The Alberta Homestead Process

Homestead records are a valuable research tool for archaeologists, historians and for people researching their own family history or genealogy. If you want to see how homestead records can help archaeologists please read our previous blog post. Before I explain how to use these records, I will give a brief description of the homesteading process and what type of files you might find in the records.

In order to gain land under the Dominion Lands Act, people who wished to homestead had to apply at the local land agency office. These offices were under the Dominion Lands Branch in Ottawa. For a $10 filing fee, an applicant could apply to homestead a quarter section (160 acres). Once a quarter section was homesteaded for the first time it was given a file number. All documents related to that section of land were then filed under that number. As we saw in the previous blog post about the cabin we found near Peace River, multiple people might apply to homestead on one section.

The first page of the file for a quarter section typically looks just like this (see below). The number circled in red is the file number.

file number

After filing, the homesteader then had three years to ‘prove up‘ their homestead claim. The requirements changed over the years as did the requirements for eligibility of the applicants. If you did not complete the process in three years, you would have to ask for an extension. One file contained a statement of a homesteader asking for an extension because his neighbor (allegedly) killed his horses.

horses

Applicants typically had to be male, meet the age requirement, and be a British subject (or declare an intention to be one). The required duties were that the person had to occupy the land for a set amount of time and had to undertake certain improvements upon the land within three years. The improvements usually included the construction a house and fences, and breaking and cropping a portion of the land. If you “proved up” your homestead you could apply for a patent which would give you legal ownership of the land. There were special exemptions to these rules. For example in some cases widows could apply for patents upon the death of their husbands, or as in the case below their “mysterious disappearance”.

widow

For more information on the changes to the original Dominion Lands Act, check out this website:

http://www.saskarchives.com/collections/land-records/history-and-background-administration-land-saskatchewan/homesteading

The files normally include an application for homestead, an application for patent, and a notice that the patent has been issued.

The application for entry is the first form that was filled out when someone wanted to homestead a quarter section. This form would capture information about the applicant’s age, birthplace, last residence, prior occupation, and the number of people in the household.

Below is a picture of what the top half of an application for entry looks like. You can see that the file number is recorded on the page.

appplication for homestead

When we were researching the cabin near Peace River, the forms that we found were all application for entry. This usually indicates that the land was abandoned and wasn’t successfully homesteaded before 1930. After 1930 the homestead process changed as control of natural resources was transferred to the province.

The application for patent is the form that was filed to gain the patent (title) for the land. In order for the patent to be granted the applicant had to complete the required duties. These forms contained information about the applicant’s, age, occupation, nationality, number of people in the household, residency information, post office, as well as work they’d done like breaking, cropping, buildings, fencing, and livestock.

The notification of patent is the letter granting the patent (title to the land). It demonstrates that the applicant was successful and gained legal ownership of the land and it contains the date it was issued.

Sometimes the application was not for a homestead but for a pre-emption or a purchased homestead. A pre-emption allowed a homesteader to obtain a second quarter section of land next to their homestead entry. They had requirements that had to be fulfilled in addition to the requited duties of the homestead. Purchased homesteads were typically bought for $3 an acre. The accompanying files for both pre-emptions and purchased homestead are typically the same as those for the homestead applications.

The files can contain additional documents such as inspector’s reports, witness affidavits, records of abandonment, handwritten letters, court proceedings, wills, naturalization, and even poetry and pictures.

photo of poet

poem

The above images are of the poet and poem found in the same file. Although this is by far not what the typical file looks like, until you look at the file you will never know what type of information you can find! If you want to learn how to use the Alberta Homestead Index for research keep an eye out for our next blog post.

Wild Weather

Weather can change very quickly in the foothills. From one day to the next, and within the day itself.

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This picture was taken May 24th. It was a beautiful day.

The following photos were taken all on the next day.

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The weather can also change a lot depending on your elevation. In order to get out of the valley we were in we had to drive up and down a mountain pass. There was a lot more snow at the higher elevation than where we were working There was no snow on our drive in that morning.
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Survival in the Bush

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, either for work or for pleasure, you learn that the weather can change very quickly. You also become aware of how unforgiving mother nature can be. That is why it is so important to carry the right gear and to know some basic survival skills in case things go south.

This spring we took a survival course through Three Ravens Bushcraft. We learned how to make a warm bed to sleep in and brushed up on our fire making skills.

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We had to build a foundation for the bed. Staying off the ground is important if you want to stay warm and dry.
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Next we had to build something to shelter us from the wind.
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Kurt is testing out the bed that he will spend the night on.
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The next step is to build a fire close (but not too close!) to your bed.

If you want to learn some new skills or refresh some old ones, check out their youtube page for some videos on survival tips. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCQ7ME60IZoRo7_lXpevEbA

These skills are great to know and could save your life in an emergency. However, the best way to stay safe, is to try to avoid the situation in the first place. You can do this by preparing for your trip in advance. Make sure people know where and for how long you plan on going. Plan your route and check the weather reports. Also take into consideration changing weather conditions and alter your plans if need be.

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The above photo was taken on May 24 2017, the temperature was closer to plus 18° C the day before. We knew this storm was coming a couple of days in advance so we were prepared for it. You can also check out Alberta parks website for hiking and back country safety tips.

https://www.albertaparks.ca/kananaskis-country/advisories-public-safety/backcountry-safety/

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Stay safe out there!

 

Animal Bones

During an archaeological survey or excavation when animals bones are found, we look for signs that they were somehow modified or processed by humans. Animals were not only a source for food, but their skin, fur, and bones had many other uses. We might find cut marks from a knife made during butchering, or the bone itself might be shaped into a tool such as an awl. If the animal seems to have been killed or somehow used by humans we can classify it as an artifact.

However, not every animal bone that we find is an artifact. Sometimes during a survey, a test pit might have an animal bone in it. If no other artifacts were found in the area and the bone shows no signs of human use, then we cannot call it an artifact. Nature does takes its course without human interference. The animal remains pictured here serve as a reminder of that. These remains, likely of a wolf, found in the summer of 2014 will eventually be buried over time.

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How Homestead Records Can Help Archaeology: An Example from Peace River

In the summer of 2016, while doing some work on behalf of Northern Sunrise County near Peace River, Tree Time archaeologists, recorded a cabin as an archaeological site. Although the cabin had clearly been renovated in the late 20th century with wood paneling and plastic sheeting, the cabin showed signs of earlier construction. The cabin was built with aspen logs, that were axe-felled, saw-cut and notched, with mud chinking between the logs.

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Red arrow indicates mud chinking.
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Red arrow indicates axe marks.

After we documented the cabin and returned to our office in Edmonton. We turned to the Alberta Homestead Records to see if we could find any historic documents about this cabin. There were three entries for the quarter section of land that the cabin was located on. The first was on the 19th of July in 1928. Mr. Orval Moxley, originally of Kentucky, applied for a homestead, but appears to have abandoned the property and applied for another homestead on a different quarter. The following summer, on August 30th, 1929, Paul W. Unruh of East Prussia Germany applied for homestead. The application notes “Nil” for previous improvements on the quarter when Unruh took possession. This means that Mr. Moxley had not completed any improvements on the section before he abandoned the land. Mr. Unruh must also have found the location not to his liking, because there are no records of him applying for patent for his homestead.

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Mr. Unruh’s homestead application.

On 29th January or July (the record is illegible) of 1930, Mr. George H.B. Garstin, of London England, applied for homestead of the quarter. Mr. Unruh must have been somewhat industrious, as Mr. Garstin notes the presence of a “log shack, old stable + well” in his homestead application. The homestead record ends here. Indicating that Mr. Garstin failed to prove up his homestead and apply for patent.

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Mr. Garstin’s homestead application.

The aspen log cabin is interpreted as having been built by Paul Unruh in late 1929 as part of his efforts to homestead the quarter. Maybe further archival, historical and genealogical research could find out why he abandoned it.

The Alberta Homestead Records are a valuable tool for researchers. This is not only true for archaeologists, but also for people trying to research their own family history. The next couple of blog posts will explain what the homesteading process was like and how to use the Alberta Homestead Records to research your own history.

Abandoned Campfire

Living in Alberta, we all know how disastrous a forest fire can be. Some of you might have been personally affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurry or in Slave Lake. Brian knows personally how dangerous forest fires are because he used to be a forest firefighter. Many of us at Tree Time have walked though the remains of a burned forest and have seen what is left behind.

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Figure 1. An area that was partially burned by a forest fire

So when Brian and I were working the in foothills around Rocky Mountain house and we saw the remains of a smouldering fire, we took it seriously.

We noticed the smoke in the morning as we walked to our first target. The campfire had been abandoned, likely by people camping during the May Long weekend. This means it was likely burning unattended for three days. It looked like people had been burning garbage in the fire pit, including a mattress. The mattress frame was smoking heavily. The ground around the campfire was also smouldering a bit, and somewhat hot. The area around the pit was clearly burnt.

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Figure 2. Note the burnt ground under Brian’s feet clearly outside the intended fire pit area

We put out the frame with water from a nearby creek. It was so hot that it caught fire again as soon as the wind touched it. Back at the campfire, we used our shovels to dig up the earth around the firepit and in the pit itself. Brian told me that he had fought many fires during the May Long weekend that started in this exact way. Not because of people burning garbage, but because of abandoned fires. People might think that they put out their fire, but debris (roots, moss etc) on or under the ground can catch on fire and spread the fire beyond the stone rings. You can see in the pictures that the area around the campfire has been burned.

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Figure 3. Brian digging up earth around the fire pit to put out the fire

That is why it is so important to make sure that you have properly put out your fire. Please check out the Alberta Parks Website for great advice on campfire safety.

http://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/advisories-public-safety/outdoor-safety/campfire-safety/

http://www.ofc.alberta.ca/camping-and-outdoor-fire-safety

Also if you need to report a wildfire, call 310-Fire (3473). Never put yourself in danger.

We thought we would share this story in advance of the long weekend to remind people about campfire safety. Alberta is a great place and camping is an amazing way to experience it. So from us at Tree Time, we sincerely wish you a great long weekend and happy, safe camping.