Fighting the 1918 influenza crisis with household chores

Editor’s note: This blog post is small taste of a recent article by Suzanna Wagner: “Households Large and Small: Healthcare Civilians and the Prominence of Women’s Work in the Edmonton Bulletin’s Reporting of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic” published in the Journal of the Canadian Historical Association (vol. 32, no.2, 2022). Published with permission of the Journal of the Canadian Historical Association.

The banner image above is of Oliver School in Edmonton, which served as one of the headquarters for neighbourly help. The blackboard here listed names of women who were willing to take in children whose parents were ill, and the kitchens in the home economics department cooked soup to send out by automobile to households with the flu. Image courtesy of Prairie Postcards Collection, Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Written by: Suzanna Wagner

March is Women’s History Month. What does that mean? What’s unique about women’s history? Isn’t it just regular history, but about women? Well, sort of. Studying the experiences of women in the past has some specific challenges: the ordinary parts of historical women’s lives have a tendency to get ignored, glossed over or just plain forgotten. Why? Often, it is because there are few records that preserved the everyday realities of women’s work and lives. Other times it’s because the everyday substance of historical women’s lives was considered unimportant, uninteresting or inconsequential and not worth examining closely.

And yet, when we dive deeply into the history of the 1918 influenza epidemic in Edmonton, we see not just how desperately important “women’s work” was, but how, in a rare historical moment, the details of women’s work were carefully recorded and published in the newspaper.

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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2021 Update Part Two

Written By: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

This week’s post highlights archaeological sites recorded in 2021 under archaeological permits issued by the Archaeological Survey. Part One of this post discussed archaeological permits, archaeologists, and archaeological field activities from 2021.

More than 40,000 archaeological sites have been recorded in Alberta, and archaeologists record 500-700 new sites per year. Sites can include a few artifacts or complex, multi-site areas like Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone. Most sites in recent decades are recorded by archaeologists working in the cultural resources management (CRM) industry. CRM archaeologists work with developers to avoid potential impacts to known or potential archaeological resources in Historic Resources Impact Assessments. Sites are also recorded by researchers at universities, museums, and other institutions, who tend to conduct detailed research at the same sites year-to-year. Site records are managed and archived at the Archaeological Survey’s Alberta Archaeological Sites Inventory.

You can explore previous Survey in Numbers to compare statistics year over year.

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Stage and screen: Black entertainment history in Alberta 1900-1920

Written by: Jeremy Kuipers-Witten


The changing landscape of mass entertainment between 1900 and 1920 was just as evident in Alberta as it was anywhere else in North America. February is Black History Month and when one examines Alberta’s entertainment history from 1900 to 1920 through a Black history lens, numerous interesting stories emerge. During this time frame, the popularity of minstrel shows and vaudeville theatre was beginning to diminish. Recorded music and film emerged as new markets for mass entertainment. Black actors and musicians who had formerly appeared on theatrical stages began to appear on recorded media that could be mass produced and shipped all over the world. Additionally, even though the popularity of minstrelsy and vaudeville was dwindling, a genre of black musical performance called jubilee singing remained popular throughout the teens and twenties. Still, despite the fact that African-American and African-Canadian musicians between 1900 and 1920 were participating in all genres of music, the recording and entertainment industries of the time mainly relegated these performers to stereotypically “Black” genres — namely the 19th century genres of minstrelsy and jubilee singing and the new 20th century genres of jazz and blues.

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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2021 Update Part One

Written by: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

This week’s post is an update on the permit management system from 2021 from Alberta’s Archaeological Survey. Archaeological research in Alberta in Alberta that involves surveying and testing land or excavating archaeological sites must be conducted under an Archaeological Research Permit. Permits must be held by an archaeologist who meets professional qualifications. The infographic notes that 58 professional archaeologists held permits in Alberta in 2021; however many other archaeologists work in Alberta archaeology in addition to permit holders, such as field and laboratory technicians.

Most archaeologists in Alberta work in the cultural resources management (CRM) industry, where they work together with the Archaeological Survey and industry partners to avoid impacts to historic resources from proposed developments. CRM archaeologists working under mitigative archaeological permits assessed more than 200 projects in 2021 in all areas of Alberta. Archaeologists dug an astounding 37,000+ shovel tests in 2021 alone, on top of the excavations, backhoe tests, and other inspections they carried out that year.

Most permits were issued for Historical Resources Impact Assessments (HRIAs). Under this type of permit archaeologists determine whether a proposed development will impact archaeological resources. Many tests used in initial HRIAs are negative (shovel tests, sediment exposure examination, backhoe tests). This result is expected- tests are used to expediently locate the presence of cultural materials. After sites have been located, more detailed site evaluations (e.g. test units, excavations) are used for further assessment.

Part two of this post will discuss the archaeological sites recorded in 2021.

You can explore previous Survey in Numbers to compare statistics year over year.

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Borealopelta: A Selective Herbivore

Editor’s note: Alberta’s rich fossil history, including the field of palaeontology, is recognized around the world. RETROactive is now pleased to be sharing stories of discovery from the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

The banner illustration above is courtesy of Julius Csotonyi.

The nodosaur Borealopelta markmitchelli is the world’s best-preserved armoured dinosaur. This amazing specimen has helped answer many important questions about dinosaur biology and behaviour. Now, new research supports the theory that the nodosaur was a picky eater.

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Alberta’s heritage places need your voice

Alberta is known for its abundant heritage places, from traditional cultural sites to architectural heritage to the heritage values enshrined in our cultural and natural landscapes. 

With this in mind, a project has been started to examine the creation of an inclusive provincial network for Alberta’s heritage places and to consider the re-establishment of regular Alberta forums for historic places, cultural landscapes, built heritage and related concerns. Such a network and forum could create an environment where individuals can come together as peers to share knowledge relevant to each other’s work while providing mutual support when needed. This style of collaboration could achieve far more than any single entity could accomplish alone.

Through this initiative, the committee aims to ensure that Alberta protects and preserves its heritage resources for future generations. Your feedback is essential to understanding the initiative’s viability and the heritage communities’ greater needs. Please help the committee by completing their survey.  The survey will only be open a limited time – from January 4 to January 18 – so please follow the link today.

Season’s Greetings from RETROactive

On behalf of the staff and contributors to RETROactive, we wish you and your family the happiest (and warmest) of holidays. Thank you once again for your support and interest in the stories, people and places from Alberta’s past and present. We will see you all in 2023 with more captivating stories exploring Alberta’s history.

Source: Robert C. Fitzsimmons fonds, Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Alberta and the Clovis connection

Editor’s note: The banner image above courtesy of the Norman Petty Recording Studio.

Written by: Jeremy Witten

If you read a cultural history of 1960s Alberta or if you read a cultural history of the people who lived here 13,000 years ago, there is an unusual word you might come across in both contexts: “Clovis.” Between 1962 and 1974, several Albertan bands drove to a small town in New Mexico called Clovis to record with a famous producer who lived there. His name was Norman Petty and prior to recording bands from Alberta, he recorded international stars like Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. But that town in New Mexico has a deeper connection to the land that people now call Alberta.

A Clovis point found in Alberta that is made from Knife River Flint, a type of stone found in North Dakota. Source: Royal Alberta Museum.

Clovis, New Mexico shares the name of the Clovis people, a prehistoric Indigenous group whose artifacts continue to be found not only in New Mexico, but also scattered across Alberta. The archetypical technology of the Clovis people is called a “Clovis point,” which was a finely crafted stone tip that was attached to a wooden shaft to form a highly effective weapon. Interestingly, if one maps the trip that Albertan bands took to Clovis in the 1960s, that route intersects with several important archaeological sites where Clovis points have been found. Despite this, it’s entirely possible those Albertan musicians were unaware of the prehistoric connection between Clovis and the land where they lived as they continued their drive south through forests, plains and deserts.

Who were these Albertan bands? There were at least two dozen of them: Calgary-based acts who recorded in Clovis included Done On Bradstreet, Eddie Canada, Gainsborough Gallery, Jim Aiello, Molly, Sheraton Fountain and the Happy Feeling. The list of Edmonton acts to record with Norman Petty is a bit longer, including Barry Allen, Colored Rain, Dennis Paul, Doug Roberts, Famous Last Words, Happy Cooker, Privilege, Shame Tree, Southbound Freeway, Stu Mitchell, the Brinkman Brothers, the Nomads, the Preachers, Victory Group, Vik Armen, Wes Dakus & the Rebels and Willie & the Walkers.

Several of these bands changed line-ups and even names over time; the Rebels were once known as the Club 93 Rebels. Southbound Freeway and the Happy Feeling also released music under the more concise monikers “Freeway” and “The Feeling.” In the liner notes of the compilation album From Canada to Clovis, Canadian producer and discographer Shawn Nagy shares historical details of some of these recording sessions. Nagy writes that only three members of the Nomads made the initial drive to Clovis in May 1962 and that they drove down in a jam-packed 1955 Buick. Back then, the option for Albertan bands, “was to travel 2,200 miles to Quality Studios in Toronto or 1,750 miles to Clovis.”

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Métis Week 2022

Métis Week celebrates the culture, history and contributions of Métis people to Alberta and Canada. On November 16, Métis people across Canada pay tribute to the Right Honourable Louis Riel by holding a commemorative ceremony on the date of his execution. In addition to recognizing Louis Riel Day on November 16, this week has been declared “Métis Week” by the Métis Nation of Alberta. The week is devoted to commemorating the sacrifices of the Métis and to celebrate Métis contributions to Alberta’s history and Métis culture in general. Many places in Alberta have a unique Métis history, and we encourage you to learn these stories and celebrate with the Métis peoples during this time. Below are some suggestions for online offerings and events taking place.

If you have an event to commemorate Métis Week 2022, let us know and we will look to add it to the list above.

Pilots North: Alberta and IMAX Dome film history

Written by: Jeremy Witten

The importance of American filmmaker Roger Tilton in the history of IMAX Dome cinema is well documented, but his unique connection to Alberta and Albertan film history is less well-known.

In 1973, the San Diego Hall of Science premiered the world’s first IMAX Dome film Garden Isle, directed by Tilton. By this time, IMAX film had already existed for more than five years, but the concept of projecting that film onto a dome screen was new and it was in this arena that Roger Tilton was an innovator. Eight years later, Tilton traveled to Alberta with a vision for another dome film: Canadian bush pilots flying their planes to remote northern communities during the 1920s and 1930s. Since Edmonton was historically considered the “Gateway to the North,” Tilton wanted some of the film shot in the Edmonton area, with other scenes shot in northern Alberta and Northwest Territories. Albertan filming sites included St. Albert, Peace River and Fort Vermillion. The resulting film, Pilots North, premiered at Edmonton’s Klondike Days Exhibition in 1981.

Roger Tilton (left) on the Pilots North set in 1981. Source: Wilma Kuipers.
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