Editor’s note: Special thanks to Aaron Domes (Alberta Parks), Jack Brink (retired Curator of Archaeology at the Royal Alberta Museum) and Martin Heavy Head (Elder and cultural leader of the Kainai) for their input and reviewof this article.
Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Terra Lekach, freelance archaeologist and artist
A muddy ribbon of water flows through southern Alberta on its way to the Missouri. Along the Milk River lies 3,000 years of beliefs etched and painted as rock art on sandstone walls. An 18 km stretch of the river meanders through 149 archaeological sites displaying several thousand individual rock art images. The art documents millennia of spiritual connections to a sacred landscape and centuries of cultural change during European settlement on the Great Plains.
Written by: Laura Golebiowski, Indigenous Heritage Section
Editor’s note: November 14-20 is Métis Week, the annual invitation to remember the leadership, advocacy, sacrifice and legacy of Louis Riel, and to celebrate the continued achievements of Métis peoples across their homelands.
RETROactive readers will already be familiar with Matt Hiltermann for his extensively researched accounts of the Métis presence in southern Alberta. Did you know he is also a skilled fingerweaver and sashmaker? With Matt’s help, writer Laura Golebiowski dives into the historical roots and evolving cultural significance of the Métis sash.Note: banner image above courtesy of Travel Alberta.
Métis public historian Matt Hiltermann is the first to note the origins of the Métis sash are convoluted and obscure. Though several cultures produced woven textiles, the sash’s beginnings are understood to lie with the traditional weaving practices of eastern woodland First Nations, combined—quite literally—with woolen goods introduced by early French visitors. The coming together of these two cultures and crafts produced a unique item truly of its time and place. “It couldn’t have happened any other way or anywhere else.”
With practical beginnings, the sash likely served numerous functions, including a rope, tumpline (a carrying strap worn across the head), pocket, tourniquet, emergency sewing kit or belt. The earliest designs were that of the double-chevron or arrowhead. The Assomption sash, or ceinture fléchée (“arrow belt”), proliferated with the fur trade and made its way to west. Varying colours and designs were used to signify rank, status and trading allegiances or employment.
Editor’s note: Interested in more haunted heritage? Read parts one through four, if you dare!
Written By: Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator
As Halloween approaches, it is time once again to turn our attention to tales of ghostly encounters and strange otherworldly places. This year features stories of alleged paranormal activity and legends of the unexplained, perfect for sharing around the fire on star-filled autumn nights.
The University of Alberta, Edmonton
With construction beginning between 1910-1911, the University of Alberta campus has accumulated a wealth of alleged ghost stories and tales of the paranormal over the decades. One ghostly legend concerns Corbett Hall located on the southern end of campus. It is said to be the home of a benign female entity who is often seen walking across the stage in the building’s auditorium. Pembina Hall is also famed for stories of supposed paranormal activity. Here rumors persist of a ghostly young nurse searching the building aimlessly for a loved one. Another well-known story describes the apparition of a boy with blue lips, dressed in a distinctive plaid shirt that wanders near Athabasca Hall’s exterior.
Ring House One is also believed to be haunted by a former female resident. According to witness accounts, the female entity was known for moving objects from one place to another, turning lights on and off and locking doors left unattended. Visitors have also described hearing the distinct sound of riffling papers when alone and feeling cold gusts of phantom winds when coming up the main stairway of the building. Convocation Hall, housed in the old Arts Building, is also said to be the home of a legendary antique pump organ believed to play spectral music. In this story, the phantom musician was rumored to have played haunting melodies night after night during WWII, when there was no one to be seen anywhere near the instrument.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Written by: By Dr. Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta
Archaeologists compare records before and after ancient volcanic eruptions to understand how the lives of people changed. Impacts of ecological disasters on humans can be detected along local and broad scales: how did Indigenous people cope at a specific site and how did human relationships change across vast regions? A massive eruption 1,200 years ago, called White River Ash East, changed the way that people in northern Canada hunted and gathered in areas affected by volcanic ash, which fell in beds up to 1 m thick. Beyond the ash footprint, human networks were forever altered, with ripple effects that spread through Alberta and North America.
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 isavailable 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: