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Exploring the Past in Alberta

Archaeology and History Sites in Alberta

Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin

Nestled between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy in the Rocky Mountains, the Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin is made from local stones. In 1922, Swiss mountaineering guides created it as a shelter for expeditions attempting to scale the two adjacent mountains. The Alpine Club of Canada now manages the cabin, which has been a registered National Historic Site of Canada since 1992. One for those archaeological explorers keen on hiking and mountaineering.

Atlas Coal Mine

The Atlas Coal Mine in East Coulee presents itself as the most complete surviving historic coal mine in Canada, having been operational from 1936 to 1979. Among the features at the site is the largest timber coal tipple still standing in North America. To learn more about this important industry, visitors can take tours into the mining tunnel. Since 2002, the government has classified the Atlas Coal Mine as a National Historic Site.

Blackfoot Crossing

Located on the Siksika 146 First Nations reserve, the Blackfoot Crossing marks a historic crossing point on the Bow River and the site of an important 1877 treaty signing. Since 2007, the crossing has been home to an interpretive centre that showcases the cultural heritage of the Blackfoot people. The site also includes the only known earthlodge village in the Canadian Prairies, an archaeological locale recognised as a National Historic Site since 1972.

Bodo Bison Skulls Site

One of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in western Canada, the Bodo Bison Skulls Site, located near the hamlet of Bodo, has revealed evidence for human activity stretching back 5000 years. Excavations are ongoing, with visitors having the opportunity to tour the site and get involved in some hands-on archaeology. An interpretive center reveals more about the site and its lengthy heritage. Only open during the summer months.

British Block Cairn

The British Block Cairn can be found in the Suffield Block area of Cypress County. Created around 1400 CE, it comprises a large cairn made up of piled stones, around which have been placed a ring of further rocks and a human effigy. A group of tipi rings and other cairns have also been identified in the surrounding area, evidencing a broader ritual landscape. Since 1973 the government have classified it as a National Historic Site.

Fort Calgary

Located in the eponymous city, Fort Calgary was established at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow River in 1875. The North-West Mounted Police used it as a base from which they battled the illegal whiskey trade. Much was rebuilt in the 1880s in preparation of the coming of the railroad. Although it was largely demolished in the early 20th century, excavation in the late 1960s and 1970s allowed for reconstruction in subsequent decades.

Fort Normandeau

Fort Normandeau in Red Deer represents a recreation of the timber fortification that operated here in the late 19th century. The Red Deer River Crossing had long been an important route between the northern and southern parts of (what is now) Alberta and in 1884 Robert McClellan built a stopping house here to profit from passing travellers. Amid the Riel Rebellion of the following year, the 65th Mount Royal Rifles based themselves here.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Head-Smashed in Buffalo Jump is one of the most significant aboriginal archaeological sites in Canada, which is not surprisingly on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. For some 6,000 years, the natural sandstone cliff was used by prehistoric hunters to drive bison over the edge and to their death. Below the cliff the carcasses were butchered and processed for food and tools. One of the most astounding archaeological features at the site is a large mound of bison bones, accumulated over the years the site was in use.

Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel

Dated to around 3200 BCE, the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel consists of a central stone pile surrounded by a wheel with 28 spokes demarcated with rocks. The site remained a sacred place for several millennia after its original construction, with evidence that Blackfoot communities added material to the site in the centuries preceding European colonisation. Indeed, Blackfoot people continue to make offerings of tobacco and other materials at the cairn.

Robert the Bruce Statue

The Canadian city of Calgary may not be the most obvious place to come across a statue of famous medieval Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, but nevertheless that is exactly what visitors passing near to the Alberta College of Art and Design will find. The statue is identical to one erected at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn near Stirling and helps to cement the area’s links to Scotland.

Viking Ribstones

One of the most intriguing archaeological sites in Alberta, the Viking Ribstones are among the only such monuments still found in their historic location. The ribstones represent boulders that have been carved to resemble the ribcage of an animal. These examples stand on high ground outside the town of Viking and remain an important place for many local indigenous people, who often place offerings of coins on the boulders.

Writing on Stone Provincial Park

The sacred landscape of the Milk River valley in the prairie grasslands of southern Alberta has one of the richest concentrations of First Nation rock art in North America. This park is also one of the largest areas of protected prairie in Alberta. Archaeological evidence suggests the are has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years. Park interpreters arrange regular tours to the rock art sites in the valley, as well as hosting interpretative programmes at the Visitors Centre. The park has a number of hiking trails, and has provision for RV and tent camping.

Popular Historically Themed Activities Around Alberta

Museums in Alberta

Alberta Railway Museum

Opened in 1976, the Alberta Railway Museum in Edmonton explores the heritage of the old railways of this area of southern Canada. Many of the railway cars that have been brought here have undergone processes of conservation and renovation to resemble how they would have looked when they first entered circulation. The equipment and buildings that the museum helps to preserve include items once belonging to both the Canadian National Railways and Northern Alberta Railways.

Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Showcasing the country’s aviation heritage, the Bomber Command Museum of Canada can be found in Nanton. Opened in 1986, the museum preserves and displays a wealth of different aircraft, including many that saw service as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan during the Second World War. A range of special events, including flights, take place throughout the year. A must see for keen aficionados of aerial history.

Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum

Located in Banff, the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum devotes its attentions to the First Nations communities of Canada. Established in large part through the efforts of Norman Luxton, it was initially known as the Luxton Museum of the Plains Indian. As well as its collection of artefacts, the museum includes life-size dioramas and paintings. The museum hosts a range of cultural events pertaining to Canada’s indigenous communities, including traditional powwows and film screenings.

Chinese Cultural Centre

The Chinese Cultural Centre operates to preserve and showcase the culture and heritage of the Chinese Canadian community living in and around Calvary. Opened in 1992, it occupies an impressively decorated purpose-built structure partly based on the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The centre includes a museum displaying replicas of various important Chinese archaeological artefacts as well as exhibits on the history of Chinese settlement in Alberta.

East Coulee School Museum

Located alongside the Red Deer River, the East Coulee School Museum near Drumheller occupies an old schoolhouse. East Coulee began to thrive in the late 1920s as increasing numbers of people moved here to work in the coal mines, but had fallen into decline by the 1950s. The museum opened to the public in 1985 and explores the history of this community and its role in the 20th century coal industry.

Glenbow Museum

Founded by the philanthropist Eric Lafferty Harvie, the Glenbow Museum has extensive collections of art, historical, military and geological objects. The art collection focuses primarily on art of northwest North America, including First Nation and Inuit objects. Exhibits tell the story of Aboriginal peoples of Canada, frontier exploration, the development of western life, and objects from around the World: Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America.

Museum of Making

Located underground, the Museum of Making in Cochrane hosts a wealth of machines and other metal objects testifying to the ingenuity of human invention. The main part of its collection includes machinery and tools created between 1750 and 1920 in Canada, the United States, and Britain. Also on display are an array of historic African metalwork and a smaller collection of historic vehicles. Visitors can explore this privately-owned collection through pre-booked tours.

Remington Carriage Museum

Opened to the public in 1993, the Remington Carriage Museum can be found in Cardston, just north of the U.S. border. It brings together an impressive array of nearly 250 historic vehicles, using these to tell the story of horse-drawn travel in North America. Supplementing its collection are a range of full-size and interactive displays as well as operational workshops where visitors can observe craftspeople repairing these important reminders of bygone days.

Royal Alberta Museum

Opened to the public in 1967, the Royal Alberta Museum presents the natural and cultural history of Alberta. To this end, the museum draws on its combined collection of over 10 million objects in three permanent exhibitions: the Natural History Gallery, the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture and the Wild Alberta Gallery. Together these three exhibits display rocks and fossils, prehistoric and historic artefacts, and a variety of preserved animals and plants, accounting for over a billion years of history.

Spirit River and District Museum

This quaint museum in Spirit River takes visitors back in time with a range of historic buildings and other artefacts dating from the early 20th century. Among its collection are old cabins and other dwellings, a flour mill, a school, and both an Anglican and Greek Orthodox Church. Many of these are furnished with authentic period features and artefacts. Archaeological explorers will also enjoy the collection of prehistoric flint tools on display.

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Ukrainians fled the Russian Empire and headed west for a life in Canada. Learn more about these migrants, their descendants, and their heritage at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in Lamont County. This open-air museum showcases around forty buildings through to tell the story of the early Ukrainian Canadian community as it appeared in the early 20th century. Reenactors in period costume add to the immersive experience.

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

At the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, visitors can learn more about the life and times of the varied communities who have made the Canadian Rocky Mountains their home. Created by the artists Peter and Catharine Whyte, it first opened to the public in 1968. Several historic buildings stand in the museum grounds, including the timber house in which the Whytes lived. Various temporary exhibits supplement the main display collection.

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