Blackfoot Soldiers in WWI

Tomorrow is Aboriginal Veterans Day. It is estimated that more than 12,000 First Nations members, Inuit, and Métis served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War.

At first glance, the voluntary participation of several young Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) men in the First World War appears to confirm their assimilation into Euro-Canadian culture. Recent graduates of prototype residential schools, they shunned requests by their elders to remain in Treaty 7 territory and were inspected, inducted, drilled, and disciplined. Many were sent overseas to fight for God, King, and Country. Some were killed in action. We might interpret a 1917 letter home from Siksika (Blackfoot) soldier Mike Foxhead as an indication of his acceptance of colonial values. He wrote:

I’ll stick to it until the end to put up a name for the Reserve, so they can say that they have one of their boys over here. I could have got out of it when the other boys got their discharge only I wanted to do my bit like all other Canadians. I knew that somebody had to go and fight for the Empire, and I made up my mind that I would go because it would be my duty sooner or later.[1]

Yet as historian James Dempsey has shown, there were important elements of Blackfoot warrior culture that accompanied Blackfoot mobilization during the Great War.[2] As the nineteenth-century waned, so too did opportunity for young men to prove themselves in battle, raid their enemy’s camps for horses, and recount Read more

Hello from the Other Side: The Occult Phenomena of Spiritualism in Central Canada

If you think back on any of the horror films you’ve seen recently, or the science fiction novels you’ve read, how many of these have themes or actions where people contact the dead or interact with ghostly apparitions? What about notions of an elaborate spirit world that interrelates with the laws of our physical world? Or individuals with superhuman abilities like mind-reading, clairvoyance, telepathy, or telekinesis? These themes are core aspects of the Spiritualist movement which have been hybridized and diffused, becoming the defining touch to horror, science fiction, and related genres. But where did this phenomena come from and why? While modern media portrayals of Spiritualism may involve Ouija boards and séances to foreshadow the horrific events that result from the release of evil spirits of the Beyond, the actual phenomena of Spiritualism is rooted in a complex network of socio-political interactions at the turn of the 20th century between the advent of science and technology, the women’s rights movement, and WWI.

The information accompanying the spirit album states that the table is levitating – in reality the image of a ghostly arm has been superimposed over the table through double exposure. Photograph 1920 by William Hope (1863-1933). National Media Museum Collection: 2002-5054/10. Public Domain.

Spiritualism arose at the turn of the 20th century, when North American society was dominated by Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. However, traditional beliefs were being challenged by the rise of sects and cults arriving in Upper Canada from the northern United States, including Unitarianism, Swedenborgianism, Universalism, Quakerism, and Shakerism. Many of these new sects adopted and incorporated what can be considered progressive beliefs into their doctrines, 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.

Preserving Heritage for Future Generations: Heritage Barns of Flagstaff County

Thank you to guest writer, Sydney Hampshire, for sharing her experience of documenting built heritage in Flagstaff County.

Growing up in Northern Alberta kept myself, my siblings, and my parents a long way away from our extended family. We had only occasional visits with both sets of grandparents, which caused a disconnect between us. However, this disconnect also built a mystique around the lives of the past generation – and with it came an inherent curiosity.

My grandmother, Joy Hampshire (nee Innes), was born, and lived all her life in Flagstaff County after her mother and father immigrated from Scotland. Flagstaff County harbours an abundance of built heritage structures that showcase the region’s rich past. As a child, I was exposed to this heritage on each trip we took to our grandparents and I remember becoming terribly intrigued by this built heritage and the relics of my grandmother’s past. I remember each visit to Grandma’s farm required a visit or two to nearby abandoned homesteads. Each trek into a forgotten house, shed, or barn brought me great excitement: What would I find? What would I see? What would I infer about the people that used to live there?

I believe we all have a little bit of this adventurous spirit in us; it comes from a desire to understand the unknown and seek out answers. While exploration and Read more

Alberta’s Early Public Libraries

October is Canadian Library Month – a time to raise awareness about the valuable role of libraries in our communities. Thank you to guest writer, Erin Hoar, for this post about some of Alberta’s first libraries.

The earliest libraries in Canada were generally private collections of books and documents brought over by European immigrants. Some religious orders, fur trade and military posts would also collect books, but these were generally not accessible to the wider public. Canada’s earliest public libraries were offered by subscription only and began to appear in the early nineteenth century. By 1900 the modern public library, similar to what we would think of as a library today, began to acquire, classify and organize books, periodicals and newspapers with the purpose of providing users with access to these collections.

The idea of libraries was becoming more recognized as a public need that enriched growing communities, as was the case in Alberta. Many of Alberta’s early libraries were established because there were dedicated people who were passionate about providing accessible learning and educational services. This post will trace Alberta’s earliest public libraries in Edmonton and Calgary, and look at the people who brought these spaces to life to become valued and trusted resources for their communities. Read on to find out more!

Andrew Carnegie, 1913 (Public domain).

It was 1906 when the Calgary Women’s Literary Club formed to discuss the readings of Shakespeare, world news and current events, and it was out of these gatherings that the need for a public library grew. The women did what many others who wanted a public library did during this time – they asked millionaire Andrew Carnegie to build them a library. Carnegie, who made a fortune in the steel industry, was a strong advocate for learning and had a reputation for library philanthropy. In Canada, the Carnegie Foundation funded over 100 libraries and thousands more across the world, including the United States, England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Read more

Congratulations to the Royal Alberta Museum

The new Royal Alberta Museum is opening today! Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen. We are very excited to explore the new building and galleries, and enjoy the museum for many years to come.

New Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton. Credit: Flickr/Government of Alberta.

In honour of the new museum building opening, our post today looks back at the beginning, and original opening, of the Provincial Museum of Alberta (later renamed Royal Alberta Museum) 51 years ago.

The former Royal Alberta Museum building was built as the Provincial Museum and Archives of Alberta in 1967. It was the culmination of a decades long effort to build a provincial museum in Edmonton. Funding came through the Government of Canada’s “Confederation Centennial Memorial Program”, which saw a substantial, jointly funded construction project in Read more