Plough your Furrows Deep: The Foundations of Agriculture in Alberta

Farming in Alberta has been shaped by a deep and layered history of geological, biological, and human forces. This article takes us back to the beginning.

Farming is based on a sliver of soil that caps kilometers of sediment and bedrock. To understand how our fields first formed, we need to read an ancient geological story of how Alberta has been raised and tilted then scoured and capped over time. Alberta has sat inside a continental plate (or ‘craton’) for over 300 million years. Around 180 million years ago, the western edge of this plate began crunching to form the up-and-down terrain of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia (B.C.) and the Rocky Mountains between B.C. and Alberta (Figure 1). Mountain building finished about 50 million years ago.

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Figure 1. This is a bedrock map of Alberta and B.C. “Bedrock” refers to the stony basement below our modern soil and loose sediment (gravel, sand, and silt). B.C. is striped with colour because its bedrock is made of diverse chunks of land called terranes that got repeatedly mashed against a moving continental plate that Alberta lay within. One product of this mash-up (‘accretion’) was mountain building (‘orogeny’). Creation of the western mountains forever shaped the development of soils and agriculture in the Prairie Provinces (map by Todd Kristensen with bedrock data from the USGS 2015).

For almost 200 million years, Alberta has been tilted: our bedrock is formed largely of shales and sandstones that built up when sediment either poured off the mountains and solidified into rock or settled down in ancient waters that once filled a basin over Alberta. From about 50 to 5 million years ago, huge sheets of gravel and sand continued to shed off the Rockies (carried by rivers and streams) before settling into our basement. Read more

Alberta’s Wooden Country Grain Elevators – Update

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 6th, 2012 and again on August 26, 2015. Interest in grain elevators remains strong, so a revisit seems in order. Some additional data has been added, an updated list of communities with elevators can be accessed below, as well as a variety of resources and documents relating to Alberta’s Grain elevators.

The twentieth century saw the rise and fall—literally—of the wooden country grain elevator in Alberta. As rail lines spread across the province in the early 1900s, grain elevators sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rain. The height of wooden country grain elevators was reached in 1934. New ones continued to be added until the 1990s, but with increasing numbers being demolished, these icons of the prairie became scarcer. Today, the remaining wooden country grain elevators number only about six percent of the maximum reached in the 1930s. Check out the following “index” of Alberta’s wooden country grain elevators, called “elevators” for short in this article.

Number of elevators in Alberta: Read more

HONOURING ALBERTA’S HERITAGE HEROES

Nominations for the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation’s Heritage Awards 2018 are now open. Help us honour and celebrate the outstanding contributions of Albertans to the promotion and preservation of Alberta’s heritage. This is the 7th biennial Heritage Awards since its reintroduction in 2005.

Awards will be presented in the Heritage Conservation, Heritage Awareness and Outstanding Achievement categories. In addition, the Foundation is proud to introduce the Indigenous Heritage and Youth Heritage Awards this year. Awards will be presented during an awards ceremony on October 12, 2018.

Who are the heritage heroes in your community? Complete your nominations now. Deadline for submission is July 15.

For a copy of the guidelines and nomination form, visit https://alberta.ca/heritage-awards.aspx or contact the Program Coordinator at 780-431-2305 (toll-free by first dialing 310-000) or Carina.Naranjilla@gov.ab.ca.

45+ Years of Data Management at the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Whether excavating archaeological sites or surveying the land in search of undiscovered ones, archaeologists create data. That data can take the form of field journals, artifact catalogues, GPS tracks and waypoints, photographs, excavation plans, level records, site forms, and reports. It is often said that for every month spent in the field, an archaeologist will spend a year in the lab and the office processing the field data they collected.

The Archaeological Survey (the Survey) began managing Alberta archaeological sites, research, and mitigation in 1972, with the passing of what is now known as the Historical Resources Act. At the same time, the Survey also became the official provincial repository for most archaeological data. Today the Survey collects and archives data for use by archaeological researchers, consultants, and other stakeholders, and also relies on archaeological data in order to run the historic resources management machinery. Read more

The Swing of Things: Archaeology in Alberta and the Occasional Paper Series

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper No. 38 with a new format and early contributions. Articles in the Occasional Paper Series will now be published online throughout the year, with the final, compiled volume released at the end of the year. Our goal in moving to this rolling release format is to make articles available in a timely manner, while helping to accommodate the schedules of CRM consultants, university students, and other contributors.

Cover of the 2018 Occasional Paper Series. Submissions are welcome.

Occasional Paper No. 38, “The Swing of Things: Contributions to Archaeological Research in Alberta, 2018,” is dedicated to an early member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Milt Wright, whose recent passing was mourned by the province’s archaeological community. The first article in the volume is a tribute to him.

Milt Wright (1952-2017) was an integral member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta in the 1980s and 90s.

The second paper is an identification guide for Knife River Flint, supplemented by geochemical and mineralogical tests of this important raw material that was used to make stone tools in Alberta.

A sample of Knife River Flint artifacts found in Alberta. Individual artifact photographs courtesy of Eugene Gryba, Shayne Tolman, Bob Dawe, and Todd Kristensen.

The title, “The Swing of Things,” refers to what we hope will be consistent format and content for years to come: each issue will feature papers documenting the multitude of cultural resource management (CRM), avocational, and academic archaeological projects completed in previous years. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee. The current and past volumes are available for free download here.

Written By: Eric R. Damkjar, Head, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Another Log in the Wall: Preserving Historic Timber Architecture in Alberta

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The uncoated timber Slemko Barn at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a variety of building components representing different species, thickness of section, and orientation of wood grain. Source: Evan Oxland, 2017

“Sustainability is not possible without durability […] Once constructed a building becomes a machine that ‘needs to be fed’.” -Joseph Lstiburek, 2006

In Alberta, there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of raw uncoated timber used in historic architecture, including farmhouses at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and log churches at Historic Dunvegan. Penetrating oils and wood coatings help prevent the primary causes of wood deterioration, but when these historic structures must be preserved in perpetuity, how do you assure the building material will last when it was originally built to make it through only a decade or two?

This is where Alberta Culture and Tourism’s Conservation and Construction Services comes in. Read more

After the Flood: Archaeology in Alberta and the Occasional Paper Series

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release Occasional Paper Series No. 37 dedicated to historic resources encountered and documented during investigation programs following the June, 2013 flood in southern Alberta. The volume contains 18 articles written by historic resources consultants, university researchers, staff of the Royal Alberta Museum, and members of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta. The flood eroded and blanketed archaeological, palaeoenvironmental, and palaeontological sites; Alberta Culture and Tourism coordinated a series of contracts in 2014, Read more