55pm, Nathan E. Tanner, Minister of Lands and Mines turned a valve at the Leduc No. 1 oil well as a rig hand held out a burning rag, setting alight a massive column of smoke and flame that roared hundreds of feet skyward. That event took place on February 13, 1947, seventy years ago today and it heralded in a new era for Alberta. An era of rapid development and prosperity fed by the now discovered reserves of oil deep under the province.
October is Women’s History Month in Canada, when we celebrate the achievements of women throughout our past and use their stories to inspire Canadians today. The twentieth century saw women entering occupations previously the exclusive domain of men. A variety of circumstances combined to allow these advances, including the rise of public education, social activism culminating in universal suffrage, legal challenges that established women as “persons” and the upheaval created by two world wars. These changes are not sufficient to explain the careers of the three women described in this blog; it took determination, persistence, courage and intelligence for them to succeed and carve a place for themselves as professional women in these fields that were predominantly, if not exclusively, the preserve of men.
This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 6th, 2012. Farmers across the province will soon be busy with harvest so we thought it appropriate to highlight a previous post associated with Alberta’s agricultural past. Please note that these statistics are from 2012.
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.
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)
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)
For a list of communities in Alberta with designated and non-designated elevators, please click here.
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.
Visitors to this year’s Raymond Stampede got to learn more about the fascinating history of the event with the installation of the latest Alberta Historical Resources Foundation heritage marker. The marker details the history of the event – the first of its kind held in Alberta – dating back to 1902, when prominent rancher Raymond Knight decided to organize a skills competition for local cowboys and ranch hands. The success of the Raymond Stampede inspired the organization of similar events across Alberta, with a growing range of events and prizes that attracted more and more competitors. Held in dozens of communities across the province each year, rodeos have long been significant cultural events in Alberta that strongly reflect its great agricultural heritage.
The marker was installed on June 25, 2015 at the site of the Stampede in Raymond Knight Memorial Park. The Town of Raymond applied for the development of the heritage marker through the Alberta Heritage Markers Program. The program was established in 1955 to promote greater awareness of the historic people, places, events, and themes that have defined the character of our province. The program brings Alberta’s dynamic history alive through heritage markers placed at roadside pullouts, within parks, and in other community locales.
Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer
Visitors to the Town of Drumheller can now learn more about the history, geology and natural resources of the community with the installation of a new Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Heritage Marker. Combining text with contemporary and archival photographs, the marker describes how the forces of nature shaped the area’s striking landscape and left the region rich in the two resources that would define Drumheller’s future – coal and dinosaur fossils.
It was coal that first attracted the attention of railway and mining investors, who established a townsite to support the booming coal industry. By the end of World War One, the Drumheller region was one of Canada’s leading coal producers. The area also caught the imagination of fossil hunters, who flocked to the region from 1910 onward in search of fossils like the massive Albertosaurus skull unearthed by Joseph B. Tyrrell in 1884. The abundance of dinosaur bones made Drumheller a natural home for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, one of the world’s leading facilities for the research and presentation of prehistoric life.
The marker was installed on November 20, 2014, along Highway 9, one-and-a-half kilometers north of the Town of Drumheller. The Town of Drumheller applied for the development of the heritage marker through the Alberta Heritage Markers Program. The program was established in 1955 to promote greater awareness of the historic people, places, events and themes that have defined the character of our province. The program brings Alberta’s dynamic history alive through heritage markers placed at roadside pullouts, within parks and in other community locales.
Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer.
As Manager of the Historic Places Research and Designation Program, one of Brenda Manweiler’s primary responsibilities is the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program. The goal of the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program is to identify, evaluate, and designate those historic resources that are most significant to the province as a whole. Currently there are some 360 sites protected as Provincial Historic Resources in Alberta, with several more added every year.
The designation program is almost entirely driven by citizen input. Applications for provincial designation come from the public, usually the property owner but sometimes also from other individuals or groups concerned about the long-term future of a resource.
Once a resource is designated, its owner cannot destroy, disturb, alter, restore, or repair it without written approval from the provincial government. But the owner gains tangible benefits, including access to conservation grants and technical advice, and the intangible benefit of knowing that a valued property will be preserved and protected into the future.
Brenda feels these citizen advocates could take even greater advantage of the Provincial Historic Resources Designation Program if they better understood the designation criteria. Here are some key things she’d like people to know:
A property doesn’t have to be grand or architecturally detailed, nor associated with some famous person to be designated. It doesn’t even have to be a building.
“I would love to see more of these unique historic places,” she says. “One of the gaps that we have in our family of historic resources is sports and leisure sites,” she continues. “Canada is such a hockey country; Alberta is such a hockey province. Where’s an ice rink? Where’s the baseball field? I’d love to designate some sites that help to celebrate Alberta’s strong history in athletic pursuits.”
Provincial designation isn’t better than municipal designation, just different.
Brenda explains: “Provincial significance is determined by looking through a pretty big lens. Is this site significant to all Albertans? Has the site helped shape the province into what it is today? Municipal designations have a narrower scope, a local lens to look through to determine significance.” But a municipally designated site can be just as significant as a provincial one—often even more so—within its own community context. Both levels of designation offer the same form of protection: the resources cannot be altered without approval from the designating authority.
She continues: “We have a variety of sites throughout the province that have been designated as both Municipal and Provincial Historic Resources. People might think that’s just duplication, so why bother? But I think it’s important to note the perspective that we come at it from. A provincial point of view is going to be lot different than a local perspective, so a site could end up being designated under both categories for different reasons.”
An example is Calgary City Hall, which is designated by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Both the provincial and municipal designations recognize the building’s significance as Calgary’s seat of government, and as an excellent example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. But the municipal designation also notes that it is “the earliest known example of steel-frame construction in Calgary” and that it was designed by a prominent Calgary-based architect.
Designation is not just about the sites and structures; it’s also about people and how they’ve used these places.
The most modest or ordinary place could be where a remarkable person lived or worked, or where some once-crucial, unusual, or game-changing human activity took place—and that’s what makes the site historically significant.
One of Brenda’s favourite examples is the Owen Residence/Dominion Meteorological Station in Edmonton. Inside this ordinary American four-square dwelling was “arguably the most significant meteorological post outside of Toronto” (according to the Statement of Significance). Even more remarkable, it was operated by “Weather Lady” Eda Owen, one of the few female meteorologists in the world working at a major station.
Another very modest but significant place is the Community Rest Room in Ponoka. When farm families came into town to conduct business, men could congregate in their choice of hotels, bars, and pool halls. This facility provided a much-needed retreat for women and children, offering not only toilets and showers but also a safe and social meeting place—and even a venue for political organizing.
“So much of the significance associated with Provincial Historic Resources comes down to the unique stories—the events, people, and places that have helped to make Alberta what it is today,” Brenda says.
Alberta Culture has developed a comprehensive website that explores and promotes a deeper appreciation for the rich history of energy resources in our province and their role in shaping Alberta’s past, present, and future. The Energy Resources Heritage website explores the Alberta history of coal, conventional oil, oil sands, natural gas, electricity and alternative energy. It also profiles Bitumount, the pioneering industrial facility north of Fort McMurray that laid the foundations for Alberta’s modern oil sands industry.
The coal section of the Energy Resource Heritage Website examines the history of coal from the earliest times through the Industrial Revolution and the development of the coal industry in Alberta. It explores how the science and technology associated with coal mining has evolved, and how the industry responded to the sharp decline in demand for coal with the rise of oil and natural gas use after World War Two. It also explores topics relevant to the social history of the coal industry in Alberta, such as the evolution of coal towns; the roles played by women and children in coal communities; and the emergence of organized labour, which fought for better wages and safer working conditions in one of the world’s most dangerous industries.
The history of coal use by humans stretches back thousands of years, as coal’s ready availability and different properties have long made it a valuable resource in many parts of the world. In addition to burning it for heat, ancient peoples used coal for cultural and artistic expression. Bronze Age people in Wales, for example, incorporated coal into their burial customs, while ancient artisans in China carved coal into jewelry and other ornamental items. Similarly, First Nations people in Alberta used coal for decoration and carving, such as the extraordinary bison sculptures unearthed in a farmer’s field near Barrhead in 1949 (now housed at the Royal Alberta Museum).
The key turning point in the history of coal was the Industrial Revolution. As the primary fuel that drove steam engines in factories and railroads, coal became extremely valuable and was mined on an enormous scale. Railways quickly took over from watercraft as the most important means of commercial transportation, which in turn had a decisive impact on the history of Alberta. In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway was contracted to build a railway line across Canada and the company turned to the rich coal seams of Alberta as a crucial source of fuel. The province’s early coal industry was centred in southern Alberta (primarily near Lethbridge and in the Crowsnest Pass) but as rail lines spread throughout the province other centres of coal production emerged, including Drumheller and the communities of the Coal Branch. The rise of major cities like Calgary and Edmonton further drove the demand for coal, both for heating and for the generation of electricity at the province’s earliest coal-fired power plants. Coal thus played a crucial role in the growth of Alberta in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – it attracted investment and immigration and led to the development of some of Alberta’s earliest communities.
From the earliest use of coal to the challenges faced by the industry today, the coal section of the website offers visitors an introduction to the fascinating history of one of Alberta’s most important natural resources.
Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer
As a social historian, I am fascinated by the history of holidays and public celebrations. Holidays are one way that political authority and popular culture influence each other: governments decide which holidays to recognise, but the people decide how to celebrate them. Records of these celebrations offer a unique window into the past, yielding insight into how our culture and society has (or has not) changed. In honour of this year’s September long weekend, I took the opportunity to look back at how Albertans celebrated Labor Day in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Parliament of Canada passed legislation in 1894 setting aside the first Monday in September as a statutory holiday. The proclamation of this new holiday was one of the many recommendations in the final report of the Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital (1889), which had investigated conditions in factories and industrial worksites across Canada. Given the range of problems exposed by the Commission – including low wages, unsafe working conditions, and the widespread use of child labour – a new holiday was perhaps less urgently needed than other reforms. Nonetheless, the idea of a new holiday received widespread support, and Canada celebrated its first Labour Day on September 3, 1894.
In the heavily-industrialised cities of eastern Canada, this legislation merely caught up with what was already happening in many urban communities, where organised labour had started to take root in the late nineteenth century. Skilled workers such as carpenters, printers, stonemasons and pipefitters organised into craft unions to protect their particular interests. Leaders of these craft unions began to push hard for a holiday that recognised the importance of their labour, and many cities responded by declaring Labour Day a civic holiday in the 1880s. By the time Labour Day was declared a national holiday in 1894, workers in cities like Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal had already been celebrating it for many years.
By contrast, in the relatively new and lightly-industrialised cities of Alberta, the first Labour Day passed with little fanfare. “To-day is Labor day, or rather, no labor day,” the Edmonton Bulletin dryly commented in September 1894, “and as a consequence, the stores in town are closed.” Within a few years, however, each Labour Day was met with greater enthusiasm, and Albertans enjoyed the holiday in ways that would be familiar to us over a century later.
Outdoor recreation soon became an important feature of the day, as sportsmen took advantage of the newly-created long weekend for hunting and fishing excursions. Organised sports were soon an important part of Labour Day as well, with bicycle races, track and field competitions, and team sports organised in different parts of the province by the late 1890s. In 1899, the Edmonton Cricket Club invited their rivals from Calgary for a tournament on the Labour Day weekend – an early example of the Calgary-Edmonton sports rivalry that remains such a feature of Labour Day in present-day Alberta.
Early Labour Day celebrations in Alberta were marked by sports, leisure and recreation, but had little to do with recognising the working class.
This changed after 1900 with the rise of organised labour in Alberta, particularly in its largest cities. Between 1900 and 1910, roughly one-third of the skilled tradesmen in Calgary and Edmonton organised into craft unions. As a result, Labour Day celebrations in Calgary and Edmonton began to resemble the much larger events held in eastern Canada, with parades, speeches, and labour-organised leisure events. In 1904, for example, the Edmonton Trades and Labour Council organised a “monster parade” of the city’s craft unions down Jasper Avenue. The men (and they were all men – early twentieth-century craft unions were exclusively male organisations) marched in orderly procession behind banners, flags and brass bands, wearing find clothes to emphasise their respectability to the general public. The parade included a number of floats where tradesmen demonstrated their craft to the audience. The day ended with organised sports, pitting one union against another in good-natured competition, and speeches where union leaders spoke about the contributions of labour to social and economic prosperity. In Calgary in 1907, an estimated two thousand people marched down Stephen Avenue, followed by an afternoon of sports and family entertainment in Victoria Park. Similar scenes played out on a smaller scale in Alberta’s coal mining centres such as Drumheller and the Crowsnest Pass.
These events, of course, did not represent Alberta’s entire working class. Early Labour Day celebrations were driven by craft unions – unskilled workers had little official presence at the events. The labour contributions of women were not generally recognised at these events, though women certainly took part in the leisure and recreation activities after the parade. Further, the exclusive focus on organised labour was soon diluted by the participation of other community groups and organizations in the annual parade. Nonetheless, these parades represent a colourful and important part of Alberta’s labour history, when craft unions sought to use a holiday to claim public space and promote an image of respectability and dignity. Such events were very uncommon after World War Two, as Labour Day celebrations returned to the pattern established in the 1890s – informal recreation, family leisure, and of course, sports rivalries.
Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer.
Bright, David. Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998.
Finkel, Alvin. Working People in Alberta: A History. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2012.
Herron, Craig and Steve Penhold. The Workers’ Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.