Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

At an online event on March 8, 2020, Seamus O’Regan, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada launched Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names: Women on the Canadian Landscape. This interactive, digital map was developed by the Geographical names Board of Canada to highlight approximately 500 places and geographical features in Canada that are named for women.

Screenshot of the “Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names” Interactive map. Source: Natural Resources Canada.

March 8 was International Women’s Day; a day acknowledged around the world to raise awareness of issues facing women, such as gender equity, and to celebrate the social, cultural and political achievements that have been made by women to their communities, regions and nations. The map was launched on that day as part of those annual celebrations.

Through history, the recognition of women has tended to be forgotten. For generations, women have been largely voiceless in history; overlooked by default and design. The essential domestic role of settler women has not been discussed to the same extent as the work of their husbands, fathers and brothers breaking the land, even though these women toiled and suffered just as men had. Even women who were admitted to the professional, scientific or professional world have often seen their accomplishments ignored or downplayed in favour of those of their male colleagues. The same trends are found in the world of cartography and place naming.

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Black History Month 2021

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.

Produced by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this short documentary tells the story of Viola Desmond’s famous act of resistance in a Nova Scotia Theatre.
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Portraiture from the Ernest Brown fonds

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.

Black History at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

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.

Unidentified woman with dog, ca. 1920 (Ernest Brown fonds, BP2-15552)

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.

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Newbrook Observatory: Photographing world history in Thorhild County

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.

Sputnik I. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

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.

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Introducing the Heritage Note Series

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.

To get started on a new winter project, just follow the links.

Remembrance Day: Commemorating the fallen through place names

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.   

In 2018, the Geographical Names Board of Canada launched Canada’s Commemorative Map, an interactive, digital map that highlights places and features in Canada that were named to honour and commemorate Canada’s war heroes and casualties. Source: Geographical Names Board of Canada.

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.

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A giant aircraft carrier made of ice? A giant aircraft carrier made of ice.

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.

Artist’s rendering of what would be Project Habbakuk. Source: cnn.com.
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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources

Editor’s note: Welcome to the final post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will discuss how the evaluation of a historic resource at the provincial and municipal level may result in complimentary or differing heritage values. You can read the previous post here.

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


Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer, Historic Resources Management Branch


Complementary and differing values

Alberta’s Historical Resources Act empowers both the Government of Alberta and municipalities to designate, or recognize and protect, a range of historic resources whose preservation is in the public interest. These resources can be places, structures or objects that may be works of nature or people (or both) that are of palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest. Albertans value these historic resources because our past, in its many forms, is part of who we are as a society and helps give our present significance and purpose.

As of July 2020, there are currently 390 Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and 413 Municipal Historic Resources (MHR) in Alberta, some 60 of which are designated both provincially and municipally. These resources merit designation for various reasons, from their association with significant events, activities, people or institutions; as representative examples of architectural styles or construction methods; for their symbolic and landmark value; or their potential to yield information of scientific value.

Heritage values are described in short Statements of Significance, which are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. In this post, we look at examples of heritage values that municipal and provincial governments recognize and how local and provincial values may align, differ or complement each other.

Plaques or markers are often used to identify designated historic resources. These plaques, affixed to Strathcona Public Library in Edmonton, show that it has been designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and a Municipal Historic Resource. PHRs are identified by a blue, enamel button or marker. MHRs can be identified by a variety of plaques and markers depending on the procedures of the municipality. Source: Historic Resources Management.
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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Statements of Integrity

Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will talk about the importance of developing Statements of Integrity, and how they help to both increase understanding and manage change to historic resources over time. You can read the previous post here.

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


Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Tom Ward, Manager, Heritage Conservation Advisory Services, Historic Resources Management Branch


Statements of Integrity

The process for evaluating if an historic place merits designation under the Historical Resources Act (HRA) starts with determining if and why it is significant. Then, determining whether it retains sufficient physical integrity to convey that significance. Earlier blog posts described how to develop a Statement of Significance (SOS). The next step works through whether enough of the physical features that relate to the heritage values exist, and are in acceptable condition to convey heritage values. Not all places merit designation as historic resources, especially if integrity is in question.

Below is an outline of what goes into determining integrity and how to summarize findings in a Statement of Integrity (SOI). It is important to remember that the development of an SOS and SOI are complementary processes. The information and facts discovered by each related investigation help to compliment, influence and improve each document to enable the best decision possible in terms of proceeding with a designation.

Understanding what is of value

A review of the heritage values expressed in the SOS provides the person analyzing the integrity of a place with a reminder of why it is potentially of historic significance and what details may be important. The heritage values and the period of significance are critical to keep in mind when observing and evaluating the historic place.

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