Editor’s note: The following blog post is part one of a two-part series looking at the history and influence of Doukhobors in Alberta.
East of the Crowsnest Pass, nestled within the small community of Lundbreck, sits a simple white building clad in asbestos shingles and covered with metal roof. The structure looks utilitarian and spare; it could easily be mistaken for the kind of modest community halls one occasionally sees in Alberta’s small towns. While the building is almost entirely non-descript, the history that it embodies is extraordinarily rich.
The history of the Alberta Doukhobors is an essential chapter in the story of one of the largest experiments in communal living in North America. Approximately 7,500 Doukhobors came to Canada in 1899, at the time it was the largest mass migration in the country’s history. In stark contrast, at a 2018 meeting of Doukhobors in British Columbia, a grim question was posed: will there be any Doukhobors active in their faith by 2030? Between their noteworthy arrival at the end of the nineteenth century and their dwindling membership today, the Doukhobors have lived a tumultuous and compelling experience in Canada. This post attempts to explore the vision and roots of the Doukhobor community, and their early experiences in Canada.
Commemorated annually in Alberta, Métis Week remembers the efforts and execution of Louis Riel, while also celebrating the historical and contemporary achievements of Métis people working toward rights and recognition of their Nation.
Many of the historical resources, sites and museums across Alberta contain Métis connections and stories. As the owners and managers of many of these sites, the Heritage Division strives to foster partnerships and collaborations with community to ensure that these stories are told accurately and respectfully. We also recognize how significant it is when these heritage places are owned and managed by Indigenous peoples and communities themselves. In honour of Métis Week, we are pleased to share the work of the team at Métis Crossing, who recently celebrated the ground-breaking at their new gathering centre, slated to open next fall.
Métis Crossing is the first major Métis cultural interpretive centre in Alberta and began as a major initiative of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Their mission is to be a premiere center for Alberta Métis cultural interpretation, education, gatherings, and business development. The 512-acre site is designed to engage and excite visitors, and is comprised of river lot titles from the original Métis settlers who arrived in the late 1800’s. Their programming encourages active participation of visitors in activities that promote appreciation of Métis people, customs, and celebrations.Read more →
The official visitor season for Alberta’s provincial historic sites and museums is in full swing! Explore Alberta’s heritage and interact with the past. If you’re looking for things to do over the summer season, or want to make a pit stop on your road trip, check out some of Alberta’s provincial historic sites and museums, listed below. With plenty of history to choose from, there’s something for everyone on this list!
In addition to the provincial historic sites and museums, there are many other museums and interpretive centres across the province that are fantastic. For a list of those, check out the Alberta Museum Association’s website. Several places are also participating in Historic Places Day on July 7th. This is a day to recognize places that tell Canada’s story, and bring history to life in a way that can’t be done through books and classrooms. For a listing of places and events related to Historic Places Day click here.
With only a few weeks left in the official visitor season for Alberta’s historic sites, museums, interpretive centres and archives, there is still time for you and your friends and family to hit the highway and discover the fascinating stories from Alberta’s past. But don’t fret if you didn’t make it out this summer — some sites are still open year-round!
Discover history on the North Saskatchewan River along the Victoria Trail, where Reverend George McDougall founded a Methodist Mission to the Cree in 1862. This is where the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Victoria in 1864 to trade with the local natives. The Mission and Fort became the nucleus for a Métis community whose river lots extended six miles along the bank of the river. Read more →
Last month we showcased some historic sites and museums located in southern Alberta—this time we’re going to take a look at a few sites in and around the Edmonton area. From living museums to restored mansions to historic chapels, there’s a ton of history for you and your family to explore this summer.
Father Lacombe Chapel
Located in beautiful Mission Park in St. Albert, the Father Lacombe Chapel is Alberta’s oldest still-standing building. Historical interpreters can lead you through the chapel and historic Mission Hill, and you can visit the crypt where Father Lacombe is buried. Father Lacombe has been restored to look much as it did in the early 1860s.
Alberta’s provincial historic sites and museums are all open and in full swing with their programs. If you’re looking for something to do this summer, or want to make a pit stop on your roadtrip, check out some of Alberta’s provincial historic sites and museums.
If you’re in southern Alberta this summer, check out the Brooks Aqueduct or Leitch Collieries, two sites that are only open over the summer, from May 15 to Labour Day. And, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, open year round, is just down the road from Leitch Collieries, so it is a good chance to visit both!
The Brooks Aqueduct was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s and was the largest concrete structure of its kind in the world at the time (spanning a 3.2 km wide valley). The Aqueduct was an important part of an expansive irrigation network in the area and is an impressive site to see!
The Leitch Collieries provincial historic site is located in the Crowsnest Pass and, at its time (1907-1915), was one of the largest and most ambitious coal mines in the pass. Ruins from some of the sandstone buildings that formed the surface operations are still standing. Take a walking tour and enjoy learning about the coal mining history of the area.
If you’re in central or northern Alberta, stay tuned for sites in your area!
The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is a major open-air museum operated by the Historic Sites and Museums Branch of Alberta Culture and Tourism. Located 50 km east of Edmonton the museum preserves more than 30 historic structures and interprets the lives of Ukrainian settlers in east central Alberta between the years of 1892 and 1930. Based on extensive contextual and site specific research, the museum is an important steward of the intangible cultural heritage of Alberta’s Ukrainian settlers.
Among the customs which the Village documents and observes is Christmas. As Byzantine Eastern rite Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Ukrainians celebrated Christmas according to the Julian calendar, which predated the introduction of the current Gregorian calendar. What is popularly referred to as “Ukrainian Christmas” is celebrated on January 7 rather than December 25. On January 6, Ukrainians celebrate Sviat Vechir (or Holy Evening, Christmas Eve) with a special meal. For the early Ukrainian settlers of east central Alberta as well as their descendants in urban settings, this was an evening filled with ritual and tradition, including pre-Christian agrarian elements.
The evening meal on Sviat Vechir would begin when the children in the family spotted the first star in the night sky. After it was spotted, the family assembled around the table and shared a prayer or carol. The patriarch of the family then brought the first of 12 Lenten dishes to the table. This dish is Read more →
If you’re looking for some family fun this Labour Day weekend, consider visiting one of Alberta’s Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres or Museums. There is a lot of great programming that offers something for everyone – from strolling through gardens and learning about 1920s fashion, to carriage rides, guided hikes and tours, and getting your hands dirty and bellies full at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum Harvest Festival! Many of our sites, centres and museums are open year round but several others will be closing for the season after Labour Day. Don’t miss your opportunity to visit these sites before they close for the year!
Between March 23rd and 29th, museums from all over the world will join together to celebrate culture on Twitter!
#MuseumWeek began in Europe last year and 2015 will be the first time that the cultural event goes global. This event gives museums the opportunity to present their artifacts, secrets and stories to a worldwide audience, while encouraging people to snap and share photos of themselves enjoying a museum visit.
7 days, 7 themes, 7 hashtags is the programme focus for this year. Thematic hashtags allow museums to promote and celebrate their individual history and provide tips, while connecting with communities around the world. On Wednesday, #architectureMW will explore the architectural heritage and surroundings of museums. Friday’s theme, #familyMW, will provide advice for families or schools planning to visit a museum. This is a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into your favourite museum!
My story begins in the spring of 2013, when I received a phone call from Hugh Dempsey. He, writing an article for Alberta History, hoped to learn the whereabouts of a rock, a particular rock … a missing rock.
Why did he call me? If you could see my house, my yard, my desk, my office and the view outside my window, you might understand. I work at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, and live in a landscape surrounded by rocks of all shapes and sizes. Some follow me. Many, found hither and yon, have fallen into my pockets and been liberated within my office. Others have invaded my home. There, a glacial erratic—it’s a 4,000 kg boulder—anchors my living room to the rocky edge of Rock Creek, a tributary of the Crowsnest River.
I laughed when Hugh told me the story behind the article he was writing. Why? The tale was too unbelievable to be true. But amid its far-fetched elements, there were many profoundly compelling components and juicy aspects of alluring intrigue. I was mesmerized. Within seconds, I was hooked.
If you wish to read the full article, you’ll find it in the summer, 2013 edition of Alberta History. Look for “Count di Castiglione in the West.” Here’s a synopsis:
In 1863, Count Henri Verasis di Castiglione was sent by the King of Italy to explore North America and bring back exotic specimens for a zoo. The Royal Italian Expedition, after traversing the Porcupine Hills, camped at the mouth of Rock Creek near the stream’s confluence with the Crowsnest River. There, not far from Lundbreck Falls, Castiglione and Major Ezeo di Vecchi climbed a nearby ridge and carved their names, the date, and some other information on a slab of sandstone (two feet wide by two and a half feet long).
This was the sandstone slab sought by Dempsey.
Dempsey, following the captivating story of Castiglione, had been trailing the Italian count for more than 40 years. He knew that in 1941, three Smith brothers from Lundbreck had found the inscribed sandstone slab. (Back in 1956 a local writer—and a former neighbor of mine—had heard the story and got the Smith “boys” to take her to the rock. She could read the names and date, but was puzzled over the inscription, which had weathered. No one from the local scene seemed to know more).
Armed with Dempsey’s insights and a picture of the missing rock, I contacted numerous people in an attempt to see if anyone knew of the Smith boys. I also tried to determine if the local writer—who is no longer living—had left insightful notes. I spent hours looking at rocks while exploring the ridges near the mouth of Rock Creek, but struck out on all counts. Castiglione’s inscribed rock seemed to have vanished.
Then I hit pay dirt. It happened when I stopped to talk with an elderly landowner, a man living in close proximity to the missing rock’s described resting place. He told me he’d found the rock years ago and, believing it to be a tombstone, taken it home. Later, regretting his actions, he returned the rock to the place where he’d found it … on a south-facing hillside amid scattered limber pines.
Years passed until one day, in the early 1980s, employees from the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge were granted permission from the landowner to excavate limber pines from the same sandstone ridge. When the landowner, returning to examine the site of the tree excavations, looked for the inscribed “tombstone,” he discovered it was gone. (This observation was made roughly three decades ago).
Fast-forward to 2013. I, curious, contacted the Japanese Gardens to see if I could learn more. I received a response indicating that the missing rock couldn’t possibly be in the Japanese Gardens because their rocks had been collected from an area farther west.
I wrote back indicating that, while I knew the bulk of the Japanese Gardens rocks had come from other locations, it seemed likely this particular rock, unusual due to its inscription, could have been collected at the time the Rock Creek limber pines were excavated.
I haven’t found time to visit the Japanese Gardens to see if I might learn more, but I’m mindful that a good sleuth leaves no stone unturned.
The Japanese Gardens are beautiful and well worth a visit. Perhaps, too, the gardens are the key to an elusive sandstone mystery?
My thought: The answer is out there …
Written by: Monica Field, Manager of the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre.