Flight as entertainment: a brief history of barnstorming

Written by: Sara Bohuch, BA Archaeology (Simon Fraser University) , MSc Conservation Practice (Cardiff University)

In 1903, the New York Times predicted that it would take a million years for humanity to be able to fly. Two months after this opinion was published, the Wright Brothers successfully launched their homemade aircraft in North Carolina, beginning the rise of North America’s aviation age. The lesson to take from this is, of course, to never completely write off the human race’s capacity to discover, innovate and possess a deep desire to see their siblings launched off of things. 

Aviation, being a handy way of exploring wide open places, made its way north of the border into Canada swiftly after. The idea to use flying these machines to entertain the masses came about at almost at the same time.

The term ‘barnstorming’ refers to a style of stunt flying where pilots would perform tricks in an airplane to the amazement of a crowd below. The style gained huge popularity after the First World War when many newly trained pilots came back to North America. This was before large-scale commercial aviation, and jobs in the aviation industry were few and far between. Performing to crowds in whatever airplane they could scrounge up was one of the only ways aviators could make money, and the crowds loved it. Not many had even seen an airplane let alone someone do aerial tricks in one. 

This curiosity about aircraft became key for drumming up business for a practicing barnstormer. The pilots would fly their aircraft low over a small rural town and, when they had gotten the attention of the people, would land in a nearby farmer’s field. After negotiating with that farmer to use their property as a runway, the barnstormer proceeded to offer airplane rides to interested townsfolk or offer them flight shows filled with stunts like the good old loop-de-loop. Once the show was done, it was off to the next town.  

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This summer, enjoy some of Alberta’s historic parks, green spaces and recreational areas

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

In July 2021, Canada is marking Historic Places Day, or Days as the case may be. First declared in 2017, Historic Places Day is an initiative of The National Trust of Canada as an opportunity to highlight historic places across Canada, to tell their stories and encourage Canadians to learn about, experience and interact with them to foster a better appreciation of the important role these places have in the lives of Canadians and how they impact the quality of life in our communities.

Historic places take many forms, from old and grand public buildings and monuments to small and homey bungalows and farmhouses, to workers cottages, archaeological and paleontological sites, museums and cenotaphs. With summer now here and people looking for opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, we thought it opportune this year to feature some of Alberta’s parks and outdoor public spaces that have been designated as historic resources. So, grab your walking shoes or hiking boots, bring your camera and lots of water, and let’s explore some these historic parks across the province. 

Reader Rock Garden – Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource

Located adjacent to Calgary’s Union Cemetery, the Reader Rock Garden is an early twentieth-century naturalistic garden composed of rocks, primarily local sandstone; trees; water features; and paths.  The garden was designed by William Roland Reader, superintendent of parks and cemeteries for the City of Calgary from 1913 to 1942. Reader was heavily influenced by the City Beautiful movement, which advocated for the inclusion of well-designed green spaces in urban environments. Under Reader’s leadership, Calgary saw the establishment of many parks, playgrounds, golf courses and tennis courts around the city and the planting of trees along city streets. Reader created the Rock Garden as a semi-private park, it was located around the superintendent’s cottage, now a reconstructed elements in the park, and as a living, laboratory where he experimented with thousands of varieties of plants. Reader’s botanical experiments and meticulous observations influenced horticulture across North America through his writings and the distribution of seeds.  

The Reader Rock Garden was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in November 2006 and a Municipal Historic Resource in January 2017

The Reader Rock Garden early in the season, showing bedding plants and green spaces
Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The Reader Rock Garden in bloom, 2008. Source: City of Calgary
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Hidden in plain sight: The story of Edmonton’s Bowker Building

Written by: Dane Ryksen (History undergraduate, University of Alberta)

Editor’s note: Since 2017, Dane Ryksen has been documenting Edmonton’s built heritage on Instragram. Follow @_citizen_dane_ for even more of his research and photography. All photos below were taken by Ryksen unless otherwise noted.

Symbology of all kinds litters the facades of Edmonton’s Bowker Building. Up, down, left, right, there’s something to be found. The Chief and arms. The Wild Rose, symbolizing Alberta itself. The heads of bison, symbolizing power, strength and durability. The Queen’s Crown on each door handle, symbolizing the monarchy. Even its long-time name, ‘The Natural Resources Building,’ a symbol of Alberta’s bountiful wealth.

For being in the throes of the Great Depression, all its bangles, wingdings and baubles may have seemed like another instance of government waste. But for the United Farmers of Alberta it came with good reason. When they commissioned the building it was seen as righting a fifteen-year-old wrong.

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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Statements of Significance

Editor’s note: Welcome to the third 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 introduce Statements of Significance as the primary tool for summarizing the significance of designated historic places. 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: Peter Melnycky, Historian and Gary Chen, Heritage Conservation Adviser, Historic Resources Management Branch

A Statement of Significance (SOS) is a one or two page summary document written as a clear, concise and brief narrative of a historic resource. It is written for a broad audience that is not familiar with the resource.

The SOS is comprised of three sections:

  • Description of Historic Place – concisely describes the resource
  • Heritage Values – explains the reasons why the resource is valued
  • Character-Defining Elements – lists the physical elements of the resource that are central to the site`s significance, features which would be essential for preservation upon designation

An SOS is central to understanding a resource and any of its elements that might be protected and why.

If a historic resource is designated, the SOS will be an important planning and property management tool, and essential for developing a conservation plan for ongoing management of the resource.

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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.

Municipal Historic Resources spotlight: Westmount, Edmonton

Editor’s note: The image above is of the famous Roxy Theatre on 124 St. Opened in 1938, the theatre was destroyed by a fire in 2015. The theatre is currently being rebuilt. The image is courtesy of the Edmonton Historical Board.

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

Continuing along in our series spotlighting Municipal Historic Resources (MHRs) around the province, we move along to the historic Westmount neighbourhood in west-central Edmonton.

Thought to have been named after a suburb in Montréal, Westmount is known for many Craftsman-inspired single family detached houses along tree-lined boulevards between 123 St. to 127 St. and 107 Ave. to 111 Ave. You get the feeling of being transported back in time when you’re walking or riding your bike down one of these streets. And since the City of Edmonton officially recognized the historic significance of this, the Westmount Architectural Heritage Area (WAHA), the heritage value of this important Edmonton neighbourhood will hopefully be supported for decades to come.

Let’s take a look at a few properties in the area that make this neighbourhood unique.

Marshall Hopkins Residence

The Marshall Hopkins Residence is valued for its association with the early development of the Westmount neigbourhood during Edmonton’s population boom in the pre-war period
The Marshall Hopkins Residence is valued for its association with the early development of the Westmount neigbourhood during Edmonton’s population boom in the pre-war period.

Built in 1912, the Marshall Hopkins Residence on 126 Street is significant as an early example of wood-framed, Foursquare construction. This architectural design was popular at the time for its simple design and efficient floor plans.

The two-storey residence is significant for its association with Marshall W. Hopkins, Chief Land Surveyor for the Alberta Land Titles Office, who was the first occupant of the residence from c. 1913 to 1914. In addition, the Marshall Hopkins Residence is also significant for its association with the Canadian National Railway as it was home to a number of occupants who were employed by the company after the Canadian National Railway arrived in Edmonton in 1905.

The residence was officially designated an MHR in May 2019.

Ellen Elliot Residence

The Elliot Residence is significant as an early example of a front gabled dwelling with Craftsmen design elements influences, and for its associations with an early owner and builder.

The Ellen Elliot Residence on 125 Street is unique in a number of ways, least of all due to the fact that the first resident and owner of the building was a woman. Mrs. Ellen Elliot, widow of Thomas Elliot (who may have been a builder), purchased the property which would have been rare and unusual at that time. She lived in the residence until 1932.

Design elements of the two-storey building include the original wood frame construction, with horizontal wood siding on the lower level and wood shingle siding in gable peaks, and a front gabled-roof addition and porch. Fire insurance maps of the area show the original structure with a veranda in 1913. However, city records indicate that the house was built in 1920. The 1920 date may have come from when the front porch was captured and brought into the house as an extension of the living room and the mudroom.

This property was designated an MHR in June 2019.

Walton L. Smith Residence

The Smith residence is one of many similar Craftsman Influenced houses built in the neighbourhood in the first quarter of the 20th century, and demonstrates the popularity of this style in the early days of west Edmonton and other prestigious neighbourhoods.

The 1914 two-storey Walton L. Smith Residence is a wood frame construction with strong Craftsman design influences. It has horizontal wood siding on the lower level, and wood shingles on the upper levels and façade. The roof is a slightly bellcast, medium pitch gable, with exposed rafters and decorative brackets on the front-facing gable. An offset closed porch with a slightly bellcast gable roof is on the right hand side of the façade.

As interesting as the design of this property is the story of its original building applicant, who ironically, never actually lived in the house at all.

This residence was constructed following application for a building permit at the site on May 14, 1914. Robert W. Hedley, the applicant, was prominent in Edmonton affairs. Born and educated in Ontario at the University of Toronto and Hamilton Normal College, he then taught until moving to Edmonton in 1912. Hedley was Art Supervisor for the Edmonton Public School Board from 1914 until 1929. He designed the art course for Alberta high schools in 1922. Hedley taught art at University of Alberta summer sessions, and was appointed to the Normal School staff in 1929, serving as a lecturer in art and math. Hedley retired in 1937, but remained active in the local art scene, becoming director of the Edmonton Museum of Arts from 1943 to 1951. Hedley organized the western Canadian art circuit, adult and children’s classes and a women’s society to support the Edmonton Museum of Arts. He received an Honourary LLD from the

University of Alberta in 1953, a citation from the College Art Association of America in 1955, and became the first Albertan to receive a Fellowship from the Royal Society of Arts. He was an arts critic for the Edmonton Journal for many years. Hedley died on November 16, 1965, having never lived in the house he originally applied to build in 1914.

This residence was designated an MHR in June 2019.

Griffin Residence

The house is located within the Westmount Architectural Heritage Area. Throughout history the neighbourhood of Westmount has retained a strong sense of architectural character, and is noted for its large collection of single detached homes, that were built between 1911 and 1925.
The house is located within the Westmount Architectural Heritage Area. Throughout history the neighbourhood of Westmount has retained a strong sense of architectural character, and is noted for its large collection of single detached homes, that were built between 1911 and 1925.

Built in 1922, Griffin Residence on 125 Street is significant for its Arts and Crafts influences, in particular, Craftsman style elements. This design style first appeared in the last years of the 19th century and remained popular until the 1930s.

The residence features a medium pitched gable roof, with projecting eaves, exposing original wood rafters, soffits, fascia, and brackets. It is clad with wood clapboard siding on the upper portion, and wood shingles on the lower portion of the residence, and in all the peaks of the gables. The enclosed front veranda has a hipped roof with an offset medium pitched gable over the entrance. Both the east and west elevations feature pitched gables, with bay windows. The residence is located on a residential street in the Westmount neighbourhood, one of Edmonton’s most mature neighbourhoods, where the majority of lots still maintain their original structures.

Griffin Residence was designated an MHR in August 2018.

Street Railway Substation No. 600

Street Railway Substation No. 600 is significant as a rare and well preserved example of the Art Deco Style of architecture in Edmonton.
Street Railway Substation No. 600 is significant as a rare and well preserved example of the Art Deco Style of architecture in Edmonton.

Constructed in 1938, Street Railway Substation No.600 is a one storey brick and concrete building designed in the Art Deco Style, located on a commercial portion of 124 Street in the neighbourhood of Westmount.

This substation is significant for its association with the development of the Westmount neighbourhood. Westmount is one of the oldest residential subdivisions in Edmonton. After 1911, residents of the neighbourhood could commute downtown on the electric streetcar that ran south from 110 Avenue along 124 Street before turning east along Jasper Avenue. As the neighbourhood grew and demand placed on the west end section of the street railway increased, it was necessary to build Street Railway Substation No. 600 to house equipment which reduced the loss of electricity from the lines, allowing the street railway to operate more efficiently.

The substation was designated an MHR in May 2017.

These recently designated Municipal Historic Resources join seven other Westmount neighbourhood resources previously designated by the City of Edmonton:

By designating these properties as Municipal Historic Resources, the City of Edmonton is ensuring the preservation of the heritage character of the Westmount neighbourhood.


Edmonton Historical Board

Historic Places and Designation, Heritage Division, Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women

Heritage Resources Management Information Systems








The advertisers guide to surviving the flu

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Program Coordinator, Historic Sites and Museums

If a highly contagious epidemic was spreading through your city, what would you do?

Well, if you were a merchant in Edmonton in 1918, you’d be making sure people are still buying things.

A virulent strain of influenza spread around the world in the fall of 1918, striking once again in fall 1919 and still another time in 1920. Alberta saw more than 31,000 cases of the flu over the fall of 1918 with 4,308 deaths before the flu subsided in May 1919. The illness was often referred to as the “Spanish Flu” because it was mistakenly believed to have originated in Spain.

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Inside the Archives’ vault: It Happened at Vic

Written by: Sara King, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta

Its film time again courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta! Archival records, whether paper, photographic, film or audio, can very often provide more information about their subject than was originally intended.

Take It Happened at Vic. This silent drama production about a love triangle, created by Victoria Composite High School students in Edmonton in 1941, reveals how the school and neighbourhood looked at the time, hair and fashions typical of high school students, technology they were using such as cameras and cars, and the types of social activities that students might have been getting up to at the time (Or at the least the ones they would put on film). If the name Joe Shoctor jumps out at you from the opening credits, he went on to found the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton.


Club 70, a first in Alberta’s LGBT history

Written by: Darrin Hagen, legendary playwright, actor, sound designer, composer, performer, director and TV host based in Edmonton

In the tumultuous year of 1969, Canadian queers suddenly found themselves in a new legal landscape. The bill that decriminalized homosexuality passed the parliamentary vote in May – in August, that bill was voted into law. No one was quite sure what it would mean as far as day-to-day life for gays and lesbians, but some forward-thinking folks in Edmonton decided that with this new legal reality, it was time to create Edmonton’s first official queer gathering place.

They chose the name Club 70, even though it was autumn of 1969. Not only was 1969 almost over, but a few of them felt that naming it Club 69 was just a bit too cheeky. And so they heralded the approaching decade by naming the bar with an eye to a new future.

The location was on 101 street and 106 avenue, in the basement of a building that still stands today. Back then, a Greek restaurant occupied the main floor. Even though the Milla Pub is still open, the building is grubby and the yellowing plaster shows neglect. But if you look at the north end of the building, there is a brightly painted door that leads to the basement. It was behind that door that a queer person would nervously descend down the stairs into the very beginnings of Edmonton’s very first official gay club.

You may know it now as the seedy Milla Pub. But behind these doors in 1969, a queer person would nervously descend down the stairs into the very beginnings of Edmonton’s very first official gay club, Club 70.

There had always been places where the Friends of Dorothy could discretely congregate – generally in one corner of the taverns that occupied the main floor of the large, grand hotels that dominated downtown: The Mayfair, The Corona, The Royal George, and the King Edward (or King Eddie). But these gay hangouts were never official – they just sprung up out of necessity in cities across Canada. It was in these early unofficial gathering places that ‘the community’ began to recognize each other in the smoky half-light, and began to connect and communicate. Even as recently as the early 80s, a gay man could stroll into one of these smoky taverns, and once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could find a group of men like him, taking over one corner or certain tables in the room.

None of these hotels stand today – they’ve been replaced by downtown malls, or newer high-rises. Only the Corona LRT station keeps one of those names alive. But somehow the early gay club scene’s first legal footprint has escaped the wrecking ball of progress.

Through those nondescript doors, one descended down a flight of stairs into a space no bigger than a large living room. Everyone had to sign in, although pseudonyms were the norm – people were still very afraid to be ‘outed’ and the last thing one would want was to be identified by logging into a register of a gay bar. There was hired security – a straight man who kept a scowling presence at the bottom of the stairs.

Small stage for burgeoning drag scene

The club had no liquor license, and so bringing your own bottle was essential, as the concession only sold pop and chips. There was a small dance floor, and even a tiny stage populated by the pioneers of Edmonton’s burgeoning drag scene: Grindl performed on that stage, as did Trixie, and Millie – names that, within a few years,  would become legend on the stages of the underground. Few Queens were as legendary as Millie, who in 1976 would become Edmonton’s first crowned head of state, the unofficial Godmother to all Queens who followed: Empress I of Edmonton, establishing the Imperial House of Millicent, the first in a long chapter of royal houses that still rules Edmonton through the auspices of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose; she was simultaneously crowned Mz. Flashback I. Millie has the distinction of being the only drag queen in Edmonton’s history who wore both crowns at the same time.

The tiny club could only hold about 50 people, and was only open on Friday and Saturday nights. The ambiance was more like a house party than a nightclub. But it was the first queer space. That meant safety. It meant being able to freely recognize and acknowledge people like yourself, to dance with whoever you wanted to dance with, or to freely cheer on a drag show.

That freedom was fiercely protected, however. Club 70 had a strict gay-only membership policy, for the safety and discretion of its members. Violating this policy by bringing a straight person to the bar would get you a 30-day suspension.

Club 70 bears the distinction of being the first official, registered-on-paper-with-city-hall, gay society in Alberta

However, it got off to a very rocky start. The location was short-lived, even though Club 70 was not. After a month of weekends of business, the owner of the building finally realized what sort of business had taken root in his basement, and when staff and members arrived for the weekend party, they found he had nailed the doors shut, seized the liquor, and whatever there was in the way of a sound system. The fledgling gay club was suddenly in a legal battle with a landlord. However, they won that battle, as their lease had been broken illegally, and were able to not only get their stuff back, but the owner of the building was forced to pay for their relocation costs.

Club 70 closed for a month, eventually finding a new home on 106 street; that building remained queer for the next 42 years. When Club 70 had run its course, it transformed into The Cha Cha Palace for a short period in 1978, then Boots & Saddles for decades, and lastly The Junction Bar & Grill. Once the 106 street location opened, that spot in Edmonton was a safe queer space from 1970-2012.

In 1969, the first step towards building a new sense of community was building a home; a meeting place or a town square, where LGBTQI people could gather, and for the first time, discover who they were in this brave but unknown new world.

We Are the Roots: Black settlers and their experiences of discrimination on the Canadian prairies


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.