Alberta Remembers

The Beverly Cenotaph, a simple stone obelisk, was unveiled on October 17, 1920. (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-14)

On November 11, 1918, after more than four years of fighting the “war to end war”, an armistice was called in France and all hostilities came to an end on the Western Front of the First World War. While the battles may have ceased, the effects of the conflict continued to reverberate around the world and across the years, even to the present day, a century later.

Albertans were among those who fought alongside fellow British citizens, as well as French and American soldiers – among others – to defeat Germany and its allies. Estimates place the number of Albertan soldiers at 48,885 – or over one third of the province’s male population aged 18 to 45. Of these, about one in eight did not return from the war, and almost half of those who did return had been wounded.1 The effect of the distant, unseen war was felt throughout the province on a personal level.

One way Albertans dealt with the trauma and loss was to come together and commemorate those who had sacrificed their lives. A model for these activities was provided by “Peace Day”, celebrated on July 19, 1919, in London, England, in honour of the signing of the Treaty of Read more

Blackfoot Soldiers in WWI

Tomorrow is Aboriginal Veterans Day. It is estimated that more than 12,000 First Nations members, Inuit, and Métis served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War.

At first glance, the voluntary participation of several young Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) men in the First World War appears to confirm their assimilation into Euro-Canadian culture. Recent graduates of prototype residential schools, they shunned requests by their elders to remain in Treaty 7 territory and were inspected, inducted, drilled, and disciplined. Many were sent overseas to fight for God, King, and Country. Some were killed in action. We might interpret a 1917 letter home from Siksika (Blackfoot) soldier Mike Foxhead as an indication of his acceptance of colonial values. He wrote:

I’ll stick to it until the end to put up a name for the Reserve, so they can say that they have one of their boys over here. I could have got out of it when the other boys got their discharge only I wanted to do my bit like all other Canadians. I knew that somebody had to go and fight for the Empire, and I made up my mind that I would go because it would be my duty sooner or later.[1]

Yet as historian James Dempsey has shown, there were important elements of Blackfoot warrior culture that accompanied Blackfoot mobilization during the Great War.[2] As the nineteenth-century waned, so too did opportunity for young men to prove themselves in battle, raid their enemy’s camps for horses, and recount Read more

The Arrival of the Hutterites in Alberta

Thank you to guest writers Simon Evans and Peter Peller for this interesting and informative post about Hutterite arrival in Alberta. This blog was drawn from an article originally published in Alberta History Magazine titled “The Hutterites Come to Alberta” (Alberta History, Vol. 63, No. 4, (Autumn 2015), 11-19).

One hundred years ago, during the early spring of 1918, Paul Stahl and a small group of Hutterite leaders were scouring the country north of Calgary looking for land. After several disappointments, they found a splendid parcel of land along the tiny Rosebud River and purchased nearly 4000 acres from the Calgary Colonization Company. Some men stayed to build barns and residences for the rest of the community. Later, the main group left South Dakota on a special train to join them. There were almost 100 people of all ages, scores of horses, wagons, milk cows, 40 sows, and all kinds of farm machinery and household items onboard. They crossed into the Dominion of Canada at the Emerson Port of Entry and proceeded on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Strathmore. Here, they unpacked their belongings, hitched up the horses and moved by wagon to the new colony site along the Rosebud River, a trek of about 25 miles. After a week of traveling, the refugees finally reached their new home.

The Hutterites are a German speaking religious group with 400 years of history. They are Anabaptists and originated in the Austrian Tyrol during the Reformation in the 16th century. The characteristic that separates them from similar groups like the Amish and the Mennonites is that they live communally. Each family has its own apartment, but meals are prepared in a central kitchen and eaten together. They hold “all things common,” as did the early Christian church described in the Acts of the Apostles. Hutterites own few personal possessions and are not paid wages for their hard work. In exchange, the colony looks after them from birth to death. Read more

Papa’s Babies: The Brook Family and the First World War

Thank you to our guest author Ashley Henrickson for this interesting post. Ashley is a M.A. student at the University of Lethbridge and the Museum Educator at the Galt Museum and Archives. Her research examines the experiences of young people living in the Canadian Prairies whose fathers or brothers served overseas during the First World War. Ashley received the Roger Soderstrom Scholarship in 2017. The funds from this scholarship allowed her to visit archives across Alberta and present her research at “Children, Youth, and War,” a symposium hosted by the University of Georgia.

A never-ending cycle of children, chores, and neighbors cut through Isabelle Brook’s home, constantly interrupting the letters she wrote at her kitchen table. Isabelle apologized for her “jumbled up” proses as she paused to prepare dinner, answer the door, or tend to her busy children: “Alice is here wiggling around like a little eel, so I must quit”; “Gordon is wakening up I must go”; “Glen’s upset the ink over the table cloth now.” The constant movement suggests that life for Isabelle and her five children may have been lonely without their father, but it was not dull.

The hundreds of “jumbled up” letters that Isabelle wrote from her kitchen table in Craigmyle, Alberta, are a valuable and vibrant record of Alberta’s past. She sent these letters to her forty-five-year-old husband, Sidney Brook, who served on the Western Front with the Canadian Expeditionary Force from 1916-1918. In response Sidney sent hundreds of letters to his family, which were preserved alongside Isabelle’s by their descendants and then donated to the Glenbow Archives. The Brook’s collection is especially valuable because very few letters sent from families living in Alberta to soldiers serving overseas have survived to the modern day. This is because soldiers, like Sidney, were constantly moving across the Western Front and had to carry all their personal belongings with them. This forced them to destroy all but a few precious letters that they could fit in their pocket.

Letter from Sidney Brook to his wife Isabelle, January 7, 1917 (from the Brook family fonds, Glenbow Museum and Archives, http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/brook.cfm).

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Passchendaele Remembered

During November 2017, Canada commemorates the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It was the third and last major battle victory during 1917, after Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, for the combined Canadian Divisions fighting together as a Corps.

The Battle saw German and Allied armies clash in the area of the Belgian city of Ypres. Fought from 31 July through 10 November, 1917, the battle is estimated to have resulted in over half a million casualties. Canada alone suffered over 4,000 dead and almost 12,000 wounded. The carnage in the infamous mud of the battlefield became synonymous with the senseless and massive losses suffered by troops during the Great War. Singular feats of sacrifice and valour during the course of the battle saw nine Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honor conferred within the British Empire. Read more

Wilfrid ‘Wop’ May – Canadian Flying Ace and Alberta Aviation Pioneer

This year, 2017, marks Canada’s sesquicentennial – 150 years since Canada became a country; there will be many celebrations across the country on July 1st and throughout the year to mark this milestone! Many people have shaped Canada into the country that we know today, and one of those people is Wilfrid “Wop” May. Enjoy and Happy Canada Day!

Captain W.R. May – Edmonton, 1919 (Courtesy Denny May).

To Wop[1] May who had grown up on the Canadian prairie, the English winter of 1917 must have seemed dreary. With the arrival of spring, he was on his way to the Western Front, and perhaps it had been before leaving England, or at a train station in France, he chanced upon a sign advertising that the Royal Flying Corps were looking for pilots. The fact that more young men were killed in air training accidents than died in combat seemed not to be a deterrent – the lure of adventure in the skies won out – he applied, was accepted and began the process of learning how to fly a plane. Read more

The Battle of Jutland, First World War Commemoration and Alberta Place Names

No single event has had such a dramatic impact on place names in Alberta than the First World War Battle of Jutland. Deep in the heart of Kananaskis Country can be found a series of mountains bearing the names of the ships and naval commanders of this naval battle. At least twenty-six mountains bear names commemorating the Battle of Jutland – sixteen of them are named for Royal Navy vessels that took part in the battle and ten are named for the Admirals, ship captains and seamen that lead and fought at Jutland. Additionally, many features associated with the mountains (glaciers, lakes and creeks) have subsequently been given Jutland names. The great number of Jutland-related geographical names in Alberta is curious. While there is no questioning the significance of the Battle of Jutland – it was the only major sea battle of the First World War, one of the few times in which dreadnought battleships fought directly against each other and its results affected strategy and tactics on both sides and altered the course of the war – it was also a battle in which there was no significant Canadian presence; no Canadian ships were involved and only one Canadian casualty has ever been confirmed. So, how did so many of these mountains along the Alberta-British Columbia boundary end up being named to commemorate this battle?

Mount Engadine (left), The Tower (middle) and Mount Galatea (right), taken in 1916 by the Interprovincial Boundary Survey. Mount Engadine and Mount Galatea are named for Royal Navy vessels that fought at the Battle of Jutland, the seaplane carrier HMS Engadine and the light cruiser HMS Galatea.
Mount Engadine (left), The Tower (middle) and Mount Galatea (right), taken in 1916 by the Interprovincial Boundary Survey. Mount Engadine and Mount Galatea are named for Royal Navy vessels that fought at the Battle of Jutland, the seaplane carrier HMS Engadine and the light cruiser HMS Galatea. Image Source: Mountain Legacy Project, IMG_3320. The Mountain Legacy Project is based at the School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC. For more information, go to mountainlegacy.ca, or email mntnlgcy@uvic.ca.

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The Victoria Cross Ranges (Part 2)

In a previous post, we looked at the naming of five mountains in Jasper National Park after First World War Victoria Cross recipients. It took a number of years and some persistence from the Geographic Board of Alberta to achieve this natural war monument for the service of five soldiers to the British Commonwealth in the First World War. In addition to naming the mountains, the negotiations between provincial and federal naming authorities resulted in the naming of the Victoria Cross Ranges in Jasper National Park to serve as a long-standing tribute to all recipients of the Victoria Cross. This naming decision created a naming policy that is still honoured today.

Looking west to the Victoria Cross Ranges (Image courtesy of Mountain Nerd on Summit Search)
Looking west to the Victoria Cross Ranges
(Image courtesy of Mountain Nerd on Summit Search)

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Alberta & the Great War

To recognize the centennial of the First World War, the Provincial Archives of Alberta launched the Alberta & the Great War exhibit in August of last year. Using letters, photographs and formal war documents, this exhibit captures the experiences that Albertans endured during the Great War. There are five topics within the exhibit: the Western Front, Women and the War, Opposition and Oppression, the Home Front and the Aftermath, to show that there were several struggles going on at once during and after wartime. The effects of these events produced repercussions that remain evident in Alberta to this day.

The exhibit was assembled largely from the material found at the Archives, with a few artifacts on loan from the Royal Alberta Museum. Braden Cannon, a Private Records Archivist with the Provincial Archives of Alberta, will give an introduction to the exhibit that he curated.

https://vimeo.com/123247145

The Great War had a tremendous effect on individuals and the province of Alberta as a whole. This display gives the public the opportunity to see into the lives of the Albertans who were at the forefront of the war and shows the impact of the conflict that reached the people back home. The archival materials used in the exhibit are a valuable record of this period in history. Exhibits, such as these, ensure that the individuals who served in the First World War and the substantial events of the past are not forgotten. Alberta & the Great War will run until August 29, 2015.

Video and summary by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer. A special thank you to Braden Cannon at the Provincial Archives for appearing on video!

Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

“Erin go Bragh” in Alberta

“What is the matter with the Calgary Irishmen?” asked a frustrated correspondent to the Calgary Herald in March 1916. The writer, who identified themself as ‘F. Fitzsimmons,’ was complaining about the city’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day, with no public events planned to celebrate the day. Fitzsimmons conceded that people were likely distracted by the war effort, but lamented that Calgary’s leading Irish citizens had gotten “cold feet” and failed to plan any celebrations. “If all Irishmen were like the Calgary bunch” closed the writer, then “‘God Save Ireland.’”

The language used by Fitzsimmons in this letter is highly suggestive. By stating that Calgary’s Irish leaders had gotten ‘cold feet,’ he/she was implying that they lacked the courage to publicly celebrate their ethnic heritage. Further, ‘God Save Ireland’ was an explicitly nationalist slogan, associated with the last words of three Irish revolutionaries executed by the British in 1867. In short, Fitzsimmons was calling for an open celebration of Irish identity that did not shy away from nationalist politics. What Fitzsimmons saw as a simple issue, however, was much more complex for the majority of Irish people in Calgary and across Alberta. The often turbulent politics of the Irish homeland, and the campaign for Irish autonomy from Britain, raised difficult questions about what it meant to be Irish in Canada in the early twentieth century. Did public expressions of Irish identity automatically imply support for Irish nationalist politics, or could the two issues be separated? Could a person support Irish nationalism and still affirm loyalty to Canada and, by extension, the British Empire? What was the best way to frame St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in such a way as to affirm devotion to both the Irish homeland and Canada? The stakes of these questions were heightened after 1914, as supporters of Irish nationalism were accused of threatening British imperial unity during a time of war, and again after Easter 1916, when Irish nationalists launched an uprising against British rule in Ireland.

Group portrait of the Edmonton Irish Association (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A16110).
Group portrait of the Edmonton Irish Association (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A16110).

The uneasy relationship between Irish politics, identity and citizenship are reflected in the history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in early twentieth century Alberta. The general picture that emerges is of an Irish population that celebrated its ethnic heritage in ways that emphasized loyalty to Ireland, Canada and the British Empire. At particular times, such as the Great War (1914-18), this balancing act proved to be too difficult, and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations largely disappeared from public view. With the emergence of Ireland as an independent state in the early 1920s, Alberta’s Irish once again organized into associations dedicated to celebrating Irish heritage and St .Patrick’s Day soon emerged as an important event in the province.

The population boom of the early 1900s set the stage for significant St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in both Edmonton and Calgary. The 1916 census enumerated 58,068 Irish people in Alberta, of whom approximately 63% were Canadian-born descendants of Irish immigrants; 25% were American-born descendants of Irish immigrants; and 12% were direct immigrants from Ireland (most of whom had arrived in Canada between 1905 and 1914). The diverse origins of the province’s Irish population were reflected in the decorations chosen for the 1908 St. Patrick’s Day banquet at St. Mary’s Hall in Calgary – the platform was decorated with Union Jacks and American flags, over which hung a silk banner with the phrase “Erin go Bragh” (‘Ireland forever’). Toasts were delivered to ‘The King,’ ‘Canada,’ ‘Alberta,’ ‘The United States’ and ‘Ireland’s Future,’ and the event closed with a rousing rendition of “God Save the King,” leaving little doubt that the guests’ vision of ‘Ireland’s Future’ involved its continued association with the British Empire.

Similar scenes played out in Edmonton, where St. Patrick’s Day events were organized by the highly successful Edmonton Irish Association (EIA). Founded in 1909, the EIA grew to approximately three hundred members by 1911. While primarily a cultural and literary organization, the EIA also sponsored a number of sports teams, including the Irish Canadian Amateur Athletic Association, the Hibernian Football Club and the Irish Canadian Baseball Club. A 1911 profile in the Edmonton Capital stressed that the EIA was “non-political and non-sectarian in character,” and had “from the outset avoided the controversial.” This emphasis echoed the celebrations in Calgary, and indeed reflected a broader pattern across the Prairie West, where explicitly non-political and non-sectarian Irish associations emerged in the early 1900s.

With the worsening Home Rule crisis in Ireland in 1913-1914, it became increasingly difficult for Alberta’s Irish to continue to celebrate their ethnic heritage in an explicitly non-political way. In April 1914, for example, the Edmonton Capital advertised a meeting for those interested in forming an “Imperial British-Irish Association,” suggesting that some of the city’s Irish were no longer satisfied with the Edmonton Irish Association. The outbreak of World War One added another layer of complexity, as the British government put Ireland’s political future on hold for the duration of the war. By the end of 1914, the Edmonton Irish Association had dissolved. Similarly, there is no evidence of any Irish fraternal or benevolent societies in Calgary during the war years. Despite the non-political and non-sectarian nature of pre-war St. Patrick’s Day events, there appears to have been little appetite for Irish organization and celebration during the Great War or the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21). The one exception is a short lived organization called the Irish Glee Club, which emerged in Calgary in 1919 to organize small concerts on St. Patrick’s Day. These events, however, were on a considerably smaller scale than those held prior to World War One.

With the end of the Irish War of Independence and the emergence of the Irish Free State in 1922, the province’s Irish citizens once again organized to publicly celebrate Ireland’s patron saint. Potentially awkward questions about how to reconcile devotion to Ireland and loyalty to Canada and/or Britain faded, as Alberta’s Irish honoured both Irish independence and service to Canada during the Great War. At the 1924 St. Patrick’s Day banquet, for example, the St. Patrick’s Society of Calgary celebrated Irish independence, but placed equal if not greater emphasis on Irish service, “loyalty and allegiance” to Canada during the Great War. The evening’s keynote speaker refused to take a political stance on the divisive civil war in Ireland, commenting only that “the Irish had settled the matter for themselves,” and that whether it had been settled “rightly or wrongly” was irrelevant to him as a Canadian. In place of politics, the new St. Patrick’s Society focused on the celebration of Irish folk culture, arts and crafts. A similar situation emerged in Edmonton, with the founding of the new St. Patrick’s Society of Edmonton in 1927. Like its Calgary counterpart, the society emphasized culture and avoided politics – a safely depoliticized way to honour Ireland. By the mid-1920s, Alberta’s Irish had found a comfortable balance between celebrating their Irish heritage and their contributions to Canadian growth and development.

The history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Alberta thus yields significant insight into the province’s early Irish community. St. Patrick’s Day events represented an important point of intersection between the ethnic community and the rest of the population. It was a holiday intimately associated with Ireland, but widely observed by mainstream society – as such, it offered Irish organizations the opportunity to represent their heritage and their community’s values to a wide and receptive audience. The nature of those celebrations (or the absence of any organized events) is a reflection of what image Irish community leaders wanted to project to the larger population. At times, the tense situation in Ireland complicated those efforts and made it difficult for Alberta’s Irish to publicly embrace and celebrate their ethnic heritage. By the 1920s, such concerns had faded and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations flourished once again.

Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer.

Further reading:

Cronin, Mike, and Daryl Adair. The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day. London & New York: Routledge, 2001.