Archaeology and modern forestry in Alberta

Editor’s note: This blog post is derived from a recent paper published in the Archaeological Survey of Alberta’s Occasional Paper Series titled: Forestry and archaeology in Alberta: A history and synthesis written by Bereziuk et al. The second paper in this issue was also recently released and is titled: Dated ground stone artifacts from Tse’K’wa (HbRf-39), Peace River region, British Columbia.  

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Regional Archaeologist

Most archaeology in Alberta happens in advance of industry development when consultants are hired to ensure that archaeological sites are avoided or excavated prior to ground disturbance. For the last decade, about half of the new sites recorded in Alberta are found during forestry programs when consultants look for archaeological material in advance of tree harvesting and logging road construction. The contribution that forestry-based archaeology makes in Alberta is large.

Why do forestry operators have to hire archaeological consultants? 

Industry developers are generally required by law, through the Historical Resources Act, to submit development plans to the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, who then reviews the footprints for overlaps with known archaeological sites or areas with potential for archaeological material. Forestry is one of Alberta’s largest industries in terms of spatial area: about 87,000 hectares are harvested each year and over 2 million hectares have been commercially logged in Alberta since 1990. Archaeological sites in harvest areas can be disturbed during road construction, during logging (by heavy machinery that cuts trees or transports them), and by site preparation practices that relate to reforestation.

In many areas in Alberta, the ground is intentionally disturbed after harvest to encourage regrowth of desired seedlings: about 18,000 hectares of land in Alberta are annually subjected to mechanical site preparation by forestry operators. Archaeological sites in Alberta’s Boreal Forest are often quite shallow (within 30 cm from the surface) meaning that forestry can have large impacts on the province’s preserved heritage. In the big picture, the vast majority of Alberta’s forests and all archaeological material in the province are public resources. For these reasons, forestry operators are responsible for detecting and avoiding archaeological sites during development.   

Alberta’s forested ecoregions (data from Alberta Parks 2005). The Parkland is not a commercially harvestable forest type. South of the Parkland is Alberta’s Prairie ecoregion. Source: Todd Kristensen.
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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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Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Determining eligibility

Written by: Peter Melnycky, Historian, Historic Resources Management Branch

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. This series is intended to serve as a refresher on how to evaluate sites, develop Statements of Significance, determine periods of significance and develop Statements of Integrity.

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

Determining eligibility

In our first post, we will be discussing how to determine if a historic place is eligible for designation.

Historic resources include structures, buildings, landscape and archaeological features, all of which can be considered for protection by a municipality. Under the Historical Resources Act, municipalities have the ability to designate historic resources under a bylaw to ensure their protection.

The Historical Resources Act (Source: Historic Resources Management Branch).

In order to be considered for protection as a Municipal Historic Resource, a site needs to:

  • Be an eligible resource type
  • Possess historical significance
  • Have sufficient material integrity

If a site meets all three of these of these criteria, it can be considered for Municipal Historic Resource designation.

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Quarry of the Ancestors

Editor’s note: All images in the post below were sourced from a report developed by the Archaeological Survey, Lifeways and Stantec.

Written by: Matthew Wangler, Executive Director, Historic Resources Management Branch

For decades, northeastern Alberta has been home to large-scale industrial activity in the region’s massive petroleum deposits. A remarkable discovery in the midst of the oil sands revealed that the same area of the province also accommodated another significant industry in ancient times; that historic and contemporary land use share a common origin in an epic event that profoundly shaped our province’s past.  This blog post will explore how historic resource management in Alberta helped reveal a lost chapter of our province’s history, how the discovery illuminated both the remarkable richness and depth of the Alberta story, and the surprising connections between past and present.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

RETROactive is all about Alberta’s historic places. But what is a historic place: is it a home, a commercial building, a church or a baseball diamond? Could planes, trains or automobiles be historic places? The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada defines a historic place as, “a structure, building, group of buildings, district, landscape, archaeological site or other place in Canada that has been formally recognized for its heritage value.” Does this mean any place in Alberta could be a historic place?

Not quite. For a place to be listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places something must be  designated as a Provincial Historic Resource or a Municipal Historic Resource and  must meet one of the following significance criteria:

  • Theme / Activity / Cultural Practice / Event – a place directly associated with a theme, activity, cultural practice or event that has made a significant contribution to the broad pattern of provincial or municipal history.
  • Institution / Person – a place directly associated with a significant institution or with the life of a significant person in the province’s or municipality’s past.
  • Design / Style / Construction – a place displaying distinctive characteristics of a type, style, period or method of construction, or representing the work of a master, or expressing high artistic values.
  • Information Potential – a place yielding, or likely to yield, information important to a municipality’s or the province’s history, prehistory or natural history.
  • Landmark / Symbolic Value – a place particularly prominent or conspicuous, and that has acquired special visual, sentimental or symbolic value that transcends its function. A landmark contributes to the distinctive character of the province or municipality.

Note: The Historical Resources Act limits Municipal Historic Resource designation to real property. This means that while the province can designate a plane, train or an automobile, municipalities may only designate land and “immovables” (meaning buildings and other things permanently affixed to land). For additional information please see: Evaluating Historic Places and Designating Municipal Historic Resources.

So do historic places in Alberta include planes, trains and automobiles? I have searched the Alberta Register of Historic Places and this is what I have uncovered:

Planes: Hangar #14, Edmonton Municipal Airport

Hangar #14 is significant, “as a rare surviving Canadian example of hangar design from the World War Two period and as a symbol of Canada’s wartime experience.” It is also significant, “for its association with Wilfred R. May, one of Edmonton’s most significant aviation figures and the 418 City of Edmonton Squadron.” Hangar #14 is designated as both a Municipal Historic Resource and a Provincial Historic Resource.

Trains: Canadian National Railways Steam Locomotive 6060

The 6060 Locomotive (pictured above) is significant, “as an excellent representation of a late-era steam locomotive.” The engine currently services the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions line, which runs between Stettler and Big Valley. It is designated as a Provincial Historic Resource.


Do you have any suggestions? Approximately 700 historic places are listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. Search the register to discover one that is associated with automobiles. Let us know what you find by submitting a comment at the bottom of this post.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Special Places in the Special Areas

The three most recent Municipal Historic Resources listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places are in the Special Areas. The three Special Areas form a unique municipality. Located in southeastern Alberta, the 2.1 million hectare municipality is administered by a provincially appointed board. The sites are:

  • The St. Laurence Anglican Church, which was built in the Hamlet of Monitor in 1915. This wood-framed church is valued for its use as an Anglican Church and its association with the foundation and development of the local community.
  • The Roland School, a one room school located south of the Village of Consort. The community values it for its use, first as a public school between 1913 and 1933 and subsequently as a community hall.
  • The New Brigden Water Tower, which was constructed by the Canadian National Railway in 1925 as the company installed a branch line through the area. The tower is valued for being a landmark in the Hamlet of New Brigden.

The Historical Resources Act enables Alberta’s municipalities to conserve their significant places. By designating a site a Municipal Historic Resource, municipalities can protect their special places from unsympathetic alterations. Since 2006, when the Municipal Heritage Partnership Program was established, Alberta’s municipalities have designated almost a hundred Municipal Historic Resources. The variety of historic places that our communities are preserving illustrates the variety of ways Albertans have lived their lives.

The above three sites are just a small sample of the 165 Municipal Historic Resources currently listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. We encourage you to explore the register to learn more about Alberta’s provincially and municipally designated historic places. Perhaps one of the listings will inspire you to look at a place in your community in a new way.

Written by: Micheal Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

How do I start?!


Since you are reading this blog, it’s likely that you’re someone who cares about historic places.  Whether it’s the corner coffee shop that has always served as a local gathering place, or the ornate church at the centre of town with a soaring steeple, historic places are places of meaning that help us define our communities.

You may be thinking – “how can I help conserve the places that matter to me and my community?” Many Albertans may not be aware that their locally significant historic places can be legally protected at the municipal level. That’s right – you heard it here. Since 1978, local governments in Alberta have been empowered by the Historical Resources Act to protect their own historic places through designation as Municipal Historic Resources.

Perhaps you are an owner or steward of a place you believe is historically significant and are interested in seeing that place protected. Or maybe you are a municipal councillor, administrator, or staff person responding to requests from your residents:

  • Dig into the history for yourself – there is no substitute for understanding the background and context of the place. Local archives, land titles, municipal records like building permits, organizational Minutes, conversations with seniors/elders, and family photo albums are great sources to try and deepen our knowledge of the past – especially about our historic places;     
  • Get involved Does your community have an established Heritage Advisory Body? Ask your municipal staff or Councillor if you do, and if, so, let them know about the historic places that matter to you. If you don’t yet have a “HAB,” offer to help your community get one started;
  • Request an Evaluation – Alberta Culture and Community Spirit’s Municipal Heritage Partnership Program can help your municipality to determine its heritage values and evaluate places that are of interest. This can happen through a project called a heritage inventory, or on a more ‘one-off’  basis. MHPP staff are available to help local governments “get the ball rolling” and engaged in conserving their heritage.
In short, if you’re keen to see your historic places conserved for future generations of Albertans, MHPP staff are here to help.
Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services

Welcome to RETROactive!

Welcome to RETROactive, the official blog of Alberta’s Historic Places Stewardship Section!

Have you ever wondered what makes a historic place, historic? Are you curious to know which places in your municipality are protected Provincial Historic Resources and Municipal Historic Resources? Have you always wanted to learn how heritage conservation can benefit your municipality? OR, are you a history enthusiast and want to learn more about the unique and significant places in Alberta? On RETROactive Historic Places Stewardship staff will post regular updates about their work with Alberta municipalities and feature historic places throughout Alberta.

Guided by the Historical Resources Act and the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, Historic Places Stewardship provides a full range of services, programs and incentives for the conservation of historic sites. We work with individuals, municipalities, historic groups and organizations to ensure responsible management, protection and promotion of Alberta’s historic places. To learn about the range of programs offered through the Ministry of Culture and Community Spirit please read our About page.

Be the first to receive a RETROactive post: join us on Facebook or subscribe to RETROactive and get updates emailed to your inbox (see links to the right). We also encourage you to participate. Please submit comments and ask questions! (Before doing so, we encourage you to review the Government of Alberta’s Comment and Trackback Policy.)

Travel along with our staff as they crisscross the Alberta prairie in the on-going saga of Alberta’s historic places. We hope you enjoy the ride!