Disguise was a strategy used by many early hunters to sneak up on their prey
Ukrainian Women Cutting Logs, Athabasca, ca. 1930
John Owen ploughing with oxen
  • Spear points from the Clovis phase found in present-day Alberta.<br/>Source: Historical Resources Management Branch, Archaeological Survey

    Clovis phase spear points used in present-day Alberta.

    Clovis phase spear points represent the oldest hunting technology in Alberta, and indeed all of North America. These fluted, jagged stone points would be attached to a bone or wooden shaft and used to hunt enormous prey such as mammoths and mastodons.
    Source: Historical Resources Management Branch, Archaeological Survey

  • Diagram of an atlatl (spear-thrower)<br/>Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

    Atlatl (spear-thrower) technology emerges in present-day Alberta.

    Atlatls were used by early hunter’s to increase the velocity of their projectile weapons. Spears or darts thrown with an atlatl could deliver devastating wounds to an animal, allowing the hunter to kill the animal from a safe distance.
    Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

  • Representation of an early hunter drawing a bow<br/>Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

    Bow and arrow technology reaches present-day Alberta.

    Bow and arrow technology in North America appears to have developed first in the Arctic before spreading south throughout the continent. The bow and arrow was ideally suited for use in the wide open spaces of the Great Plains, and was widely adopted across the region.
    Source: Courtesy of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

  • Petroglyph of a mounted hunter chasing a bison, Milk River<br/>Source: Royal Alberta Museum

    The ‘Horse Revolution’ begins in present-day Alberta.

    Horses were brought to North America by Spanish colonists in the sixteenth century. From the Spanish colony of New Mexico, horses spread across North America, reaching present-day Alberta in the 1730s. The adoption of the horse had a significant impact on the hunting/transportation patterns of Plains First Nations peoples.
    Source: Royal Alberta Museum

  • Swimmers Enjoying the Banff Hot Springs, ca. 1935<br/>Source: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, v263-na-3562

    Rocky Mountains National Park is established by the Canadian government.

    One of the main attractions of the new park was the site’s natural hot springs. The luxurious Banff Springs Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888, pumped water from the hot springs into its swimming pools and treatment rooms. Tourists flocked to the site to take advantage of the water’s supposed therapeutic healing powers.
    Source: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, v263-na-3562

  • Calgary Water Power Company hydroelectric plant, n.d.<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4477-44

    The Calgary Water Power Company opens Alberta’s first hydroelectric plant.

    The company was owned by entrepreneur Peter Prince, who also ran the Eau Claire & Bow River Lumber Company. From 1894 to 1905, the company was the major electricity provider for the city of Calgary.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4477-44

  • The city power plant in Edmonton, 1912<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NC-6-271

    The City of Edmonton purchases the Edmonton Electric Lighting Company.

    The decision in favour of public ownership was made after repeated disruptions in service from the privately-owned utility. Edmonton was the first major urban centre in Canada to own its own electricity utility.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NC-6-271

  • Changing the name from Calgary Power to TransAlta, 1981<br/>Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

    The Calgary Power Company is formed.

    The founder of the company, Max Aitken, was initially drawn to the region by its vast hydroelectricity potential. The company would develop into Canada’s largest investor-owned utility. In 1981, the company changed its name to TransAlta Utilities Corporation, in order to better reflect its provincial reach.
    Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

  • Calgary Power’s power house at Horseshoe Falls on the Bow River, ca. 1912<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives NA-3544-28

    Alberta’s First hydroelectric dam opens at Horseshoe Falls.

    Owned and operated by Calgary Power, the Horseshoe Falls Dam was the first of two such facilities built on the Bow River system prior to the First World War. A second hydroelectric dam began operations at Kananaskis Falls in 1913.
    Source: Glenbow Archives NA-3544-28

  • Ghost Hydroelectric Dam, 1935<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5663-44

    The Ghost Hydroelectric Dam begins operations

    This massive facility was the largest hydroelectric dam in Alberta at the time it was built. The Ghost Power Plant more than doubled the amount of electricity generated by Calgary Power, which was already the province’s main energy supplier.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5663-44

  • Rural electrification crew at work near Irma, 1951<br/>Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4160-20

    The first Rural Electrification Association (REA) in Alberta is established in Springbank.

    Over the next two decades, a total of 416 REAs would be established across the province. These organizations would play a crucial role in the spread of electricity to rural Alberta.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-4160-20

  • CCF Advertisement in the People’s Weekly, August 14, 1948, urging people to support public utility ownership<br/>Source: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries

    Voters of Alberta narrowly reject proposal for public ownership of electricity utilities.

    The 1948 provincial election included a plebiscite concerning ownership of electricity utilities in Alberta. Rural areas largely voted in favour of public ownership, while urban voters (particularly in southern Alberta) supported a continuation of private ownership. In the end, the vote was extremely close, with public ownership defeated by a mere 151 votes.
    Source: Image courtesy of Peel’ Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries

  • Five of the turbines installed at Cowley Ridge Wind Farm<br/>Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

    Cowley Ridge Wind Farm begins operations near Pincher Creek.

    Cowley Ridge was Canada’s first commercial wind farm. A total of fifty-two wind turbines were installed in 1993-94. In 2000, the project was expanded with the addition of fifteen new (and much more powerful) turbines.
    Source: Photo courtesy of TransAlta

  • Aerial view of Drake Landing Solar Community<br/>Source: Wikimedia Commons/CA-BY-SA-3.0

    Drake Landing Solar Community opens near Okotoks, Alberta.

    Drake Landing is North American’s first fully integrated solar community. This award-winning initiative uses solar heating technology to provide the community with the majority of its space heating and hot water needs.
    Source: Wikimedia Commons/CA-BY-SA-3.0

  • AAdvanced Energy Research Facility, Edmonton, 2011LT<br/>Source: Photo Courtesy of Enerkem

    The City of Edmonton announces the launch of the ‘waste-to-biofuels’ project.

    The waste-to-biofuels project will convert garbage into biofuel by harvesting carbon from the waste material. The project includes an Advanced Energy Research Facility, which opened in 2012.
    Source: Photo Courtesy of Enerkem

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Human Power and the Fur Trade

From the 1780s through the early 1820s, a fierce rivalry played out across the wilderness of western Canada. The Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company competed to exploit the rich fur resources of the region. The Athabasca and Peace River districts became sites of especially strong competition, as the fur trade established itself as the most important economic activity in present-day Alberta. The two companies would end their destructive rivalry and merge in 1821, but the fur trade would remain central to the region’s economy, displaced only with the advance of agricultural settlement in the late nineteenth century.

Success in the fur trade depended on many factors—strong financial planning and organization, knowledge of the environment, and perhaps most crucially, establishing a strong relationship with the region’s First Nations peoples. On a more fundamental level, however, the operations of the fur trade depended on the muscle power of human labour. The work routine of a typical fur trade labourer (or voyageur) who transported goods was extraordinary. Between paddling the canoe and carrying goods over land, voyageurs could expect to

work between fifteen and eighteen hours a day, with a typical work day starting at two or three o’clock in the morning.

Each voyageur was responsible for transporting up to six packs of trade goods weighing 36 to 41 kg (80 to 90 lb.), in addition to his personal equipment and belongings. The most difficult part of the journey was the portage, where voyageurs would have to transport their canoes and goods across land between two bodies of water, often across great distances; the Methye Portage, for example, that connects the north end of Methye Lake (now Lac La Loche) to the Clearwater River near the present-day border of Saskatchewan and Alberta, is 19 km (12 mi.) long. Since voyageurs were each responsible for six packs of trade goods, crossing Methye Portage required men to walk the distance several times carrying at least 68 kg (150 lb.). Not surprisingly, the strength and physical prowess of voyageurs were central to their culture and identity. Voyageurs boasted freely of their physical accomplishments and endurance, and engaged in physical competitions and tests of strength to prove themselves against their peers.

Studies have calculated that voyageurs, on average, burned twice as many calories per day as a typical contemporary adult male. Voyageurs thus required a food that provided the concentrated energy necessary for their grueling work routine. The answer was pemmican, a mixture of dried bison meat, fat, and berries, which became the staple food of the fur trade. It was very high in protein, lightweight and, because it was dried, did not spoil, a combination that made it ideally suited for fur trade workers. Pemmican was also favoured for cultural reasons, as voyageurs shared the commonly held belief that consuming the meat of wild animals made a man stronger than someone who ate farm animals.

Indeed, the lowest-ranking voyageurs, those who transported goods from Montreal to the Great Lakes for the North West Company, were commonly dismissed by their more experienced compatriots as “pork-eaters” because they subsisted on dried meat from Montreal rather than pemmican from the wilderness of the fur trade country.

The fur trade was an extremely labour intensive industry that required huge contributions of human energy. Before the arrival of modern transportation, it was the muscle power of voyageurs that powered the flow of goods across fur trade country. The trade was the foundation of present-day Alberta’s economy for over a century, and the work of the voyageurs represents a fascinating chapter in the province’s early resource and energy history.

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