Historic sites slowly, surely and safely reopen

Editor’s note: Starting July 3, the National Trust for Canada is hosting Historic Places Days. All next month, RETROactive will feature blog posts highlighting places to explore and events to participate in.

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

After more than a year of being shuttered, historic sites and museums around Alberta are beginning to reopen. And with some restrictions and caution around traveling, it’s the perfect time to go head out and explore the sites right in your own backyard!

While some self-guided sites like the Okotoks Erractic, Brooks Aqueduct and Frog Lake Provincial Historic Site have been accessible for several months now, some of the larger historic sites, museums and interpretive centres are now ready to open their doors. Below is a quick roundup of reopened historic sites; click on the visitor guideline links to learn how each site is keeping visitors and staff safe.

Frank Slide Interpretive Centre

Located in the stunning Crowsnest Pass, the interpretive centre tells the story of Canada’s deadliest rock slide.
Visitor guidelines

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Through vast landscapes, diverse programming and exhibits, you can experience 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture at this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
Visitor guidelines

Provincial Archives of Alberta

The archives acquires, preserves and publicly makes available records from government, individual people and organizations for researchers of all ages. Along with the PAA opening its doors to the reading room again, they are also unveiling a brand new exhibit about the history of beauty competitions and pageants in Alberta.
Visitor guidelines

Remington Carriage Museum

The largest museum of its kind in the world, the Remington Carriage Museum tells the story of horse-drawn transportation in North America.
Visitor guidelines

Reynolds-Alberta Museum

Located in Wetaskiwin, the Reynolds-Alberta Museum interprets Alberta’s mechanical heritage through authentic interactions, exhibits and hands-on programming.
Visitor guidelines

Royal Alberta Museum

The Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) is the largest museum in western Canada and one of the top museums in Canada. Located in the Arts District in downtown Edmonton, the museum helps to collect, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit objects and specimens related to the heritage of Alberta’s people and natural environment
Visitor guidelines

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the study of ancient life. In addition to featuring one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs, the museum offer a wide variety of creative, fun, and educational programs that bring the prehistoric past to life.
Visitor guidelines

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

A short drive east of Edmonton, at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village you’ll hear stories of solitude, survival, and perseverance while discovering how Ukrainian immigration made a significant impact on Alberta’s cultural identity.
Visitor guidelines

Beauty pageant exhibit finally ready to take centre stage at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist

As businesses and public facilities around the province slowly begin to reopen, Alberta’s museums, historic sites and archives are also excited to welcome visitors through their doors. And at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), a new exhibit 18 months in the making is finally ready to take centre stage in the gallery lobby. Prairie Royalty officially kicked off on June 10.

1948 Calgary Stampede Royalty. (Left to Right) Stampede Queen Gloria Klaver, and Ladies-in-Waiting Margaret Forsgren and Shirley Kemp. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P5154.

Prairie Royalty explores the popularity of beauty pageants and competitions in Alberta in the decades after World War II. During this period, the coronations of young and accomplished women as Stampede Queens, Dairy Princesses, Queens of the Winter Carnival, and other local royals were highly anticipated events at community celebrations. More than mere beauty pageants, the competitions factored in community service as well as skills such as speaking ability, product knowledge, horseback riding and, for dairy princesses, their skills at milking cows.

Contestants for the Miss Snow Queen of the Canadian Rockies, 1956.  Left To Right: Nancy Knaut (Miss Camrose), Mary Basso (Miss New Westminster), Geraldine Rowe (Miss Penticton), Elizabeth Le Gras (Miss Calgary), Marina Lynch-Staunton (Miss Crowsnest Pass), Roberta Jones (1955 Snow Queen), Josephine Taborski (Miss Lethbridge), Donagh Webber (Miss Edmonton), Dalyce Smith (Miss Yukon), Elaine Swanson (Miss Medicine Hat), and Prim Heckley (Miss Jasper).  Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA270/6.

Inspired initially by a photograph of a Dairy Queen, development of Prairie Royalty took place steadily over a period of 18 months. Selecting the perfect images from the many beauty queens represented in the photographic holdings of the Provincial Archives was a difficult task, and the entire PAA staff pitched in to help narrow down the selection. With final images in place, the exhibit curator researched the images to understand their context more completely, including one involving a news story of a protest outside a pageant. Once the research and writing stage was completed, a designer created the perfect visual identity to capture the exhibit’s playful and nostalgic nature. After completing the installation of the framed images and other graphics in the gallery lobby, the exhibit made its big debut as soon as the PAA could open to the public.

Shirley Clark, 1968 Dairy Princess of Canada. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA4399.

One of the more interesting revelations from the research stage was that most individuals involved in these competitions later acknowledged that their fame was fleeting, and being a queen or princess was merely a brief phase in their lives and careers as teachers, mothers, lawyers, artists, activists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.  In contrast to that perspective, there are those whose experience as prairie royalty has led to a lifetime of community involvement.  Since 1972, the Calgary Stampede Queen’s Alumni Committee, which includes past queens, ladies in waiting, and princesses, has worked with the Stampede organization to promote its events as well as to raise funds for children with special needs in the Calgary area.

Revisit that time when, just for a moment, an everyday Albertan could become Prairie Royalty.  The exhibit will be on display in the PAA’s gallery lobby at 8555 Roper Road until May 2022.  Admission is free. Please consult the PAA’s website at provincialarchives.alberta.ca for the hours and operations. May Queens, Dairy Princesses, Rodeo Queens, and Snow Princesses – long may they reign!

Inside the Archives’ Vault: The Future of Work

Time to take a trip back to the future of the workplace of 1992, courtesy of the Public Affairs Bureau. Public promotional materials such as these often capture information aside from the original intent of the production. In this case, the video documents the early steps of the switch from the analogue to the digital in the office, the state of the economy after the recession in the early eighties, changing gender norms in employment, and the general sociopolitical atmosphere of the time. Some of the innovative trends featured, such as working from home, have persisted and become ubiquitous. However, the career change pivot from shoeing horses to being a clinical psychologist was likely as unusual then as it would be now.

Check out the rest of the Provincial Archives of Alberta video collection on YouTube, including a handful of oddly calming chess instructional videos from the early 70s.

Portraiture from the Ernest Brown fonds

Editor’s note: In our continued recognition of Black History Month, the Provincial Archives of Alberta has shared a collection of portraits of Black Albertans from photographer Ernest Brown. The Ernest Brown fonds contain around 50,000 negatives and other materials, predominantly from the years 1880-1960.

One of the earliest professional photographers in Alberta, Ernest Brown moved to Edmonton from England in April 1904. In Edmonton, Brown went to work as an assistant to C.W. Mathers, the city’s first photographer. Three months later, Brown bought the rights to Mathers’ portrait studio and in 1905 the studio expanded into the Ernest Brown Company Ltd.

Little is known about the subjects in the photographs below. Likely, the only records kept from these photo sessions was the name of the person who booked and paid for the session.

Black History at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Editor’s note: In our continuing recognition of Black History Month, RETROactive contributors from the Provincial Archives of Alberta highlight some of the resources available for researchers wanting to know more about the history of Alberta’s Black community.

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist and Karen Simonson, Reference Archivist

Researching the history of Black communities in Alberta can be challenging.  Sources can be limited and potentially scattered among many institutions within Alberta’s heritage communities.  Much of the access is dependent on knowing a person’s name or having some additional background clues or information.  But the history of Alberta’s Black communities can be teased out of the records preserved by the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), and all the resources described below are available for researchers to see and consult for themselves during regular opening hours of the reading room.

Unidentified woman with dog, ca. 1920 (Ernest Brown fonds, BP2-15552)

In addition to published books and newspapers providing context to the community, the PAA is fortunate to have received donations of records from private individuals such as Fil Fraser, Selwyn Jacob and Junetta Jamerson.  While these records can only tell part of the story, looking more closely at some familiar holdings at the PAA reveals perhaps some unexplored and unexpected traces of Alberta’s Black history.

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Inside the Archives Vault: Where Winter’s a Pleasure

Editor’s note: With a couple weeks left in what felt like the longest year ever, this will be the last RETROactive post of 2020. Thank you to all our followers, visitors and everyone interested in Alberta’s diverse and unique history. Have a safe and happy holiday season, and we’ll see you all in 2021!

Written by: Sara King, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta and Jared Majeski, Editor, RETROactive

Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, let us start to settle in for Christmas break with some vintage video of folks hitting the slopes.

“Where Winter’s a Pleasure” was a promotional film produced by the Film and Photograph Branch of the Department of Industry and Development in 1962 for the Alberta Travel Bureau. It features footage and narration from Hans Gmoser (1932-2006), a mountain guide and founder of Rocky Mountain Guides Ltd. (later Canadian Mountain Holidays CMH) who would tour throughout North America giving lectures and showing promotional films. He was awarded the order of Canada in 1987, among other honours. Starting before dawn for a four hour hike up a glacier to ski might seem a bit daunting for some, but you can always catch the gondola at Lake Louise if you’re less ambitious, and a trip to the Tom Tom Lounge at the end of the day can’t go wrong. Just don’t forget your mountain mixture.

Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection comes to the PAA

Written by: Kate Rozon, Private Records Archivist

Did you know the Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection covers a wide array of subjects about Alberta’s history dating back to before Alberta was even a province?

In August 2018, the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) acquired the records of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), following years of negotiations with OMI Lacombe Canada. Since their acquisition, the PAA and several volunteers have been arranging, describing and processing this extensive and historic collection of the religious missionary order. The collection consists of over 400 metres of textual records, thousands of audio records and film, more than 50,000 images and hundreds of maps and drawings.

The ultimate goal is to have the entire collection processed by 2023. At that time, we hope to see the publication of a two-volume finding aid consisting of Oblate administrative histories and a catalogue of the entire collection. This will help researchers understand and navigate this important resource.

But for now, here’s a sneak peek at some of the objects from the OMI.

International Archives Week: Plotting the course of the pandemic

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist

Editor’s note: The International Council of Archives has designated June 8-14, 2020 as International Archives Week. Its theme, Empowering Knowledge Societies, highlights the ways in which archival institutions contribute to sustainable knowledge, trust and evidence, and the challenge of emerging technologies.

When historians decades from now look back at society during the COVID-19 pandemic, what will they see? Artifacts, documents and various media will certainly tell the story of how we dealt with an historic event. With the pandemic at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, it seems timely to examine the holdings at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) that document other public health crises. Alberta has experienced pandemics such as the worldwide 1918-1919 flu pandemic (often referred to as the Spanish grippe or Spanish flu epidemic) as well as a series of more localized poliomyelitis epidemics in Alberta that occurred in 1927 and 1953. While history books in the reference library tell one author’s version of events, what do the original archival records preserved at the PAA tell researchers about other widespread outbreaks of disease in the twentieth century, and can they inform our current circumstances?

1918-1919 pandemic resources at the PAA

Starting in 1905, a branch of the Department of Agriculture managed the Government of Alberta’s public health programs until the province established a separate Department of Public Health in 1919. For reasons that are unclear, few records of the Department of Public Health appear to have survived prior to the 1940s. However, one incredible survivor of that era is a scrapbook created by Public Health that contains newspaper articles tracking the progress of the 1918 influenza pandemic across Canada, with a special focus on developments in Alberta. The articles detail the number of cases, the preventative measures (including the closures of schools and restrictions on public gatherings), announcements from medical officers of health and the death toll.

Excerpt from Public Health Scrapbook, 1918.  GR1975.0454
Excerpt from Public Health Scrapbook, 1918. GR1975.0454

While an overarching and comprehensive information resource, the scrapbook does not provide the entire story of the Government of Alberta’s response to the pandemic or the impact on the citizens of Alberta. So, without other records of the Department of Public Health, where can that story be found in the PAA?

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Burdett-Coutts: Aristocracy, Activism, Railway Investing and Alberta Place Names

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer

Back a few weeks ago, in the early days of COVID-19 pandemic response, I, like many Albertans, was closely watching news coverage. One news story that caught my attention was about the lines of traffic of returning Canadian travelers at the Coutts/Sweet Grass International Border Crossing. The story really jumped out at me because I had just read about novelist Charles Dickens’ involvement with the philanthropic work of Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. Being the geographical names guy, I was aware that the village of Coutts and the hamlet of Burdett were named for the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, so I started to think about how was it that these two communities ended up with names honouring and commemorating a Victorian-Age, aristocratic philanthropist and social reformer.

Angela Burdett-Coutts. Baroness Burdett-Coutts, artist unknown, oil on panel, ca. 1840.  Source: National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 6181. Used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Baroness Burdett-Coutts, artist unknown, oil on panel, ca. 1840. Source: National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 6181. Used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Angela Burdett-Coutts, the 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts was born Angela Burdett in 1814, the daughter of radical reformist politician and anti-slavery advocate Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Burdett (née Coutts). In 1837, upon the death of her step-grandmother, the actress Harriet Mellon, Angela inherited the entire Coutts estate of £1.8 million ($191 million in 2020 Canadian dollars) including a substantial interest in the Coutts Bank, making her the second-wealthiest woman in the United Kingdom after Queen Victoria. In accordance with the conditions of the will, Angela Burdett sought and received royal license to combine her ancestral names to become Angela Burdett-Coutts.

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To a romantic and special Feast of St. Valentine <3

Well would you look at that, it’s Valentine’s Day! Whether you’re an adherent to the original feast honouring Valentinus, or just like getting flowers from a significant other, it’s the time of year to spend a greeting card-mandated night with your sweetheart.

In celebration of this special day, here are a few Alberta couples, young and old, showing their love for one another.

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Fashion show for kids, taken in Edmonton’s McKernan neighbourhood on April 11, 1951. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

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Children on rides at the Exhibition in Edmonton. Photo taken July 17, 1947. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

Last name Calihoo taken by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date unknown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Photo of couple, last name Calihoo, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date unknown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

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Valentine’s Dance by M.H. Charnetski Sr., taken in 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

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Photo of couple, last name Ellefnon, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date uknnown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

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Rev. Gray and Miss Dixon on railroad scooter. Photo taken Aug. 10, 1894. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

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Nick Spivak with C. Anton, February 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.