Author: editor, RETROactive

“Erin go Bragh” in Alberta

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 17th, 2015. We are once again approaching St. Patrick’s Day and we wanted to highlight this great post that talks about the history of the holiday in Alberta. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy.

“What is the matter with the Calgary Irishmen?” asked a frustrated correspondent to the Calgary Herald in March 1916. The writer, who identified themself as ‘F. Fitzsimmons,’ was complaining about the city’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day, with no public events planned to celebrate the day. Fitzsimmons conceded that people were likely distracted by the war effort, but lamented that Calgary’s leading Irish citizens had gotten “cold feet” and failed to plan any celebrations. “If all Irishmen were like the Calgary bunch” closed the writer, then “‘God Save Ireland.’”

The language used by Fitzsimmons in this letter is highly suggestive. By stating that Calgary’s Irish leaders had gotten ‘cold feet,’ he/she was implying that they lacked the courage to publicly celebrate their ethnic heritage. Further, ‘God Save Ireland’ was an explicitly nationalist slogan, associated with the last words of three Irish revolutionaries executed by the British in 1867. In short, Fitzsimmons was calling for an open celebration of Irish identity that did not shy away from nationalist politics. What Fitzsimmons saw as a simple issue, however, was much more complex for the majority of Irish people in Calgary and across Alberta. The often turbulent politics of the Irish homeland, and the campaign for Irish autonomy from (more…)

Ask an Expert and Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year to everyone! We are excited for the New Year and look forward to sharing more of Alberta’s history with our readers. As many of you know, 2017 marks Canada’s 150th anniversary. We hope to touch on this theme throughout the year and highlight the role that Alberta has played in the country’s history. Another goal we have for this year is to connect with our readers more. We want to know what you would like to learn about! So, we are launching a new initiative called Ask an Expert.

Ask an Expert

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The Historic Resources Management Branch of Alberta Culture and Tourism is responsible for the identification and conservation of historic resources in Alberta. Historic Resources include historic places and structures, archaeological sites and artifacts, and traditional use sites. We also deal with geographic place names in the province.

Do you have a question about any of the following topics (related to Alberta)?

  • Historic Places
  • Provincial Historic Resources
  • Heritage Conservation
  • Historic Structures
  • Geographic Place Names
  • Archaeology

If so, we’d love to hear from you! You can submit your question by commenting on any one of our blog posts (preferably related to the topic), or you can leave a comment on our Facebook page or tweet at us on Twitter.

Facebook: Alberta’s Historic Places

Twitter: @ABHistoricPlace

When we receive questions we will track down our resident experts to answer them for you. The answers will be in the form of blog posts or videos.

To get things started we will be giving away a one-time admission pass to one of Alberta’s historic sites or museums to the person whose question we choose for the first Ask An Expert feature! http://www.culture.alberta.ca/heritage-and-museums/museums-and-historic-sites/

Cheers to 2017! We look forward to your questions.

Happy Holidays 2016!

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The staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch wish you a safe and happy holiday season. If you missed it last week, our holiday post was about St. Nicholas Peak!

RETROactive hit a big milestone this year – 5 years of publication and over 250,000 views all time! Thanks to you, our amazing readers, for your support. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Our top 5 posts of 2016 were:

  1. Hollywood in the Canadian Rockies
  2. Changing Animals: Alberta’s Ice Age Megafauna and Wally’s Beach
  3. Blood Kettles and Buffalo Jumps: Communal Hunting on the Plains of Alberta
  4. Alberta on Fire: A History of Cultural Burning
  5. Power and Powder: Early Guns in Alberta

RETROactive will be taking a break over the holidays — we will resume publishing on January 4th, 2017. We look forward to seeing you all in the New Year!

Five-hundred Years of History at McKinnon Flats: New Discoveries Made in the Aftermath of the 2013 Flood

You may have recently seen a news story about archaeological finds at McKinnon Flats, approximately 22 km southeast of Calgary (see below for news links).  Today, McKinnon Flats is a popular recreational area, used for fishing, hiking and bird watching.  But did you know that five centuries ago it may also have been used for bison hunting and camping?

Archaeologists of Lifeways of Canada Limited have been contracted by Alberta Culture and Tourism to find out about early settlement at McKinnon Flats.  They’re part of Culture and Tourism’s three-year Post-Flood Investigation Program, which was initiated to record the effects of the June 2013 southern Alberta flood on archaeological and palaeontological sites along rivers such as the Bow, Highwood, Sheep and Kananaskis.  As a result of the program, 100 new archaeological sites were identified and additional information was gathered at 87 sites that had been recorded prior to the flood.  Many of these sites were found eroding from the riverbanks, with some in need of investigation before they disappeared entirely. (more…)

Haunted Heritage Part 2: Abandoned Ghost Towns of Alberta

In keeping with the haunted heritage theme started last year, I thought it would be fun to look at some other spooky places in Alberta. Some of the most haunting places in our province are deserted ghost towns. Along any lonely stretch of highway, travellers are bound to come across the decaying remains of one of Alberta’s abandoned towns. Desertion of these small settlements occurred when local natural resources were depleted and transportation routes shifted elsewhere. With no reason for being, these towns became nothing more than crumbling relics of a bygone era.  (more…)

Hollywood in the Canadian Rockies

Marilyn Monroe Nearly Drowned,’ read the headline, tucked away in the entertainment pages of the Calgary Herald for August 14th, 1953. Monroe was on location in Jasper National Park for the filming of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster western, River of No Return, when she slipped and fell in the icy waters of the Maligne River. Although pulled to safety by her co-star Robert Mitchum – and a dozen other crew members who quickly rushed to her rescue – she suffered a badly sprained ankle.

The cast and crew had caused quite a stir when they first arrived in the tiny mountain town of Jasper on the 25th of July. Two thousand people, more than the population of the town itself, were on hand to greet the train when it arrived from Vancouver. Director Otto Preminger, when first arriving on location, made a complete circle, shook his head and said, “I guess it doesn’t really matter where I point the camera. We are absolutely surrounded by scenery.”

Marilyn Monroe in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of 'River of No Return', 1953. (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta PA3057.7)

Marilyn Monroe in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of ‘River of No Return’, 1953. (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta PA3057.7)

1953 wasn’t Hollywood’s first foray into using the Mountain Parks as a cinematic backdrop; filmmakers already had a long love affair with Banff and Jasper dating back to the 1920’s with one of the earliest movies being Cameron of the Royal Mounted, filmed in Banff and released in December of 1921. The film was produced by Canadian Ernest Shipman. A prolific filmmaker of his day, Shipman produced 12 movies between 1919 and 1922. It was at this time however that large Hollywood interests, supported by the U.S. State Department, began exerting control over foreign markets, vertically integrating the production, distribution and exhibition of films, effectively putting independent filmmakers out of business and ending a successful decade of domestic film making in Canada. (more…)

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 (more…)