Kirkness House: Two Edmonton Pioneers

Thank you to Melanie Moore (Board Member of the Highlands Historical Society in Edmonton) for sharing this important piece of history. 

There is an old house in the Virginia Park neighbourhood of Edmonton, on 73rd Street and Ada Boulevard. Now empty, it has seen better years. The shingles are coming off, the paint old and faded, the yard overgrown. When asked about the house, neighbours knew little of its story.

Kirkness House, Edmonton, 2018 (photograph by Melanie Moore).

Having recently explored the history of my own 100 year old home in Edmonton, I decided to find out more. James Kirkness, and his wife Sarah Steinhauer, built the house in 1909. Prior to that, he and Sarah lived in an adjacent log cabin where they raised their children. The City of Edmonton Archives has a painted-over photograph of James in front of the 1870s log cabin with the new 1909 house behind. Likely James had the painting commissioned, put it in an ornate frame, and hung it proudly in his new home. Read more

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

John Walter – One of the Makers of Edmonton

John Walter was a pioneer and one of Edmonton’s first millionaires. Born in the Orkney Isles in 1849, as a young man he was hired by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) to build York boats at Fort Edmonton. Upon the completion of his contract, Walter struck out on his own, choosing to make his livelihood along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Undertaking many successful business ventures, his commercial empire grew to include: lumber, carpentry, coal, real estate and transportation. Known for his enterprising spirit and generous ways, John Walter spent a lifetime devoted to both the economic and civic growth of Edmonton, laying the foundations of today’s modern city.

John Walter, 1907. Photographed by C.M. Tait. Image courtesy of City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-1682.

At the age of 21, Walter entered the service of the HBC, committing to a five-year term as a York boat builder. Sailing from Stromness, Orkney in June 1870, it took eight weeks to reach York Factory. He continued his westward journey, by York Read more

Historic Archaeology at Edmonton’s Mill Creek Ravine – Volunteers Welcome!

Attention Edmontonians!

Have you ever wondered about archaeology in your own city? Have you ever wanted to be an archaeologist? This summer an archaeologist from the University of Chicago is leading an archaeological investigation in the Mill Creek Ravine! Haeden Stewart is looking for remains from historic settlements to learn more about daily life in the early 20th century, as the city was industrializing. In the early 1900’s, the Mill Creek Ravine was home to several mills, meat packing plants, a railway line, and homes of the ravine’s workers.

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Early industrial Edmonton – View of the C.N.R. crossing Mill Creek, 1900-1925. Library and Archives Canada MIKAN 3335022

Haeden will be excavating two locations this summer. The first is a shanty town located at the north end of the Mill Creek Ravine. This town was one of many that settlers built in the first few decades of the 20th century. Some shanty towns were more temporary, but some, like the Ross Acreage in Mill Creek, were more substantial and housed settlers for many years. Haeden’s team has already been working at the shanty town for several weeks, where they have unearthed some great finds, including animal bones, glass bottles, and the remains of two chickens buried in a pit!

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Glass bottles excavated at a historic shanty town in Mill Creek, Edmonton. Photo credit: Haeden Stewart
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Toy saucer from a historic shanty town in the Mill Creek Ravine, Edmonton. Photo Credit: Haeden Stewart.
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Chicken bones buried in a pit in a Shanty Town in Mill Creek Ravine, Edmonton. Photo credit: Haeden Stewart

Next, Haeden plans to excavate at Vogel’s meatpacking plant in the south end of the ravine. Vogel’s was one of three large meatpacking plants built by 1910 in the Mill Creek Ravine.

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Vogel’s meatpacking plant in 1902. Image credit: Edmonton – A City Called Home EA-10-1134 http://www2.epl.ca/edmontonacitycalledhome/EPLEdmontonCityCalledPhotosSingle.cfm?id=51

Haeden will be excavating every day of the week, from approximately 830am-530pm, except for Tuesday.  If anyone is interested in volunteering to help out with the excavation please contact Haeden at haedenstewart@uchicago.edu, or call\text him at 773-827-4004 to make arrangements.

Edmonton’s River Valley: The Glitter of the Gold Rush

Every summer around this time of year, I look forward to checking out the sights and sounds of Edmonton’s local exhibition formerly known as Klondike Days. Its very name conjures childhood memories full of non-stop carnival rides, piping hot corn dogs and the sweet smell of freshly spun cotton candy. The name Klondike Days was originally brought in by exhibition organizers in the 1960’s and the Klondike gold rush theme was enthusiastically embraced by the public. I’ve always wondered what our local historical connection to the gold rush really was. Is there really gold to be found in the river valley?

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Man washing gold at Edmonton, 1890. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, B5280

Read more

Paleoindian Archaeology, Pleistocene Extinctions and Mongolian Use of Space: An Interview with Dr. Todd Surovell

The University of Alberta Association of Graduate Anthropology Students will be hosting the 24th Annual Richard Frucht Memorial Lecture Series from March 2-4, 2016. The distinguished speaker for this year’s conference is Dr. Todd Surovell of the University of Wyoming. I had a chance to interview Dr. Surovell about his research ahead of his upcoming visit to Alberta and he offered some fascinating insights into North American colonization, the extinction of North American megafauna, and his observations of household space use by Mongolian reindeer herders as a means to inform archaeological interpretations.

Dr. Todd Surovell at the Barnes Site, Hot Springs County, Wyoming (Photo: Todd Surovell)
Dr. Todd Surovell at the Barnes Site, Hot Springs County, Wyoming (Photo: Todd Surovell)

How long have you been doing archaeology? What got you interested in it?

I have been doing archaeology for about 23 years. I got interested in archaeology somewhat by accident; I always thought I would be a biologist, zoologist, or ornithologist as I was an avid bird-watcher, but I registered for a course called Introduction to Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin and the teaching assistant was advertising an archaeology field school in western Wisconsin. I did the field school and fell in love with field archaeology. Read more