Did You Ever Hear the Blues? The Music, Film and Influence of Big Miller

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Big Miller on the cover of the August 1980 edition of the Edmonton Jazzette. That shirt is due for a comeback. Photo provided by the Yardbird Suite.

Generally speaking, the ol’ City of Champs hasn’t been known as an international hub of art and culture as say, Montreal, New York City or Los Angeles. Artists of all stripes – musicians, dancers, visual artists – tend to get their feet wet in Edmonton then head off for the greener pastures of large international centres of creativity. So to hear stories of popular artists choosing to do the opposite and actually move to Edmonton to pursue creative endeavours (in the 1970s no less!), well, that’s something worth exploring.

Jazz music has a long history in Edmonton; incredible venues like the Yardbird Suite are recognized as important institutions in the city and former events, like the Jazz City Festival are recognized for their historical role in promoting the genre in the city and province. This week is the 2018 Edmonton International Jazz Festival. Since 2006 this festival has brought some of the world’s finest jazz musicians and acts to Alberta and has promoted local musicians at an internationally recognized venue. This week’s blog post is about one of those unique Edmonton transplants, one that may not be as well-known as jazz contemporaries Tommy Banks and PJ Perry, but one who certainly deserves to be recognized in the same ranks – the great trombonist and Kansas City Blues singer Clarence Horatius “Big” Miller. Read more

Newton’s Lilacs: Edmonton’s Hermitage, 1876-1900

In a remote corner of north east Edmonton, bounded by Clareview Road and 129th Avenue, is a small unmarked parcel of land commanding a dramatic view of the North Saskatchewan River valley. Only faint ground depressions and a small interpretive marker betray the fact that this is the location of Canon William Newton’s Hermitage and the birthplace of the Anglican Church in what would become the Province of Alberta.

“The Hermitage” by Ella May Walker, City of Edmonton Archives, EAA-1-27.

William Newton was born in 1828 at Halstead, Essex, England into a family of weavers. Having obtained an education through the help of wealthy benefactors, he trained for the Unitarian Church, served as a Congregationalist minister and published two books of sermons. In 1870 he immigrated to Canada and was ordained into the Anglican Church by Bishop A.N. Bethune of Toronto. He spent four years at Rosseau and Howard Township in Ontario before being accepted by Bishop John McLean of Saskatchewan as a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Fort Edmonton. Read more

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.