Royal Alberta Museum
visitors since 1967

Western Canadian History: Research & Projects

Alberta Craft Research Project

Many Western Canadian families produced craft objects through necessity: domestic linens, clothing and furniture are just a few examples. Today, Albertans continue to produce craft motivated by an artistic impulse. Western Canadian History curators Cathy Roy and Lucie Heins are engaged in studying the development of two textiles crafts: quilting and hand weaving. We are interested in documenting the material culture of modern craft production in Alberta (ca. 1900 to the present). We want to establish the stylistic and technical origins of these crafts in Alberta and to develop a collecting strategy that ensures that crafts are represented in the Western Canadian History collection for future generations.

The Alberta Quilt Project

Inspired by an earlier quilt documentation project conducted in 1982 and the subsequent creation of the travelling exhibition Alberta Quilts in 1984, the Alberta Quilt Project will expand on the documentation of Alberta heritage quilts created during the 20th century as well as documenting quilting trends into the 21st century.

This project began in 2010 by surveying Alberta quilters to capture the current trends in quilting. There is great diversity in the types of quilts made today, from traditional to contemporary art pieces. This is a unique project because contemporary documentation projects focus on heritage quilts. Alberta quilters are making their own history today as we pioneer a new field of research. The initial results of this project will be shared with those interested in contemporary quilting history as part of an Alberta-wide speaking tour scheduled during 2012.

The Royal Alberta Museum is the first international institution invited to participate in the Quilt Index, a partnership of the Michigan State University Museum, the Alliance for American Quilts, and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online. The Quilt Index is an online database of thousands of quilts, utilized by quilt scholars and enthusiasts around the world. The documentation and photos of the Royal Alberta Museum's quilt collection will be made available through the Quilt Index as of April 2012.

We wish to continue to document heritage quilts made in Alberta or brought as part of household belongings to Alberta, as well. Our goal is to document and photograph quilts found in regional museums as well as in private collections throughout Alberta and add them to the Quilt Index. We hope that our research will help us tell the Alberta quilting story, past and present. If you own a heritage quilt as described above, it may be a good candidate for the Quilt Index. If you are an Alberta quilter, you can still participate in the project by completing a survey questionnaire. Please contact the Assistant Curator, Western Canadian History.

View Quilt Collection on Quilt Index

Modern Hand Weaving

Through such institutions as the Banff School of Fine Arts, the Alberta College of Art and Design and a network of community craft guilds established by the Alberta government, Alberta became an important centre of hand weaving in the middle decades of the Twentieth Century. Why are there so few example of modern weaving in Albertan museum collections? Research is looking at Albertan weavers and the evolution of the modern hand woven goods that they produced. Many of the community guilds established in the 1950s continue to this day. If you were or are a weaver or a community guild member, I would like to talk to you about when, how and why you took up weaving. If you would like to participate in this project please contact the Curator, Western Canadian History.

The Edmonton Coal Field

Today, Edmonton's electricity is produced from coal-fired electrical generators supplied by a number of open pit mines located west of the city near Lake Wabamun. In fact, most of the province's electricity is generated from these mines. But coal mining in Edmonton has a much longer history. Between 1880 and the mid-1970s, Edmonton boasted a total of 153 mines and prospects which produced "domestic" coal suitable for home heating. The mines expanded dramatically from the 1920s to the 1940s. By the Second World War there were approximately 40 mines, mostly underground, operating in and around Edmonton. But after the war the demand for coal dropped dramatically as oil and gas quickly dominated the marketplace and by the mid-1970s all the mines had closed. Edmonton's coal mining legacy, though, continues at the Wabamun strip mines.

Although this small- and medium-scaled industry was once a major economic influence on the city's life very little is known about the miners—who they were, where they came from, their work, and their daily life in the mining communities. The Western Canadian History program in conjunction with the Geology program is anxious to learn more about the social life of the miners and their families, the mining communities, daily routine at the mines, mining accidents, the structure of mine management, and even the equipment that was used and how it changed over time. We hope to share what we learn through a small publication, a virtual exhibit and possibly a small travelling exhibit.

If you have any photographs, perhaps even some artifacts or if you worked at the mines or lived in one of the mining communities, please contact the Curator, Western Canadian History.

The Prairie Grain Elevator Heritage Project

The ubiquitous grain elevator, long a prairie icon, is fast disappearing from the landscape in favour of centralized storage and handling systems. In 1997, the Western Canadian History program documented and evaluated the physical, social and economic roles played by the grain elevator in rural communities in Alberta. We looked at the architectural designs, typology, trends and materials used in the construction of the elevators, site development and the evolution of the complex of buildings and their functions, the duties of the elevator agent, technological changes, the role of the elevator in the overall grain handling system, its role in local economies, and the social and economic impact of the loss of community elevators.

This two year project resulted in a body of research that includes oral history interviews, an inventory of all extant structures (updated in March 2002), a resource list of selected archival images, artifacts, architectural drawings, films/video, art work, an annotated bibliography, and an illustrated research report. A call to the public through a photographic contest brought in 5000 photographs, many of which have been digitized. Some of these can be viewed in the Virtual Exhibit, Finding Our Way Home, based on a temporary exhibit that ran from June—September 1999 before being broken into four smaller travelling exhibits.