Haunted Heritage

In Alberta, autumn is the perfect mix of sun-soaked days and brisk star-filled nights. Our trees are coloured all sorts of stunning shades of sunburst, heralding the changing seasons. As the winds snatch away the golden foliage, only bare lonely branches are left swaying eerily in their place, it’s the perfect time for telling tales of ghosts and spooky places. From haunted hotels to spooky schoolhouses, Alberta has a rich history rife with ghostly tales. It’s no wonder we love to share local tales of the paranormal.

Here’s our top 5 list of the spookiest heritage sites:

1. The McKay Avenue School: Built between 1904 and 1905, the McKay Avenue School is an early twentieth-century, three-story building situated in the heart of Edmonton’s Downtown district. The building has a red-brick façade with sandstone trim, round arches over the windows, and imposing columns flanking the main entrance. The building hosted the inaugural session of the Alberta Legislative Assembly. It’s also connected to early educational institutions in Edmonton and is an example of stately Richardson Romanesque architectural style.

McKay Avenue School circa 1913, Edmonton (photo courtesy of Provincial Archives of Alberta)
McKay Avenue School circa 1913, Edmonton, said to be haunted by spirits of children and a worker who fell from the roof to his death (photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta).

The school is now home to the Edmonton Public Schools Archive and Museum run by the Edmonton Public School Board. Tales abound of possible paranormal activity in the building including objects mysteriously moving around, water taps found running, and lights being turned off and on by Read more

Rocky Mountain Alpine Project Update

In an earlier post we showed a video of the fieldwork undertaken for the Rocky Mountain Alpine Project in August of 2015. This was a pilot project to determine the potential for finding organic archaeological artifacts in ice patches in the Jasper National Park area. One of our most exciting finds was a leather strip that had recently melted out from the edge of an ice patch. However, we also found and collected a significant number of other naturally occurring organic materials melting out from the ice. While most of these are not archaeological, they are valuable for understanding how this environment and the animals living in it have changed over time. The pilot project revealed that ice patches in Jasper and neighbouring Mount Robson Provincial Park have great potential for archaeological research but also for biological, environmental, and climate research. See below for some of our other finds and their potential to contribute to our knowledge of this landscape’s past.

Natural Organics

Caribou antlers were the most abundant organic materials found. Antlers can be used to reconstruct caribou populations in the past by recovering DNA from them and using genetics to track population growth and decline. It is important to understand how populations change naturally so that we can interpret what effect human activity might have on caribou. We may also be able to detect the impact of past ecological events (like volcanic eruptions) on caribou populations. Similarily, caribou dung present in the ice patches can also be used to track caribou populations and diet. Some researchers have also used finds like this to track the evolution of viruses.

A sample of some of the caribou and elk antlers found at the edge of the ice patches.
A sample of some of the caribou antlers found at the edge of the ice patches.
Caribou dung melting out of the ice.
Caribou dung melting out of the ice.

Bone is another important archaeological and ecological find. Any bone that was encountered was examined for evidence of human modification such as breaking or fracturing of the bones from hunting and processing. Read more

Alberta’s Ancient Darts and Atlatl Hunting

How did people kill animals before guns and the bow and arrow? One of the oldest weapons in Alberta is called an atlatl or dart thrower. The atlatl increased in popularity around 8000 years ago and was the trusted technology for roughly 300 consecutive generations of hunters. It was replaced by the bow and arrow around 2000 years ago.

What’s an Atlatl? 

The atlatl is a carved wooden board, up to 1 m long, with a hook on one end that inserts into a divot at the end of a ‘dart’ shaft (about 1 m in length).

Figure 1. Atlatl and weight Amanda Dow
An atlatl throwing board (by Amanda Dow)

The hunter throws the dart in a motion similar to a baseball pitch. A flick of the wrist at the end of the throw increases the speed and power. Is the use of an atlatl better than just throwing a spear? The world record for a hand-thrown javelin is 104 m while the record for an atlatl thrown-dart is 258 m! Read more