The Coveted Christmas Catalogue

Seasons Greetings to all! With the holidays approaching rapidly, many of us reminisce about the Christmas experiences from childhood. One of the common memories my co- workers and I share is waiting impatiently for the fabled Sears Wish Book to arrive in our mail boxes. For many of us, the arrival of Christmas catalogues was a much anticipated event in our households. The very name, Christmas catalogue, conjures up images of flipping excitedly through pages filled with shiny new toys destined for children’s wish lists. I for one, remember spending hours pouring over the catalogues, carefully folding the corners of the pages containing coveted items and circling of all the gifts I hoped Santa might bring me.

Children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, 24-Dec-1947 (City of Edmonton Archives EA-600-663b)

In the late 19th Century, mail order catalogues for larger department stores in urban centres, such as Montreal and Toronto, were the norm for purchasing goods in rural communities in Canada. In 1822, the first mail order catalog in Canada was introduced by Carsley’s department store in Montreal. The first Eaton’s Christmas catalogue, called “The Wishing Book” was produced in 1884. Timothy Eaton’s vision was for the book to be accessible to all and “go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion.” The department stores had vast mail-order departments dedicated to making sure mail-order customers received their purchases no matter how far the goods had to travel. By the 1950’s, the ability to purchase a variety of consumer goods through mail-order catalogues expanded rapidly. Many department stores marketed to the young and old, with catalogues specifically designed for the lucrative holiday season. The catalogues offered a variety of gift-giving options from fashions to merchandise and included a special section containing all manner of toys for under the Christmas tree. In 1953, Canadian department store giant Simpson’s was acquired by the American Sears. The business merger resulted in the first Simpsons-Sears catalogue to be published and would eventually become the most successful department store catalogue in the country.

If you would like to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Christmas catalogues from your childhood, please visit Wishbookweb. This fabulous online resource of vintage Christmas catalogues has a current catalog page count of 25,617 pages. For Flash-enabled desktop browsers, users can enjoy full-featured navigation, including text-search features and special page-turning sound effects! Happy browsing!!

Eaton Catalogues:

Simpson-Sears Catalogues:

Snapshot of a few Wishbook Web catalogue resources available, accessed via: Wishbook Web – The Christmas Catalog Archive Project, Dec 4/18.
“A sincere wish for happiness at Christmas and throughout the New Year.” Christmas card, made in Canada date unknown.

Written By: Marsha Mickalyk, Archaeological Permits and Digital Information Coordinator & Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch.

References

“The Story of the Mail-order Catalogue” http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitCollection.do?method=preview&lang=EN&id=25258 retrieved Dec 06, 2018.

City of Edmonton Archives – https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca

WishbookWeb – http://www.wishbookweb.com/

Shell Bead Making at Cluny Fortified Village (EePf-1)

Thank you to guest authors, Margaret Patton and Shalcey Dowkes, for this interesting post about shell beads from a unique archaeological site in Southern Alberta.

The authors would like to acknowledge the Siksika Nation and Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in their support for the ongoing archaeological research at Cluny Fortified Village.

Most beads from Cluny Fortified village are disc beads (upper left), but a variety of other shapes have also been found. For each pair of beads, the left image is the inside shell surface and the right image is the outside shell surface.

All over the world beads have been manufactured for adornment in jewelry and clothing, trade, and may have even been used in storytelling and gaming. In North America, Indigenous groups in extensively traded marine shells. On the Plains, freshwater clams from local rivers were also used to manufacture beads. However, there are limited examples of freshwater shell beads found archaeologically on the Northern Plains. Over 1,450 pieces of shell have been recovered from the Cluny Fortified Village archaeological site, making it a prime candidate to study the production of beads on the Canadian Plains.

Cluny Fortified Village

The Cluny Fortified Village Site is unique as the only known fortified village on the Northern Plains. Located on the northern bank of the Bow River, the site Read more

The Lure of Gold in Alberta’s History: Part II

Part I of The Lure of Gold in Alberta’s History can be read here.

The Last Great Gold Rush

In 1896, gold production in Edmonton reached $55,000,[i] with local banks purchasing gold dust off miners at $15 an ounce.[ii] No small amount for a town of roughly 1200 people. However, this amount was nothing compared to the following year when parties of gold seekers, upon news of rich gold strikes in the Yukon, began outfitting themselves in Edmonton on their way to the Klondike. By the summer of 1898, the stampede was over with local merchants having taken in $500,000.[iii]

When parties slowly began arriving in Edmonton by train in the summer of 1897, the business community quickly seized upon the opportunity and began actively advertising Edmonton as the, ‘All Canadian Route to the Klondike’, ‘The Back Door to the Yukon’, and ‘The Poor Man’s Route to the Yukon.’[iv] By Christmas, there were people from Chicago, eastern Canada, the Atlantic seaboard, Europe, and Australia camped in small groups all over town. Historian J.G. MacGregor wrote that by mid-winter 1898, “…the town was knee deep in Klondikers.”[v]

HBC Stoe Edmonton
Figure 1. A storefront in Edmonton advertising supplies for prospectors (image B4424 reproduced with permission from the Provincial Archives of Alberta).

On a map, distances could be deceiving, and many lacked the experience required for such a rigorous journey. One man writing to the editor of the Edmonton Bulletin inquired as to the feasibility of travelling to the Yukon by bicycle,[vi] and two Parisians who set off from Athabasca Landing admitted to having originally entertained the idea of travelling to the Klondike by balloon.[vii] The distances alone were daunting but the real challenge was carrying with them two years of supplies. This amounted to 2500 lbs of food and gear for each individual, and, depending on the route and the season, they required horses, dog teams, sleds, sleighs, and boats. Read more

The Lure of Gold in Alberta’s History: Part I

“Having disposed of our holdings on the creeks the five of us packed through the South Kootenai Pass and soon after started for Edmonton, where we heard they were mining placer gold on the Saskatchewan River. We had no very clear knowledge of where Edmonton was, and there was no one there to tell us.”[i]

– ‘Kootenai’ Brown (1865)

Gold! It was dreams of golden wealth and the promise of adventure that drew thousands of young men west to California and British Columbia in the 1800s. Although never achieving the spectacular wealth in gold of its neighbors to the west, Alberta witnessed its own gold rush in the 1860s, and over the subsequent decades many people passed through the province on their way to other mining frenzies that swept across the northwest. Many prospectors settled in the province and became leading members of Alberta’s burgeoning communities.

The First Gold in Western Canada

The 1849 rush in California brought ‘Forty-Niners’ from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and Midwest who traveled overland and by sea. Ocean travel also brought Peruvians and Chileans, Mexicans, Australians, Europeans, and Chinese. In the spring of 1858, the easier diggings long since worked out in California, news arrived in San Francisco of discoveries on the Thompson and Fraser Rivers – to the north in British territory.[ii]  By July, it was estimated that 30,000 “half-wild Californians” had passed through the sedate, trading outpost of Fort Victoria Read more

Boomtown heritage building ready for new life

The rehabilitation of the Tipton Investment Company is now complete! Designated a Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource, the building is located within the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. It was constructed in the early days of the 1900s and survives as one of the last wood “boom town” style commercial structures in the district.

The current owners, with the assistance from their consultants, contractors, and provincial and municipal heritage regulators, have successfully preserved the heritage values of the modest single-story structure while expertly incorporating an addition. The rehabilitation not only changes the property to a creative two-story multi-tenant complex, but does so while honouring the wood building as the primary heritage value on the lot. Now that’s how it’s done!

The rehabilitation of the Tipton Investment Company is a shining example of how to keep what is of value, provide upgrades to services and Read more

It’s Métis Week!

Commemorated annually in Alberta, Métis Week remembers the efforts and execution of Louis Riel, while also celebrating the historical and contemporary achievements of Métis people working toward rights and recognition of their Nation.

Many of the historical resources, sites and museums across Alberta contain Métis connections and stories. As the owners and managers of many of these sites, the Heritage Division strives to foster partnerships and collaborations with community to ensure that these stories are told accurately and respectfully. We also recognize how significant it is when these heritage places are owned and managed by Indigenous peoples and communities themselves. In honour of Métis Week, we are pleased to share the work of the team at Métis Crossing, who recently celebrated the ground-breaking at their new gathering centre, slated to open next fall.

Métis Crossing is the first major Métis cultural interpretive centre in Alberta and began as a major initiative of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Their mission is to be a premiere center for Alberta Métis cultural interpretation, education, gatherings, and business development. The 512-acre site is designed to engage and excite visitors, and is comprised of river lot titles from the original Métis settlers who arrived in the late 1800’s. Their programming encourages active participation of visitors in activities that promote appreciation of Métis people, customs, and celebrations. Read more

Alberta Remembers

The Beverly Cenotaph, a simple stone obelisk, was unveiled on October 17, 1920. (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-14)

On November 11, 1918, after more than four years of fighting the “war to end war”, an armistice was called in France and all hostilities came to an end on the Western Front of the First World War. While the battles may have ceased, the effects of the conflict continued to reverberate around the world and across the years, even to the present day, a century later.

Albertans were among those who fought alongside fellow British citizens, as well as French and American soldiers – among others – to defeat Germany and its allies. Estimates place the number of Albertan soldiers at 48,885 – or over one third of the province’s male population aged 18 to 45. Of these, about one in eight did not return from the war, and almost half of those who did return had been wounded.1 The effect of the distant, unseen war was felt throughout the province on a personal level.

One way Albertans dealt with the trauma and loss was to come together and commemorate those who had sacrificed their lives. A model for these activities was provided by “Peace Day”, celebrated on July 19, 1919, in London, England, in honour of the signing of the Treaty of Read more