Founder’s Day at the University of Alberta

Written by: Louise McKay and Suzanna Wagner

Imagine inviting the entire graduating class of the University of Alberta in for tea. That’s what Alberta’s first premier, Alexander Rutherford, and his wife Mattie did in 1912. All 20 members of the university’s graduating class attended with their family members. After the first graduation tea, a party they named Founder’s Day, the Rutherfords made the celebration an annual event until 1938. Over 300 grads took tea with the Rutherfords that final year.

The tea party celebrating graduation was held at the Rutherfords’ elegant Edwardian mansion just east of the university campus. Not just neighbours, the Rutherfords had a close relationship with the university. Alexander Cameron Rutherford co-founded the university in 1908. He continued to play an active role at the University, serving as Chancellor from 1927 until his death in 1941. Mrs. Mattie Rutherford played an active role organizing and hosting Founders’ Day. She also hosted, at her home, numerous meetings of the University Women’s Club, of which she was an honourary member. Both the Rutherford children, Cecil and Hazel attended some university classes. Hazel in particular was active within the university community, contributing articles to the university newspaper The Gateway, which helped to keep students away serving during World War One up to date with local news.

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After two seasons of closures, Alberta’s historic sites set to reopen

Written by: Suzanna Wagner, Edward van Vliet, Stephanie McLachlan

May 18 might be an ordinary Wednesday for some, but for Alberta’s Provincial Historic Sites, it’s a much anticipated day. After two seasons of COVID closures, seven historic sites will be re-opening to visitors next week.

In the eastern part of the province, Fort George & Buckingham House is kicking off summer 2022 in grand style. Not only has the site’s official book Opponents and Neighbours: Fort George and Buckingham House and the early fur trade on the North Saskatchewan River, 1792 to 1800, been published, but 2022 is the visitor centre’s 30th anniversary.

The modern visitor centre at Fort George & Buckingham House was opened exactly 200 years after the original fur trade forts were built. Inside you’ll find an interactive museum gallery, travelling exhibits, activities, guided tours and modern visitor facilities. Source: Historic Sites and Museums.

This season also marks the debut of a new exhibit. “Fur Trade Highways of Alberta: Water Transportation, 1780 to 1930,” covers fur trade companies’ gradual transition from canoes, to York boats, to paddle wheelers over 150 dramatic years of change in the fur trade. The exhibit features boating artifacts, a music station, a video about York boat building and life-size boat outlines in the ground to give visitors a real-life sense of how big these boats were.

Be sure to check out Fort George & Buckingham House’s Facebook and website for details of all the upcoming events! We hope to see you there.

To celebrate these many milestones, each weekend in July and August will have a different theme. There will be a book launch party, weekends celebrating the river, boats, and the new exhibit, weekends to explore the storied archaeological history of the site, events featuring stories of the many people who lived at Fort George & Buckingham House and a return of the ever-popular Bears and Berries festival!

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The recipes of Rutherford House

Written by: Louise McKay and Suzanna Wagner

Many people believe the kitchen is the heart of a family’s home. At Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site, the kitchen is tucked away out of sight at the back of the house, but that doesn’t mean it was any less central to the family’s life than the more prominent rooms at the front of the house.

The aforementioned kitchen in Rutherford House. Built in 1911, Rutherford House was the home of Mr. Alexander Cameron Rutherford, Premier of Alberta from 1905-1910, Mrs. Mattie Rutherford, and their adolescent children, Cecil and Hazel. Source: Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site.

In fact, the discreet location of this vital space could be considered symbolic of the more general way women’s domestic history is so often obscured from immediate view.

The house’s grand façade, sweeping staircase, large library and impressive drawing and dining rooms leaves the visitor in no doubt about Mr. Rutherford’s prominent position in politics and as the founder of the University of Alberta. If the signs of Mr. Rutherford’s impact on his community are so clearly seen, how can we trace the impact of the Rutherford women? Perhaps the kitchen can provide us with answers.

Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site is also the steward of a little black notebook that belonged to Hazel Rutherford, daughter of Mattie and Alexander Cameron Rutherford. Hazel copied recipes from her mother in it, including instructions for making tomato relish and meat pies.

Hazel Rutherford had taken a shine to a young partner at her father’s law firm, Stanley McCuaig. Stanley would leave for service in the First World War in 1917 and not return until 1919. Hazel and Stanley got married in a small ceremony on September 17, 1919. One wonders if Hazel started copying and collecting recipes in preparation for running her own household one day.

Hazel began her collection of recipes and household tips in her little black notebook in 1916. Source: Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site.

Hazel’s recipes leave out a lot of information. Baking time is often missing, and oven temperatures can be confusing to a modern reader. What does moderate heat mean?  And what exactly is a cup measurement? Often “a cup” historically meant a teacup so replicating a recipe today may take a few tries before getting it right. 

Some of the recipes have little notes beside them. Does a “tic” beside a recipe translate to “great!”? If so, the meat pie recipe is one we should all try!  Does a slash through it mean it was a “fail”?  Or maybe little Rutherford and McCuaig family members were giving their opinion and comments on the families recipes. 

Many recipes have additions or substitutes added as well making it difficult for an outsider or next generation cook to come out with a successful result. Take Lola’s (Hazel’s aunt) Butterscotch pie.

Aunt Lola’s Butterscotch pie isn’t the only recipe from other family members or neighbours in Hazel’s book. These shared recipes give us clues to women’s social networks- after all, sharing a recipe usually means that a meal was shared, enjoyed and then copied. Reading Hazel’s recipe book makes us think about meals hosted in the Rutherford, and later McCuaig family homes, the people gathered there, and the conversations they had while eating.

A recipe book is never just a book of instructions. It hints at family ties, meals shared, conversations and maybe even at romance. What stories does your recipe book hold?

Pie crust

Tomato relish

Cut 30 large Ripe tomatoes, 6 large pears and 6 large peaches.

6  large onions into quite fine pieces (cut onions very fine).

Put 8 teaspoons of mixed spices into a muslin bag and boil with fruit.  Add 4 cups brown sugar 1 quart malt vinegar, 3 red, 3 green peppers and two tablespoons of salt and boil for 3 hours.

Meat Pie

Have beef Stew (left over roast) very hot with lots of gravy. Make a batter of 1 tablespoon butter and one tbsp beef dripping. Add about 2 tbsp sifted flour and cream.

Partly fill 1 cup sifted flour and add 2 full teaspoons of baking powder and pinch of salt.  Add 1 cup cold water to batter+ flour mixture then the rest of the flour adding enough liquids to make a soft dough. Drop in spoon fulls on meat and bake in a hot oven.

Butterscotch pie, sweet cucumber pickles