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.

Glacial Flutes

Ryan is doing layout work to protect wetlands and streams during aerial herbicide application and he got this great shot of glacial fluting northeast of Calling Lake.

These parallel ridges were formed when the Laurentide ice sheet coming southwest from the Canadian Shield hit bedrock uplands at the east end of the Pelican Mountains. The base of the glacier formed a saw-tooth pattern that scoured these ridges and troughs for several kilometers.

Lidar flutes
This is how these glacial flutes appear on LiDAR.

Finding Archaeological Sites from the sky using high-tech advances in archaeology

In recent months, news feeds have been erupting with stories of “Lost Maya Cities discovered using LiDAR”, “revealing the secrets of Stonehenge using LiDAR”, “LiDAR uncovers ancient city near Angkor Wat”, and the popularity of “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak, but this technology is not limited to finding the remnants of “lost civilizations” in far reaching corners of the globe. LiDAR is used by archaeologists in Alberta to assist in the locating of potential archaeological sites that are threatened by development.

Figure 1. Marching Bear Effigy Mounds Lidar Imagery (Wikimedia Commons)
Figure 1. Marching Bear Effigy Mounds LiDAR Imagery (Wikimedia Commons)

Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) is the process of mounting a laser on an aircraft and bouncing light pulses off the ground and measuring the time it takes for the laser to return. The process can take 2000-5000 measurements per second and makes the surface appear treeless, revealing surface features that cannot be seen using simple satellite imagery or aerial photos (Figure 1). However, using LiDAR to find archaeological sites in northern Alberta is not as easy as it can be in other parts of the world. LiDAR is great for identifying building structures, walls, and other features common of archaeological sites in other parts of the world. In northern Alberta these features are absent from Indigenous archaeological sites. To study the human history of northern Alberta prior to European contact we have to look at the landscape and identify landforms that would have been suitable for camping and hunting activities.

satellite
Figure 2. Satellite imagery of ridge overlooking marsh
lidar
Figure 3. LiDAR hillshade of the same ridge

In the above images, the first image is a satellite image of a ridge where we found an archaeological site (Figure 2). With just satellite imagery the area appears to be predominantly flat which is not a good area to camp or hunt. This is because the area would be thought to be poorly drained and with limited visibility of the surrounding terrain. When using LiDAR imagery (Figure 3) we notice there is a complex of distinct hills and ridges that would be ideal for making camp.

This technology has revolutionized the process of finding archaeological sites in Alberta and is revealing more about the history of people in the boreal forest. The ability to pinpoint the best landforms without having to do extensive on-the-ground survey has greatly increased the inventory of sites found in northern Alberta. This benefits our clients who will pay less money for the survey of their developments and we can make more accurate predictions about site locations which allow them to modify their developments to avoid potential sites.

Introduction to CRM Part 5: Reporting

Once we have surveyed our targets and evaluated any sites we have found, it is time to return to the office. All of our notes are taken on an ipad in the field. Now all we have to do is export our notes into a database which eliminates the hours spent on data entry.

Note taking is extremely important for archaeologists (Figure 1). The notes supply researchers the context of the artifacts. In this case context means the precise location of the artifact and it’s association with other artifacts and landscape features. This helps researchers determine such things as the relationships between artifacts on a site, it’s position in time and space, and even how it is related to different archaeological sites (Figure 2). Without notes and proper excavation methods, the context in which the artifacts were found is lost forever, and the artifacts have little scientific or interpretive value.

DSCF2352_resized
Figure 1. Eric taking notes on an iPad that will later be used to interpret the site.
PA030741_resized
Figure 2. An artifact in it’s original context found at an historic site.

We also catalogue all of the artifacts that were collected in the field. We take measurements, weights, and note details such as material and artifact types, and enter them into a database (Figure 3). This along with the site notes gives us the information we need to write our reports.

01072015172
Figure 3. Madeline is weighing an artifact.

In the final stage of the Historic Resources Impact assessment, we compile a report of all the work that we have done and submit it to our clients and the government. The report identifies which developments need to be modified to avoid impacting significant archaeological and historic resources. The site information is included in a government database of all the sites in Alberta as a reference for future industry development as well as researchers. This minimizes the impact that our clients have on Alberta’s history while preserving the past for future research and education.

Introduction to CRM Part 4: Evaluating a Site

DSCF1606_resized
Figure 1. Positive shovel test that contained lithic debitage.

When we identify a site, we conduct further evaluative testing to determine the type, character, and extent of the site. This is done according to government guidelines, and depends on the type of site, and the type of landform. If the landform allows for it, testing occurs in each cardinal direction or in a grid. Some sites are found on ridges or point terraces, and so in these cases, it is not possible to test in all directions (Figure 1).

Tree Time’s standards are that there must be three negative tests spaced at most 10 m apart in each direction from any positive. Sometimes additional tests are required in order to determine the significance, the size, and type of the site. For example if none of the evaluative tests were positive, further testing might be done at closer intervals to better determine the significance of the site. In addition to rigorous note taking, we also map and photograph the site (Figure 2).

P6050160_resized
Figure 2. Vince taking notes at a site.

The evaluation of the site is an important step for two main reasons. The first is to enable the government to maintain an accurate site database and to better inform future researchers of the size and type of sites are in the area (Figure 3).

PA030750_resized
Figure 3. We are evaluating an historic site by flagging artifacts with red flagging tape.

Secondly, in this stage we determine the extent and significance of the site. If a client decides to avoid the site, delineation allows us to more precisely buffer the site. This is important because it allows the development to occur as close to the original plan as possible while still avoiding impacts to the site. In addition, if a client chooses to mitigate their impacts to the site through excavation, a more detailed evaluation of a site allows us to better predict the productivity of the site, and to render cost estimates of any mitigation work more accurately.

DSCF1930_resized
Figure 4. Buffer flagged around the site with orange flagging tape.

Once we have surveyed our targets, evaluated any sites we have found, and have finished our notes, it is time to return to the office (Figures 5 and 6).

P9010529_resized
Figure 5. Reid is finishing his notes before we move onto another target.
PB210773_resized
Figure 6. After a long cold day, Brittany heads back to the office.

Introduction to CRM Part 3: Archaeological Survey

Using information compiled in the office, the next step of an HRIA is to leave the comforts of home behind and to venture into the field. Although there is a perception of archaeologists working at large excavations, often dressed in khakis and maybe wearing a fedora, archaeological survey is the most common type of field work in the CRM sector. So for now, we will focus on archaeological survey and discuss archaeological mitigation in an upcoming blog.

The purpose of an archaeological survey is to visit the high potential target areas we identified in our background research and GIS review in order to see if there are any historic or archaeological sites. We travel to these high potential locations using various means of transport including trucks, ATVs, Argos, the occasional helicopter for the most remote locations, and a lot of hiking (Figures 1 and 2).

DSCF1848_resized
Figure 1. Teresa and Vince in an Argo travelling to target areas.
DSCF2186_resized
Figure 2. Archaeology happens in all weather as Teresa and Brittany hike in snow to our target areas.

When we arrive at these locations, we use experience and expertise to determine if the landform has potential for archaeological and historic sites. For example, is this spot flat and dry? Would we like to camp or hunt from here? High, dry areas, and spots that have nice views are often tested. In fact sometimes we identify a site in the exact spot where we dropped our gear for lunch, as we naturally tend to stop on the best part of the landform (Figure 3).

DSCF2021_resized
Figure 3. Our gear placed at a positive shovel test, flagged with red flagging tape.

 

The most common method of subsurface sampling that we use is screened shovel tests (Figure 4). This means we dig holes about 40 cm square and 30 to 40 cm deep and screen all of the sediment in portable screens. If there are any tree throws or surface exposures, we also conduct opportunistic examinations of these for artifacts (Figure 5).

DSCF2041_resized
Figure 4. Matt is shovel testing.
P7190907_resized
Figure 5. Picture of a tree throw that allows for opportunistic sampling.

There are several different sampling strategies that we use, these include systematic, semi-systematic, and judgmental testing. Systematic testing is the term we use when we place tests using a set interval, for example digging a test every 10 m along a landform. For judgmental testing we do not use a set interval instead we place shovel tests on the best part of a landform based on our past experience and conceptual models of how people lived on different types of landforms. Finally, semi-systematic testing is a combination of the previous two. For this method we place tests on the best locations of a land-form while trying to maintain a certain overall density of testing.

The shape of the landform helps determine what type of sampling strategy to use to test a target. A long uniform ridge might be better suited for hybrid or systematic testing, while a hillock might be more often tested in a judgmental manner (Figure 6).

DSCF1867_resized
Figure 6. Brittany testing a target using a semi-systematic strategy.

If the tests are negative, then we write our notes and move on to another location to survey. However, this does not mean that we can definitely say there is not a site at the location. Negative results only reduce the chance there’s a site at a location. To be 100% sure, we’d have to do a lot more excavation (Figure 7).

P9140588_resized
Figure 7. Although a nice area near water, we did not identify a site here.

On the other hand when we do identify a site, then we stay at the location to undertake further evaluative testing (Figure 8).

P5270044_resized
Figure 8. Vince is very happy after identifying a site when he found a point in a shovel test.

Introduction to CRM Part 2: Development Screening and Project Planning

The first step of a historic resources impact assessment (HRIA) happens in the office. Once we have the plan for a development, we need to assess whether the footprint will impact any recorded sites or if it has the potential to impact any unrecorded sites. We use our experience and knowledge of archaeology, GIS data, and databases of recorded sites in order to identify high potential areas that might have any archaeological and historic resources (Figure 1). Although this stage of archaeology does not capture the imagination of the public and isn’t very exciting or glamorous, it is the most important part and the foundation of our work.

01072015160
Figure 1. Corey is targeting areas of high potential using QGIS.

High potential areas vary by region, depending on the geography and the history of the area. Generally areas that people would camp or travel through are considered high potential; these include well-defined landforms and areas near water. We also take into account the environment of the past. For example, shorelines fluctuate, and rivers and streams may change course or dry up. Areas near water generally have higher potential because they were used as a method of transport, offered fishing opportunities, and, of course, they were also a source of fresh water (Figure 2).

DSCF1594_resized
Figure 2. View from an archaeological site looking towards a lake.

Sometimes a development plan will conflict with a previously recorded site. In this case, we can recommend either that the development plan be changed to avoid the site, or that impacts to the site be mitigated by excavation. If there are no recorded sites in the footprint, but there are areas that we think are likely to have sites, we recommend field survey. Using GIS data and the research that we have complied concerning the area around the developmental footprint, we create targets of high potential areas to survey in the field. The next step takes us out of the office and into the field.

To keep up to date on Historic Resource regulations and processes, you can subscribe to our quarterly Regulatory Update email.