Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta
A butchered bison leaves bones behind; a fur trade post leaves rotting walls for archaeologists to discover. But humans are more than what we eat and build. To many, our lives are defined by relationships to other people. How do archaeologists in Alberta uncover and reconstruct human relations from 10,000 years ago when not much preserves in the soil?
Archaeologists use microscopic clues to link stone artifacts back to the quarries where the rock originated; this “provenance” work can reveal ancient networks. In a blend of geochemistry and sociology, researchers use volcanic rocks in particular to understand how groups interacted and moved across landscapes for millennia.
Editor’s note: From the largest student occupation in Canadian history to larger-than-life historical figures, here are handful of laws, events and people that contributed to the Black experience here in Canada. Follow the links below for more in-depth information on these events and people.
Written by: Garnett Glashen
Viola Desmond Not only was Viola Desmond a successful businesswoman in Nova Scotia, she was an advocate for equal and fair treatment of Black people at a time when they were viewed as lesser peoples in Canada. Many will note that Viola Desmond recently became the first woman of colour to be enshrined on any Canadian currency, however few know the battles that were led by Viola Desmond, to provide an equal opportunity for Black Canadians to acquire skills, enter trades and participate in social activities that were traditionally reserved for people who weren’t Black.
Editor’s note: In our continued recognition of Black History Month, the Provincial Archives of Alberta has shared a collection of portraits of Black Albertans from photographer Ernest Brown. The Ernest Brown fonds contain around 50,000 negatives and other materials, predominantly from the years 1880-1960.
One of the earliest professional photographers in Alberta, Ernest Brown moved to Edmonton from England in April 1904. In Edmonton, Brown went to work as an assistant to C.W. Mathers, the city’s first photographer. Three months later, Brown bought the rights to Mathers’ portrait studio and in 1905 the studio expanded into the Ernest Brown Company Ltd.
Little is known about the subjects in the photographs below. Likely, the only records kept from these photo sessions was the name of the person who booked and paid for the session.
Editor’s note: In our continuing recognition of Black History Month, RETROactive contributors from the Provincial Archives of Alberta highlight some of the resources available for researchers wanting to know more about the history of Alberta’s Black community.
Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist and Karen Simonson, Reference Archivist
Researching the history of Black communities in Alberta can be challenging. Sources can be limited and potentially scattered among many institutions within Alberta’s heritage communities. Much of the access is dependent on knowing a person’s name or having some additional background clues or information. But the history of Alberta’s Black communities can be teased out of the records preserved by the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), and all the resources described below are available for researchers to see and consult for themselves during regular opening hours of the reading room.
In addition to published books and newspapers providing context to the community, the PAA is fortunate to have received donations of records from private individuals such as Fil Fraser, Selwyn Jacob and Junetta Jamerson. While these records can only tell part of the story, looking more closely at some familiar holdings at the PAA reveals perhaps some unexplored and unexpected traces of Alberta’s Black history.
Editor’s note: This week, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Matt recently wrote about the Métis of Rouleaville.
Written by: Matt Hiltermann
When Albertans hear the Lougheed name, they likely think of late premier Peter Lougheed. Others may may also be familiar with his grandfather, Sir James Alex Lougheed. Much less discussed, however, is the matriarch of the Lougheed family: Lady Isabella Clark Hardisty Lougheed.
To the extent that history has focused on rich, white men, this is unsurprising if disappointing. At the same time, Isabella was widely regarded as the driving force behind her husband. She and her Hardisty kin also formed the nucleus of the Lougheed family. All evidence seems to point to her being a binding force in both her family and the community at large. Who was this Métis matriarch, and how did she become the “First Lady of the Northwest?”
Isabella Hardisty was born around 1861 at Fort Resolution in what is now the Northwest Territories. Her father, William Lucas Hardisty, was one of only four Métis men to attain the rank of Chief Factor between 1851 and 1869. Her mother was Mary Anne Allen, a Métisse of obscure origins. Both of her parents’ families had intergenerational ties to the fur trade.
Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch
For his decades-long work as an archaeologist, curator and author helping to promote and preserve Blackfoot Culture, former Historic Resources Management Branch and Royal Alberta Museum staff member Jack Brink was recently named a member of the Order of Canada. He became part of this illustrious group along with a handful of other Albertans, including: Daniel Steadward, a lifelong Paralympic advocate; Dr. Lori West, who directed transplant immunology research at the U of A; and Art Bergmann, a prolific punk rock musician both as a solo artist and member of the legendary Young Canadians.
Blair First Rider, an Aboriginal Consultation Advisor with the Alberta government, worked with Jack for a number of years on, among other things, the cultural resource management file; this included work at Writing-on-Stone, Head-Smash-In Buffalo Jump and the Okotoks Erratic. In honour of Jack’s work with The Blackfoot Confederacy and Treaty 7, he was given the honourary Blackfoot name Owl Head.
“Jack has earned his name as a way of acknowledging his support and efforts of reconciliation, repatriation and preserving the archaeological record of the sacred sites and cultural resources we are entrusted with as stewards of the land,” First Rider explained.
Understanding and preserving Indigenous history and culture, in this era of reconciliation, is done in numerous ways. One way is through archaeology, a field Brink has worked in for much of his professional life. He mentions that through archaeology, we can begin to understand the great accomplishments Indigenous people who have lived in Alberta (and Canada) for thousands of years.
“I think when the general public learn more about the deep past of Indigenous people,” Brink said, “we [can] make steps forward in terms of truth and reconciliation. The ‘past’ is a great part of the true story of Indigenous people on this continent. Most people are unaware of it, and as they learn more they come to respect the success of indigenous people surviving on this land under challenging conditions for such a long period of time. I believe that this builds an appreciation of what Indigenous people have accomplished and contributed.”
Former colleagues at the Royal Alberta Museum, where Jack worked for over 25 years, recall lessons learned from one the country’s preeminent archaeologist and curator. Assistant Archaeologist Bob Dawe mentioned that, “Jack is an excellent teacher and writer with enviable communication skills. The most beneficial enduring advice he taught me was how to be more succinct with writing and lecturing – cut to the chase rather than clutter scholarly publications and conference presentations with time wasting less relevant material. Other than this extremely helpful lesson, he didn’t belabor advice as much as lead by example.”
Acting Curator of Archaeology Kris Fedyniak worked with Brink on the ultimately successful bid for Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Through the numerous and lengthy United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization application bids, Jack taught me the importance of perseverance. A ‘no’ sometimes means you have to reset, reframe and try again.”
Recognition of a professional archaeologist at such a high level will hopefully inspire younger generations to not only recognize the important role archaeology and science play in our world, but to pursue a career in the field.
“I think recognition by the Governor General’s office is recognition of the power of archaeology to do good in this world,” Brink said, “to help reveal impressive stories about past cultures and to do so in a respectful way. I would hope that this would have a positive effect on young people who may be considering a career in archaeology; that it would make them aware that significant achievements can be made in the field of archaeology and that a great career can come from it.”
Editor’s note: With a couple weeks left in what felt like the longest year ever, this will be the last RETROactive post of 2020. Thank you to all our followers, visitors and everyone interested in Alberta’s diverse and unique history. Have a safe and happy holiday season, and we’ll see you all in 2021!
Written by: Sara King, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta and Jared Majeski, Editor, RETROactive
“Where Winter’s a Pleasure” was a promotional film produced by the Film and Photograph Branch of the Department of Industry and Development in 1962 for the Alberta Travel Bureau. It features footage and narration from Hans Gmoser (1932-2006), a mountain guide and founder of Rocky Mountain Guides Ltd. (later Canadian Mountain Holidays CMH) who would tour throughout North America giving lectures and showing promotional films. He was awarded the order of Canada in 1987, among other honours. Starting before dawn for a four hour hike up a glacier to ski might seem a bit daunting for some, but you can always catch the gondola at Lake Louise if you’re less ambitious, and a trip to the Tom Tom Lounge at the end of the day can’t go wrong. Just don’t forget your mountain mixture.
The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release Occasional Paper Series No. 39, devoted to advancing archaeological practice in Western Canada. The volume contains seven articles written by archaeological consultants, university researchers, and heritage managers. The 2019 volume is dedicated to Terrance Gibson who passed away in 2018 and was a life-long advocate of improving archaeological research and practices.
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.