The Story of the Signal Hill Geoglyphs
Battalion Park’s giant numbers are a grand reminder of the province’s military history.
Photograph by Jared Sych and Craig McLachlin
If you’ve ever been to Signal Hill and wondered what those giant numbers on its hillside were, wonder no more.
The large white numbers, 113, 51, 151 and 137 have separate yet similar stories originating in Albertan military history. The 113 is the oldest of the four, and was put together by the 113th Canadian Expeditionary Force known as the Lethbridge Highlanders, one of many battalions that made up the Canadian Expeditionary Force that fought in the trenches of World War I.
Though the group initially began training in its hometown of Lethbridge in early 1916, by May of that year they were moved to Sarcee Camp, a section of the Sarcee Indian reserve (now Tsuu T’ina) near Calgary leased by the Canadian militia in 1914 as a training site.
It was during the five months spent there that the battalion placed the painted stones that formed the 113 geolyph on nearby Signal Hill as part of their training exercises before shipping off to Europe. In Europe, the battalion was split up to serve as replacements for other battalions, with some 300 of them heading to Le Havre, France to join up with the 16th Battalion, one of the most famous Canadian battalions of the war.
Image courtesy of the Calgary Public Library Archives
A soldier from the 137th Battalion stands by the camp’s insignia outlined in rocks at Sarcee Camp in 1916.
The other numbers, though they have been moved slightly from their original locations, were all formed in the area by subsequent battalions of the C.E.F. that trained at Sarcee Camp during the First World War, including the 137th Infantry Battalion of Calgary, the 151st Central Alberta Battalion and the 51st Canadian Infantry Battalion. At one point the hill was home to approximately 20 such markers, but most were destroyed in the 50s during the construction of a mess hall nearby.
Of the four numbers, the 113 is the only one with a designation – it was recognized as a Provincial Historic Resource by the province in 1988. That may soon change, however, as councilor Richard Pootmans recently put forward a motion to designate all of the numbers as a historic municipal resource, just in time for the markers’ centennial anniversary this December.