Knit Your Bit: Arm Yourselves With Knitting Needles, Friends of Rutherford House!

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The Rutherford House is commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the First World War through programming relating to the Home Front. To that end, just as women and children at home were urged to knit their bit for the war effort, their costumed historical interpreters are beginning to knit projects from wartime patterns. They’re also encouraging the public to do the same! I’m told that your work will actually be displayed at the historic site come November. So pick up your knitting needles and start knitting!

As an avid sock knitter (not a phrase you hear everyday, I know), I decided to use a sock pattern from this British Red Cross book of sewing and knitting patterns needed for hospitals (see also below). I intend to create a “normal” pair of socks and a mismatched pair of amputation sleeves – in essence, socks without heels for stumps.

Needlework and Knitting Instructions for First World War volunteers, page 17.
Needlework and Knitting Instructions for First World War Volunteers, page 17.

While sock patterns may look intimidating to some people now – especially if you knit with four or five double-pointed needles – they were in fact considered a beginner’s project over a century ago. Everyone needs socks – not everyone needs scarves – and even if the project ends up being fairly ugly or misshapen, you can generally find someone that they’ll fit, and they’re hidden in one’s shoes and are still a functioning garment. (Not so with scarves, which are on display.) They are also small, manageable projects with a clear beginning, middle, and end – not endurance runs like scarves. Socks are also incredibly useful to the war effort; clean socks helped to prevent trench foot.

Here is a small gallery of images showing the step-by-step process of knitting the first of the pair. Having a visual sense of how socks are supposed to be made may help you decipher the pattern above:

The patterns are very standardized. They occasionally offer larger or smaller options while urging knitters and seamstresses to make more of the items that would fit the most people. These instructions were meant to be simple and quick to follow; there wasn’t any time for complicated patterns if you’re trying to churn out as many pieces as possible for the war effort. (Sorry, no lace edging for these socks, or cables on the sweaters!) In the words of the introduction to the pattern book above: “A committee of the British Red Cross Society beg to inform the Public that all the patterns illustrated and described in this book have been designed to combine accuracy of fit with the least possible amount of work.” (Emphasis added.)

If you’re a beginner knitter, I’m sure that there are plenty of patterns you could try to push your effort. Already a sock knitter? Why not try gloves – or fingerless gloves? Just learned how to do decreases and increases and looking to try them out? There’s a simple pattern for a knitted cummerbund! Like knitting baby caps? There’s a toq pattern in there! (Okay, they call it a “knitted cap” but it’s probably about the same.) Advanced enough to be a sweater knitter already? Why not try their cardigan! Scarf knitter? Why not try this scarf… hat… thing…? Just for the novelty? Go forth and knit your bit!

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Hey, it might have saved a life! Stranger things have happened. From the Needlework and Knitting Instructions for First World War Volunteers. page 23.

Post-script: this isn’t the first time I have blogged about knitting and the Great War: click here for a photograph of a knitting nurse (and more rambling on the subject)!

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Mystery Photoset: “Calf Robes Resisting Capture,” “Susie’s Blind Husband,” and Other Unique Postcards

PC030194 – “Mrs. Mayfield’s Baby” Note the two ladies from the previous image having their photograph taken in the back1ground, likely taken on the same occasion because they are wearing the same outfits. This photograph also confirms that there were two cameras at play. This photo series may only be the results of one of those Kodak Brownies, though. Note that cameras were not held to the eye - you looked through the viewfinder from up above and hold the camera at waist height.
PC030194 – “Mrs. Mayfield’s Baby”

Postcards were not always mass produced. In the early twentieth century, one could print Kodaked images onto postcard stock and create one’s own unique postcard to mail off to friends and relations. The University of Alberta Archive’s Peel’s Prairie Provinces has just recently doubled its collection of early Western Canadian postcards to nearly 30,000 examples, some entirely unique. I had the opportunity last summer to examine some of the ones that weren’t yet digitized. Among the picture postcards of Banff’s main street, parades at the Calgary Stampede, European pioneers in Saskatoon, and everything in between, I ran across a series of privately produced postcard images that I find incredibly intriguing.  They are a set of photographic postcards that have been cut from a photo album – the backs are blank, glued to pieces of black paper from the album sheets. The same people appear in multiple images, but aside from a few telling details and a few names which may or may not be jokes or pop culture references I cannot understand over a century later, these images are now relatively anonymous. This photoset may not even be complete. I confess I was scanning them alongside about 300 other images over the course of a single day and I only noticed that they were from the same grouping later on when I began looking at them more deeply for my major research essay. I also only examined a few boxes of cards which had been separated out by the archivist for having explicitly Aboriginal subjects, so it is possible that there are other postcards from these photographers in the Peel’s Prairie Provinces Collection, yet to be digitized. I was initially hoping to incorporate them into my major research project, but they have far more in common with anonymous photo album pages than they do postcards, as fascinating as they are. Ah, well, a project for another time!

I have placed these images in an order that made sense to me, placing them either in what amounts to a sequence, or beside images that share the same photographic subjects for ease of comparison. Do not ascribe meaning to the order as it was imposed by me. I now invite you to consider these photographs for yourself. I have included a few preliminary observations, but I welcome any further commentary from my readers. Maybe we’ll find the proverbial smoking gun that identifies these people. Please click the images to enlarge them and see my annotations. (Note: The strings of numbers beginning in “PC” (“post card”) are their Peel’s Prairie Provinces call numbers, so you may cite them or look them up when they finally become digitized.)

So, in summary: these photographs were taken on at least two occasions, as evidenced by the same figures appearing at least twice in different outfits and the presence/lack of snow on the ground. These photographs were likely taken South of Calgary, as one of the figures is identified as “Sarcee” (Tsuu T’ina); that is, of course, if the writer identified the band correctly. The photographs likely date from circa 1899-1922, but are more likely from 1905 or 1912, when gigantic Merry Widow hats were popular. There were two photographers present, but these photographs may have only come from one of their cameras. I am unsure of the relationship between the people in the photographs. Why do “Calf Robes” and the others play along in staging scenes of violence? Is “Susie” truly on a first name basis with the photographer and the man she stands arm-in-arm with? Are these white folks tourists, locals visiting Tsuu T’ina friends, or the family of an Indian agent with political power over these people? Furthermore, if these photographs were all taken by the same person, there may be a (sixth?) person in the party who is never pictured because they are always behind the camera and not in front of it.

Related Posts:

Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase-Book: Things a Newcomer Wants to Know (1912)

Western Canadian Phrase Book (1912) Pg005

The University of Alberta’s Peel’s Prairie Provinces online database of Western Canadiana has many a fascinating item. (Incidentally, all available publicly for free without any subscription! Browse and cite to your heart’s content!) One among many is a fascinating dictionary for recent immigrants to Western Canada: Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase-Book: Things a Newcomer Wants to Know (1912). At a bare 32 pages long, it still contains many phrases that are both familiar (“Skyscraper, a very lofty building“)  and unfamiliar (“Skyscraper man, the name given to the workman, who performs the perilous work of erecting the steel framework of the skyscraper“) to modern readers and really demonstrate just how much the English language was in flux – and apt to confuse particularly British immigrants, the most appealing immigrants as viewed by the Canadian government of the era. Many words and phrases have been absorbed into modern English but were clearly unfamiliar terms to those who had never experienced, say, a Canadian winter (“Sweater, a woolen jacket, much work in Canada during the winter both indoors and outdoors, and sometimes a somewhat gaudy article of wear.”) This dictionary even sheds light on terms so basic I think nothing of saying them fifty times a day: “Sure, a common expression, meaning ‘of course’ or ‘certainly,’ and used much the same as it is used in Ireland, though Canadians will resent the suggestion that the expression if of Irish origin. Sure thing means ‘that’s a certainty‘.” A fascinating resource on Western Canadian English!

Western Canadian Phrase Book (1912)  Pg007
Western Canadian Phrase Book (1912)  Pg030

Where is Fort Edmonton?

When I worked in the 1846-era at Fort Edmonton Park, there were quite a few questions I would get asked more or less dozens of times a day. One, if the visitors didn’t get the introductory tour from the train platform, was a variation on the theme of: “Where did the soldiers sleep?” This question would prompt us costumed interpreters to patiently explain that this wasn’t a military fort, but a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, and generally having soldiers on site threatening to shoot your customers (the local Cree and other First Nations from further afield) was bad for business. However, just as often we got this question: “Is this the original fort?”

Fort Edmonton Bastion - View Coming From the Train Platform Fort Edmonton - View of the Wall From the Cree Camp

It’s a fair question. The wood of the fort looks quite old. The park also has numerous other original historical buildings on site which have been moved there over the past decades. Unfortunately, the answer is no, it a reconstruction of Fort Edmonton as it stood in 1846.

“Where is/was the original fort?” is often the follow up question.

The answer? It’s complicated.

Fort Edmonton was nominally founded in 1795, but no fort by that name stood for more than a decade or so in the same location until the fifth and final fort was constructed in 1840. They were built either too far away for local customers to conveniently visit (e.g., the location that was way down near modern Fort Saskatchewan) or in a location prone to flooding (a really relevant topic this year) like the two times it was placed near the Rossdale Flats. They were also never meant to be permanent structures and were not designed to stand the test of time.

You can still see faint evidence of the fourth fort now: right next to the old fort cemetery, on the North side of the Walterdale Bridge, where they have graves, a figure of eight or stylized tipi statue, and interpretive signs. I have been told that the fort stood on the big flat square that is now the intersection of 95 Ave and 105 street NW. I would highly recommend visiting the site – uh, the graveyard, not the intersection, that’s suicide, please don’t stop in the middle of the road to admire the asphalt – because according to our records and archaeological digs, numerous individuals from the early history of the Fort are buried there… including a woman I portrayed for one season, Nancy Harriott, daughter of Chief Factor John Rowand. That intersection has a lot of history underneath it.

Anyway, that still hasn’t answered your original question: where is the original fort, the one represented at Fort Edmonton? The fifth and final one? Well, they had trouble with flooding in earlier iterations, so they moved the location of the fort up the hill… to a very familiar hill, in fact, if you live in Edmonton today. Let’s go to Google Maps:

This is a map showing the grounds of the Legislature building in Edmonton, which houses the provincial government of Alberta. In behind the Legislature is a set of stairs: go down them. At the bottom, you’ll find a lovely flat area where they do lawn bowling today: a square of cleared land. (Zoom in on this map; the salmon-pink “A” pin points the way.) That green square is where the original fort stood.

If you visit the site, you will see little obelisks set up where some of the old bastions used to be. Hence, too, “Fortway drive”, the name of the road that runs parallel to the river below that site. There’s also the photographic record, because Edmontonians and tourists to the city loved seeing the contrast between old (the fort) and new (the construction of the high level bridge and the Legislature) on postcards of the era. The Legislature shared the grounds with the fort for nearly a decade in the early twentieth century.

Postcard 7081 The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co (Publisher) . Parliament Buildings and Old Hudson's Bay Co. Fort from High Level Bridge, Edmonton, Alta.. Montreal: Toronto: Winnipeg: Vancouver: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Ltd., Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, [after 1907]. Courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces.
Postcard 7081
Parliament Buildings and Old Hudson’s Bay Co. Fort from High Level Bridge, Edmonton, Alta. Montreal: Toronto: Winnipeg: Vancouver: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Ltd., [after 1907]. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
Postcard 7080  Leonards Cigar Store (Publisher) . Old Hudson Bay Post and Parliament Bldg., Edmonton, Alta.. Edmonton: Pub. for Leonards Cigar Store, Pantages Theatre Bldg., Edmonton, Alta, [after 1913].
Postcard 7080
Old Hudson Bay Post and Parliament Bldg., Edmonton, Alta. Edmonton: Pub. for Leonards Cigar Store, Pantages Theatre Bldg., Edmonton, Alta, [after 1913]. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

PC006361.14  The Canadian Promotion Co (Publisher) . High Level Bridge at Edmonton for Canadian Pacific Ry. and general traffic. Winnipeg: Published by The Canadian Promotion Co. 415 Ashdown Bldg., Winnipeg, [1913].  Courtsy of Peel's Prairie Provinces.
PC006361.14 
High Level Bridge at Edmonton for Canadian Pacific Ry. and general traffic. Winnipeg: Published by The Canadian Promotion Co. 415 Ashdown Bldg., Winnipeg, [1913]. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
 The old fort wasn’t torn down entirely until 1915, though previously the tall walls had been removed and the wooden buildings whitewashed. It had looked more or less like it was portrayed on this postcard for over a generation.

Why was it torn down, if it is such an important part of Edmonton’s history? Well, by the first decade of the twentieth century, it wasn’t in the best of shape. The fur trade had been in decline in the area since the 1860s and 1870s – curse Prince Albert and his trend-setting silk top hats! – and the fort’s buildings had been mostly abandoned for several decades after being used as a warehouse for the HBC. Photographs of the era show the buildings to be listing rather severely to one side, necessitating crossbeams to be added to prop them up.  The company no longer owned the land, and in all honesty, the buildings were probably spoiling the view of the grounds from the legislature building. It was rotting and full of vermin. So they took it down.

(As an interpreter who shall remain nameless told me in my first year at the fort: “then they put the rot and the vermin in the new Legislature building instead! Haha?” I loved that joke, but I was always afraid to tell it too often lest an actual politician, such as an MLA, was in the audience.)

There are several unverified theories as to what happened to the actual wood of the Fort Edmonton buildings. People did object to the demolition of the structure, and so the city(?) promised to save the wood and reconstruct the fort at a later date. Apparently the wood was stored down by the river for a long while before going missing. Perhaps it rotted away. Others say that the Boy Scouts burned it in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, as the city did apparently donate a bunch of old, dry wood for their bonfires. One man claims that his barn is made up in part of the wood from the fort, and the wood is certainly old enough, but there’s no obvious “made in Fort Edmonton” stamp on it, so who can tell at such a late date? A mystery for the ages.

And anyway, you don’t really want the park’s fort built of the same wood as before. I mean, if it was in rough shape in 1915, how much worse would it have been in the late 1960s when the fort was reconstructed, let alone today in 2013? No visitor would be allowed inside the fort because of safety concerns.

But fear not! You can still see some original pieces of Fort Edmonton at the park. Go into Rowand House, behind the stairs on the main floor. Ask an interpreter about the big metal box you see there. (It may be the subject of a future blog post.) I have also heard rumours that the top of the fort’s flag pole may also be original to the old fort, but this historical tidbit has yet to be verified.

Oh, and one more thing: the reconstruction of the fort at the park, while made to the exact measurements of the Palliser plan from 1846, is different in a handful of ways, but most significantly is this: it is a mirror image of the original fort. Why? The old one was on the North side of the North Saskatchewan River. The park stands on the South side. The gates had to face in the correct direction: the river.

Further Resources:

  • Brock Silversides. Fort de Prairies. Edmonton, AB: Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd, 2005. Aside from a detailed history of the forts in the Edmonton area, drawing liberally from primary sources, it also reprints what may be all known depictions of Fort Edmonton since the early 1800s. If you would like to consult one of the photographs or maps that I mention, it is in all likelihood reproduced in this book.
  • A photograph (which also appears in Silversides’ book) of the old fort being demolished in 1915.

Get Your Historical Driver’s Licence Part I: Motorcars At Fort Edmonton

One of the skills that I acquired while a costumed historical interpreter at Fort Edmonton Park that I most like to brag about is my ability to drive historical vehicles.

Costumed interpreters learn a lot of interesting skills on the job that can also serve them well in life. Other skills I talk about a lot are basic competency in doing beadwork by hand and on the loom, the ability to light a fire with flint and steel in less than two minutes (even in the rain), and the know-how to cook delicious meals over open fires and on wood-burning stoves… which are not as simple as your childhood experiences camping and cooking hot dogs and marshmallows over the camp fire would lead you to believe. In general, I feel that employees of Fort Edmonton are better prepared to survive the coming apocalypse and accompanying breakdown in modern society than any other people I know.

But cooking over open fires only requires the requisite ingredients, tools, and fire permits; to learn to drive an artifact vehicle, you must first invent the universe have legal access to one of these cars (which must be in good working order), know someone in charge of those vehicles who is willing to allow a newbie to get behind the wheel, and, depending on your region, a historical vehicles permit. Many of these “artifact” vehicles have incredibly different controls compared to the relatively standardized models available today and therefore require specialized training and, of course, paperwork. I have two driver’s licences: my ordinary Alberta driver’s permit and a secondary one on my old City of Edmonton Employee ID card. You need to fill out paperwork and get a lot of training. (Un)fortunately, it’s not as simple as just sitting down in the driver’s seat.

As they say so often these days, “pics or it didn’t happen!” So here is a photograph of myself driving a 1928 Ford Model A. This is on my iPod touch. I show it to people when it comes up in conversation (or I work it into conversation) like some people have baby pictures in their wallets.

Taking over from the famous Ford Model T, the Ford Model A sat lower on the ground and had much improved controls.
Successor to the famous Ford Model T, the Ford Model A, like this early example from 1928, sat lower on the ground and had much improved controls in comparison with the most famous of Ford’s creations. Photograph taken on 1920s Street at Fort Edmonton Park.

Note, too, my fashionable cloche hat, cupid’s bow style lipstick, and debonair attitude.

One of the aspects about working on 1920s street at Fort Edmonton Park that I most loved was the artifact vehicles. Fort Edmonton has quite a few functioning vehicles. These models range in origin from 1906 through to the early 1930s. Some, like the one pictured in this video, are driven by maintenance staff so they can transport whatever they need to throughout the admittedly expansive park without breaking the site’s historic bubble, if you will. However, others are to be found at places such as the Motordrome on 1920s street and the Fire Hall on 1905 street, which, as you may recall, covers not just the year 1905 but encompasses the post-railroad but pre-First World War era in Edmonton. Most of the functioning ones are to be found on 1920s street, though a really neat International Harvester high wheeler from 1913 is driven on both of these streets. (Sadly, 1885 street and the Fort era (1846) generally don’t get to experience the awesomeness that can be found in motorized vehicles, for obvious reasons.)

The earlier cars, I should say, like the Ford Model T and the International Harvester model from 1913,  have very different controls. In the early decades after the invention of automobiles, there was a lot more experimentation, as this was far before cars were standardized. You can learn a lot about these kind of things at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta – that cars would run on petrol was not an obvious or even popular choice in the early years, for instance. There were also considerations that aren’t even on the radar with car design today. For example, some people notice that the driver’s seat on the International Harvester is on the “wrong” side (the right side) and assume that it’s a car from England, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to assume considering that that has been the standard for generations. However, you would be incorrect: this is a North American model. If you drive on the left side of the road, you as a driver need to be on the right side of the vehicle to watch for oncoming traffic in the lane next to you; that is the logic of the placement of modern drivers’ seats, as far as I am aware. But in the early 1900s, drivers weren’t as concerned about oncoming traffic, of which there was generally little. They were more concerned with the ditch to one’s right, not the centre of the road, and so the driver’s seat was sometimes placed on that side instead. (Edit: I have found another example of an early automobile model in Canada with the steering column on the “wrong” side. Click here to see a postcard of a vehicle near Tofield, Alberta, postmarked 1910.)

Car design was by no means standardized in the early decades of the twentieth century. That’s one of the exciting things about studying the development of the automobile; there was so much potential for change. The oldest car at Fort Edmonton, the Orient Buckboard, from about 1906, doesn’t even have a steering wheel; it has a long straight handle instead, which kind of reminds me of a rudder. You can see a historical photograph of a similar automobile in this article.

By the late 1920s, automotive manufacturers had started to hammer down what seemed to work, and the controls became more standardized. In many ways they start to look more familiar to modern drivers, but in others they remain quite different… and can be very tricky to use if one is unused to them. They have gear shifts, but one must double-clutch, for example; to go from first to second gear, for instance, one must clutch in, shift to neutral, clutch out, clutch in again, and only then can you shift into second gear. In fact, as someone who drove automatics when not in costume, I found learning to drive them easier than some of my colleagues who normally dove standards. It was easier for me to compartmentalize vehicles from the 1920s and the 2000s as two entirely different machines because using the clutch was entirely new to me. (Now, when I had to learn to drive a standard in the twenty-first century, that was confusing.)

So how precisely does one go about driving a car from the 1920s? That’s a question for next time. Stay tuned for Get Your Historical Driver’s Licence Part II: Behind the Wheel.

Dr. Mary Walker was one classy lady

Two or three years ago, while doing research on Civil War medicine at the University of Alberta, I ran across an interesting reference to a particular female doctor who served during the conflict on the Union side. Her name? Dr. Mary Walker.

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Here she is in a photograph taken around the time that she served during the war. (All images courtesy of the Digital Collections of the American Library of Congress: keyword search “Dr. Mary Walker”.)

You might notice something intriguing about what she’s wearing. Namely, it doesn’t look anything like this or this, two examples of higher-class women’s fashion from the decade of the 1860s: the largest hoop skirts that would be tolerated (which evolved into bustles in the following decades) covered by more petticoats (it wouldn’t do to have the line of the hoops show), covered, finally, by the actual dress.

That was a lot of fabric, none of which is evident in the above photograph. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, it looks like she’s wearing… men’s trousers underneath that short skirt. And you’d be right.

Dr. Walker believed that tight corsets along with voluminous skirts and petticoats were unsanitary and hampered her medical practice. So she didn’t wear them: first sporting bloomers, then, midway through the war, abandoning those for a male surgeon’s uniform. She didn’t attempt to pass as a man; she was an obviously female doctor wearing a male uniform.

“They said she was too lazy to wash her clothes,” wrote one biographer, “that she wanted to display her legs, that she was seeking publicity…”

(cited in Leonard’s Yankee Women, 109)

When she was captured by Confederate scouts in April, 1864:

“Dressed in trousers and a surgeon’s uniform, the twenty-five-year-old made such a sensation when she rode into camp [at Richmond’s Castle Thunder] that several Confederate soldiers and visiting wives mentioned the incident in their letters and diaries.”

(Schultz, Women at the Front, 177)

She continued to wear men’s clothing throughout her long life (she lived until 1919) and continually advocated for rational dress reform for women. Here, she is pictured in a man’s top hat in her old age, circa 1911.

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Dr. Walker was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for her contributions during the war – she was, after all, captured by the enemy – but when the American government changed its regulations decades later, they tried to revoke her medal, as she was a medical officer who had never seen combat. She refused to return it, and to make a point wore it all the time. (Honestly, just don’t award any new medals to people who don’t meet the right qualifications: don’t try to take ones that have been already awarded to awesome folks who have already proven their stubbornness!)

Here she is, pictured near the end of her life, wearing the infamous medal. Again, see how much women’s fashion has changed over the years, and how dapper and comfortable Dr. Walker looks in her old age.

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One more photograph before I leave you:

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For more information on Dr. Mary Walker and other awesome Civil War ladies, check out the following:

Leonard, Elizabeth D. Yankee Women: Gender Battles in the Civil War. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.

Schultz, Jane E. Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

And of course the Digital Collections of the Library of Congress for the images: http://www.loc.gov/library/libarch-digital.html

Let’s Start Talking About Postcards and Research Topics

Hello, all! This will be the first of many posts on the subject of my research project for my Public History Master’s program. I’m going to make every effort to demonstrate to you just how interesting everything I’m studying is.

Roughly, I am going to be studying tourism to Western Canada (particularly the Rockies) post-Confederation to the 1920s or 1930s. Yes, that was very vague. You see, I picked up this topic just at the end of August, though I was doing related but more specialized research for Fort Edmonton Park as a part of my costumed interpretation on 1920s street. Particularly, I was looking at automotive tourism in the 1910s and 1920s from Edmonton to Jasper. Early “auto-camping” is sure to be a subject that I will pick up on this blog – and in potential research – later on.

Anyway, before I began attending Carleton University this year, I studied history at the University of Alberta. There, I did an undergraduate thesis on the subject of the history of American Civil War medicine. I can literally talk your ear off for over an hour about early uses and perceptions of anaesthesia, miasma theory, germ theory, and so on. Just try me. More on that in a later post.

However, while I find the history of medicine one of the most fascinating things ever, I wanted to do a more Canadian topic for my Master’s, especially as I would be working with some awesome Canadianists at the heart of our nation’s capital.

Over the course of my undergraduate degree, I became fascinated by photography. I’ve always focused my research upon the “Long Nineteenth Century” (ranging from the French Revolution to the first First World War, because centuries are arbitrary dates and I don’t like putting things in abstract or arbitrary boxes), and now the 1920s have grown on me. (Being paid to drive in motorcars from the late 1920s for a chunk of the summer will do that to you – photographs to come.)

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(Automotive tourists in Banff, shown in a personalized postcard from 1922, courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.)

Thus, while Civil War amputations may have little to do with early tourism in the Rockies over a generation later, I think that one of the elements that draws these two topics together is the visual culture of both. I will likely later post images from the Civil War – early medical imaging whose poses are based off of portrait photography! – but for the moment, I will be focussing on postcards.

For the purposes of my OGS and SSHRC proposals, which require very specific research goals, I will be examining representations of First Nations people on these postcards, especially in the light of the comments made by the senders. The neat thing about postcards is that sometimes we have a literal written interpretation of the viewer/purchaser/sender written right on it, which can tell us plenty of things about how tourists saw the region and the people therein.

The following postcard really epitomizes this kind of practice, though of course I have other examples. The following doesn’t come from Peel’s Prairie Provinces like the one above. (Though they have 14,000+ postcards recently digitized in this free online database!) In fact, it belongs to the family of one of my classmates who eagerly told me about it when we were discussing our potential research topics. She recently scanned these images for me, and I am forever in her debt.

On the front of the postcard we can see some “Blood Indians on Horse Back”. Some wear plains-style war bonnets, which (later?) become associated with “Indian” stereotypes even in Eastern tribes where there was no such tradition. You can also see some native riders in more “European” style clothing on the right, with their hats clearly visible. This image was copyrighted in 1910, so we know that this photo can’t have been taken after that date.

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So far, very little distinguishes this postcard to me from any other dozen images of similar subjects from this time period. First Nations people in “traditional regalia”, preparing for “war parties”, etc., were very popular images in photography in the final decades of the 19th century onward. What I find most fascinating is the message on the reverse, sent to my friend’s great-grandmother in 1912:Image“These are a few of the people we have to associate with out here. J.W.S.”

I interpreted this message humorously, and I find it and many other such postcards very fascinating. Did the purchaser of this card ever actually meet any “Blood Indians”, or was the extent of their contact the viewing and sending of this postcard? Are they playing into the expectations of their friends and family back home, because of course one can still regularly expect to see such people riding across the Western plains?

I will be examining these types of questions, among many others. In the meantime, you’ll probably find me waist-deep in primary and secondary literature. It’s a good thing I’ve recently stocked up my freezer, because aside from trips to the University for class and the occasional social event, and trips to the national archive, how frequently will I pop my head up above my pile of books?

Nursing on a Sunny Day

Nursing on a Sunny Day

Myself as Sister Nancy Sparrow, a nursing veteran of the Great War, at Fort Edmonton Park.