Visit a place you haven’t seen in a while: Alberta’s past

Experience Alberta's History

Where but Alberta can you experience an Icelandic homestead, a glacial erratic, a fur trade post and a buffalo jump? What other province operates a network of museums and interpretive centres, where you can see dinosaur fossils, historic automobiles, Canada’s deadliest rock-slide or a Ukrainian-Canadian settlement?

The Government of Alberta doesn’t just protect significant historic resources—we proudly interpret and display Alberta’s heritage. The Ministry of Culture operates historic sites, interpretive centres, museums and archives. To find out more, click here.

Would you like to know what’s happening at some of our historic sites and museums during the next few weeks? Here’s some information for southern Alberta and for northern Alberta.

Spring is in the air! Have you started planning your summer vacation?

Historic Dunvegan 2013 Summer Events

Factor's House, Historic Dunvegan
Factor’s House, Historic Dunvegan

Last fall (2012), I had meetings with the Municipal District of Spirit River and also had the opportunity to visit Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park. What a beautiful place to explore! Located approximately one hour north of Grande Prairie and fifteen minutes south of Fairview, this park offers camping, a walking trail that meanders along the Peace River, a Provincial Historic Site and stunning views of the Dunvegan Bridge. With a Visitor Centre acting as a gateway to the Provincial Historic Site portion of the park (of which, portions are also designated as a Provincial Historic Resource) interpretive staff provide guided tours of the historic buildings. If you time your visit carefully, you might even get to experience one of their special events. See below for more information.

Interior, Factor's House, Historic Dunvegan. Do you remember hearing the saying “Sleep tight” when you were a child?  While it’s not known for sure, many believe that the saying originated with the use of rope beds such as this.  A person would have to tighten the ropes of the bed every so often, otherwise the ropes might loosen and cause the person to fall through to the floor in the middle of the night.  Possibly as a reminder to tighten the ropes, the saying: “Good night, sleep tight” came into being.
Factor’s House, Historic Dunvegan (Interior)  Do you remember hearing the saying “sleep tight” when you were a child? While it’s not known for sure, many believe that the saying originated with the use of rope beds such as this. A person would have to tighten the ropes of the bed every so often, otherwise the ropes might loosen and cause the person to fall through to the floor in the middle of the night. Possibly as a reminder to tighten the ropes, the saying: “Good night, sleep tight” came into being.

Historic Dunvegan is a significant part of Alberta’s heritage because of its connection to the operations of the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company in the Peace River District, for being an example of early architecture in Alberta and for the archaeological resources located at the site. To learn more about the significance of Historic Dunvegan and its history, read its listing on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Historic buildings that you could tour when at Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park, include:

  • St. Charles Mission – The Rectory
  • St. Charles Mission – St. Charles Church
  • Factor’s House
  • Revillon Frères Store (opening July 1st)

Tours of these fully restored buildings are offered daily.

Open Hours: May 15-September 2, 2013 from 10am-5pm.

Regular admission prices: $3.00 for Adults; $2.00 for Seniors; $1.50 for Youth; Free for children 6 and under.

Attention educators and youth group leaders! Educational programs or tours can be booked anytime during the summer.

St. Charles Mission, Church and Rectory
St. Charles Mission, Church and Rectory


Canada DayMonday, July 1st, 11am-4pm. Celebrate a historical milestone at Historic Dunvegan by being part of the grand opening of a building originally constructed by the Revillon Frères free traders in 1909. Discover this significant chapter of Dunvegan’s story by exploring the building and hearing from many of the people who have helped bring it to life. The day’s festivities will also include a performance by Juno-nominated family entertainer Mary Lambert, tours of all historic buildings, games, cake and crafts.
Admission is half price!

Annual Fresh Air MarketSunday, August 4th, 11am-5pm. Experience the time-honoured tradition of trading and gathering at Historic Dunvegan’s Fresh Air Market. Shop for jewellery, gifts, and other treats – all handcrafted by artisans from the Peace Country. Costumed interpreters will be offering tours of Historic Dunvegan’s three fully restored historic buildings. Activities for the kids will be provided. Regular fees apply.

St. Charles Mission, Church, Interior
St. Charles Mission, Church (Interior)


Amphitheatre Entertainment –Saturdays (May 18, June 29, August 3) at 2:00pm. Join the staff of Historic Dunvegan for a humorous and often interactive dramatic presentation. Participation by donation.

Sunday Funday – Sundays (May 19, June 30, September 1) at 2:00pm. Have some fun with our historical interpreters as they host games and activities. Participation by donation.


Day Camps – Most Wednesdays in July and August, 11am-4pm. For kids aged 4-10. Have some fun in the sun, learn a new craft, play a fun game, watch movies and more! Fee: $10/child. Bring a bag lunch.

Tea Leaves & Bannock Sticks – Most Saturdays in July and August, 2pm-4pm. Learn to bake bannock (traditional Scottish/Aboriginal bread) and enjoy a cup of tea while visiting with friends, family and historic staff. Participation by donation.


Phone: 780-835-7150


Historic Dunvegan website

Follow Historic Dunvegan on Facebook!

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

(Special thanks goes out to Stephanie McLachlan, Program Coordinator at Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park, who supplied all the summer event information.)

Meet Dinosaurs, Coal Miners and Pioneers: Adventures in Southern Alberta

Where else but southern Alberta can you dig for dinosaurs, ride in a horse-drawn carriage and explore a world-famous rockslide all in one summer? With the Experience Alberta’s History Pass, the whole family can visit all of Alberta’s Provincial Historic Sites, Museums and Interpretive Centres for just $75.

As you stand under the huge Brooks Aqueduct, you can see why it was the largest structure of its kind when it was built 100 years ago. Take a tour to learn how this enormous aqueduct channelled water to parched prairie farmland as part of south eastern Alberta’s vital irrigation network. Stop for a picnic at this National and Provincial Historic site.

In the early morning of Apr 29, 1903, a massive rockslide hurled down from Turtle Mountain and buried a portion of the sleeping mining town of Frank. The thunderous roar of Canada’s deadliest rock slide was heard 200 km away. Visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre to explore what Frank and the Crowsnest Pass were like before, during and after the slide. Take a rocky hike and breathe in the crisp mountain air.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Fort Macleod is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jumps. Learn why it was used as a hunting ground for 5,500 years and the important role of the bison for the Aboriginal people who hunted here. Hike 2 km of interpretive trails, watch drumming and dancing demonstrations every Wednesday in July and August.

In 1909, Fort Macleod’s Leitch Collieries was one of the most successful enterprises in the Crowsnest Pass with 101 coke ovens, a soaring wooden washery and a massive tipple. Explore the ruins of this huge mine on a self-guided walking tour or register for an interpretive program to find out what drove the Leitch Collieries  out of business just 10 years later.

Since it was built in 1891, Calgary’s Lougheed House has been a state home, housekeeping and nursing school, Canadian Women’s Army Corps barracks and a Second World War blood donor clinic. Now the sandstone mansion houses historical displays, an elegant restaurant and historic themed flower and vegetable gardens. Make a special stop at the colourful butterfly-themed flower beds.

The Okotoks Erratic – the world’s largest known naturally transported rock – weighs 16,500 tonnes and took over 8,000 years to travel from Jasper area on the back of a glacier. This is a perfect place to walk your dog and learn about glacial movement and the importance of the “Big Rock” to Aboriginal people.

Treat the horse admirers in your family to a carriage ride around Cardston’s Remington Carriage Museum and introduce them to the museum’s herd of Clydesdales and Quarter horses. Little ones can also try a new mini-chuckwagon exhibit – while watching actual footage from the championships held here, they’ll feel the ride move as if they’re really driving it around the track.

Dino-obsessed kids can prospect for fossils and work in a simulated quarry in “Jr. Dig Experience”, a program just for pre-teens at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, in Drumheller. The Museum’s new exhibit Alberta’s Last Sea Dragon, solving an ancient puzzle, gets you up close to a 12-metre sea dragon.

On your next daytrip, tour Stephansson House north of Markerville, the famous Icelandic pioneer poet’s early 20th century homestead. Costumed interpreters at the house provide a tour with hands-on demonstrations which may include poetry and baking. Stop at the Historic Markerville Creamery 7km south in Markerville to learn the intricacies of butter making.

Don’t forget about all the exciting Provincial Historic Sites, Museums and Interpretive Centres located in northern Alberta!

Search the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the above Provincial Historic Sites, which are also formally protected as Provincial Historic Resources.

Bugs, Machines and Fur-Traders: Experience Northern Alberta’s History

You have a busy summer ahead? Northern Alberta’s historic sites and museums are ready for you to come and play! While you’re at it, you’ll learn about bugs, machines, fur-traders and even a tragic battle. Take your pick – or even better, pick up the Experience Alberta’s History Pass. It is just $75 for the whole family to enjoy a year of Alberta’s past.

St. Albert’s Father Lacombe Chapel, once a bustling gathering place for Aboriginal people and French-speaking Oblate priests, Grey Nuns and Métis, is Alberta’s oldest building. Join your costumed guide for a tour of the building, grounds and neighbouring cemetery.

One of Alberta’s and Canada’s most significant heritage places, Frog Lake Historic Site commemorates the events of April 2, 1885, when First Nations’ dissatisfaction with federal government policies erupted in violence.  Visitors can walk along an interpretive trail with tri-lingual signage that places April 2, 1885 within its historic context.

Tour the archaeological site and interpretive centre at Elk Point’s Fort George and Buckingham House, where two competing fur trading posts once stood. A fur-clad voyageur will teach you traditional ways to make a fire, where you’ll gather to hear his adventures. By the end of your day, you’ll know all about how settlers and Aboriginal people lived and worked together.

Historic Dunvegan just south of Fairview, was a 19th century fur-trade post and mission. Join your costumed guide to explore the rectory, exquisitely painted church and Factor’s family home, and trace the footsteps of the trappers, traders, missionaries and Aboriginal people who lived there.

Jump as high as you can and you still won’t reach the top of the 150-tonne heavy hauler at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray. Big as it is, it pales beside Cyrus, the 850-tonne bucketwheel excavator in the industrial artifact garden outside! While you spend the day playing, you’ll learn a tonne about one of Alberta’s most significant industries.

Know someone who loves machines? Step on the gas and visit the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. Vintage cars, motorcycles, planes, tractors – if you’ve ridden it or dreamed of riding it, they have one here. Tour a 1911 factory and 1920s grain elevator, watch a movie in the 1950s drive-in and check out gigantic early tractors, called Dinosaurs of the Field.

You’ll want a whole day to explore Edmonton’s Royal Alberta Museum. Meet beetles and centipedes in the Bug Room, huddle inside a full-sized tipi and visit the Wild Alberta Gallery to discover what lives in a wetland, a mountain cave and even a tiny drop of water or learn about man’s best friend in the “Wolf to Woof” exhibit.

Bring your mom to Rutherford House in Edmonton. Tour the historical gardens and elegant home of Alberta’s first premier then visit the Arbour Restaurant for an oh-so-refined high tea with scones and raspberry butter.

Kids who love to run will love the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, east of Edmonton. This award-winning open-air museum has over 30 restored buildings, including a sod house, one-room school, blacksmith shop and three amazing churches. If the kids still have energy to burn, play some horseshoes, make crafts or take in a historical demonstration.

The past echoes gently at Victoria Settlement, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Discover this enchanting site near Smoky Lake, on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River.  Learn the simple joys of old-fashioned games, and join a costumed guide for a tour of the church and 1864 clerk’s quarters.

Don’t forget about all the exciting Provincial Historic Sites, Museums and Interpretive Centres located in southern Alberta!

Search the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the above Provincial Historic Sites, which are also formally protected as Provincial Historic Resources.

Alberta’s Past – Experience It!

This year visit a place you haven’t seen in a while — Alberta’s Past. Check out any of Alberta’s 18 provincial historic sites, interpretive centres and museums and experience Alberta’s history.

This easy-to-use pass provides unlimited access for one year from the date of purchase and opens doors to the fascinating world of Alberta’s rich history and culture. Besides offering a variety of educational and learning activities for visitors of all ages, many heritage facilities have a wide range of special events and interactive programs throughout the year. They are exciting places to stop on a vacation where visitors come to learn and have fun.

Purchase an Experience Alberta’s History Pass and receive unlimited admission to 18 provincial historic sites and museums in Alberta for one full year. Experience Alberta Passes are available at all major facilities, at all AMA offices and the two Edmonton Visitor Information Centres.









Under 7


The Signing of Treaty No. 8

You have all probably seen them – large blue heritage markers located at highway rest areas or points of interest throughout Alberta. These interpretive signs tell of Alberta’s rich heritage. Come, travel Alberta and read a featured heritage marker:

Driving towards High Prairie on Highway 2, I encountered this roadside sign a few kilometres past the western tip of Lesser Slave Lake. Stopping to read it, I didn’t realise how close I was to the place where one of the numbered treaties was signed.

The Signing of Treaty No. 8

Treaty No. 8 was first signed on 21 June 1899 north of here at the western end of Lesser Slave Lake. Spurred by the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896, and growing agricultural settlement in the region, Treaty No. 8 was one of a series of treaties the federal government made with the First Nations of Canada.

The signatories for the First Nations of the Lesser Slave Lake area were: Chief Keenooshayoo, Moostoos (Sucker Creek), Felix Giroux (Swan River), Weecheewaysis (Driftpile), Charles Neesuetasis (Sawridge), and The Captain (Sturgeon Lake). Treaty Commissioners David Laird, J.A.J. McKenna, and J.H. Ross represented Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. There were also representatives from the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and the North West Mounted Police present at the signing.

The First Nations who signed were promised reserves, education, medicines, annual payments, farm equipment, stock, seed, and ammunition, along with the freedom to hunt, fish and trap and other rights. After careful consideration and negotiation, the First Nations agreed to sign the Treaty. Adhesions to Treaty No. 8 were signed between July 1899 and 1914.

The Treaty Commission also traveled with a Scrip Commission which issued certificates called scrip to area Métis. These certificates entitled the bearer to either 240 acres of land or $240 towards the purchase of land.

Heritage Marker Location

North side of Highway 2, about 15 kilometres east of the town of High Prairie.

St. Bernard Mission (Church and Cemetery) is a Provincial Historic Resource located nearby in the hamlet of Grouard. Bishop Grouard was a famous Roman Catholic oblate missionary. Bishop Grouard encouraged many tribes to sign Treaty No. 8.

Prepared by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

A Big Rock and a Colliery?

Whenever I travel Alberta for business I try to return to the office with fodder for future blog posts. As the last instalment from my April 2012 business trip, today’s blog post will feature the Big Rock Erratic, near Okotoks and the Leitch Collieries, in the Crowsnest Pass (near Burmis). Both sites are formally protected as Provincial Historic Resources and can be found on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Other blog posts stemming from my April travels include:

For those of you wondering if I only write about southern Alberta – don’t worry! At the end of June I will be travelling up to the MD of Opportunity. I wonder what kind of northern Alberta fodder I will discover….

Big Rock Erratic

Located off Highway 7, ten kilometres southwest of Okotoks, the Big Rock Erratic is, well, BIG! Measuring 9 metres high, 41 meters long and 18 meters wide, it is the largest rock in the Foothills Erratic Train. Essentially, some 10,000 years ago when the glacier covering the area melted, this rock and others were left behind – far from their mountain origins. Despite erosion, it still serves a huge landmark on the flat prairie.

One interesting feature of Big Rock is the large split down the middle. As shared on our Alberta Culture website, a Blackfoot story describes not only how this may have happened, but why bats have squashed-looking faces:

One hot summer day, Napi, the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot peoples, rested on the rock because the day was warm and he was tired. He spread his robe on the rock, telling the rock to keep the robe in return for letting Napi rest there. Suddenly, the weather changed and Napi became cold as the wind whistled and the rain fell. Napi asked the rock to return his robe, but the rock refused. Napi got mad and just took the clothing. As he strolled away, he heard a loud noise and turning, he saw the rock was rolling after him. Napi ran for his life. The deer, the bison and the pronghorn were Napi’s friends, and they tried to stop the rock by running in front of it. The rock rolled over them. Napi’s last chance was to call on the bats for help. Fortunately, they did better than their hoofed neighbours, and by diving at the rock and colliding with it, one of them finally hit the rock just right and it broke into two pieces.

When driving along Highway 7, this site is difficult to miss. A large parking lot accommodates travellers and interpretive signs explain the science behind the rock’s presence. To read more about this site, click here.

Note: Quartzite is slippery to climb and although it is hard, pieces can break off in climbers’ hands. Please do not climb the rock, as tempting as it looks. Also, there are aboriginal pictographs on the rock, and these could easily be damaged by climbers. Enjoy the beautiful colours, textures and feel of the rock, but stay on the ground. Please help us protect this Provincial Historical Resource for others to enjoy.

Leitch Collieries

When established, in 1907, Leitch Collieries was one of the largest and most ambitious mines located in the Crowsnest Pass. Initially, a washery and tipple were erected along with railway connections to the CPR. By 1910 a total of 101 ovens were installed. A manager’s residence and a combined powerhouse/round house were also built on site. In an area immediately west of the Collieries, the town of Passburg grew. Ultimately, the coal mined at the Collieries turned out to be of poor coking quality and only five of the 101 ovens were used. Poor quality and economic hard times resulted in the company ceasing its operations in 1916. Most of the buildings in Passburg were relocated to Bellvue (another mining community in the Crowsnest Pass).

Both a Provincial Historic Resource and a Provincial Historic Site, Leitch Collieries is managed by the Government of Alberta as an interpreted historic site. At this site (located just east of the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre on Highway 3), visitors will find the remains of the tipple, powerhouse, coke ovens and manager’s house. Walking paths and interpretive signs allow visitors to explore the buildings and learn about the Collieries operations. The site is staffed from May 15 to Labour Day (10:00am to 5:00pm). After hours, and for the remainder of the year, the site is self-guided.

Unfortunately, my visit to Leitch Collieries was very brief. I quickly walked through the site and photographed some of the ruins. The next time you drive through the area consider pulling off the highway – spend some time wandering the remains and learn about an aspect of Alberta’s coal mining history. To read more about this site, click here.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Moving Mountains – My Visit to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre

View of Turtle Mountain from the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre

Last week I was in southern Alberta for meetings with Vulcan County and the Town of Pincher Creek. To fill a meeting-free morning I decided to visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre (a thirty minute drive west of Pincher Creek on Highway 3). Throughout my visit grey clouds blanketed the sky, which befitted the destruction, sorrow and magnitude of the Frank Slide disaster.

On April 29, 1903 at 4:10 in the morning the east face of Turtle Mountain toppled and slid four kilometres into the Crowsnest River valley. In a mere ninety seconds, 82 million tonnes of limestone collapsed upon the southern end of the Town of Frank, a section of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) and the mine plant of the Canadian-American Coal Company. In total, at least ninety people were killed. To date, this is Canada’s deadliest rockslide.

In 1977 the Government of Alberta designated the site a Provincial Historic Resource for its significance as the site of Alberta’s worst natural disaster, for it being a geological phenomenon and for it serving as a provincial landmark (to learn more about the site’s heritage value, read the Frank Slide Statement of Significance). Visitors to the area can learn first-hand about the disaster through interactive multi-media displays at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, and by walking the Frank Slide Interpretive Trail.

Interpretive Centre

What force can you exert on a mountain by jumping, stomping, pushing, pulling, lifting ... ?

Four levels of display space recount not only the horrors and triumphs of the people that awoke one morning to find their town buried, but provide geological and seismic information about the causes of the disaster. Audio-visual components and 3-D models allow visitors to visualize how Mother Nature could wreck such havoc. My favourite display was a set of three mountain monitoring sensors that are like those currently installed on Turtle Mountain to detect movement. Visitors are encouraged to stomp, jump, push, pull and lift blocks of concrete connected to a crack meter, tilt meter and seismic sensor. Computer screens reveal how sensitive the monitors are AND how strong YOU are! Yes, I jumped, stomped, pushed and pulled … the next time someone asks I will now be able to confidently state that I really can move mountains!

Interpretive Trail

View of Turtle Mountain near the trail head.

A 1.5 kilometre trail, beginning from the Interpretive Centre parking lot, winds through mounds of limestone rubble. Looming views of Turtle Mountain offer a stark reality check when walking along the trail. Hopes, dreams and memories lay beneath.

I walked the trail with an interpretive brochure in hand. Waypoints marked along the path explained what I saw and some of the events that occurred on that fateful day. The last quarter of the trail winds along the western edge of the fallen rock and loops back up to the parking lot through a wooded area. I paused during this reconnection with nature to read that, “mammals such as bears, deer and moose use these cool, sheltered woodlands to skirt the slide’s harsh, open environment as they move through the Crowsnest River valley. Mule deer can frequently be seen along this portion of the trail, particularly early and late in the day.” Taking a step to carry on my way, I thought how great it would be to see some deer. The breaking of twigs caused me to again pause. To my amazement I looked up to discover four deer staring at me!! All five of us stared. Soon enough they returned to their feeding while I continued staring. What a joy!

Turtle Mountain Web Cameras

The Alberta Geological Survey has installed two web cameras for viewing Turtle Mountain. One is in the valley looking up at the mountain and the other is positioned on the south peak providing a view of the valley below. Click here to see a current view of Turtle Mountain.

The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre is open to the public, daily, from 10:00am to 5:00pm. July 1 through Labour Day, the Centre is open daily from 9:00am to 6:00pm. Click here for additional information.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

P.S. I must extend a big thank you to Monica and Myriah for welcoming me to the Interpretive Centre and for providing a great tour! I really enjoyed my visit.