Public Archaeology at the Brazeau Reservoir

Public archaeological programs are an excellent opportunity for people with a general interest in archaeology or amateur archaeologists to learn what an artifact is, and to practice the techniques that are used to find and interpret them. Often these programs will have a dig component, where people join for a few days or a week, and learn excavation techniques in units laid out over a buried site.

The Brazeau Archaeological Project (BAP), sponsored in part by Tree Time Services Inc., provides a unique experience. The current sites being surveyed are almost entirely exposed by the continuously fluctuating water levels of the reservoir. This also means that the entire history of the area has been deflated to one level, rather than multiple occupation levels that can be apparent in excavations. The occupation of the Brazeau River by First Nations extends as far back as 12- 14,000 years ago. This allows participants to gain a better feel of how large and spread out an archaeological site can really be. The largest site surveyed so far spans almost 1 km!

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Bob Dawe (left) discussing boiling pits. Photo Credit: Jack Brink

The project invites members of the Strathcona Archaeological Society (SAS) to come out for a day or weekend to learn survey and excavation techniques, as directed by experienced or professional archaeologists. As most of the artifacts lay exposed on the surface due to the ever changing water levels of the reservoir, the experience is relaxed, family friendly, and can be conducted over a single day or weekend, rather than a week-long commitment.

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Participants surveying, excavating, and generally having a good time!  Photo credit: Top and left – Hilary McDonald; right – Madeline Coleman

Participants learn what features to look for when looking for surface finds, such as material, shape, and modifications. By pairing participants up with experienced archaeologists we can point out the various ways an artifact, such a flake, can look; particularly how it can blend in or really stand out from its surrounding environment. For example, Amandah van Merlin, one of the co-ordinators, picked up a small, indistinct black pebble. The black pebble chert material, however, is a popular flint knapping material. As it turned out, Amandah had found a thumbnail scraper!

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A small pebble with a big surprise!  Photo credit: Amandah van Merlin; inset – Madeline Coleman

Public archaeology programs are also a great way to explore new technology or try experiments. One participant brought his drone. He was able to take photos from a bird’s-eye view of the site, providing a totally new perspective on what these landforms look like along the shore, and the distances between the sites. Madeline Coleman, the other co-ordinator, laid out various sizes of brick pieces in order to examine how artifacts are affected by water movement (or perhaps even people).

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Ariel view of FfPv-1.  Photo credit: Robert Wambold
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Laying out pieces of brick to monitor movement over time.  Photo credit: Madeline Coleman

The project is still in its infancy. The pilot survey in May 2015 occurred over one day and had 9 participants. In May 2016, the survey occurred over two days with over thirty participants joining for one or both days. This past May, there were over 20 participants that joined for the full weekend. In addition, for two days prior to the public survey, BAP worked with University of Alberta field school students. Here they practiced map making, shovel testing, and laying out excavation units.

Outreach is also a very important aspect of a public program, such to First Nations group, schools, and universities. The BAP has recently reached out to Paul First Nation, in whose traditional territory the Brazeau River lies, and whom are active in working to protect their heritage. BAP has also recently partnered with Katie Biittner at Grant MacEwan University to begin a hands-on catalogue experience for university students at Grant MacEwan and the University of Alberta. In addition, the original finders of the site, Sandy and Tom Erikson, worked to create a 3-case display at their hometown school in Edson. The case shows some of the finds and information from the periods they may have originated in.

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School display in Edson. Photo credit Sandy Erikson

What do you see?

Everyone will interpret shapes and lines their own way.  But once someone points out an image they see, sometimes you wonder “how did I not see that?”.   A member of the Paul First Nations group took one look at this biface (from the Brazeau Reservoir) and saw a Bison.  Can you see it?  Scroll down for an outline if you are stumped!  Hint, he’s facing to the right.

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Moose on the Loose!

As Brian and I headed back to Swan Hills, we turned the corner and saw this fella chilling on the trail!  The forest to either side of the trail, having been harvested in the last decade or so, had young trees growing tightly together, making it difficult for the moose to make his escape.  We signaled our intent to continue on the path by revving the ATVs and moving slowly toward him.  We gave him the time and space he needed to move down the trail and find a safe place to enter the woods.  If we had just chased him, he would have become stressed and could decide to charge us.  Moose are an underestimated hazard in the field.  They are not carnivores, so it’s easy to think they will not be aggressive.  In reality, they are one of the “biggest” wildlife hazards out there, both in size and temperament.  Today was a good day for all three of us though.

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Thanadelthur

The next woman we draw attention to is Thanadelthur, whose skills and guidance were essential to establishing a peace treaty between the Dene and the Cree. This, in turn, allowed the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) to expand further north, and bring trade to the Dene.

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“Ambassadress of Peace” – Thanadelthur mediating between Chipewyans (left) and the Cree (right). William Stuart looks on. Painted by Franklin Arbuckle, 1952.  Photo source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba

Thanadelthur was a Chipewyan Dene, born in the late 17th century, at a time when hostilities between the Dene and Cree were increasing, in part due to the trade relations the Cree had with the HBC. Their relationship with the HBC gave the Cree advantages in some ways, such as in technology through the use of fire arms. In 1713, Thanadelthur’s party was attacked by the Cree, and Thanadelthur and a few others were captured. After about a year she was able to escape with another Chipewyan woman, but only Thanadelthur survived. During her escape she came upon the HBC York Factory Post, which was governed by James Knight at the time.

Her time with the Cree allowed her to see advantages of trade with the HBC that would help her people, and so she told James Knight about the fur and metal resources the Dene had. Generally, the Dene avoided trade with the HBC because of fear of the Cree. James Knight enlisted Thanadelthur’s help as a translator in order to bring the Dene and Cree to agree to peace. Thanadelthur, a man named William Stuart, and 150 Cree left to find the Dene in June 1715. After experiencing harsh conditions, she left her group to seek her people alone, returning with 100 Dene only 10 days later. Through mediation and even some scolding, she helped guide the two groups to peace. Thanadelthur returned to York Factory with the Cree and 10 Dene members on May 7, 1716. Sadly, she passed away from fever on Feb. 5, 1717 before she could return home to the Dene, as she planned to do the following year.

Thanadelthur’s story survived through the oral history of the Dene and through records. The fact that she, an aboriginal woman, was recorded in the HBC records is a rare occurrence and helped preserve her story, particularly the dates of her journey and her death. She was not referred to as Thanadelthur, but as “Slave Woman”, or “Slave Woman Joan” (“Slave” being another name for Dene). In the Dene oral histories, she is referred to as the grandmother who brought Dene and Cree together.

The Famous Five

We would be remiss if we didn’t bring up the Famous Five who worked on the “Persons Case” to see women recognized as persons under the British North America Act. These women are Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, and Louise McKinney, all of whom made Alberta their home at some point in their lives.

Under the British North America Act (BNAA, originating in 1867), women were not eligible for rights and privileges, and thus were not considered “persons” in the full legal sense of the word. Although Emily Murphy was appointed an Alberta magistrate in 1916, her first role as judge was challenged by a lawyer because under the BNAA, she was not a “person”. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that in 1917 the Supreme Court of Alberta ruled that women were, in fact, persons. However, this was not effective all over Canada. When Emily Murphy was put forward as a candidate to be a Canadian Senator, Prime Minister Robert Borden could not approve the appointment, due to the BNAA (1867).

But Emily Murphy found a loop hole. A provision in the Supreme Court of Canada Act states that any five persons acting as a unit has the right to petition the Supreme Court for clarification of a constitutional point. So in Edmonton, August 27, 1927, Emily hosted a tea party! Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, and Louise McKinney added their names to the letter petitioning the Supreme Court, which later became known as the “Persons” case. Their question was to clarify if the word “person” in section 24 of the BNAA includes women as “qualified persons” for being a Senator.

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Representation of their first meeting. Located in downtown Calgary. Photo credit: User Thivierr on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The outcome was devastating to women across the country. On March 14, 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that because the qualifications of a Senator were written in the BNAA with the pronoun “He”, this excluded women as qualified persons. Thankfully, since Canada was not fully independent from Britain, there was one more authority higher than the Supreme Court: the Privy Council in England. The Famous Five took their petition across the ocean, and on October 18, 1929, the Privy Council ruled in favour of women as persons. The representative, Lord Chancellor Sankey went on to say that to exclude women from public offices was outdated and barbarous. This ruling, of course, had resounding effects on women’s rights, and those who tried to suppress them.

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Emily Murphy displays the verdict, as part of the Valiant Five, downtown Calgary. Photo credit: Cara Tremain

Individually, all five women were formidable champions for the rights and welfare of women and children. In addition, they represented several firsts in the political sphere. Emily Murphy was the first female magistrate in the British Empire. Irene Parlby was elected as MP of the Lacombe riding for 14 years, and was the first female Cabinet minister in Alberta. Nellie McClung was a novelist and journalist, whose efforts formed part of the social and moral reforms in Western Canada in the early 1900s. Her efforts saw Manitoba become the first province that granted women the right to vote and run for office in 1916. Louise McKinney was the first woman to be elected into the Alberta Legislature, and as a result, the first female Member of any Legislative Assembly in the British Empire. Henrietta Muir Edwards was a legal expert, and helped found the National Council of Women of Canada in 1893, which still operates today.

Sometimes you just can’t win!

Digging in the forest we are always encountering tree roots. It’s a great test when you miss them all. Most days your shovel is sharp enough that you hardly notice the roots as the shovel blade slices through them. Sometimes you have layers of roots, which work as a group to form a wall. You can “smash” through them with a bit of effort, one root at a time. And then there are days like pictured here! Your shovel just won’t go through or you don’t have the energy to “smash” through them, so you have to break out the big guns! I like to carry a folding saw with me in my vest, so roots like these won’t get the better of me! Unfortunately these ones did. So I just dug around them.