Allan Rowe

“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…)

Heritage Marker Unveiling in Peace River

The Municipal District of Peace No. 135, which has been celebrating its centenary in 2016, hosted the unveiling of the two latest Provincial Heritage Markers on August 24. The first marker details the rich history of the region’s fur trade and the competition between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, as well as the crucial participation of First Nations people as trappers and provisioners. The second marker highlights the history and growth of agricultural settlement in the area at Shaftesbury Settlement. The unveiling was attended by Leah Miller, Board Member of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, who brought greetings from the Board and Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ricardo Miranda.

Leah Miller, Board Member of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation at the unveiling of the Shaftsbury Settlement Heritage Marker.

Leah Miller, Board Member of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, at the unveiling of the Shaftesbury Settlement Heritage Marker.

The Shaftesbury Settlement marker was installed at the St. Augustine’s Mission Site in September 2015, while the Peace River Fur Trade marker was installed at the site of the McLeod’s Fort Cairn on Highway 684 in December 2015. The Provincial Heritage Marker Program promotes greater awareness of the provincially-significant people, places, events and themes that have defined the history and character of our province. The public plays an important role in the program, and we welcome applications from groups or individuals who want to propose topics and locations for future markers, including our popular urban/trail-sized markers, suitable for placement in towns, parks, and other locations with pedestrian traffic. For more information about the program, please visit our website.

New Peace River Fur Trade Heritage Marker at the site of McLeod's Fort Cairn on Highway 684 in the Municipal District of Peace No. 135.

New Peace River Fur Trade Heritage Marker at the site of McLeod’s Fort Cairn on Highway 684 in the Municipal District of Peace No. 135.

Written By: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer

Romanian Settlement in Alberta

One of the latest additions to the Provincial Heritage Marker collection details the history of Romanian settlement in Alberta, starting with the first Romanian pioneers to settle in the province in 1898, Ikum Yurko and Elie Ravliuk. The earliest Romanian settlements in Alberta were concentrated in the east-central part of the province, where communities such as Boian flourished in the early twentieth century. New Romanian-Albertan communities emerged in the late 1920s as the children of the first generation began to move to other parts of the province in search of land and new opportunities. By the 1950s the province’s Romanian population was predominantly Canadian-born, but Romanian culture, traditions and language still flourished in Alberta.

New Heritage Marker installed in June 2015 on Highway 45 east of Willingdon.

New Heritage Marker installed in June 2015 on Highway 45 east of Willingdon.

The marker was installed on Highway 45 east of Willingdon in June 2015. The Provincial Heritage Marker Program promotes greater awareness of the provincially-significant people, places, events and themes that have defined the history and character of our province. Topics relevant to the history of immigration, settlement and ethnic history has been an important part of the program since it was first launched in 1955. The public plays an important role in the program, and we welcome applications from groups or individuals who want to propose topics and locations for future markers, including our popular urban/trail-sized markers, suitable for placement in towns, parks, and other locations with pedestrian traffic. For more information about the program, please visit our website.

Written By: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer

Alberta’s New Heritage Marker – Raymond Stampede

Visitors to this year’s Raymond Stampede got to learn more about the fascinating history of the event with the installation of the latest Alberta Historical Resources Foundation heritage marker. The marker details the history of the event – the first of its kind held in Alberta – dating back to 1902, when prominent rancher Raymond Knight decided to organize a skills competition for local cowboys and ranch hands. The success of the Raymond Stampede inspired the organization of similar events across Alberta, with a growing range of events and prizes that attracted more and more competitors. Held in dozens of communities across the province each year, rodeos have long been significant cultural events in Alberta that strongly reflect its great agricultural heritage.

Raymond Stampede's new heritage marker.

Raymond Stampede’s new heritage marker.

The marker was installed on June 25, 2015 at the site of the Stampede in Raymond Knight Memorial Park. The Town of Raymond applied for the development of the heritage marker through the Alberta Heritage Markers Program. The program was established in 1955 to promote greater awareness of the historic people, places, events, and themes that have defined the character of our province. The program brings Alberta’s dynamic history alive through heritage markers placed at roadside pullouts, within parks, and in other community locales.

Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer

“Erin go Bragh” in Alberta

“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 Britain, raised difficult questions about what it meant to be Irish in Canada in the early twentieth century. Did public expressions of Irish identity automatically imply support for Irish nationalist politics, or could the two issues be separated? Could a person support Irish nationalism and still affirm loyalty to Canada and, by extension, the British Empire? What was the best way to frame St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in such a way as to affirm devotion to both the Irish homeland and Canada? The stakes of these questions were heightened after 1914, as supporters of Irish nationalism were accused of threatening British imperial unity during a time of war, and again after Easter 1916, when Irish nationalists launched an uprising against British rule in Ireland.

Group portrait of the Edmonton Irish Association (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A16110).

Group portrait of the Edmonton Irish Association (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A16110).

The uneasy relationship between Irish politics, identity and citizenship are reflected in the history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in early twentieth century Alberta. The general picture that emerges is of an Irish population that celebrated its ethnic heritage in ways that emphasized loyalty to Ireland, Canada and the British Empire. At particular times, such as the Great War (1914-18), this balancing act proved to be too difficult, and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations largely disappeared from public view. With the emergence of Ireland as an independent state in the early 1920s, Alberta’s Irish once again organized into associations dedicated to celebrating Irish heritage and St .Patrick’s Day soon emerged as an important event in the province.

The population boom of the early 1900s set the stage for significant St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in both Edmonton and Calgary. The 1916 census enumerated 58,068 Irish people in Alberta, of whom approximately 63% were Canadian-born descendants of Irish immigrants; 25% were American-born descendants of Irish immigrants; and 12% were direct immigrants from Ireland (most of whom had arrived in Canada between 1905 and 1914). The diverse origins of the province’s Irish population were reflected in the decorations chosen for the 1908 St. Patrick’s Day banquet at St. Mary’s Hall in Calgary – the platform was decorated with Union Jacks and American flags, over which hung a silk banner with the phrase “Erin go Bragh” (‘Ireland forever’). Toasts were delivered to ‘The King,’ ‘Canada,’ ‘Alberta,’ ‘The United States’ and ‘Ireland’s Future,’ and the event closed with a rousing rendition of “God Save the King,” leaving little doubt that the guests’ vision of ‘Ireland’s Future’ involved its continued association with the British Empire.

Similar scenes played out in Edmonton, where St. Patrick’s Day events were organized by the highly successful Edmonton Irish Association (EIA). Founded in 1909, the EIA grew to approximately three hundred members by 1911. While primarily a cultural and literary organization, the EIA also sponsored a number of sports teams, including the Irish Canadian Amateur Athletic Association, the Hibernian Football Club and the Irish Canadian Baseball Club. A 1911 profile in the Edmonton Capital stressed that the EIA was “non-political and non-sectarian in character,” and had “from the outset avoided the controversial.” This emphasis echoed the celebrations in Calgary, and indeed reflected a broader pattern across the Prairie West, where explicitly non-political and non-sectarian Irish associations emerged in the early 1900s.

With the worsening Home Rule crisis in Ireland in 1913-1914, it became increasingly difficult for Alberta’s Irish to continue to celebrate their ethnic heritage in an explicitly non-political way. In April 1914, for example, the Edmonton Capital advertised a meeting for those interested in forming an “Imperial British-Irish Association,” suggesting that some of the city’s Irish were no longer satisfied with the Edmonton Irish Association. The outbreak of World War One added another layer of complexity, as the British government put Ireland’s political future on hold for the duration of the war. By the end of 1914, the Edmonton Irish Association had dissolved. Similarly, there is no evidence of any Irish fraternal or benevolent societies in Calgary during the war years. Despite the non-political and non-sectarian nature of pre-war St. Patrick’s Day events, there appears to have been little appetite for Irish organization and celebration during the Great War or the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21). The one exception is a short lived organization called the Irish Glee Club, which emerged in Calgary in 1919 to organize small concerts on St. Patrick’s Day. These events, however, were on a considerably smaller scale than those held prior to World War One.

With the end of the Irish War of Independence and the emergence of the Irish Free State in 1922, the province’s Irish citizens once again organized to publicly celebrate Ireland’s patron saint. Potentially awkward questions about how to reconcile devotion to Ireland and loyalty to Canada and/or Britain faded, as Alberta’s Irish honoured both Irish independence and service to Canada during the Great War. At the 1924 St. Patrick’s Day banquet, for example, the St. Patrick’s Society of Calgary celebrated Irish independence, but placed equal if not greater emphasis on Irish service, “loyalty and allegiance” to Canada during the Great War. The evening’s keynote speaker refused to take a political stance on the divisive civil war in Ireland, commenting only that “the Irish had settled the matter for themselves,” and that whether it had been settled “rightly or wrongly” was irrelevant to him as a Canadian. In place of politics, the new St. Patrick’s Society focused on the celebration of Irish folk culture, arts and crafts. A similar situation emerged in Edmonton, with the founding of the new St. Patrick’s Society of Edmonton in 1927. Like its Calgary counterpart, the society emphasized culture and avoided politics – a safely depoliticized way to honour Ireland. By the mid-1920s, Alberta’s Irish had found a comfortable balance between celebrating their Irish heritage and their contributions to Canadian growth and development.

The history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Alberta thus yields significant insight into the province’s early Irish community. St. Patrick’s Day events represented an important point of intersection between the ethnic community and the rest of the population. It was a holiday intimately associated with Ireland, but widely observed by mainstream society – as such, it offered Irish organizations the opportunity to represent their heritage and their community’s values to a wide and receptive audience. The nature of those celebrations (or the absence of any organized events) is a reflection of what image Irish community leaders wanted to project to the larger population. At times, the tense situation in Ireland complicated those efforts and made it difficult for Alberta’s Irish to publicly embrace and celebrate their ethnic heritage. By the 1920s, such concerns had faded and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations flourished once again.

Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer.

Further reading:

Cronin, Mike, and Daryl Adair. The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day. London & New York: Routledge, 2001.

African American Immigration to Alberta

In the early twentieth century, hundreds of African Americans crossed the border in search of land and opportunity in the Prairie West. Many of these immigrants ultimately settled in Alberta, establishing communities such as Wildwood, Keystone (now Breton), Campsie and Amber Valley. The story of these settlers is one of perseverance on both sides of the border – driven out of the United States by persecution and violence, African American migrants had to overcome racist hostility and other barriers on the road to successful settlement in Alberta.

In the minds of many African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Canada was a land of freedom and opportunity. As detailed by historian Sarah-Jane Mathieu, this positive view was rooted in several factors, including Canada’s status as a refuge for runaway slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, and a general perception that African Americans would enjoy fairer treatment under Canadian than American law. This idealization of Canada was heightened by the harsh reality of life for many African Americans, as promises of land and equality in the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) gave way to segregation, violence and legally-sanctioned discrimination. By the late nineteenth century, many African Americans viewed migration to Canada with increasing favour.

Thomas Mapp family and relatives, an African American family from Amber Valley, Alberta, ca. 1925  (Glenbow Archives, NA-316-1).

Thomas Mapp family and relatives, an African American family from Amber Valley, Alberta, ca. 1925 (Glenbow Archives, NA-316-1).

This view of Canada as a haven for African American settlers would prove overly optimistic. A sharp increase in African American immigration to western Canada in 1909-1910 sparked a severe backlash across the region, including several cities in Alberta. The Edmonton Board of Trade prepared a petition calling on the federal government to act against the “serious menace” of ‘negro’ immigration, warning that it would result in “bitter race hatred” if left unchecked. The petition was endorsed by the Boards of Trade for Fort Saskatchewan, Strathcona and Calgary, and was signed by over three thousand citizens of Edmonton, at a time when the city’s population was only twenty-four thousand. Newspapers printed sensationalist stories about the impending “invasion of Negroes,” and while some voices were raised in support of the rights of African American settlers, the federal government came under intense public pressure to take action.

This pressure placed the Government of Canada in a very awkward position. The government was reluctant to openly admit that its immigration policy was dictated by considerations of race (even though that precedent had already been set with the passage of the Chinese Head Tax in 1885). Specifically barring African Americans from entry into Canada at a time when the government was working hard to attract white American homesteaders would create a glaring inconsistency in Canada’s immigration policy. Further, the Canadian government did not want to risk a public dispute with the American government over the issue by explicitly banning the free movement of some of its people across the border.

Instead of enacting an outright ban, the Canadian government took other measures to try and restrict African American immigration. For example, medical examiners stationed at border crossings were instructed to scrutinize African American immigrants for any medical condition that would justify their exclusion, quietly offering a financial bonus to doctors for each African American immigrant rejected at the border. Inspectors were also told to make certain that African American immigrants had adequate cash on hand to successfully homestead – at least two hundred dollars – even though such agents had the power to waive such a requirement for white immigrants. Frustratingly for the federal government, these measures were met with limited success – African American immigrants proved to be healthy, prosperous and well prepared for the challenge that met them at the border. The influx of African American immigrants thus continued through 1910 and 1911.

Facing continued pressure to act, Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver drafted an Order in Council in 1911 that banned “any immigrants belonging to the Negro race” from entering Canada for one year. The Order in Council was approved by Prime Minister Laurier, but the government continued to stall, fearing that enacting an open ban would harm Canadian-American relations at a time when the two governments were negotiating a major trade agreement. Instead, the Canadian government made one final effort to cut off African American immigration at the source by deploying agents to warn potential immigrants about Canada’s harsh and unforgiving climate. The hypocrisy of this strategy was remarkable – at a time when the Canadian government was working hard to assure white Americans that rumours of Canada’s cold climate were exaggerated, other agents were telling potential African American immigrants that Canada was a barren, arctic wasteland. These measures, coupled with the hostile reception already given to African American immigrants, worked to discourage potential migrants and African American immigration to Canada declined after 1911.

To some degree, this legacy of hostility dictated the settlement patterns of those African Americans, about one thousand, who did make it across the border to settle in Alberta in this period. Rather than accepting the best available land as individual homesteaders, they tended to settle in somewhat isolated rural areas where land was plentiful, if somewhat marginal, and they could establish self-sufficient, independent communities. The isolation that allowed such cohesive communities to form also worked against their survival, however, as the children of the first wave of immigrants tended to move on to Alberta’s urban centres in search of better economic opportunity. Of the early settlements, Amber Valley proved to be the most durable, surviving through the Great Depression and World War Two as an important centre of African American settlement in the province.

The story of early twentieth-century African American immigration is an important chapter in the broader history of agricultural settlement in the Canadian west. African Americans sought land and security in Canada at a time when the federal government was eager to attract homesteaders with farming experience. There was little question that the African Americans fleeing Oklahoma possessed the qualifications that the Canadian government prized in immigrants – even the Edmonton Board of Trade’s petition did not deny that “these people may be good farmers or good citizens.” However, the backlash against them, at a time when they comprised up a miniscule proportion of the population, illustrates the extent to which considerations of race entered into immigration policy and what constituted, in the public mind, a desirable settler for Canada. Approximately one thousand African Americans managed to find a home in Alberta between 1909 and 1911, but the public reaction and sustained effort to keep them from entering Canada speaks volumes about the challenges they had to overcome on the road to starting a new life in Alberta.

Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer.

Sources:

Mathieu, Sarah-Jane. North of the Colour Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Palmer, Howard, and Tamara Palmer, eds. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985.

Winks, Robin W. The Blacks in Canada: A History. 2nd ed. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997.

Ancient Origins, Modern Marvels in Drumheller

Visitors to the Town of Drumheller can now learn more about the history, geology and natural resources of the community with the installation of a new Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Heritage Marker. Combining text with contemporary and archival photographs, the marker describes how the forces of nature shaped the area’s striking landscape and left the region rich in the two resources that would define Drumheller’s future – coal and dinosaur fossils.

Heritage Marker along Highway 9, north of Drumheller.

The Drumheller Heritage Marker up-close (Courtesy of Stefan Cieslik, Historic Resources Management Branch).

It was coal that first attracted the attention of railway and mining investors, who established a townsite to support the booming coal industry. By the end of World War One, the Drumheller region was one of Canada’s leading coal producers. The area also caught the imagination of fossil hunters, who flocked to the region from 1910 onward in search of fossils like the massive Albertosaurus skull unearthed by Joseph B. Tyrrell in 1884. The abundance of dinosaur bones made Drumheller a natural home for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, one of the world’s leading facilities for the research and presentation of prehistoric life.

The marker was installed on November 20, 2014, along Highway 9, one-and-a-half kilometers north of the Town of Drumheller. The Town of Drumheller applied for the development of the heritage marker through the Alberta Heritage Markers Program. The program was established in 1955 to promote greater awareness of the historic people, places, events and themes that have defined the character of our province. The program brings Alberta’s dynamic history alive through heritage markers placed at roadside pullouts, within parks and in other community locales.

Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer.