Creating Connections: Paul First Nation History

Today, RETROactive is pleased to feature a community-created heritage project!

The Paul First Nation History website and Facebook page is the brainchild of Jaelin Rask. A Paul First Nation member who today lives on-reserve, Jaelin was raised primarily in Calgary, geographically and culturally-distanced from his Indigenous heritage. As an adult, Jaelin received a number of historical documents from his late paternal grandfather, David Bird (who served as Chief of Paul First Nation from 1952 to 1955), spurring his interest in genealogy and his father’s family history.

Jaelin Rask (Photo provided by: Jaelin Rask).

“Little by little” Jaelin’s document collection grew, aided by trips to the archives and conversations with community members. Word of his work travelled fast throughout the Nation, and Jaelin found his social media inboxes full of requests Read more

Beading the Way: Adornment and the Quest for Cultural Survival

Adornment reflects a symbolic visual language that includes materials and designs that contain communally understood messages. That is, the clothing or items we wear convey information about us to other people. The expression of these messages through clothing, tattoos, jewelry, or body paint, conveys information about an individual, group, society, or religion. Beading, and other embroidery techniques, can be seen as one aspect of adornment for Indigenous groups, and one that played a central role in cultural preservation for many groups post-European contact.

Beads have been found in the archaeological record as early as 40,000 years ago, and are staples in decorative adornment. Beads can be fashioned from many different natural materials including plant seeds, stone, gems, shell, bone, or metal. While plant-based seeds are the easiest to manufacture due to their availability, beads made from bone, metal, gems, or semi-precious stone require more effort and technology to produce, and are therefore more highly valued.

Prior to European contact, Woodland and Plains cultures of North America decorated the skins of animals, tree bark, and their own bodies with locally available and traded materials. Materials such as seeds, berries, porcupine quills, moose hair, Read more

A Futuristic Elevator that Lives on in Brazil

This post was originally published on RETROactive on July 31, 2014. 

As this cartoon indicates some farmers were skeptical of the Buffalo design. (Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, M-800-344.)
As this cartoon indicates some farmers were skeptical of the Buffalo design. (Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, M-800-344.)

Not long ago, Alberta had country grain elevators named for the bison that roamed the plains before grain was grown. The innovative Buffalo, as they were called, were designed in Alberta, and constructed in both Alberta and Brazil. In the late 1970s, times were good for Alberta’s farmers and their grain Company—the Alberta Wheat Pool. Bumper crops and high grain prices kept the grain elevators humming. As fires destroyed many wood elevators, and the railways were pushing for ever more streamlined grain handling, the Pool decided to use some of its profits to experiment with concrete elevator designs. It began working with Buffalo Engineering of Edmonton, headed by Klaus U. Drieger. This resulted in a design for an elevator that was radically different, and a second company, Buffalo Beton Ltd. of Calgary, constructed them. Read more

‘Pollen’ me back into history!: What Pollen can tell us about Archaeological Sites

Anyone with allergies knows when spring begins, and plants start pollinating, the offensive ‘dust’ can wreak havoc. However, one of the great things with pollen, from an archaeological perspective, is the fact that it gets dispersed annually. This means that each year, the ‘signature’ of the pollen released tells us about the landscape at the time. Plants have evolved to reproduce with pollen in several ways, and one that is highly effective is pollinating via the wind.

Pollen being released from a flower which will be carried by the wind. Plant Pollen is available through the CC0 Public Domain.

When the wind transports pollen it gets dispersed across the landscape, sometimes even getting caught within puddles. Inevitably, many pollen grains get caught in lakes and accumulate in the sediments. When it settles on the bottom of a lake basin, it stays there and is preserved for researchers to find hundreds, and even thousands, of years later. All this Read more

Pronghorn Traps on the Northern Plains of Alberta

“The antelope possesses an unconquerable inquisitiveness, of which hunters often take advantage…The hunter, getting as near the animal as is practicable, conceals himself by lying down, then fixing a handkerchief or cap upon the end of his ramrod, continues to wave it, remaining concealed. The animal, after a long contest between curiosity and fear, at length approaches near enough to become a sacrifice to the former.” (James 1905, vol. 2, pp. 227)

On two different flights over southeastern Alberta, separated by about thirty years, unusual stone features were observed on the landscape. Upon further inspection by archaeologists, it was determined that these two sites are the remnants of drive lanes and traps that were used for the communal hunting of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana, also commonly referred to as antelope).

While it is commonly known that bison were one of the greatest resources for precontact North American Indigenous groups, it is important to note that before European arrival, it is thought that there were just as many pronghorn as bison in North America. They were an important resource as well, particularly for people living in the Great Basin region of the United States, as pronghorn were one of the largest game animals available in that region. For Plains groups, bison were preferred for meat (and there is abundant archaeological evidence of this in the many bison kill sites across the Plains), however, pronghorn were valued for their hides to make clothing and other items.

Communal antelope hunting is documented in many historical accounts both in the Great Basin and on the Plains. These accounts describe wood and brush drive lines that led to fenced enclosures and to pit traps excavated in the ground. Hunters disguised themselves as antelope, wolf or other animals to get close to the herds and then drove the animals into Read more

The Big Four and Alberta Place Names

This post was originally published on July 10, 2012 in honour of the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. It highlights the place names and geographical features in Alberta named after The Big Four – the ranchers and businessmen that funded Guy Weadick’s 1912 wild west show and rodeo, which grew to become today’s Calgary Stampede. Six years later, the Stampede is once again in full swing – a good excuse to revisit the legacy of the Big Four.

On the west side of Stampede Park, rising from the seething mass of carnival rides, concession stands and humanity that is the Stampede midway is the Big Four Building. This building is named for the Big Four – the four Southern Alberta ranchers and businessmen who funded Guy Weadick’s proposed rodeo and wild west show in 1912. Intended to be a one-time event, the show and rodeo grew to become the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. To say that the Big Four influenced Calgary’s popular culture would be a great understatement.

The Big Four with HRH Edward, Prince of Wales at the EP Ranch, 1923 LtoR: Pat Burns; George Lane; Edward, The Prince of Wales; Archie McLean; and A. E. Cross. (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A2658)

However, the legacy of the Big Four extends beyond the boundaries of Stampede Park. They left their mark not only in Calgary, but on the geography of the Province of Alberta. This blog post is the first of three that look at the Big Four – George Lane, A. E. Cross, Archie McLean and Pat Burns – and the places named for them. Read more

Every Place Has a Story

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Strikes, war and untimely death are all part of the story of the ambitious mining venture at Leitch Collieries in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass.

Saturday, July 7 is Canada Historic Places Day. Here in Alberta, you might be picturing a museum, an old Ukrainian farm house or that retrofitted old warehouse in downtown Calgary or Edmonton.

In reality, historic “places” can be much more than urban buildings or interpretive centres. They’re vast swaths of land where First Nations hunted or geological landmarks tens of thousands of years in the making.

Everyone across the province is invited to head out this weekend to learn about the stories, people and places that have shaped our province. We have more than 700 historic places designated under the province’s Historical Resources Act…maybe one of those is right in your neighbourhood!

When you’re out exploring Alberta’s historic places, share your stories on social media using the hashtag #HistoricPlacesDay. And head over to historicplacesday.ca to find out how a selfie could land you a chance to win $1,000.