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

Frost is in the air!

This post was originally published on RETROactive on October 31, 2012. However, since we live in Alberta, this topic is almost ALWAYS relevant – what to do about frosty windows!

With winter coming, some owners of historic places might be witnessing the formation of frost on their single pane wood windows and storms, most notably on the second storey. The reasons for this will vary and subsequently so will the solutions. Generally speaking, a little frost now and again should not harm the window frame but a more persistent formation will saturate the surrounding material and, in the long run, potentially cause significant damage. Should this be the case, ignoring the situation is far from the recommended solution.

Frosty window. Note the closed storm window vent cover. During the winter it should be open.

So what is one to do?  The first step, as with any intervention on a historic place, is to develop an understanding of the problem.  What is causing frost to form on the window? The answer: warm moist air comes in contact with the cold glass and condenses, which then freezes on the surface. So how does one mitigate this? Should you let the house freeze so that the interior temperature matches the outside, or should you turn the house into an oven to eliminate any and all moisture in the air? Obviously, neither scenario is plausible.

So what is one to do – replace the windows?  Speaking from a heritage conservation perspective, replacing authentic historic windows would be the equivalent to someone shaving their head bald because they found a grey hair. Historic windows have, in my experience, proven themselves to be longer lasting than any modern window and can continue to serve their function with proper care and maintenance, while modern windows wear out and routinely need to be replaced.

As air moisture is the general cause of frosted windows, controlling it would appear to be the most appropriate approach. However, there is more than one way to control moisture during the winter. One can control moisture levels with a dehumidifier, or by preventing it from reaching the cold glass with weather stripping techniques. As well, one could better manage the presence of moisture with exhaust fans and insulation. Any combination of these efforts will help to reduce the frost on windows but it should also be noted that there are pre-existing systems that should be taken advantage of in regards to this problem.

Storm windows traditionally have three holes at their bases with a flap cover. During the winter, these should be open to let moisture and condensation escape. When bugs arrive with spring, close the flap. Double hung windows generally have locks where the sashes meet – use them to tighten the window and reduce air leakage. Should you decide to proceed with a form of weather stripping, concentrate on the interior side of the window and allow the storm window to breathe. This will create a micro-climate (similar to the ventilation in one’s roof), which should help prevent frost and therefore better sustain and protect the window.

Hopefully, the preceding information will be useful for those who might be dealing with frosty windows. There are many articles on the Internet, which tackle this issue and propose similar, different and additional solutions ranging from “free to expensive”.  As a Heritage Conservation Adviser, my advice, and that of the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, is to start with the minimal approach.  With any luck, that is all that will be needed.

Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser.

“Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin” Takes Home Award

The Book Publishers Association of Alberta (BPAA) held their annual Alberta Book Publishing Awards on September 14 in Calgary. These awards recognize and celebrate the best of the Alberta book publishing industry. Of special note for the Historic Resources Management Branch is that Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin: Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments was awarded the Scholarly and Academic Book of the Year. This book was a collaborative effort between current and former employees of the Historic Resources Management Branch and the Royal Alberta Museum, researchers at the University of Alberta, members of Alberta’s archaeological consulting community, and Athabasca University Press. Well done and congratulations to everyone involved!

This volume tells a fascinating story of the oil sands region of northeastern Alberta, including how a catastrophic flood at the end of the last ice age formed the landscape of the region. It also highlights the intensive use of resources in the area by precontact groups since ca. 11,000 years ago. When the flood went through, it scoured pre-existing glacial deposits, and made bedrock deposits such as bitumen and a lithic raw material called Beaver River Sandstone accessible from the surface. Beaver River Sandstone was used to make stone tools for millennia following the flood. This stone can be found at a site called Quarry of the Ancestors near Fort McMurray, and over two million artifacts made of this material has been recorded in Alberta’s archaeological record. The chapters in this volume are invaluable for understanding the ecological and human past in northeastern Alberta and are important for informing future management of historic resources in the region.

Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin: Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments can be purchased or downloaded for free through Athabasca University Press.