The Early Years of Archaeology in Alberta

As the summer of 1949 approached, Boyd Wettlaufer, a Master’s student of archaeology at the University of New Mexico, was asked by his Field Director where he wanted to dig for the summer. In a 2008 interview, with Karen Giering of the Royal Alberta Museum, Wettlaufer related how the conversation with his director had transpired:  

 “Boyd,” he said. ‘I think it’s time you did a dig of your own. Where would you like to go?” And I thought of Head-Smashed-In. I said, “Well there’s a buffalo jump up in Alberta I wouldn’t mind taking a look at.” And so, he gave me a couple boxes of groceries and credit card for the gas and the two boys (William Hudgins and Donald Hartle) to help me and sent me off” [1].

Wettlaufer was familiar with the area around Fort MacLeod, having been stationed out of the nearby Royal Canadian Air force base of Pearce during the war as a flight instructor and aerial photographer. It was a member of the local historical society (Boyd and his wife Dorothy plugged their trailer into her porch for electricity [2]), who had first shown him the Read more

Exterior Rehabilitation and Restoration of Old St. Stephen’s College

Historic photo of Old St. Stephen’s College circa. 1915.

After about three years, the Old St. Stephen’s College – Provincial Historic Resource has now completed the planning and implementation of its exterior rehabilitation and restoration project which started a number of years back with its cedar shingle roof replacement.

This recently completed scope involved foundation upgrades and stair revisions to the ground level access points of the building, including the addition of a compatible, distinguishable and subordinately designed barrier-free access ramp, as well as masonry repairs and the replacement of the 1980’s metal storms with more historically appropriate wooden units that will have the added benefit of allowing more natural ventilation in the building. Additional work also included the rehabilitation of the former fire exit door openings, the return of the round window at the top level of the building and the addition of vented caps to the non-functional chimneys. Read more

Rainbow Fossils and Bison Calling

For an animal that looks like an awkward collision of snail and squid (Figure 1), ammonites have played surprisingly important roles in international history. To Blackfoot First Nations on the Plains of North America, the ornate edges of ammonite segments resemble miniature bison (sometimes called buffalo), and, for over a thousand years, they have been used in ceremonies to summon bison spirits. Across the ocean, 16th to 19th Century fossil hunters propelled ammonites into palaeontological fame by using them to anchor theories of an ancient earth (Figure 2). In modern Alberta, Canada, miners and members of Blackfoot First Nations are seeking iridescent ammonites to fuel a global demand for art and jewellery; sacred and secular, and now economic, ammonites are immersed in a complex story. Read more

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year, everyone! We are excited for 2018 and look forward to sharing more of Alberta’s history with our readers.

This past year was a great one for RETROactive. We had our most annual views ever with a total of 72,442, coming from more than 140 different countries. The countries where most of our views came from include Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, and India. We published 48 new posts in 2017 and our busiest day of the year was April 19th when The Tale of a Rusty Revolver was published (this was also our most viewed post of the year).

Did you know that we also have a Facebook page and Twitter account? You can find us on Facebook at “Alberta’s Historic Places” and on Twitter at @ABHistoricPlace, or follow the links below.



Lastly, our Popular Posts page has been updated. This lists our top 10 posts of all time and is a great way to introduce new readers to our blog – please share the link with your friends, family, and colleagues!

Thank you to all our readers for your support. Here’s to a great 2018! Next week we will have a new post from the Heritage Art Series!

People in costume at United Grain Growers New Year’s Eve Masque Ball, Calgary, Dec. 31, 1917. Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A14708.

Happy Holidays 2017!

The staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

RETROactive has had another successful year and thanks goes to YOU, our amazing readers, for your support. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Our top 5 posts of 2017 were:

  1. The Tale of a Rusty Revolver
  2. The Hardisty Bison Pound
  3. What Happened to Old Fort Edmonton?
  4. Connecting the Continent: Stone Tools in Alberta
  5. The Lovat Scouts – Rocky Mountain Soldiers

RETROactive will be taking a break over the holidays — we will resume publishing on January 3rd, 2018. We look forward to seeing you all in the New Year!


Season’s Greetings! With its hustle and bustle, Christmas Day will soon be here. Before we celebrate the magic of the holiday season, let us look back at the wonder and charm of a simpler time. The extensive photo collections at the Provincial Archives of Alberta and the City of Edmonton Archives offer a unique glimpse into the celebrations of Christmases past in Alberta; the following images were selected from their holdings to create a photo montage dedicated to old-fashioned holiday memories and traditions. Enjoy!


Not only does the holiday season include fun outdoor activities, festive bright lights and the sweet sounds of Christmas melodies, but it is always filled with an assortment of tasty old-fashioned baked treats. Thanks to our colleagues at Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site, we are pleased to share one of Mrs. Rutherford’s classic Christmas desserts, a treasured family recipe for plum pudding passed down from her mother.


Chop fine 2# suet, add #2 seeded raisins cut in half, #2 seedless raisins, ½# peel, ½ # almonds cut in half or slices 4 cups bread crumbs. Beat 8 eggs, 2 cups milk and 2 cups brown sugar together. Add sifted 2 cups of flour, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, 2tsp salt, 4 tsp baking soda. Combine with fruit. Fill oiled moulds 2/3 full. Steam 3 – 4 hours.

Sauce for Plum Pudding (Foamy)

½ cup butter

1 cup sugar

3 tbsp boiling water

1 egg

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar, beat egg lightly add with lemon juice and nutmeg, beat until light and fluffy. Add water 1 teaspoon at a time and beat well heated over hot water (double boiler?). Serve hot on pudding.

Should any of our readers decide to take it upon themselves to try and make Grandmother Birkett’s Plum Pudding recipe, please let us know how it turns out. Comments are always appreciated; we anxiously await your review!

Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding (from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Food Plate of Puddings – 1890s edition)

Written By: Marsha Mickalyk, Archaeological Permits and Digital Information Coordinator & Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch.


HERMIS (Heritage Resources Management Information System) –

City of Edmonton Archives –

Ski Flyers

This post was originally published on RETROactive on December 11, 2014. We are back into ski season, so please enjoy this post that highlights the history of ski jumping in Alberta!

“If you get the right angle to float on top of the pressure of the wind you get more distance.” (Clarence Sverold, Canadian Olympian)

The huge metal ski jump at the Stoney Creek Valley in Camrose is an impressive sight. It is the legacy of the daring Norwegian flyers who made Camrose the birth place of ski jumping in Alberta. Adolph and Lars Marland, P. Mikkelson and the Engbretonson brothers formed the Fram Ski Club there in 1911. It was named for the Fram, meaning “forward” in Norwegian, the ship that carried Roald Amundsen on his famous expedition to Antarctica.

The Fram Ski club began construction in the fall of 1911 on a fifty-foot scaffold tower with a long slide in the Stoney Creek valley. Anticipation mounted for the club’s first ski jump tournament held in January 1912. People came from miles around in sleighs and cutters and happily paid the 25 cents entry fee. Adolph Marland soared seventy-four feet through the air to be acclaimed the winner.

Ski tournament, Edmonton, Alberta, 1914 (Glenbow Archives, NC-6-1308).

The Fram Ski Club soon had competition. Not to be outdone, Edmonton also formed a club in 1911, and built a bigger jump at Connor’s Hill for the 1912 season. Camrose hosted the first tournament between the two clubs on February 17th 1912. Read more