As Albertans begin to safely hunker down for the holiday season, you might think about picking up a project left at the side of your desk. Or maybe you’ll start something new altogether. If you’re someone thinking of learning more about your family history; if you’re a non-profit group wanting to mark a moment in your local history; or a person who wants to preserve the lived experiences of an older generation, these new resources will certainly help.
Developed by staff in the Alberta government’s Heritage Division, the Heritage Note Series so far consists of resource guides covering three topics: historical research, heritage markers and oral history. In these guides, you’ll learn skills like how to properly conduct an interview, how to write text for historical signage and how to manage research notes and materials.
Editor’s Note: November 15- 21 is Métis Week: an opportunity to recognize the culture, history and contributions of Métis people to Alberta and across the country. The following post is written by Matt Hiltermann on behalf of Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Through extensive research of census records and archival material, Matt tells the story of the many Métis families who lived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, and who contributed to the social fabric of Rouleauville—one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods.
Communities do not spring from the soil fully formed; rather, they tend to coalesce around existing population centres, important trade routes, and/or vital resources, among other things. As a fording place for the buffalo herds, the area that would become Calgary and its environs was an important gathering place for the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and their Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda allies since time immemorial.  Due to its status as a gathering place rich in resources, by the mid-19th century, Métis freeman bands with kin ties to the Tsuut’ina or Niitsitapi began to visit these peoples along the Bow.  These Métis freemen acted as middlemen in the ever-important pemmican trade that fueled the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) northern trading posts, brigades and the fur trade more broadly.
Written By: Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator.
As the leaves change and the temperatures begin to dip in October, it’s naturally the perfect time for sharing tales of ghostly sightings, unexplained phenomena and spooky places. This year our haunted heritage feature looks at historic theatres associated with legends of unexplained paranormal activity, mysterious happenings and superstitions. These majestic old historic buildings are often well-known locally as the sites of alleged supernatural phenomena and ghost-ridden performances.
Here are a few allegedly paranormal playhouses:
The Walterdale Playhouse, Edmonton
The Walterdale Playhouse is known locally for tales of ghostly hauntings and mysterious unexplained phenomena. Originally completed in 1910, the building served as the Strathcona No. 1 Firehall and was occupied by the Edmonton Fire Department until 1954. It was later used as a warehouse to store unused furniture and equipment when the fire department moved to a new location. Over the course of the next 20 years, the old building fell into disrepair and its condition deteriorated badly. In 1974, the Walterdale Playhouse group took over the lease on the condition that the old fire hall would be restored. Reborn as the home of the Walterdale Playhouse amateur theatre group, the building was converted into the theatre we are familiar with today.
According to local lore, the theatre is allegedly haunted by a friendly ghost affectionately known as Walt. The apparition is rumoured to be one of the original fire department volunteer members who is thought to have perished after a fatal accident occurred inside the building. Visitors have been known to describe seeing objects mysteriously moving, lights flickering on unexpectedly, and often experience unsettling feelings of being watched. Other have heard inexplicable sounds of a ringing bell, the smell of horses and the sounds of phantom hoof beats occurring regularly on the cement floors. Many still believe the restless spirit of Walt continues to roam the building to this day.
Written by: Sara Bohuch, BA Archaeology (Simon Fraser University) , MSc Conservation Practice (Cardiff University)
In terms of places rich with classified war time projects and military intrigue, Alberta is rarely the first spot that people think of. But history holds no bias in terms of where it takes place, and Alberta had its own part to play in the eccentric branch of the military arms race circa WW2. This was in part due to the plentiful excess of one of Canada’s most abundant and hated elements: ice.
In 1943, the Chief of Combined Operations for the British War Office had a point to prove about ice. His name was Lord Mountbatten, and he sincerely believed that ice could be used to defeat the Nazi menace during WW2. To establish his argument, he brought two huge chunks of it into the 1943 Quebec Conference. The secret conference was host to the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Mountbatten had to justify the validity of his ice-related project to the leaders and their staff.
In front of a skeptical crowd of WW2 brass, he set up two ice blocks right next to each other. The first block was pure ice, while the block next to it was a new manmade composite mixture of ice and wood pulp. He retreated to the other side of the room, removed his gun, and shot a bullet into the first ice block. It predictably shattered to pieces. Mountbatten then reloaded his gun, took aim at the second block, and fired. This time, the bullet could not penetrate the ice, instead ricocheting completely off the block, flying through the pant leg of a nearby admiral, and ending up in the wall. The new material remained remarkably intact.
Did you know the Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection covers a wide array of subjects about Alberta’s history dating back to before Alberta was even a province?
In August 2018, the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) acquired the records of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), following years of negotiations with OMI Lacombe Canada. Since their acquisition, the PAA and several volunteers have been arranging, describing and processing this extensive and historic collection of the religious missionary order. The collection consists of over 400 metres of textual records, thousands of audio records and film, more than 50,000 images and hundreds of maps and drawings.
The ultimate goal is to have the entire collection processed by 2023. At that time, we hope to see the publication of a two-volume finding aid consisting of Oblate administrative histories and a catalogue of the entire collection. This will help researchers understand and navigate this important resource.
But for now, here’s a sneak peek at some of the objects from the OMI.
Written by: Emily Moffat, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Archaeological Survey of Alberta
By examining the microscopic details of a lithic material, the geological history and characteristics of the rock comes into focus, which contributes to our understanding of the archaeological record. Archaeologists use this information to understand how people made tools, how they collected or traded stones, and how they moved around past landscapes. Thin sections therefore provide a different lens through which we can view human behaviour.
Thin sections are extremely fine slices of material that are viewed under a microscope to observe details not visible to the unaided eye. Petrography is the detailed description of the composition and texture of rocks and although it started in the field of geology, it has since been applied to archaeology. Petrographic analysis of thin sections has proven to be a powerful tool in better understanding archaeological materials, such as stone tools and other lithic artifacts, by furthering our knowledge of the rock types that they were made from.
To make a thin section, a small cut of rock is adhered to a glass microscope slide and polished down to a thickness of about 0.03 mm. At this point, the sample is so thin that light can pass through it. Petrographic microscopes are specifically designed to view rock thin sections because they have light polarizers that reveal unique optical properties of minerals. By viewing the rock under these polarizers (termed plane polarized and cross polarized light), the minerals within the sample can be identified and small-scale features that give clues as to how the rock formed become visible.
Today is Orange Shirt Day, a national day held annually to open the door to conversations about Canada’s residential school system. It’s a time to acknowledge the experience of former students and create meaningful discussion around the effects of residential schools and the dark legacy left behind.
In this spirit, the Heritage Division of Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women has developed a new resource guide to assist researchers, former students, Survivors, Survivor groups or communities to research and recognize residential school sites and stories.
Editor’s note: Welcome to the final post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will discuss how the evaluation of a historic resource at the provincial and municipal level may result in complimentary or differing heritage values. You can read the previous post here.
For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at email@example.com or 780-431-2309.
Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer, Historic Resources Management Branch
Complementary and differing values
Alberta’s Historical Resources Act empowers both the Government of Alberta and municipalities to designate, or recognize and protect, a range of historic resources whose preservation is in the public interest. These resources can be places, structures or objects that may be works of nature or people (or both) that are of palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest. Albertans value these historic resources because our past, in its many forms, is part of who we are as a society and helps give our present significance and purpose.
As of July 2020, there are currently 390 Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and 413 Municipal Historic Resources (MHR) in Alberta, some 60 of which are designated both provincially and municipally. These resources merit designation for various reasons, from their association with significant events, activities, people or institutions; as representative examples of architectural styles or construction methods; for their symbolic and landmark value; or their potential to yield information of scientific value.
Heritage values are described in short Statements of Significance, which are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. In this post, we look at examples of heritage values that municipal and provincial governments recognize and how local and provincial values may align, differ or complement each other.
Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)
Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen.
There are minuses to living in a largely post-war city like Edmonton. Ask any urban planner and they’ll point to the era as the antithesis to good urban design.
New suburbs were built around the private automobile, not a streetcar or trolleybus. Roads became wide and winding; lots large, density low. More and more, basic needs became further and further out of reach for anyone who didn’t drive. Malls replaced traditional shopping corridors. Downtown struggled, stagnated and effectively died. The inner core rotted. There’s no denying that the post-war push saw a shift in lifestyle that most North American cities have yet to recover from.
But perhaps one minuscule caveat to the era exists: the architecture that dots these car-centric subdivisions. It’s a style one could almost dub “Innocuous Modern” — pieces of Modernism that sit largely ignored or unnoticed, passed by thousands each day without a second thought. They’re often restrained, but still unique, examples of a mid-century era styling that are perfectly inoffensive and never draw the eye with any semblance of gaudiness.
Written by: Karl Giroux, Consultation Director, Driftpile Cree Nation and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Adviser
Editor’s note: On July 24, 2018, Driftpile Cree Nation conducted a site visit with representatives of the Historic Resources Management Branch. The purpose of the site visit was to identify the “Drift-Pile Camp” referenced in the journal of George Mercer Dawson, as he traveled what is now Alberta for the Geological Survey of Canada in the late 1800s. Below, Laura Golebiowski (Aboriginal Consultation Adviser, Historic Resources Management Branch) and Karl Giroux (Consultation Director with Driftpile Cree Nation) share their experiences visiting the location.
“The Athabasca River derives its name from the great lake into which it flows, which is called A-pē-pas-kow by the Crees. The upper part of the river is known as Mas-ta-hi-sī-pī or Great River.
On reaching its north bank on our traverse from Sturgeon Lake, Mr. MacLeod and I had arranged to separate, Mr. MacLeod continuing on overland toward Dirt Lake, while I intended to make a canoe and descend the river. As no traces had yet been found of the party which was supposed to be on the way from Edmonton to meet us, we now set fire to a great pile of drift-logs on one of the bars, and sent one Indian up and another down the river to seek for information, but all with no result. It was further unexpectedly found that no cottonwood trees suitable for making a canoe existed in the valley, and as the river was evidently quite unsuited to be descended on a raft, by reason of its swiftness and the number of shoal bars which occur now on one side and now on the other, it became difficult to know in what way the programme could be carried out. It was finally decided to use the canvass cargo-covers and blanket wrapped in the construction of a canoe. To this all hands devoted themselves for three days, when we had the satisfaction of seeing a large canoe, properly framed and strengthened, which when painted over with a mixture of bacon fat and spruce gum was nearly water-tight.”
The above text is taken from George Mercer Dawson’s 1881 Report on Exploration from Port Simpson on the Pacifica Coast to Edmonton on the Saskatchewan. George Dawson was a Nova Scotia-born geographer who conducted numerous expeditions for the Geological Survey of Canada, beginning in 1875 until his unexpected death in 1901.