Buffalo, Banff 1910

A 1910 postcard of Banff's bison herd with Mount Rundle in the background.  Rob Alexander collection.

A 1910 postcard of Banff’s bison herd with Mount Rundle in the background.
Rob Alexander collection.

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Bringing the ‘Old Canmore’ back to life

Canmore's Main Street, modern and in the early 1900s. ©Rob Alexander

Canmore’s Main Street, modern and in the early 1900s. ©Rob Alexander

By Tanya Foubert

Rocky Mountain Outlook, Oct. 9, 2014

Many have often lamented that Canmore’s historical built form has slowly been laid waste for duplexes, townhouses and second homes, but a new project by a local photographer is bringing the past back to life through blended images.

Rob Alexander is spearheading the Juxtaposition exhibit at the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre as part of the month-long photography festival Exposure in February.

But in order to see the project come to fruition, Alexander and the museum have launched a fundraising campaign this week that involves limited edition prints, raffles and an Indegogo crowd funding effort.

“This new campaign and the crowd funding is a new venture for us,” said museum director Debbie Carrico. “It is totally new, but exciting to be starting a campaign we haven’t tried before.

“It is quite something to see the blended photos and it really gives you a here and now of the changes that have happened in Canmore.”

There is indeed magic in the images, says Alexander, and a sense of satisfaction in seeing the past and present at the same time.

“There is sort of a magic there,” he said. “I have looked at a lot of these photographs for the past 10 plus years, but I am seeing them differently. I’m seeing them almost as if they belong, as they were when the photo was taken.

“I think I am creating, for myself at least, a better familiarity with Canmore, a better understanding of Canmore for myself and intrinsically how I feel about this place.”

A Russian photographer who blended photos from Second World War sites and battlefields inspired the idea for the project. Like that photographer put Canadians back onto Juno beach, Alexander said it was satisfying putting the past into the present, like the No. 1 mine back into Canmore Creek.

“It is bringing old Canmore back and pushing new Canmore a bit to the side and reminding us what it was like.”

Alexander said lining up the historical photos with current day Canmore was a challenge. In many places, the physical layout of the community has changed greatly since the 1900-30s. He said the series of photos really is a chronicle of what has changed, and what hasn’t, which is how much people love Canmore.

“When we look at the physical layout of Canmore, it has definitely changed. How we use Canmore, the mines and that industry is gone, but we are still doing a lot of the same things,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is people loved this town, lived here, worked here and were a part of it.”

The exhibit will also be a long-term endowment to the museum, with images and postcards available to purchase and proceeds going to the non-profit community organization. Alexander said he wanted to give back to the museum after all the support it has given him throughout his career.

“It is a great way to give back to the museum and hopefully create a fundraiser for them they can draw on,” he said.

Leading up to the exhibit, the museum is selling 10 copies of limited edition prints for $150 created by Alexander that will not be available for sale or on display. The 11 by 14 inch prints are available at the museum along with $2 raffle tickets. The raffle prize is a blended image of Main Street.

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Canmore Juxtaposed – limited-edition print still available

Canmore Hotel (current view) and the members of the Canmore community band as they were when they posed in front of the hotel in the 1930s. ©Rob Alexander/CMAGS

Canmore Hotel (current view) and the members of the Canmore community band as they were when they posed in front of the hotel in the 1930s.
©Rob Alexander/CMAGS

Do you love the Canmore Hotel? Do you love music? Do you love Canmore’s history? If you answered yes to all three there’s still time to own a copy of this unique, limited-edition blended photograph featuring the Canmore Hotel as it appears today and the members of the Canmore community band as they appeared in the 1930s.

Six of these 11×14 inch prints are still available for a donation of $150 to the Canmore Juxtaposed project and exhibition, which will be held in February.

The Canmore Hotel/Canmore community band blended photograph won’t be in the exhibition and it also won’t be available as a postcard or print for sale at the museum once the exhibition opens.

It is strictly being used for the start of the fundraising campaign. Only 10 were printed and four have gone.

This is a unique opportunity to own a unique view of the Canmore Hotel’s past and present. If you are interested, please drop by the museum or contact it at 403-678-2462. More than happy to ship to far-flung places of the world.

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Canmore: Juxtaposed

The No. 1 Mine, early 1900s and summer 2014. ©Rob Alexander

The No. 1 Mine, early 1900s and summer 2014. ©Rob Alexander

Canmore: Juxtaposed

An exhibition of blended photographs, February 2015

I’m working with the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre to create an exhibition of blended photographs (superimposing historical photographs into modern ones) for February as part of the 2015 Exposure Photography Festival. But to pull this exhibition together, we need your help! We’re launching a fundraising campaign with an event at the Canmore Civic Centre Saturday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. Food and wine included.

The museum is offering an exclusive blended photograph at this event that won’t be featured in the exhibition, and as a result, won’t be available for purchase once the exhibition opens. This limited-edition image is available to the first ten people who donate a minimum of $150 to the project. But to get it, you have to attend the launch!

Raffle tickets will also be sold during the launch for a plaque-mounted photograph of the Canmore Miner’s Union Hall blending together an image of the hall prior to its 2013 restoration and an early 1900s wedding. Tickets are $5. The winning raffle ticket for this image will be drawn at the end of the evening.

Canmore Miners' Union Hall, circa 2010 and early 1900s. ©Rob Alexander

This photograph of the Union Hall will be raffled off a the end of the fundraising launch event.  ©Rob Alexander

If you will miss the launch and the first raffle, don’t despair. Another raffle for a blended photograph will begin the following day, Sept. 28, with tickets available at the Canmore Museum. The blended photograph available in this raffle can be seen at the museum, as well.

As part of the launch, we’re also kicking off an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign Sept. 21 and everyone who contributes to the project through the Indiegogo site will receive a reward, postcards to prints of blended photographs. I’ll post more information and a web address when the Indiegogo fundraiser Sept. 21.

You can also support the project and the museum by buying the blended photographs of your choice when the exhibition opens. The museum will be selling postcards and prints (8×10, 11×14 and 16×20) in its gift shop as an on-going fundraiser to support its operations and programming.

Finally, the exhibition photographs, which will be printed on canvas (16×20 and 11×14), will be available for purchase when the exhibition opens at the beginning of February 2015.

To everyone who does donate, thank you for supporting my work and the work of the Canmore Museum! It truly is appreciated.

I’m amazed at the response these photographs have generated so far. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen before in response to historical photographs. It’s exciting and I think these images are exciting as they allow us to present – and for you to see Canmore’s past and present – in a very different light.


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Dead Man’s Flats tells two tales

Dead Man’s Flats tells two tales

(published in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, by Rob Alexander, Thursday

Isaac Rollinmud. Courtesy of Roland Rollinmud

Isaac Rollinmud. Courtesy of Roland Rollinmud

Dead Man’s Flats is the Bow Valley’s most unique place name and, while it is often attributed to a gruesome murder that occurred in 1904, another story behind the origin of the name is decidedly less gruesome.

In fact, in this version, no one actually died, there is just the perception thereof.

It was an early spring day and Nakoda medicine man Isaac Rollinmud was hunting. A dream the night before had told him he would find a beaver along the river not far from the mouth of Wind Valley.

Isaac, who was born in the 1840s and lived to be about 100 years old, was a wanderer and a traveller. He lived in Eden Valley, what is now one of three reserves belonging to the Nakoda, and he loved to follow the routes of his ancestors, tracing their paths through the mountains.

The 140 kilometre distance from Eden Valley to the Bow Valley was no barrier. He knew the valleys and the rivers, where to find game and herbs.

“In those days people had to go further to get what was needed in the community,” his grandson Roland Rollinmud said Monday (May 19). “For him, he (Isaac) knew there was going to be a big change, so it was the time to really enjoy what they had; that is what my dad said,” Roland said.

And he did. Isaac continued living a traditional life. He avoided residential school and lived as much as he could as his grandparents lived.

On that spring day, he crossed into the Bow Valley from the Kananaskis Valley by way of Skogan Pass and then dropped down into the Bow River by way of Pigeon Creek. Dead Man’s Flats and the Bow Valley were more open then, with broad meadows and marshes.

Beaver took advantage of these open, marshy meadows and Isaac knew where he would find this particular beaver, the one from his dream. Near the river, he found it waiting for him. He raised his .30-30 Winchester repeating rifle – made in 1894 and which Roland still has – and pulled the trigger, killing the beaver.

The powerful retort of the rifle shot echoed across the valley, drawing the attention of Banff warden Jack Fuller, who happened to be in the area on patrol. Banff National Park – initially known as Rocky Mountains Park – began at the Sulphur Mountain hot springs in 1885.

In 1887, the park was expanded to include Lake Minnewanka. The park underwent a significant expansion in 1902, with the eastern border reaching to a short distance east of Lac des Arcs. The Bow Valley, from Canmore east to the boundary, remained within the park boundaries until 1930, when Rocky Mountains Park was reduced in size to its current boundaries. The park was also renamed Banff National Park at that time.

For the Nakoda and other Aboriginal bands that travelled through the Rocky Mountains, all of this land was familiar territory and widely used for hunting, gathering herbs and other activities.

The confluence of Pigeon Creek and the Bow River was a particularly productive location for herbs used in traditional medicines. Vision quests were often held in this area, as well.

But with the changes – treaties, reservations and the park system – came restrictions. It was becoming harder for the Nakoda to travel and hunt in their traditional territory. The government still allowed the Nakoda to hunt beaver in the eastern Bow Valley, but only to a certain point in spring.

Isaac, however, had unintentionally shot the beaver outside of the permissible hunting season. As he thanked the Creator and the beaver for its life, Roland said Isaac sensed something wrong long before he heard the sound of an approaching horse.

“He was a shape shifter,” Roland said, explaining that his grandfather was one of those individuals so in tune with his surroundings he who was sensitive to what occurred around him.

“He knew how to do that in those days. They have an energy about them, just like radar. They know when you’re coming in the distance and that’s how he knew the game warden was coming.”

Isaac hid his belongings, including his rifle, and covered the beaver carcass with a Hudson’s Bay Co. blanket, but not before smearing the beaver’s blood on himself.

He didn’t have enough time to disappear into the forest and he didn’t want to get entangled with the law as he had a family to care for.

“In order to get away he smeared the beaver blood on himself and in those days … he could stop his breath for a long time,” Roland said, explaining it was one the many talents that came with being a shape shifter. Another was his ability to coax wild horses to come to him.

“Of course, the warden thought somebody had shot him and he went back to report it.”

Once Fuller had left, Isaac collected his belongings, the beaver carcass and his horse and rode home to Eden Valley.

Roland learned the warden’s name seven years ago through research he undertook with help of Banff park wardens and staff. As it turns out, Fuller was the grandfather of his friend and neighbour, rancher Jay Fuller.

Jack and Isaac did not meet after that day, but the incident can certainly be credited – along with the story of Francois Maret killing his brother, Jean – as the inspiration for the name of Dead Man’s Flats.

Roland said his grandfather’s version makes for a more positive story.

“A person didn’t die there, but this would give a good practical history about pretending to play dead there. I don’t feel he did just for the fun of it. He wanted to provide for a family with what he had done,” he said.

Today, when Roland drives between Morley and Banff, which he does regularly, often stopping at the hamlet to gather herbs as his grandfather would have done in that region, he enjoys knowing he has a personal connection to one of Alberta’s unique place names.

“Dead Man’s Flats would have been a very comfortable place for him and I love that,” he said.

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Memories of Canmore – 1933

Geraldine Violet Minota Light. ©Elinor Florence.

Geraldine Violet Minota Light. ©Elinor Florence.

The following excerpt was taken from a 1979 interview with Geraldine Violet Minota Light, who arrived in Canmore in 1933 with her husband, RCMP officer John Green. The couple lived in the NWMP barracks on Main Street for nearly two years before Green was posted to Fort McMurray.  My thanks to Violet’s great-niece Elinor Florence of Invermere, B.C., for providing it. Elinor writes her own weekly blog about Canada at war. Read Wartime Wednesdays at www.elinorflorence.com/blog.

Geraldine Violet Minota Light was born in England in 1900. She grew up with her eight siblings in Fort Battleford, where her father Frederick was a North West Mounted Police Staff Sergeant.Violet married John Green on June 6, 1929, making her name “Violet Light Green.” She was an old maid of twenty-nine years by then, and he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The couple never had children, but they travelled to postings all over Canada. Oyen, Alberta was their first posting and they stayed there for four years. Canmore was their second posting, and they arrived here in 1933 to live in the police barracks. When John joined the armed forces in World War Two, Violet went to England to be near him, braving the threat of air raids rather than endure a long separation. They eventually retired to Victoria, where Violet died in 1989. In this 1979 interview, Violet recalls her happy days in this community.

Geraldine Violet Minota Light: Canmore, 1933
“We spent four years in Oyen and then were transferred to Canmore. What a change from baldheaded prairie right to the mountains. We actually had a bathroom with an honest-to-goodness bath and running water, but still heated and cooked with a wood and coal or briquettes, which were made in Canmore.

North West Mounted Police barracks in the 1920s, Canmore. ©CMAGS

North West Mounted Police barracks in the 1920s, Canmore. ©CMAGS

We proceeded to get some of the joys in life, such as an electric radio, vacuum cleaner, chesterfield suite, etc., and John bought me a lovely McLary range, all cream enamel with stainless steel top – the pride and joy of my life.

Canmore was a good but bust attachment. We were all still in the depression and John had three relief camps to look after besides the town. The men from the relief camps would come to town every Saturday night and always got into fights with the miners – sometimes John would have four fights going on at the same time!

There was one huge miner, I don’t know what his name was, but we called him Fat Emil. He was a Finlander and took an awful shine to John and he would follow him around like a shadow, and if anyone took a poke at John they had to contend with Fat Emil.

A winter scene in Canmore, circa 1920s-30s. ©CMAGS

A winter scene in Canmore, circa 1920s-30s. ©CMAGS

One night he grabbed a fellow who was on the verge of hitting John and threw him over the side of a balcony. Fat Emil always referred to John as “My Canmore.” Once in a while he would get tight himself, and he would go to John and say: “Please, me plenty much drunk. Please take me home.” John would pile him into the car and take him to the YMCA where he had a room and with some help, get him into bed. He never caused any trouble and everyone liked him.

There was a beautiful hike from Canmore; I think it was seven or eight miles. I made it three times, the first time with my next-door neighbors; once with my sister Gladys when she was staying with us; and once with two girls visiting from Oyen.

A log home in Canmore, 1938. ©CMAGS

A log home in Canmore, 1938. ©CMAGS

At the top there were two beautiful lakes called “twin lakes,” so blue and deep. We would pack a lunch and leave quite early in the morning and get home early in the evening. Some enterprising person had gone up years before and cut up some lovely benches every once in a while and tapped springs so you could get a lovely cool drink.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the winter, the ladies had the exclusive use of the skating rink, which was right across the road from our place. I was just learning to skate but the good skaters were patient with beginners and never tired of dragging us around.

One day we all got to the rink but the caretaker hadn’t opened it. We stood around for a while till at last one of the merry group suggested that they should boost me through the snow chute and I could open the door and let the rest in. She said: “They can’t do anything to Mrs. Green, because she’s the policeman’s wife.” She was known as Mrs. Joker and she had her way, and we were all merrily skating around when the caretaker came and wanted to know how we got in so Mrs. Joker proceeded to tell him – she said he couldn’t do anything about it as she was sure the policeman wouldn’t arrest his own wife.

Canmore skating rink. ©CMAGS

Canmore skating rink. ©CMAGS

We had a lot of fun. We used to attend all the hockey games – John on duty and me as a spectator. Fat Emil was always there and about every ten minutes he would come around and want to shake hands with me. It got a bit monotonous after about the twentieth time but you just couldn’t get mad at him.

Every two weeks there was pay day for the miners and John had to doll up in his red serge, strap on his revolver and escort the payroll from the station to the pay office and sit there until all the miners had been paid.

He got wind one day that some guy was planning on holding up the payroll – a letter was intercepted saying that there was only one “bull” to shoot and that “bull” happened to be John. I didn’t know anything about it until it was all over, but some plainclothes men came down from Banff and they attended to that little matter.

In winter the deer used to come right down into our yard. I thought it was wonderful until someone told me they would ruin our lawn. One night I was alone with our German Shepherd dog Dick and when I looked out, there was a big buck deer. I grabbed the broom and went out and tried to frighten him off. The three doe went over the fence as gracefully as could be, but the old buck just stood there. I left the door open so I could beat a hasty retreat should he attack. We glared at each other for a while then I picked up a can of ice and heaved it at him. He gave me one last dirty look and turned and sauntered to the fence and over without any effort at all.

Railyard at Canmore in the 1930s. ©CMAGS

Railyard at Canmore in the 1930s. ©CMAGS

I was afraid to let Dick out as so many does were attacked by dogs and badly maimed. Once when John was in bed with mumps he got a phone message to say a pack of dogs had maimed a doe so badly she needed looking after, so he had to get up and go out and shoot her as she was beyond help.

Our stay at Canmore came to an abrupt end when we got word that we were being transferred to Fort McMurray. That was the first time that I really hated the police. We had only been in Canmore a year and nine months, and by going to McMurray we had to get rid of all our electrical equipment, as there was no power in McMurray. I managed to hold on to my McLary range and chesterfield suite.

A few nights before we were to leave Canmore there was a knock at the door and when I opened it, there were several friends come to give us a going-away party. They brought all the eats with them, even to coffee, cream, sugar and everything. All I had to provide was the water and dishes.

Then a few days before we left, some men came from the relief camps and helped us with our packing. We had a lot of brand new sacks from the cement plant and one guy came equipped with a huge ball of twine and sacking needle and covered all the legs of the furniture and made covers for the chesterfield and all the furniture so everything was well protected. We nicknamed him Omar the Tent Maker. And then we were off to Oyen.

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The Gap 1913

The Gap along the CPR line east of Canmore.

The Gap along the CPR line east of Canmore.

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Community seeks to save 1907 Exshaw church

Exshaw residents are moving forward in a bid to save St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Exshaw, built 1907.

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Big Game in Deep Time: 10,000 years of Hunting in Alberta


RETROactive has been publishing for almost three years now. We will continue to be your source for news and information about Alberta’s historic places.

At the same time, we’re going to start bringing you articles providing insight into other aspects of Alberta Culture’s work to understand, protect and conserve historic resources. This post is the first showcasing the work of Alberta’s Archaeological Survey.

By the time Europeans and their guns arrived, 250 years ago, in the place that would become Alberta, the area had already witnessed 10,000 years of big game hunting. Alberta’s prehistoric hunters killed mammoth, an extinct horse, an over-sized species of extinct bison, and even camels that roamed the plains millennia ago (Figure 1). Analyses of stone tools have revealed traces of mammoth and horse blood on spear tips in northeast Alberta and southwest of Lethbridge, respectively. Other evidence of prehistoric big game hunting includes human-made cut…

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Blended photographs of Canmore: exhibition summer 2014

Good news on the blended historical/modern photographs of Canmore front: I’m working with the Canmore Museum to put together an exhibition of blended photographs for next summer. Look for a fundraiser beginning relatively soon. The museum will raffle off blended photographs at regular intervals, perhaps every month or maybe sooner to raise money for this project and the exhibition. If you like this project and the images coming out of it, keep an eye open! The first raffle should be starting soon.

To officially launch the project and announce the fundraising drive for it: Two lucky people who went to the museum’s volunteer and sponsor appreciation event Friday night got to take home this plaque-mounted image of Main Street:

Main Street: current and late 1890s/early 1900s.

Main Street: current and late 1890s/early 1900s.

And for now, here’s a new blended photograph I’m working on. Still a draft as the scale feels weird too me. The people at the top of the landing “feel” right, in terms of size and scale but the folks in the front look off, again in terms of scale and perspective. The challenge continues! But it’s a great challenge.

Canmore Miners' Union Hall, circa 2010 and early 1900s.

Canmore Miners’ Union Hall, circa 2010 and early 1900s.

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