Train kept a rollin’: a brief history of the (in)famous 1970 Festival Express

Editor’s note: Fifty years ago tomorrow, a trainload of famous rock, blues and country stars rolled into Calgary for one of the most unique music festival experiences ever…The Festival Express. The article below focuses mainly on the Calgary stop of the festival. Along with rare archival photos, we’ve included likely never-before-seen surveillance video of the festival from the skies above McMahon Stadium.

Written by: Ron Kelland and Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

The 1970s were a good time for the City of Calgary. People came in droves to call Cowtown home, as its population increased by a third. Construction permits rained down like confetti as the city’s skyline shot mightily to the heavens. The famed Husky Tower (now simply known as the Calgary Tower) had recently been completed, giving Calgary’s skyline a truly distinctive look and providing a symbol of civic pride and optimism for decades to come. The famous, architectural award winning +15 Skyway pedway system, one of the most extensive systems in the world, was constructed and plans for a new and innovative urban transportation network, including the Deerfoot Trail freeway and what would become the LRT/C-Train system, were underway.

This is what Albertans call, “the good times”, the boom of our familiar economic cycle. Perhaps it was this optimistic feeling that convinced the city to approve a permit to host a now-infamous, “rock music festival” at McMahon Stadium in early July.

Newspaper advertisment, presumably from the Calgary Herald. Safe to say this is a pretty stacked lineup. Source:
Newspaper advertisment, presumably from the Calgary Herald. Safe to say this is a pretty stacked lineup. Source:

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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Determining eligibility

Written by: Peter Melnycky, Historian, Historic Resources Management Branch

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. This series is intended to serve as a refresher on how to evaluate sites, develop Statements of Significance, determine periods of significance and develop Statements of Integrity.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at or 780-431-2309.

Determining eligibility

In our first post, we will be discussing how to determine if a historic place is eligible for designation.

Historic resources include structures, buildings, landscape and archaeological features, all of which can be considered for protection by a municipality. Under the Historical Resources Act, municipalities have the ability to designate historic resources under a bylaw to ensure their protection.

The Historical Resources Act (Source: Historic Resources Management Branch).

In order to be considered for protection as a Municipal Historic Resource, a site needs to:

  • Be an eligible resource type
  • Possess historical significance
  • Have sufficient material integrity

If a site meets all three of these of these criteria, it can be considered for Municipal Historic Resource designation.

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“Our record in stone”: Blackfoot perspectives of Okotoks

Written by: Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, Aboriginal Consultation Advisers

Editor’s note: Oki! June is National Indigenous History Month, an invitation to honour the history, diversity, strength and contemporary achievements of Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal Consultation Advisers Blair First Rider and Laura Golebiowski, both based in Treaty 7 territory, met at the Okotoks Erratic this spring to discuss the significance of the site to the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Blair First Rider at the Okotoks Erratic.

If you’ve ever travelled southwest of Calgary and witnessed a towering mass of quartzite stand out among the prairie landscape, you are continuing a tradition that Indigenous peoples have done since time immemorial. The 16,500-tonne boulder is colloquially known as the “Big Rock,” but in Blackfoot it is Okotoks—the direct translation of the word “rocks.”

The erratic is a wildly impressive and imposing sight. However, there is more here than immediately meets the eye. For the Blackfoot, this is a location where the world began; where supernatural mischief-maker Napi was pursued by the rock as he traveled from south to north, creating the mountains and rivers.

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International Archives Week: Plotting the course of the pandemic

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist

Editor’s note: The International Council of Archives has designated June 8-14, 2020 as International Archives Week. Its theme, Empowering Knowledge Societies, highlights the ways in which archival institutions contribute to sustainable knowledge, trust and evidence, and the challenge of emerging technologies.

When historians decades from now look back at society during the COVID-19 pandemic, what will they see? Artifacts, documents and various media will certainly tell the story of how we dealt with an historic event. With the pandemic at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, it seems timely to examine the holdings at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) that document other public health crises. Alberta has experienced pandemics such as the worldwide 1918-1919 flu pandemic (often referred to as the Spanish grippe or Spanish flu epidemic) as well as a series of more localized poliomyelitis epidemics in Alberta that occurred in 1927 and 1953. While history books in the reference library tell one author’s version of events, what do the original archival records preserved at the PAA tell researchers about other widespread outbreaks of disease in the twentieth century, and can they inform our current circumstances?

1918-1919 pandemic resources at the PAA

Starting in 1905, a branch of the Department of Agriculture managed the Government of Alberta’s public health programs until the province established a separate Department of Public Health in 1919. For reasons that are unclear, few records of the Department of Public Health appear to have survived prior to the 1940s. However, one incredible survivor of that era is a scrapbook created by Public Health that contains newspaper articles tracking the progress of the 1918 influenza pandemic across Canada, with a special focus on developments in Alberta. The articles detail the number of cases, the preventative measures (including the closures of schools and restrictions on public gatherings), announcements from medical officers of health and the death toll.

Excerpt from Public Health Scrapbook, 1918.  GR1975.0454
Excerpt from Public Health Scrapbook, 1918. GR1975.0454

While an overarching and comprehensive information resource, the scrapbook does not provide the entire story of the Government of Alberta’s response to the pandemic or the impact on the citizens of Alberta. So, without other records of the Department of Public Health, where can that story be found in the PAA?

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Revival of a Prohibition-Era Landmark in the Crowsnest Pass

Editor’s note: You can read more of Fraser Shaw’s series on heritage conservation on RETROactive.

Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor

Gunshots shattered the stillness of 18 Avenue in Coleman on the afternoon of September 21, 1922.

Local bootlegger Emilio Picariello and his accomplice Florence Lassandro sped off in a cloud of dust as Constable Stephen Lawson lay dead outside the Alberta Provincial Police barracks, a cottage-like office and residence where he worked and resided with his family. Hours later, “Emperor Pic”—as he was known locally—and Lassandro were apprehended and charged with Lawson’s murder. Both were later convicted and hanged. Lassandro became the first woman to be executed in Canada since 1899 and the only woman to be hanged in Alberta.

The Alberta Provincial Police Building as it appeared in late 1922 after the murder of Constable Stephen Lawson. Source: Crowsnest Museum.
The Alberta Provincial Police Building as it appeared in late 1922 after the murder of Constable Stephen Lawson. Source: Crowsnest Museum.

The Alberta Provincial Police (APP) Building, a Provincial Historic Resource within the Coleman National Historic Site, is significant for its association with the infamous murder of Constable Lawson and, more generally, with its role in the maintenance of law and order in the mining communities of the Crowsnest Pass during Prohibition until the 1930s.

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Burdett-Coutts: Aristocracy, Activism, Railway Investing and Alberta Place Names

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer

Back a few weeks ago, in the early days of COVID-19 pandemic response, I, like many Albertans, was closely watching news coverage. One news story that caught my attention was about the lines of traffic of returning Canadian travelers at the Coutts/Sweet Grass International Border Crossing. The story really jumped out at me because I had just read about novelist Charles Dickens’ involvement with the philanthropic work of Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. Being the geographical names guy, I was aware that the village of Coutts and the hamlet of Burdett were named for the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, so I started to think about how was it that these two communities ended up with names honouring and commemorating a Victorian-Age, aristocratic philanthropist and social reformer.

Angela Burdett-Coutts. Baroness Burdett-Coutts, artist unknown, oil on panel, ca. 1840.  Source: National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 6181. Used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Baroness Burdett-Coutts, artist unknown, oil on panel, ca. 1840. Source: National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 6181. Used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Angela Burdett-Coutts, the 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts was born Angela Burdett in 1814, the daughter of radical reformist politician and anti-slavery advocate Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Burdett (née Coutts). In 1837, upon the death of her step-grandmother, the actress Harriet Mellon, Angela inherited the entire Coutts estate of £1.8 million ($191 million in 2020 Canadian dollars) including a substantial interest in the Coutts Bank, making her the second-wealthiest woman in the United Kingdom after Queen Victoria. In accordance with the conditions of the will, Angela Burdett sought and received royal license to combine her ancestral names to become Angela Burdett-Coutts.

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Alpine Archaeology and a Pre-contact Stone Quarry in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park include some of the most rugged and remote mountains in Alberta; and for over 10,000 years, people have called these places home. A high alpine pass at the north edge of Jasper and south edge of Willmore holds clues of an important resource that ancient people visited year after year, in a place that nowadays only hardy back-packers and horseback visitors can reach.

Glacier Pass contains a quarry of stone that people used to make spear heads, knives, scrapers and other tools. The quarry was discovered by archaeologists B.O.K. Reeves and J. Elliot in the early 1970s. The rocks found there are what geologists call ‘concretions’ that were picked up as rounded cobbles by people long ago. Recent archaeological research tells us that the round rocks were then hammered to get rid of certain pieces and expose the best quality stone for making tools.

Stone cobbles like the ones here at Glacier Pass were picked up and worked into spear heads, knives, scrapers and other pre-contact tools. Source: Todd Kristensen.


A laboratory technique called hyperspectral scanning has confirmed that the composition of artifacts made from Glacier Pass concretions matches the composition of specific bands or portions of the cobbles from Glacier Pass. Glacier Pass concretions formed when bands of silica-rich rock grew around a core over millions of years. Some bands were good for stone tools while other portions of the rock were thrown out because they were too soft and/or unpredictable to flake or ‘flint knap’. Source: Todd Kristensen.

Based on the number of artifacts found by archaeologists, Glacier Pass was likely visited by small groups of people thousands of times over thousands of years. The stone quarry was part of a seasonal round when people moved from month to month to different areas to exploit or target different things. The alpine concretions at Glacier Pass were probably collected after the snow melted in summer or in fall when people hunted big game animals on high slopes like sheep and caribou.

Recent research by an archaeological team from the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Parks Canada and the University of Alberta has revealed that pre-contact people cracked Glacier Pass concretions to get at specific zones or bands of high quality stone that was ideal for making stone tools. The first two rows in this picture are mostly flakes removed while making tools. The bottom row (artifacts 11-15) are stone tools including knives, a core and a likely spear head that may be over 6,000 years old (14). Source: Todd Kristensen.

Modern visitors to Glacier Pass are unlikely to see tools: most of the artifacts there today are flakes of rock that people broke off while making stone tools. Almost all the finished products were carried away from the area. Visitors are reminded to respect the story of parks and mountain landscapes in Alberta by leaving all artifacts and rocks in place for others to experience. And remember that the land under our feet has a deep history full of geological wonders and human adaptations.

Glacier Pass between Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park is a beautiful and fragile place. To preserve the story of this landscape, and others in Alberta, visitors are encouraged to leave stones and artifacts in place. Source: Todd Kristensen.


Alberta’s African-American immigrant story


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2018. To recognize Black History Month, we here at RETROactive are pleased to share this important documentary with you again.

Winner of the 2018 Alberta Historical Resources Foundation 2018 Heritage Awareness awardWe Are the Roots is a documentary that tells the stories of African American immigrants who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.

In the film, you’ll hear stories from 19 descendants of original settlers, as they moved north to escape slavery, persecution and racism in America. Once in Canada, these families would then experience more discrimination, both in Edmonton and in rural communities they settled.

The film was produced and created through a partnership between documentary film production company Bailey and Soda Films along with Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots,

Click the image above to view the full-length documentary.


To a romantic and special Feast of St. Valentine <3

Well would you look at that, it’s Valentine’s Day! Whether you’re an adherent to the original feast honouring Valentinus, or just like getting flowers from a significant other, it’s the time of year to spend a greeting card-mandated night with your sweetheart.

In celebration of this special day, here are a few Alberta couples, young and old, showing their love for one another.

Fashion show for kids, taken in Edmonton’s McKernan neighbourhood on April 11, 1951. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Children on rides at the Exhibition in Edmonton. Photo taken July 17, 1947. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Last name Calihoo taken by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date unknown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Photo of couple, last name Calihoo, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date unknown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Valentine’s Dance by M.H. Charnetski Sr., taken in 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Photo of couple, last name Ellefnon, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date uknnown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Rev. Gray and Miss Dixon on railroad scooter. Photo taken Aug. 10, 1894. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Nick Spivak with C. Anton, February 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Brrrrrreathtaking Images of a Winter City

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

Hey, remember a few weeks ago when the ENTIRE PROVINCE was under an extreme cold weather warning? Below 30, minus 40 weather for several days. Fun times, good stuff.

It was probably no surprise that folks wanted to hunker down and hibernate until temperatures become more seasonable (like a balmy -15C). But there are better options than hibernating! For example, visiting the Provincial Archives of Alberta’s new exhibit, BRReathtaking Images of a Winter City.

Featuring the work of award-winning Edmonton photographer Nick Ochotta, the exhibit highlights the beauty, fun and drudgery of living in a winter city.  As largest, northernmost metropolis in the world, it is better to accept that snow, ice and chilly temperatures are a seasonable and inevitable part of Alberta’s winter wonderland.  At least you can be warm inside looking at images of winters past. If they made it through, so can you!

The exhibit is on display until March 31, 2020, by which point the province may have thawed out. Maybe.

Surveying the land, sled in hand. Possibly near present-day Ezio Faraone Park in Grandin. Photo taken in 1953 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
A familiar winter scene by Templeman Bros. on 107 St. Photo taken in 1953 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
I’ll take the classic shovel over a leaf blower any day of the week. The hardworking man in the picture is also named Harry Snow. For real. Photo taken in 1948 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
View from 108 St. just south of Jasper Ave. Photo taken in 1948 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.