UFOs over Alberta

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

One thing that never gets old living in the Prairies is the sky: big, expansive, endless. Exactly the kind of place (and space) for aircraft of all shapes and sizes to explore. We can learn about a specific kind of aircraft, the alien type, from a digitized production from ACCESS TV below.

Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs as the kids like to say, have been part of lore and science fiction for centuries. There are thousands of sightings around the world, but solid proof or admission has continued to elude us. Produced sometime in the early 80s, this short documentary combines first-hand accounts from local Albertans with scientific explanation — all set to surprisingly evocative synthesizer soundscapes. You’ll also learn about Project Magnet, a program developed by Transport Canada to study UFOs in the 1950s.

So, put down those episodes of X-Files and learn about potential alien life right in your own backyard. And while you’re at it, go explore the rest of the film and video on the Provincial Archives of Alberta Youtube channel.

“Sour grapes”: The Banff Winter Carnival Queen Scandal of 1955

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta

One of the stereotypes of beauty pageants is the behind-the-scenes rivalry among contestants. Typically, these are just plot devices in film or TV designed to create degrees of drama, comedy or controversy. But apparently there is beauty pageant drama in real life, and one of the rare times when these battles spilled out into the public is the controversy surrounding the Banff Winter Carnival Queen competition of 1955.

The idea for a winter carnival in Banff originated with Norman Luxton, the man known as “Mr. Banff.” A strong booster of the community, he was a prominent local entrepreneur who owned, among other ventures, the Crag and Canyon newspaper, the King Edward Hotel (Banff’s first all-season hotel), the Lux Theatre, the King Edward Horse and Auto Livery and the Sign of the Goat Curio Shop.  According to a 1939 Calgary Herald article, the idea came up during a brainstorming session between Luxton and his friend B. W. Collison in December 1916 regarding the best way to attract more tourists to Banff during the winter season, which was not a consistently busy time in the town. Given Luxton’s extensive local business investments, having the town bustling with tourists year-round was definitely in his interest.

Ice Palace built for Banff Winter Carnival, featuring Brewster’s Hall in the background, 1917. PAA Photo A4837.

A local committee led by Luxton persuaded the town to host a festival that would run from February 5-17, 1917.  The list of events featured at the first carnival was impressive – it included a curling bonspiel, tobogganing, snowshoe races, men’s and ladies’ hockey matches, speed skating, “art skating,” trap shooting, pony ski races and swimming competitions in the hot springs. A large ice castle maze, built by internees and reputedly the first such castle built in Western Canada, was the centrepiece of the celebrations, especially during the fireworks on two evenings of the carnival.  Brewster Hall hosted a grand ball on February 9 and a fancy dress ball on February 15, and this second event featured a crown awarded, “to the most popular lady attending the carnival.” The Carnival was such a success that it became an annual community event.

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How Do Alberta’s Archivists Work During a Pandemic?

Editor’s note: On June 10, 2021, the Provincial Archives of Alberta reopened to the public. Once again, the larger team will be safely assisting researchers with reference queries and research visits. If you have found yourself with a question about Alberta’s heritage or your own family history, please visit the Reading Room or contact us. PAA archivists are ready to assist.

Written by: Natalia Pietrzykowski, Reference Archivist

Social distancing, PPE, flattening the curve. These phrases became commonplace as the world adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared in March 2020. Another word that will resonate with most professions during this last year is “pivot.” In many cases, public safety needs resulted in “pivoting” business operations to contactless or even remote services. Due to COVID-19, most staff at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) spent part of 2020-21 working from home. This presented us with a challenge: how do we take archival work home? The search for a solution was also an opportunity to develop new ways of providing access to information and focusing on making improvements to future service. In the last year, PAA staff continued to work on projects that support the mission of preserving and making available records of enduring value. Here, we will share a few highlights of heritage work during a pandemic year, pivots and all.

Virtual Reference

On March 17, 2020, the PAA closed to the public as Albertans were prohibited from attending public recreational facilities. The PAA Reading Room remained closed for 14 weeks, during which time reference archivists answered more than 500 public queries by email.  The public response to “virtual” service was overwhelmingly positive.

On June 23, the PAA Reading reopened to in-person researchers, by appointment and with a reduced capacity. This new model of reference service required a much higher degree of up-front coordination than our previous walk-in availability. Only staff were allowed to handle the finding aids (primarily printed binders and card catalogues) that are available in the reading room. Relevant records had to be identified and pulled prior to appointments, after which they entered a 72-hour quarantine period. Additionally, archivists continued to provide virtual reference services for those unable to visit, sharing electronic finding aids and research copies of records to help answer questions.

The average time spent addressing public and government queries was adjusted from approximately 15 minutes per request to 1.5 hours per request, whether for an appointment or to answer a complex research question. We needed many hands on deck to provide additional research services; 10 archivists, two managers and two Young Canada Works interns all contributed to rotating reference coverage. This work was also supported by a retrieval aide, archival technicians and PAA administrative staff. Three-hundred and seventy-two researchers visited the PAA between the June and December 2020.  On top of that, the team answered almost 1,350 reference emails and phone calls. In late 2020, the reading room was required to close again.

In total, from April 2020 to March 2021, PAA archivists responded to 3,936 public reference inquiries. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta
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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.