COVID resilience: Experiencing Alberta’s smaller provincial historic sites in new ways

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Program Coordinator, Victoria Settlement and Fort George & Buckingham House

What can you find at Alberta’s provincial historic sites? History, of course. But what about an unstoppable fount of creativity?

Connecting Albertans with history is what staff a provincial historic sites do, but COVID closures have placed some particularly unusual barriers in the way of achieving this mission. Since some provincially-owned and operated historic sites were unable to open for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, staff had to find creative new ways for our communities to connect with the history we steward.

Below is a whirlwind tour of a few of the innovative ways Alberta’s smaller historic sites invited guests to explore their shared heritage.

Rutherford House

Since the house was closed to visitors, Rutherford House staff (and its smallest resident, Rutherford Mouse) picked up stakes and travelled for a visit to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.  They spent the summer inviting other visitors at the Ukrainian Village to join in a couple of Rutherford House programs.

The first program, Rutherford Mouse Visits the Country, was a scavenger hunt for young guests. Children (and adults) were invited to explore Pylypow and Hawreliak Houses and see if they could catch Rutherford Mouse visiting with his country friends by spotting his miniature mouse furniture and belongings hiding inside the houses, on window ledges, and beside the big-people furniture and artifacts. Children excitedly shared what they had discovered. More than 200 people took on the challenge!

Our second program, Making a House a Home, was an opportunity to compare and contrast the houses and interiors of the Rutherfords’ two residences here in Edmonton, as well as Pylypow and Hawreliak houses. Who had the fanciest floors? Whose house was a pre-packaged one? Did they all have maids? Where did everyone sleep? Almost 100 people took the opportunity to explore these amazing buildings.

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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. In solidarity, orange shirts are worn to honour and remember the children who died at Residential Schools, to witness the healing journey of Survivors and their families and commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.

The inspiration for Orange Shirt Day came from residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad, who shared her story of her first day of residential schooling at six years old, when she was stripped of her clothes, including a new orange shirt her grandmother bought her, which was never returned. The orange shirt now symbolizes how the residential school system took away the Indigenous identities of its students.

To support the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, you can purchase an orange shirt at a number of Indigenous-owned businesses:

How to participate

September 30, 1:30 pm
Zoom and Facebook Live

Join guest curator Tanya Harnett for a free virtual exhibit talk. Tanya will share her experience curating the Residential Schools exhibit to share the history and realities of the residential school system in Alberta.

Tanya Harnett is a member of the Carry-The-Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan. She is an artist and a professor at the University of Alberta in a joint appointment in the Department of Art and Design and the Faculty of Native Studies. Tanya is also a member of the Royal Alberta Museum’s Indigenous Advisory Panel.

This talk will be streamed on Zoom, and on the RAM Facebook page

Register to join the Zoom presentation here.

September 30, 10:30 am
Zoom and Facebook Live

Attend a virtual reading of Shi-Shi-Etko by Nicola Campbell. Shi-shi-etko is a young girl who has four days before she leaves home for residential school. Her family has many teachings to share with her, about her culture and the land. This book is appropriate for children aged 4-8.

This virtual story time will be streamed on Zoom, and on the RAM Facebook page

Register to join the Zoom presentation here.

Continue to learn

One of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is that all Canadians educate themselves on the true history of Indigenous peoples. There are books to introduce children to the history of residential schools, and to help understand the Indian Act and Indigenous Rights. In the spirit of reconciliation, we must continue to listen, learn about and understand Indigenous history and culture, and recognize the long-standing Indigenous presence and sovereignty in this land.

Indigenous Reading List

Okotoks adds three historic resources to Alberta Register

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer

Recently, some new Municipal Historic Designations have been added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. These resources are have been deemed by their municipality to be of significant heritage value to their community. Like Provincial Historic Resources, municipally designated properties are protected under the Historical Resources Act and qualify for conservation grants from the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program.

Of the most recent Municipal Historic resources designations added to the Register, three of them are located in the Town of Okotoks.

Okotoks Post Office

The Okotoks Post Office is a two-storey wood frame building with a boom town façade and is clad in pressed metal siding resembling a stone pattern. It is centrally located in Okotoks on North Railway Street (formerly Macleod Trail). The post office building is amongst the town’s earliest buildings and was a focal point of the community, being located across from the Canadian pacific Railway station. The building was constructed in 1890 by Herbert Bowen, a local general merchant and post master for the community. When John Paterson bought the store in 1892, he also became the postmaster. The building was the site of the post office from 1891 to 1900, and again from 1907 to 1937. The heritage value of the Okotoks Post Office is due to its association with the town’s early development, being an anchor business and service that the community would grow around. It is also significant for its association with George Paterson, son of John Paterson, who continued in his father’s role of merchant and postmaster and was a noted community member, serving as school board trustee and mayor and belonged to numerous community organizations. The building is also architecturally significant as a representation of an early-twentieth century commercial establishment.

Okotoks Post Office, December 2019 showing the pressed metal siding and boomtown façade. Source: Town of Okotoks.
Okotoks Post Office, 1921. Source: Okotoks Museum and Archives.
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Heart of a Historic Prairie Oasis: Restoring the Duke of Sutherland Bungalow

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

The southern Alberta horizon shimmers in the summer heat and seems limitless as one drives across southern Alberta near Brooks. Approaching the region, indistinct bands of green in the distance thicken and, like a mirage, resolve into shelterbelts and dense stands of trees. The striking, even surreal, contrast with the surrounding semi-arid prairie is the result of large-scale irrigation works of the early twentieth century financed and backed by, among others, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Conceived to make “Palliser’s Triangle” fertile for agriculture and settlement, these works included the Bassano Dam, hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals and ditches and the Brooks Aqueduct, a 3.2 km-long reinforced concrete flume. One of the largest aqueducts of its kind in the world and an engineering tour de force when built, the decommissioned aqueduct is both a Provincial Historic Resource and a National Historic Site of Canada.

Duke of Sutherland Residence or Bungalow, south facade, September 2021. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

At the epicentre of this transformed landscape, just outside Brooks, lies the Duke of Sutherland Site Complex, a Provincial Historic Resource comprised of a large residence, a barn and pumphouse, Delco generator building and remnants of irrigation ditches on an approximately two-hectare site. This was the administrative heart of a 2,752-hectare agricultural colony of Scottish and English settlers established in 1909 by the Fourth Duke of Sutherland of Scotland. Eager to invest in Canada and to promote irrigation and farming in the Brooks area, the Duke was a major CPR shareholder whose extensive holdings including a large ranching operation on rented CPR land.

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The Last Baron

Editor’s note: The Last Baron debuts on CBC Gem on Sept. 17. It will be shown on CBC-TV in Alberta and B.C. at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18. If you want to support the filmmakers, they are currently crowdfunding to help finance a feature-length version of The Last Baron. Photos in this story courtesy of Amber Bracken/Back Road Productions, unless otherwise noted.

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

Spend enough time driving down the highways and range roads in Alberta, chances are you’ll pass an old grain elevator. Hulking wooden structures stretching to the sky, weathered by decades of neglect. These prairie cathedrals are a ubiquitous tribute to how things used to work, before the inevitable march of technology pushed them aside. Drive down those same roads, through the villages and towns dotting Alberta, and you’ll find another symbol of how things used to work. This time, in the form of a structure you or I may take for granted: the humble diner. Specifically, the once-omnipresent eatery of so many small Alberta towns. Before Alberta had McDonald’s, it had the Burger Baron.

Premiering this Friday on CBC Gem is The Last Baron, a uniquely Albertan documentary about the history of the Burger Baron. Written, directed and co-produced by local writer and filmmaker Omar Mouallem, The Last Baron tells the story of how a community of Lebanese immigrants, through ownership of Burger Baron franchises across Alberta, supported their families, friends and communities by slinging fries, burgers and shakes to hungry Albertans. The film touches on the murky history of the original Burger Baron intellectual property, relationships between franchisees and the future of the Burger Baron business model.

Mouallem is also in an ideal position to tell this story: his family opened a Burger Baron restaurant in High Prairie in 1987. He remembers: “Originally, my dad planned on calling it Prairie Pizza.  It wasn’t the plan to call it a Burger Baron. It was a last minute idea suggested to my Dad by his uncle in Slave Lake, who also owned a burger Baron. He said, ‘Look, you’re on Main Street. You’re on a main highway, and the main street of town. Burger Baron is a good name. It has done great things for us. You should just go ahead and use it to.’ And he did.”

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UFOs over Alberta

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

One thing that never gets old living in the Prairies is the sky: big, expansive, endless. Exactly the kind of place (and space) for aircraft of all shapes and sizes to explore. We can learn about a specific kind of aircraft, the alien type, from a digitized production from ACCESS TV below.

Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs as the kids like to say, have been part of lore and science fiction for centuries. There are thousands of sightings around the world, but solid proof or admission has continued to elude us. Produced sometime in the early 80s, this short documentary combines first-hand accounts from local Albertans with scientific explanation — all set to surprisingly evocative synthesizer soundscapes. You’ll also learn about Project Magnet, a program developed by Transport Canada to study UFOs in the 1950s.

So, put down those episodes of X-Files and learn about potential alien life right in your own backyard. And while you’re at it, go explore the rest of the film and video on the Provincial Archives of Alberta Youtube channel.

“Sour grapes”: The Banff Winter Carnival Queen Scandal of 1955

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta

One of the stereotypes of beauty pageants is the behind-the-scenes rivalry among contestants. Typically, these are just plot devices in film or TV designed to create degrees of drama, comedy or controversy. But apparently there is beauty pageant drama in real life, and one of the rare times when these battles spilled out into the public is the controversy surrounding the Banff Winter Carnival Queen competition of 1955.

The idea for a winter carnival in Banff originated with Norman Luxton, the man known as “Mr. Banff.” A strong booster of the community, he was a prominent local entrepreneur who owned, among other ventures, the Crag and Canyon newspaper, the King Edward Hotel (Banff’s first all-season hotel), the Lux Theatre, the King Edward Horse and Auto Livery and the Sign of the Goat Curio Shop.  According to a 1939 Calgary Herald article, the idea came up during a brainstorming session between Luxton and his friend B. W. Collison in December 1916 regarding the best way to attract more tourists to Banff during the winter season, which was not a consistently busy time in the town. Given Luxton’s extensive local business investments, having the town bustling with tourists year-round was definitely in his interest.

Ice Palace built for Banff Winter Carnival, featuring Brewster’s Hall in the background, 1917. PAA Photo A4837.

A local committee led by Luxton persuaded the town to host a festival that would run from February 5-17, 1917.  The list of events featured at the first carnival was impressive – it included a curling bonspiel, tobogganing, snowshoe races, men’s and ladies’ hockey matches, speed skating, “art skating,” trap shooting, pony ski races and swimming competitions in the hot springs. A large ice castle maze, built by internees and reputedly the first such castle built in Western Canada, was the centrepiece of the celebrations, especially during the fireworks on two evenings of the carnival.  Brewster Hall hosted a grand ball on February 9 and a fancy dress ball on February 15, and this second event featured a crown awarded, “to the most popular lady attending the carnival.” The Carnival was such a success that it became an annual community event.

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Opponents and Neighbours: Decades in the making

Editor’s note: After years of research and writing and working in conjunction with the Friends of the Forts Society, it is with great pleasure and pride that we announce the publication of Opponents and Neighbours: Fort George and Buckingham House and the Early Fur Trade on the North Saskatchewan River 1792 to 1800. Below you can read about the journey it took to publish the book, as well as some excerpts from the publication. Opponents and Neighbours is available for purchase through the Provincial Archives of Alberta store. Proceeds from book sales go to the Friends of the Forts Society whose mission is to support and enhance the Fort George & Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site.

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Program Coordinator, Fort George and Buckingham House and Victoria Settlement

BETWEEN 1792 AND 1800, the North West Company’s Fort George and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Buckingham House operated on the North Saskatchewan River, attracting trade from the parklands in which they were located, the grasslands to the south, and the woodlands to the north. Indigenous nations interacted with a varied group of traders. The trade was conducted with respect and offered reciprocal benefits to all parties as befits transactions between friends, allies and eventual kinship groups. Trade protocols involved ceremonies, speeches, ritual gift exchanges, sharing of the calumet peace pipe and mutual professions of friendship and brotherhood. The posts were more than venues of commerce; they were a common meeting ground for people of diverse cultures. There were numerous country marriages or marriages a la façon du pays between company men and Indigenous women. Many children were conceived, born and raised into adulthood by stable, supportive and nurturing families. Children, whose mothers were of this continent and whose fathers travelled half the world would themselves have offspring whose descendants inhabit the land till the present time.

Opponents and Neighbours had its start as part of the research done to support the building of the Fort George & Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site in 1992. This large research project was undertaken by Douglas Babcock, a historian with the Government of Alberta’s Heritage Division. The manuscript was eagerly devoured by interpreters at the historic site for many years.

Several years after the initial manuscript was written, another historian with the Heritage Division, Michael Payne, reviewed the manuscript. He took all the fur trade research and history that had been published after Babcock’s manuscript was written and used it to better understand his research. Payne updated the manuscript to reflect the latest historical writing and research.

And in the last few years, a third Alberta Heritage historian, Peter Melnycky, also reviewed the manuscript and updated it based on yet more newly published historical research and scholarship.

With support from the Friends of the Forts Society and graphic design work from Alberta Heritage graphic designer Denise Ahlefeldt, publication is now complete.

This book, much like the fur trade it discusses, took many years and a great many people to successfully bring it up the long road to publication: writers, researchers, historians of the fur trade who work with Alberta Heritage and those who don’t, archivists, distribution and marketing people, a graphic designer, and of course, our funders. Thank you so much to everyone who directly or indirectly, made this book possible.

We hope you enjoy a few excerpts from Opponents and Neighbours:

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Métis Crossing and the historic Victoria Trail

Editor’s note: Alberta announced that museums and historic sites can reopen as part of Stage 2 of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan. However, for some seasonal and smaller sites, given how short the season would be as well as the close quarters at some of these sites, the decision was made for Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site to stay closed for 2021. Go to Victoria Settlement social media for online content, along with details about reopening in 2022. All photos below taken by Bri Vos unless otherwise indicated. Banner image courtesy of the Victoria Home Guard Historical Association.

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Program Coordinator for Victoria Settlement and Fort George and Buckingham House and Krista Leddy, Métis Crossing Experience Development Coordinator

Métis Crossing is a gathering place for all people to learn about Métis culture and people. Sitting along the historic Victoria Trail and the North Saskatchewan River, the stories of the Métis families who thrived here are shared through original river lot homes and buildings, recreations of seasonal harvesting camps, and Métis interpreters inviting visitors to experience elements of culture through arts, skills, cuisine, and stories.

Victoria settlement 1862-1922. Source: Leslie Hurt, Occasional Paper Series No. 7.

Victoria National Historic District is 15 minutes south of Smoky Lake (or 1.5 hours northeast of Edmonton) along the North Saskatchewan River. The river lot communities that once stretched along the banks of rivers were common in Alberta. The long narrow land divisions gave the community a different feel than today’s towns and villages, with their overlapping criss cross of streets.

In 2017, Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site (river lot 6) and Métis Crossing (river lots 10-14), piloted Paddle Into the Past, an immersive 3 hour fur-trade program which invites visitors to explore the history and culture of the river lot community and the river which connects them. What better way to experience one of Alberta’s most prominent river lot communities than through a collaboration between two river lot neighbours?

Métis Crossing is a cultural gathering centre run by the Métis Nation of Alberta. Here visitors are invited to experience elements of Métis culture, including finger weaving techniques and stories about buffalo hunts. The many Métis residents of Victoria Settlement river lot community often went south for the buffalo hunt. Buffalo hunts were communal affairs, but also very dangerous.

When was the last time you travelled to the neighbours’ place by paddling down the river? Once you’ve explored Métis Crossing, you’ll get to travel to Victoria Settlement… by canoe!

Once you step off the canoe at Victoria Settlement, you’ll find yourself back in 1896: one of the last years of the fur trade at Fort Victoria. You can explore the fort through ground markings which outline where each building was, and see what the home of the man in charge of the post (“The Clerk’s Quarters”) was like.

It wasn’t all fun and games at Fort Victoria on river lot 6. There were heavy bales of fur trade goods to be hauled to the Fort. You’ll be able to lend a hand (or a forehead) and discover what was in all of those mysterious packages.

At one time, all those dishes and ingredients for medicinal (but very tasty) historical licorice were neatly packed into bales of trade goods which made their way from the east to Fort Victoria. Before you can appreciate the yummy treats, you need to learn to haul the bales of fur trade goods using a tumpline around your forehead.

At the end of your time at Victoria Settlement, you will travel the historic Victoria Trail to return to Métis Crossing. Historic experiences in an historically significant place; what better way to get to know Alberta?

Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Jack W. Brink, Royal Alberta Museum

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release the complete volume of Occasional Paper Series No. 40, available for free download:

Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada: the Occasional Paper Series in 2020

In addition to two articles published earlier this year, this blog announces the release of four new articles to complete the volume:

Microblades in northwest North America

Skilled flintknapper Eugene Gryba discusses a specific stone tool technology called microblades in northwest North America. He draws on decades of first-hand experience creating stone tools to argue for a free-hand pressure technique to explain archaeological occurrences of microblades across the continent.

Napi effigies

Trevor Peck presents an updated synthesis of unusual and intriguing archaeological features called petroforms (boulder outlines), in this case, Napi effigies on the Plains. These large arrangements of boulders depict an important Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot) entity who figures prominently in stories and belief systems. The paper discusses their style and distribution and argues for a subdivision of different groups of Napi effigies that may be linked to different phases of Siksikaitsitapi history.

Porcellanite

A team of archaeologists is studying the raw materials used in Alberta to make stone tools over the past 12,000 years. The fifth paper in the current volume discusses a material called porcellanite that was fused over millions of years through natural coal combustion. Indigenous people used porcellanite from Montana, North Dakota, and from local outcrops in Alberta to make stone tools. The paper presents photographs and several laboratory results to help archaeologists accurately identify porcellanite.

Surface collection of artifacts

The final paper in the volume presents an interesting surface collection of artifacts from northern Alberta. The collection from the Fort Vermilion area includes stone projectile points, scrapers, knives, cores, and flakes made out of a variety of raw materials. Heinz Pyszczyk and colleagues from the Royal Alberta Museum and the University of Lethbridge argue that tool styles and affinities to the south suggest that the collection represents 9000 years of human occupation in the region.

Previous volumes can be downloaded for free here. Thank you to all the authors. If you are an archaeologist interested in contributing to the 2021 issue, dedicated to heritage in Canada’s boreal forest, please contact the Archaeological Survey of Alberta