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

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

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

“Erin go Bragh” in Alberta

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 17th, 2015. We are once again approaching St. Patrick’s Day and we wanted to highlight this great post that talks about the history of the holiday in Alberta. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy.

“What is the matter with the Calgary Irishmen?” asked a frustrated correspondent to the Calgary Herald in March 1916. The writer, who identified themself as ‘F. Fitzsimmons,’ was complaining about the city’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day, with no public events planned to celebrate the day. Fitzsimmons conceded that people were likely distracted by the war effort, but lamented that Calgary’s leading Irish citizens had gotten “cold feet” and failed to plan any celebrations. “If all Irishmen were like the Calgary bunch” closed the writer, then “‘God Save Ireland.’”

The language used by Fitzsimmons in this letter is highly suggestive. By stating that Calgary’s Irish leaders had gotten ‘cold feet,’ he/she was implying that they lacked the courage to publicly celebrate their ethnic heritage. Further, ‘God Save Ireland’ was an explicitly nationalist slogan, associated with the last words of three Irish revolutionaries executed by the British in 1867. In short, Fitzsimmons was calling for an open celebration of Irish identity that did not shy away from nationalist politics. What Fitzsimmons saw as a simple issue, however, was much more complex for the majority of Irish people in Calgary and across Alberta. The often turbulent politics of the Irish homeland, and the campaign for Irish autonomy from Read more

What Happened to Old Fort Edmonton?

The afternoon of October 11th, 1915 saw removal operations commence. At the time, the buildings associated with Fort Edmonton V (the last incarnation of the fur-trading fort) were seen as an eye-sore next to the newly completed Legislature building and grounds. Newspapers of the day reported that the fort was taken down quickly as some citizens were outraged at its demolition. To quell the panic, the government assured the people that the old fort was being dismantled and would be moved to new quarters, repurposing the buildings as a museum. That never happened and the timbers associated with dismantled Fort Edmonton seemingly disappeared from the public eye. So, what really happened to the old fort? Stories about what happened to the timbers spread like local urban legends, most of them with no apparent basis in fact. There were rumours: that the timbers were reused in the construction of various structures and buildings in and around the Edmonton area; that the timbers sat for years in several piles both outside the Legislature and on the south side of the river; that beams were stored in the basement of the Legislature, before being used as firewood by an uninformed custodian; or that at least some of the historic timbers met their end in a nine-metre high Boy Scout bonfire lit May 12, 1937 to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. While some of these stories have some factual basis, others have not been fully confirmed or discounted.

Demolition of Fort Edmonton (1915), City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-79.
Demolition of Fort Edmonton (1915), City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-79.

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.