Haunted Heritage Part Five: Spooktacular Places

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. 

University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta. View of the Arts Building 1926. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1811.
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COVID resilience: Experiencing Alberta’s smaller provincial historic sites in new ways

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.

Rutherford House

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.

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Okotoks adds three historic resources to Alberta Register

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.

Okotoks Post Office, December 2019 showing the pressed metal siding and boomtown façade. Source: Town of Okotoks.
Okotoks Post Office, 1921. Source: Okotoks Museum and Archives.
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Heart of a Historic Prairie Oasis: Restoring the Duke of Sutherland Bungalow

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.

Duke of Sutherland Residence or Bungalow, south facade, September 2021. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

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.

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The Last Baron

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.”

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UFOs over Alberta

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.

Did volcanic eruptions in Canada’s deep past affect Indigenous people?

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.

A volcano in Alaska sent ash east across southern Yukon, southwest NWT, and into northwest Alberta. Geologists study beds of ash (tephra) to reconstruct the size of eruptions. The shaded colours are rough estimates of how thick the volcanic ash is. Source: Todd Kristensen.
Ash depth relative to people (top). When the ash originally fell, it was loose and deep but would’ve compressed over time (top right inset). Based on other eruptions, the White River Ash East tephra may have shrunk up to 50% in the following decades after it fell. At bottom is an estimate of ash thickness in current sediments with the original ash thickness in brackets. Source: Todd Kristensen.
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Opponents and Neighbours: Decades in the making

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 is available 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:

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Métis Crossing and the historic Victoria Trail

Editor’s note: Alberta announced that museums and historic sites can reopen as part of Stage 2 of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan. However, for some seasonal and smaller sites, given how short the season would be as well as the close quarters at some of these sites, the decision was made for Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site to stay closed for 2021. Go to Victoria Settlement social media for online content, along with details about reopening in 2022. All photos below taken by Bri Vos unless otherwise indicated. Banner image courtesy of the Victoria Home Guard Historical Association.

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Program Coordinator for Victoria Settlement and Fort George and Buckingham House and Krista Leddy, Métis Crossing Experience Development Coordinator

Métis Crossing is a gathering place for all people to learn about Métis culture and people. Sitting along the historic Victoria Trail and the North Saskatchewan River, the stories of the Métis families who thrived here are shared through original river lot homes and buildings, recreations of seasonal harvesting camps, and Métis interpreters inviting visitors to experience elements of culture through arts, skills, cuisine, and stories.

Victoria settlement 1862-1922. Source: Leslie Hurt, Occasional Paper Series No. 7.

Victoria National Historic District is 15 minutes south of Smoky Lake (or 1.5 hours northeast of Edmonton) along the North Saskatchewan River. The river lot communities that once stretched along the banks of rivers were common in Alberta. The long narrow land divisions gave the community a different feel than today’s towns and villages, with their overlapping criss cross of streets.

In 2017, Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site (river lot 6) and Métis Crossing (river lots 10-14), piloted Paddle Into the Past, an immersive 3 hour fur-trade program which invites visitors to explore the history and culture of the river lot community and the river which connects them. What better way to experience one of Alberta’s most prominent river lot communities than through a collaboration between two river lot neighbours?

Métis Crossing is a cultural gathering centre run by the Métis Nation of Alberta. Here visitors are invited to experience elements of Métis culture, including finger weaving techniques and stories about buffalo hunts. The many Métis residents of Victoria Settlement river lot community often went south for the buffalo hunt. Buffalo hunts were communal affairs, but also very dangerous.

When was the last time you travelled to the neighbours’ place by paddling down the river? Once you’ve explored Métis Crossing, you’ll get to travel to Victoria Settlement… by canoe!

Once you step off the canoe at Victoria Settlement, you’ll find yourself back in 1896: one of the last years of the fur trade at Fort Victoria. You can explore the fort through ground markings which outline where each building was, and see what the home of the man in charge of the post (“The Clerk’s Quarters”) was like.

It wasn’t all fun and games at Fort Victoria on river lot 6. There were heavy bales of fur trade goods to be hauled to the Fort. You’ll be able to lend a hand (or a forehead) and discover what was in all of those mysterious packages.

At one time, all those dishes and ingredients for medicinal (but very tasty) historical licorice were neatly packed into bales of trade goods which made their way from the east to Fort Victoria. Before you can appreciate the yummy treats, you need to learn to haul the bales of fur trade goods using a tumpline around your forehead.

At the end of your time at Victoria Settlement, you will travel the historic Victoria Trail to return to Métis Crossing. Historic experiences in an historically significant place; what better way to get to know Alberta?

How Do Alberta’s Archivists Work During a Pandemic?

Editor’s note: On June 10, 2021, the Provincial Archives of Alberta reopened to the public. Once again, the larger team will be safely assisting researchers with reference queries and research visits. If you have found yourself with a question about Alberta’s heritage or your own family history, please visit the Reading Room or contact us. PAA archivists are ready to assist.

Written by: Natalia Pietrzykowski, Reference Archivist

Social distancing, PPE, flattening the curve. These phrases became commonplace as the world adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared in March 2020. Another word that will resonate with most professions during this last year is “pivot.” In many cases, public safety needs resulted in “pivoting” business operations to contactless or even remote services. Due to COVID-19, most staff at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) spent part of 2020-21 working from home. This presented us with a challenge: how do we take archival work home? The search for a solution was also an opportunity to develop new ways of providing access to information and focusing on making improvements to future service. In the last year, PAA staff continued to work on projects that support the mission of preserving and making available records of enduring value. Here, we will share a few highlights of heritage work during a pandemic year, pivots and all.

Virtual Reference

On March 17, 2020, the PAA closed to the public as Albertans were prohibited from attending public recreational facilities. The PAA Reading Room remained closed for 14 weeks, during which time reference archivists answered more than 500 public queries by email.  The public response to “virtual” service was overwhelmingly positive.

On June 23, the PAA Reading reopened to in-person researchers, by appointment and with a reduced capacity. This new model of reference service required a much higher degree of up-front coordination than our previous walk-in availability. Only staff were allowed to handle the finding aids (primarily printed binders and card catalogues) that are available in the reading room. Relevant records had to be identified and pulled prior to appointments, after which they entered a 72-hour quarantine period. Additionally, archivists continued to provide virtual reference services for those unable to visit, sharing electronic finding aids and research copies of records to help answer questions.

The average time spent addressing public and government queries was adjusted from approximately 15 minutes per request to 1.5 hours per request, whether for an appointment or to answer a complex research question. We needed many hands on deck to provide additional research services; 10 archivists, two managers and two Young Canada Works interns all contributed to rotating reference coverage. This work was also supported by a retrieval aide, archival technicians and PAA administrative staff. Three-hundred and seventy-two researchers visited the PAA between the June and December 2020.  On top of that, the team answered almost 1,350 reference emails and phone calls. In late 2020, the reading room was required to close again.

In total, from April 2020 to March 2021, PAA archivists responded to 3,936 public reference inquiries. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta
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