Plough your Furrows Deep: The Foundations of Agriculture in Alberta

Farming in Alberta has been shaped by a deep and layered history of geological, biological, and human forces. This article takes us back to the beginning.

Farming is based on a sliver of soil that caps kilometers of sediment and bedrock. To understand how our fields first formed, we need to read an ancient geological story of how Alberta has been raised and tilted then scoured and capped over time. Alberta has sat inside a continental plate (or ‘craton’) for over 300 million years. Around 180 million years ago, the western edge of this plate began crunching to form the up-and-down terrain of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia (B.C.) and the Rocky Mountains between B.C. and Alberta (Figure 1). Mountain building finished about 50 million years ago.

Bedrock geology draft 4
Figure 1. This is a bedrock map of Alberta and B.C. “Bedrock” refers to the stony basement below our modern soil and loose sediment (gravel, sand, and silt). B.C. is striped with colour because its bedrock is made of diverse chunks of land called terranes that got repeatedly mashed against a moving continental plate that Alberta lay within. One product of this mash-up (‘accretion’) was mountain building (‘orogeny’). Creation of the western mountains forever shaped the development of soils and agriculture in the Prairie Provinces (map by Todd Kristensen with bedrock data from the USGS 2015).

For almost 200 million years, Alberta has been tilted: our bedrock is formed largely of shales and sandstones that built up when sediment either poured off the mountains and solidified into rock or settled down in ancient waters that once filled a basin over Alberta. From about 50 to 5 million years ago, huge sheets of gravel and sand continued to shed off the Rockies (carried by rivers and streams) before settling into our basement. Read more

Building skills: Using seeds and shells to learn about Alberta’s ancient environments

How do we know about past environments?

Historic and precontact archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sites from across Alberta tell us much about people and past environments. But how can we learn the details about that environment? This blog post will tell you how we use environmental indicators, especially macrofossils, to reconstruct what conditions were like at sites in the past.

It may seem reasonable to assume that the environment when an archaeological site was inhabited by people was generally the same as it is now, and this is sometimes the case. However, the archaeological record in Alberta goes back at least 13,000 years , to the end of the last major glaciation and its transition to our present epoch (the Holocene). Given this long and varied history, it’s obvious some considerable changes have occurred. Read more

Alberta’s Wooden Country Grain Elevators – Update

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 6th, 2012 and again on August 26, 2015. Interest in grain elevators remains strong, so a revisit seems in order. Some additional data has been added, an updated list of communities with elevators can be accessed below, as well as a variety of resources and documents relating to Alberta’s Grain elevators.

The twentieth century saw the rise and fall—literally—of the wooden country grain elevator in Alberta. As rail lines spread across the province in the early 1900s, grain elevators sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rain. The height of wooden country grain elevators was reached in 1934. New ones continued to be added until the 1990s, but with increasing numbers being demolished, these icons of the prairie became scarcer. Today, the remaining wooden country grain elevators number only about six percent of the maximum reached in the 1930s. Check out the following “index” of Alberta’s wooden country grain elevators, called “elevators” for short in this article.

Number of elevators in Alberta: Read more

Volcanoes and Alberta

Thank you to guest writer Britta Jensen of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta, for this interesting post about the impact volcanoes have had on our province.

It is safe to say that when people think of Alberta they rarely think of volcanoes. Prairies, check; mountains, check; boreal forest, check; volcanoes, ummm, no? This is a fair reaction because Alberta can’t currently claim a single volcano. However, take a look at a map and you can see that we aren’t actually that far, relatively speaking, from the impressive volcanic peaks that dot the west coast – Mount St. Helens, Rainier, Baker, Meager, to name a few. Far enough to avoid the damaging effects of an eruption? Perhaps not. On May 18th 1980, Albertans learned that we are close enough to have our province impacted by major volcanic eruptions. The eruption of Mount St. Helens, which killed 57 people locally, spread ash far and wide. Enough ash accumulated in southern Alberta to cause problems, with reduced visibility, vehicles, and people with respiratory illnesses. A light dusting of ash was even reported as far north as Edmonton. No visible layer of that eruption remains on the landscape of Alberta. But what about the past?

Mount St. Helens, Washington State, summer 2017. View of the north-face that collapsed in 1980 (Photo Credit: Britta Jensen).

When we look under the ground, at pits dug during construction, road cuts, river banks and other exposures of the ground we walk upon, we can see a history of large eruptions blanketing parts of our province in volcanic ash. This record of Read more

HONOURING ALBERTA’S HERITAGE HEROES

Nominations for the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation’s Heritage Awards 2018 are now open. Help us honour and celebrate the outstanding contributions of Albertans to the promotion and preservation of Alberta’s heritage. This is the 7th biennial Heritage Awards since its reintroduction in 2005.

Awards will be presented in the Heritage Conservation, Heritage Awareness and Outstanding Achievement categories. In addition, the Foundation is proud to introduce the Indigenous Heritage and Youth Heritage Awards this year. Awards will be presented during an awards ceremony on October 12, 2018.

Who are the heritage heroes in your community? Complete your nominations now. Deadline for submission is July 15.

For a copy of the guidelines and nomination form, visit https://alberta.ca/heritage-awards.aspx or contact the Program Coordinator at 780-431-2305 (toll-free by first dialing 310-000) or Carina.Naranjilla@gov.ab.ca.

45+ Years of Data Management at the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Whether excavating archaeological sites or surveying the land in search of undiscovered ones, archaeologists create data. That data can take the form of field journals, artifact catalogues, GPS tracks and waypoints, photographs, excavation plans, level records, site forms, and reports. It is often said that for every month spent in the field, an archaeologist will spend a year in the lab and the office processing the field data they collected.

The Archaeological Survey (the Survey) began managing Alberta archaeological sites, research, and mitigation in 1972, with the passing of what is now known as the Historical Resources Act. At the same time, the Survey also became the official provincial repository for most archaeological data. Today the Survey collects and archives data for use by archaeological researchers, consultants, and other stakeholders, and also relies on archaeological data in order to run the historic resources management machinery. Read more

Celebrating Mary Schäffer Warren

Thursday, March 8th marks International Women’s Day. This year we honour the memory, achievements and spirit of Yahe–Weha (mountain woman, as she was known to the Stoney), Mary Schäffer Warren.

“Lake Louise is a pearl; Lake Maligne is a whole string of pearls.”

– Mary Schäffer Warren

A view towards Spirit Island, Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park (taken by the author, September 2017).

The famed turquoise blue waters of Maligne Lake are bordered by impressive mountain peaks and glaciers. The lakes breathtaking natural beauty often leaves visiting tourists awestruck. But did you know that a Quaker woman from Philadelphia first surveyed, mapped and named the geological features (lake, mountains, peaks and glaciers) in the area? This remarkable pioneering woman was Mary Schäffer Warren. Read more