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When I was in the midst of curating the exhibit Sketching History: Rediscovering Edmonton’s Architectural Heritage through Urban Sketching, I suddenly thought “How am I going to honour the Indigenous story in an exhibit dedicated to what is essentially colonial architecture?” Fortunately, I know Miranda Jimmy, a member of Thunderchild First Nation and co-founder of Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton (RISE), and I asked for her advice. She suggested that I could include the story of the land before Edmonton was built. That seems obvious now, but as a settler, I find that I have to make a conscious effort to think outside of my own experience in order to ensure that the whole story is told.

Sketch by Karen Wall of Faculty of Native Studies, Pembina Hall, University of Alberta, 2011

The history of the Papaschase First Nation is the history of Edmonton.  Although the built heritage that we have sketched for this exhibit came to be within the last century, it is vital to remember that the history of the land on which these buildings sit reaches back much further.

Both our built environment and our land hold memory and represent identity and connection with Treaty 6 territory, not only for settler history, but for the much longer history of the Indigenous peoples and the land on which they live. While the economic and political pressures of colonial development have endangered Indigenous stories and traditions, they have also threatened the city’s architectural heritage and the stories they embody.

As a result of the Government of Canada’s actions beginning in 1877, the Papaschase Descendants have suffered significant damages to their culture, language, and collective identity, including the loss of Indian status, band membership and their land.

The full history of the Papaschase First Nation can be found on their website.

Painting by Ella May Walker of Laurent and Eleanor Garneau House, [1957]. City of Edmonton Archives #EAA-1-4 

The Métis story in Edmonton intertwines with the Papaschase story.  By the 1870s, the Métis were the first permanent settlers of the Edmonton and Strathcona areas. Laurent and Eleanor Garneau, who came from the Red River settlement after the Riel Rebellion, and other families not connected to the Papaschase band, lived in the southwest are of Edmonton. Those who settled in the southeast (now 99th Street) were more closely connected to the Papaschase Band.

The Métis land scrip and claims process would become one of the most flawed and corrupt of policies directed towards Indigenous peoples. Most of these Métis families were no longer in the area by the early 1880’s.

An article by Jan Olson provides a good history of the Métis in the Edmonton area.

Painting by Miss H. Vincent Foster “30 degrees below – Edmonton Power Plant Bldgs”, 1931, City of Edmonton Archives #EAA-5-3 

(In the Sketching History exhibit I have included some paintings from the collection of the City of Edmonton Archives. The archives have many beautiful paintings and drawings in their holdings that can be requested for viewing in the Reference Room.)

In 1999, the Papaschase Band, Métis and other activists lobbied to protect a burial ground near the Rossdale Power Plant operated by EPCOR. Hearings were held after which a reburial ceremony took place in 2007 and the Rossdale Memorial was commissioned by the City and constructed by Manasc Isaac in 2008. A significant piece of Edmonton’s history, it is significant not only as a once-forgotten, desecrated First Nations burial site, but an early site of the HBC Fort Edmonton fur trading post, and burial site for Métis and non-Indigenous Fort inhabitants also buried here.

Further information about the burial site can be found on the Papaschase First Nation website and the Manasc Isaac website.

Sketch by Terry Elrod, Rossdale Power Plant, 3 September 2014

Rossdale Power Plant was constructed between 1930 and 1958 on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River. Maxwell Dewar, who later became Edmonton’s City Architect, was one of the designers of the plant, a curtain-wall brick and steel construction.

The design reflected a contemporary shift away from traditional Victorian style architecture, instead taking inspiration from Albert Kahn’s innovative Ford Highland Park Plant in Detroit. Its style is unique in Edmonton.

Edmonton continued to control the plant until its closure in 1989. The Rossdale Power Plant was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2001. The City-owned buildings are familiar and significant landmarks in the city, but the fate of the decommissioned plant is still unknown.

Sketch by Karen Wall, Rossdale Power Plant from under old Walterdale Bridge, 2012 (The old Walterdale bridge was demolished in 2017)

I will be writing further posts about the more than 100 sketches in the exhibit by 12 artists from Urban Sketchers Edmonton.

Please come and explore the exhibit!

Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre and Edmonton City Archives
10440 – 108 Ave
Mondays to Fridays 8:30am to 4:30pm and Wednesdays til 8pm
Ring the buzzer on the outside door to be let into the building

Thanks to the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Heritage Council, the Edmonton Historical Board and the City of Edmonton Archives for their support of this project.

Posted by Marlena Wyman