Alberta Remembers

The Beverly Cenotaph, a simple stone obelisk, was unveiled on October 17, 1920. (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-14)

On November 11, 1918, after more than four years of fighting the “war to end war”, an armistice was called in France and all hostilities came to an end on the Western Front of the First World War. While the battles may have ceased, the effects of the conflict continued to reverberate around the world and across the years, even to the present day, a century later.

Albertans were among those who fought alongside fellow British citizens, as well as French and American soldiers – among others – to defeat Germany and its allies. Estimates place the number of Albertan soldiers at 48,885 – or over one third of the province’s male population aged 18 to 45. Of these, about one in eight did not return from the war, and almost half of those who did return had been wounded.1 The effect of the distant, unseen war was felt throughout the province on a personal level.

One way Albertans dealt with the trauma and loss was to come together and commemorate those who had sacrificed their lives. A model for these activities was provided by “Peace Day”, celebrated on July 19, 1919, in London, England, in honour of the signing of the Treaty of Read more

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

The Arrival of the Hutterites in Alberta

Thank you to guest writers Simon Evans and Peter Peller for this interesting and informative post about Hutterite arrival in Alberta. This blog was drawn from an article originally published in Alberta History Magazine titled “The Hutterites Come to Alberta” (Alberta History, Vol. 63, No. 4, (Autumn 2015), 11-19).

One hundred years ago, during the early spring of 1918, Paul Stahl and a small group of Hutterite leaders were scouring the country north of Calgary looking for land. After several disappointments, they found a splendid parcel of land along the tiny Rosebud River and purchased nearly 4000 acres from the Calgary Colonization Company. Some men stayed to build barns and residences for the rest of the community. Later, the main group left South Dakota on a special train to join them. There were almost 100 people of all ages, scores of horses, wagons, milk cows, 40 sows, and all kinds of farm machinery and household items onboard. They crossed into the Dominion of Canada at the Emerson Port of Entry and proceeded on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Strathmore. Here, they unpacked their belongings, hitched up the horses and moved by wagon to the new colony site along the Rosebud River, a trek of about 25 miles. After a week of traveling, the refugees finally reached their new home.

The Hutterites are a German speaking religious group with 400 years of history. They are Anabaptists and originated in the Austrian Tyrol during the Reformation in the 16th century. The characteristic that separates them from similar groups like the Amish and the Mennonites is that they live communally. Each family has its own apartment, but meals are prepared in a central kitchen and eaten together. They hold “all things common,” as did the early Christian church described in the Acts of the Apostles. Hutterites own few personal possessions and are not paid wages for their hard work. In exchange, the colony looks after them from birth to death. Read more

Papa’s Babies: The Brook Family and the First World War

Thank you to our guest author Ashley Henrickson for this interesting post. Ashley is a M.A. student at the University of Lethbridge and the Museum Educator at the Galt Museum and Archives. Her research examines the experiences of young people living in the Canadian Prairies whose fathers or brothers served overseas during the First World War. Ashley received the Roger Soderstrom Scholarship in 2017. The funds from this scholarship allowed her to visit archives across Alberta and present her research at “Children, Youth, and War,” a symposium hosted by the University of Georgia.

A never-ending cycle of children, chores, and neighbors cut through Isabelle Brook’s home, constantly interrupting the letters she wrote at her kitchen table. Isabelle apologized for her “jumbled up” proses as she paused to prepare dinner, answer the door, or tend to her busy children: “Alice is here wiggling around like a little eel, so I must quit”; “Gordon is wakening up I must go”; “Glen’s upset the ink over the table cloth now.” The constant movement suggests that life for Isabelle and her five children may have been lonely without their father, but it was not dull.

The hundreds of “jumbled up” letters that Isabelle wrote from her kitchen table in Craigmyle, Alberta, are a valuable and vibrant record of Alberta’s past. She sent these letters to her forty-five-year-old husband, Sidney Brook, who served on the Western Front with the Canadian Expeditionary Force from 1916-1918. In response Sidney sent hundreds of letters to his family, which were preserved alongside Isabelle’s by their descendants and then donated to the Glenbow Archives. The Brook’s collection is especially valuable because very few letters sent from families living in Alberta to soldiers serving overseas have survived to the modern day. This is because soldiers, like Sidney, were constantly moving across the Western Front and had to carry all their personal belongings with them. This forced them to destroy all but a few precious letters that they could fit in their pocket.

Letter from Sidney Brook to his wife Isabelle, January 7, 1917 (from the Brook family fonds, Glenbow Museum and Archives, http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/brook.cfm).

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Passchendaele Remembered

During November 2017, Canada commemorates the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It was the third and last major battle victory during 1917, after Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, for the combined Canadian Divisions fighting together as a Corps.

The Battle saw German and Allied armies clash in the area of the Belgian city of Ypres. Fought from 31 July through 10 November, 1917, the battle is estimated to have resulted in over half a million casualties. Canada alone suffered over 4,000 dead and almost 12,000 wounded. The carnage in the infamous mud of the battlefield became synonymous with the senseless and massive losses suffered by troops during the Great War. Singular feats of sacrifice and valour during the course of the battle saw nine Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honor conferred within the British Empire. Read more

Wilfrid ‘Wop’ May – Canadian Flying Ace and Alberta Aviation Pioneer

This year, 2017, marks Canada’s sesquicentennial – 150 years since Canada became a country; there will be many celebrations across the country on July 1st and throughout the year to mark this milestone! Many people have shaped Canada into the country that we know today, and one of those people is Wilfrid “Wop” May. Enjoy and Happy Canada Day!

Captain W.R. May – Edmonton, 1919 (Courtesy Denny May).

To Wop[1] May who had grown up on the Canadian prairie, the English winter of 1917 must have seemed dreary. With the arrival of spring, he was on his way to the Western Front, and perhaps it had been before leaving England, or at a train station in France, he chanced upon a sign advertising that the Royal Flying Corps were looking for pilots. The fact that more young men were killed in air training accidents than died in combat seemed not to be a deterrent – the lure of adventure in the skies won out – he applied, was accepted and began the process of learning how to fly a plane. Read more

The Battle of Jutland, First World War Commemoration and Alberta Place Names

No single event has had such a dramatic impact on place names in Alberta than the First World War Battle of Jutland. Deep in the heart of Kananaskis Country can be found a series of mountains bearing the names of the ships and naval commanders of this naval battle. At least twenty-six mountains bear names commemorating the Battle of Jutland – sixteen of them are named for Royal Navy vessels that took part in the battle and ten are named for the Admirals, ship captains and seamen that lead and fought at Jutland. Additionally, many features associated with the mountains (glaciers, lakes and creeks) have subsequently been given Jutland names. The great number of Jutland-related geographical names in Alberta is curious. While there is no questioning the significance of the Battle of Jutland – it was the only major sea battle of the First World War, one of the few times in which dreadnought battleships fought directly against each other and its results affected strategy and tactics on both sides and altered the course of the war – it was also a battle in which there was no significant Canadian presence; no Canadian ships were involved and only one Canadian casualty has ever been confirmed. So, how did so many of these mountains along the Alberta-British Columbia boundary end up being named to commemorate this battle?

Mount Engadine (left), The Tower (middle) and Mount Galatea (right), taken in 1916 by the Interprovincial Boundary Survey. Mount Engadine and Mount Galatea are named for Royal Navy vessels that fought at the Battle of Jutland, the seaplane carrier HMS Engadine and the light cruiser HMS Galatea.
Mount Engadine (left), The Tower (middle) and Mount Galatea (right), taken in 1916 by the Interprovincial Boundary Survey. Mount Engadine and Mount Galatea are named for Royal Navy vessels that fought at the Battle of Jutland, the seaplane carrier HMS Engadine and the light cruiser HMS Galatea. Image Source: Mountain Legacy Project, IMG_3320. The Mountain Legacy Project is based at the School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC. For more information, go to mountainlegacy.ca, or email mntnlgcy@uvic.ca.

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