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?

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

valentine-day-1
Fashion show for kids, taken in Edmonton’s McKernan neighbourhood on April 11, 1951. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

valentine-day-4
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.

 

valentines-day-7
Valentine’s Dance by M.H. Charnetski Sr., taken in 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
valentine-day-3
Photo of couple, last name Ellefnon, by the Ernest Brown Studios. Date uknnown. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

valentine-day-2
Rev. Gray and Miss Dixon on railroad scooter. Photo taken Aug. 10, 1894. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

valentine-day-5
Nick Spivak with C. Anton, February 1948. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

 

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.

OCH1991
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.
OCH1988
A familiar winter scene by Templeman Bros. on 107 St. Photo taken in 1953 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.
OCH436
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.
OCH310
View from 108 St. just south of Jasper Ave. Photo taken in 1948 by Nick Ochotta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

See you all in 2020!

On behalf of RETROactive, happy holidays to everyone out there. Whether you’re a new subscriber or have been a follower for years, we want to thank you all for your continued support. We’ll be back in mid-January with even more blog posts about Alberta’s unique history!

christmas-2019
Mary or Sandy Lee with Christmas Tree, Mountain Park Alberta, ca. 1938, CL130, From the Charles Lee Fonds. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta

 

Harriet’s Magic Hat: The Disk Jockey

Written by: Sara King (Provincial Archives of Alberta) and Jared Majeski (Historic Resources Management Branch)

It was a magical time in Edmonton in 1980. One area code, the Rat Hole, liver and onions at the Silk Hat on Jasper Ave. It was also a time with enchanted headphones and a young, open-collared Bruce Bowie.

Harriet’s Magic Hats was an educational program for children created by ACCESS TV, which primarily explored different careers as a girl named Susan travelled around with the assistance of her Aunt Harriet’s collection of mystical headgear. In addition to being an example of local programming in Alberta, the episode is a time capsule of technology and popular culture of the time it was made.

radio-2
630 CHED’s Bruce Bowie explaining to Susan how the music from vinyl records in their music library makes it out to the airwaves. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

In this episode, Susan mysteriously transports into the booth at 630 CHED, right in the middle of a broadcast from legendary announcer Bruce Bowie. From there, Bowie shows young Susan the radio ropes, from programming commercials to the station’s automated system for playing records.

With the exception of Wings' "Getting Closer" and a Donna Summer disco hit, the playlist from CHED in 1980 is pretty middle of the road easy rock. Nice to see some pre-Kim Mitchell Max Webster in the rotation too. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.
With the exception of Wings’ “Getting Closer”, ELO and a Donna Summer disco hit, the playlist from CHED in 1980 is pretty middle of the road easy rock. Nice to see some pre-Kim Mitchell Max Webster in the rotation too. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

This episode concludes with a jaunty montage of various Edmontonians biking, lounging, paddling and dancing along to the radio. Heck, even the bears and elephants are listening!

radio-3
One can only assume a brave Valley Zoo employee had to climb that tree to place the radio. The bears seem to be enjoying the tunes at least. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

Sharon Alexander, the actress who played Susan in the Harriet’s Magic Hat series, would go on to do a ton of voice acting, as well as appear in episodes of The X-Files, Da Vinci’s Inquest, The Outer Limits and Cold Squad.

ACCESS TV was the designated educational broadcaster in Alberta, created by the Alberta Educational Communications Corporation (AECC), an arms length corporation of the Government of Alberta. From its founding in 1973 until its privatization in 1995, it would produce, broadcast, and distribute television-based multimedia, in partnership with Alberta Education and the province’s universities and colleges.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta has a collection of 1506 video cassettes, 1071 video reels, 2220 audio reels, 731 audio cassettes, and 240 16 mm film reels in our ACCESS TV fonds (PR3368) as well as 1198 films and other government records transferred to the archives when ACCESS was a government body. But not all of them are quite as magical as this one.

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.

Enjoy!

Inside the Archives’ vault: the shift to colour

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist

When researchers first arrive at an archives, they often bring many stereotypes with them.  They may assume that the records are all about “early pioneer days,” the photographs are all black and white images of stern Victorian settlers, and the storage vaults look like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ahem.

PAA-vault
While they don’t look like something out of an Indiana Jones film, there are certainly many mysteries to uncover in the vaults of the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

While some elements of these impressions may be true, the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) is anything but your stereotypical archives.  Its holdings include records from the 1640s to the 2010s in all media, including paper, photographs, motion picture film, tape recordings, and digital media. Although the records of the Government of Alberta comprise the bulk of its holdings, the PAA has acquired the records of individuals, families, businesses, and community groups that provide evidence of the political, cultural and economic evolution of the province.  A variety of researchers use these records, from genealogists to academic historians to even members of the public service seeking to understand past government programs.

One of the records that debunks the staid stereotypes of archives is a film titled “1967 in Selling Colour”. The Swift Canadian Company created the film to kick off a marketing campaign designed to coincide with both the Canadian centennial celebrations and the growing availability of colour television in Canada. Starting in black and white before shifting to glorious colour, the film is most definitely a time capsule of the way Canadian society viewed food, fashion, advertising, and the roles of men and women. The PAA received the film as a donation when Maple Leaf Foods, the successor firm of Swift Canadian, found the records prior to the demolition of its meat packing facilities in Edmonton.

To make these holdings more accessible, the PAA has digitized and placed them on various social media platforms. See for yourself whether or not Swift is the Meat!