Written by: Matthew Wangler, Executive Director, Historic Resources Management Branch
Alberta has a rich and fascinating history, and occasionally events in our past resonate with happenings of global consequence. That was the case in 1957, when a dedicated scientist working in a meteorite observation station in Newbrook captured the first North American image of Sputnik 1 – an object which came to embody both the fears and aspirations of a generation, and which heralded the beginning of a new age in science and geopolitics.
The roots of the Newbrook Observatory can be traced to 1946, when the United States and Canada agreed to work co-operatively on space science projects, particularly meteorite observations. The northerly situation of Newbrook – with its clear view of the night sky and its relative lack of auroral interference – made it an ideal location for establishing an observation station to assist in this joint effort. Constructed in 1951, the Newbrook observatory opened in 1952 as a field station of the Stellar Physics Division of Canada’s Dominion Observatory in Ottawa.
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.
Written by: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey
Join the Historic Resources Management Branch as we celebrate GIS Day 2020. GIS, or geographic information science, is a scientific framework for gathering, analyzing and visualizing geographic data to help us make better decisions. At the Historic Resources Management Branch, we have been using GIS since the early 2000s to better understand our historic resources.
GIS at the Historic Resources Management Branch
Alberta is home to tens of thousands of historic resources, and our Branch needs to be able to analyze where those resources are, if there are concerns about the resources, and the best way to address those concerns. At the Branch, we maintain several geospatial databases for our program areas: archaeology, palaeontology, Aboriginal heritage and historic structures. Each database is modified throughout the year as new information is made available (e.g. when new sites are recorded).
We investigate archaeological sites individually in research, but we also need to understand how sites relate to each other and to broader cultural and natural landscapes. GIS helps archaeologists understand these broader questions. The images below show how we use GIS to understand the broader context of archaeological sites Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Calderwood Buffalo Jump, courtesy of Todd Kristensen. Archaeologists have investigated the sites through methods such as survey, excavation and artifact analysis. Through GIS, we can then begin to understand the context of the sites within their local topography and see the gathering area, drive lanes and kill areas. We can also see how the sites fit into the broader tradition of bison jumps, pounds, and kill sites on the Great Plains.
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: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS, Geographical Names Program Coordinator
November 11 is Remembrance Day. The day that Canadians are called to set aside in honour and recognition of its military service personnel that paid the ultimate price in their defence of our nation and its values. Canadians have fought in numerous wars and as the memories of some of those wars are fading as decades pass and the last surviving veterans of those wars pass away, it becomes even more important to remember those that fought and died and those that fought and lived to preserve the memories of their fallen comrades. Canada’s Commemorative Map is one of the ways to keep the memory of those sacrifices alive.
Commemoration of Canada’s war casualties have taken many forms. Following the end of the First World War, there was a national effort to erect plaques, cenotaphs and other memorials in cities, towns and villages across the country. These memorials of the First World War are often the sites of our Remembrance Day services and ceremonies to this day. Some communities built needed infrastructure and facilities, such as arenas, performing arts centres, libraries and community halls dedicated to memory of those that gave their lives in military services.
Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor
Recently, I visited the Maccoy Homestead in High River after seven long years of flood repairs and conservation. Nestled in Sheppard Family Park near the south edge of High River, this was the farm and home of well-known local resident Ruth Maccoy for over 70 years. Upon her passing in 1995 and at her bequest, the farm became Sheppard Family Park with the homestead as its nucleus.
The home is a charming 1883 whitewashed log building, the earliest structure on the site, with a frame addition and porch built by her parents in the 1920s and surrounded by a garden and picket fence lovingly tended by Ruth Maccoy over the years. Behind the house are a garden shed, a small guesthouse, and a root cellar set into an embankment, while the garage is located nearby. A path leads west through the trees to a footbridge over the Little Bow River, usually a shallow creek, to the historic water source in a natural spring.
One of High River’s first municipal designations, the Sheppard/Maccoy House was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource in 2009 by the Town of High River for its association with Ruth Maccoy and early settlement in the area. An exceptional example of an early farm, the site also exemplifies the contribution of women’s labour to homesteading and agriculture in rural Alberta and was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2015. The site is a good example of how complementary municipal and provincial heritage values tell a richer story and was the subject of a RETROactive post earlier this summer.
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.