Brian is sharpening his shovel. It might not seem very important, but having a sharpened shovel can allow you to easily break though the topsoil and to cut through any root.
The majority of Tree Time’s archaeological work is done in the context of Historic Resources Impact Assessments, but what is an Historic Resource?
People are sometimes confused about what constitutes an historic resource because it is a very broad category. The first thing to come to most people’s mind would likely be the contents of a museum but as discussed below, historic resources encompass far more than the displays at museum. In the simplest sense an historic resource is anything of significant interest to a community, a cultural group, historians, archaeologists, or other scientists.
Alberta’s Historical Resources Act defines Historic Resources as:
“any work of nature or humans that is valued for its palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest.”
A Historic Resource Site is any place where Historic Resources are found. When we say “site” people most commonly think of an archaeological site, but this is only one type. Alberta Environment and Parks has defined six categories of Historic Resource sites – archaeological, cultural, geological, historic, natural and palaeontological. However, an Historic Resource site can fall into multiple categories – one doesn’t take precedence over another. Some examples of this are the Big Rock Erratic at Okotoks which is classified as both a geological and an archaeological historic resource site and the Frank Slide which is both a geological and historic site.
The government of Alberta keeps track of all the known historic resource sites in the province. To do this they use a tool called the Listing of Historic Resources. This listing is a database that contains information about historic resource sites such as their location and a description of what they are and what condition they are in. It is important to be aware that not all historic resources are recorded in this listing as many of them have not been recorded yet and the listing is not updated every day.
Some examples of Historic Resources sites found in Alberta:
Archaeological sites are areas that have been occupied by humans in the past and have evidence of that occupation in the form of artifacts found on or under the earth’s surface. Some examples of archaeological sites common to Alberta include precontact campsites, rock art, tipi rings, buffalo pounds, homesteads, trails and medicine wheels. Some well known examples of archaeological sites in Alberta include Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and the Bodo Archaeological Site.
Cultural sites are sites that have been identified as significant to a specific cultural group by members of that group. These sites often include historic villages, cabins and community campsites, burials, prayer trees and other ceremonial sites. The majority of Culturally Significant sites are of First Nations origin, but not all are. Some examples are Pierre Grey’s Trading Post, the St. Charles Mission Site, the Grande Cache Dinosaur Tracks site, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and Áísínai’pi (Writing-on-Stone) rock carvings and paintings. Culturally significant historic resources often overlap with archaeological and historic period sites.
This site type will often have overlap with other types of Historic Resources. Geological sites are areas of the province with unique geological features like the Canmore Hoodoos, Hetherington Erratics Field and the Whitecourt / Woodlands Meteorite Impact Crater.
Historic sites are places that can usually be related back to specific people or events in history. This category is a little more complicated because it includes heritage structures, historic places and districts, and historic period archaeological sites.
The most common Historic Sites are places with preserved historic buildings. The Province tracks historic buildings in a database called the Heritage Survey. Any structure older than 50 years is eligible to be added to this list. This of course includes old buildings, like houses, grain elevators and train stations, but also includes other types of man-made above-ground structures, including earthworks, preserved wagon trails, and early 20th century oil wells. Historically significant structures or places can be designated as Municipal or Provincial Heritage Resources, and protected. Some examples of these include include the Brooks Aqueduct, the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator near Castor, the Parliament Building in Edmonton and old houses in the Highlands neighbourhood of north Edmonton.
Other Historic sites are areas with known historical significance. While these sites may not have retained any standing structures they are places where significant events are known to have taken place or important historic figures visited. These include the locations of many historic fur trade posts and forts. Some of these sites have been recreated for public enjoyment and educational purposes. Some examples of this are Fort Victoria, Lac La Biche Mission and Historic Dunvegan. Other historic sites in Alberta include the Victoria Settlement, Frog Lake Massacre Site, and the Grand Rapids Portage on the Athabasca River.
Historic period archaeological sites are the most common example of overlap between two categories. These are places with underground material evidence of the past (archaeological resources) from the historic period. At these places, archaeologists have documented the presence of historic period artifacts, ranging from fur trade beads and tools, to early 20th century cans and bottles. We may or may not have written records about these sites. Common examples of this site type are fur trading posts, pioneer homesteads, and early trapping cabin locations. A less common example would be this plane crash.
Natural sites are areas of special and sensitive natural landscapes of local and regional significance. These sites often have overlap with archaeological and historic site types. Some examples are Eagle Butte, Purple Springs and the Rumsey Natural area.
These are sites where fossils can be found. Fossils of plants, animals and even dinosaur bones fall into this category. Examples include Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks and Pipestone Provincial Park near Grande Prairie.
Many people are interested in researching their family history and genealogy. The Index to Alberta Homestead Records are an excellent place to start your research. The following blog will give instructions on how to use the Index. If you wish to learn what the homestead records are, or how they can help archaeologists, please check out our previous posts.
The Index to Alberta Homestead Records 1870 to 1930 was a project created for the 100th anniversary of Alberta joining the confederacy. The members of the Alberta Genealogical Society and friends created an all name index to the homestead files to help researchers. There are 686 reels of microfilm that contain homestead records from 1870 to 1930. With this index, the researchers would be pointed to the exact reel and file number. For more information on this project or the Alberta Genealogical Society please visit their website (http://www.abgenealogy.ca/).
You can search the homestead record index by different methods including surname, legal description, or place name. Once you have that information either visit the Alberta Genealogical Society’s website and under resources click on Alberta Homestead Index then search the index or click on the following link: http://www.abgenealogy.ca/ab-homestead-index-page.
If you are doing research on your own family history, you can search by surname. When we were conducting research on the cabin that we found near Peace River, we searched the area by the legal land description.
Once you fill in the information you have, the search results will automatically appear. You can see part of our results below.
If you want to see the scanned microreel file of the homestead records, you will need to copy the film number and the file number. The film number for the homestead records only consists of numbers. The one we were searching for is circled in green. The red arrow is pointing to a different file type (grazing lease) and it consists of letters and numbers. Once you have the film and file number, go to https://archive.org/. In the search area type in Alberta homestead with the film number you wish to search for as we did below.
The reel with your homestead record should pop up. Click on the link (where the red arrow is pointing).
Then you can download it in the format that you wish. Personally I prefer downloading it as a PDF.
The next step is the longest part of the process. You will have to look though the reel until you find the file number associated with your previous search. This may take some time because reels can contain hundreds of files. As mentioned in the previous blog post, the file number is associated with a quarter section of land and the first page often contains the file number. If you searched by a person, you might find that the results will have multiple file numbers (maybe even on multiple reels), indicating claims on different sections.
If you are not able to do the research yourself, you are able to order the homestead records (or other research) from the Alberta Genealogical Society. Check out the following link for more information
The Alberta Homestead Index is a wonderful tool directing researchers to the required reel or reels. Before this index was created you can imagine how long it would take to search through all of the records. This is especially true when searching by surname since the only way to tell if someone tried to homestead multiple sections would have been to search though every single record. Thanks to the Alberta Genealogical Society this is no longer the case. Happy researching!
This is a tool used to peel away unwanted matter from an object. It was often used to prepare animal hides and would have been attached to a handle made from either wood, bone or antler. There are different types of scrapers in Alberta including sidescrapers, endscrapers, and thumbnail scrapers. Scrapers are one of the most common types of formed tools we find in Alberta. Pictured here is an endscraper that we collected during the summer of 2017.
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.
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.
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”.
For more information on the changes to the original Dominion Lands Act, check out this website:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Glenbow Museum Archives are an exciting tool we can use as archaeologists to learn more about some historic sites that we encounter in our day to day field work, and to predict where we might find a certain type of historic site.
We recently worked on a historic site located between Mundare and Vegreville (southeast of Edmonton) consisting of three concrete foundations. Area locals informed us that this was a historic era school yard but didn’t know much about it beyond that. We were able to get information about the school by doing a search of the Glenbow Museum School Districts Archives. These archives have records of names, locations and dates of establishment of school districts in Alberta established between 1885 and 1982.
Using the Glenbow Museum Archives website (link below) we were able to search by legal land description (also known as the Alberta Township System or ATS) or by school name to find out which school district our site was located in.
Searching by ATS we entered the township, range and meridian and came up with two possible school districts for our location, Kolomea established June 8, 1906 and Thornton established January 10, 1910. We determined that the school at our location must be the Kolomea School as the ATS section it was listed in was consistent with the location of the site.
Thanks to the Glenbow Museum Archives we now had the name of the school which helped with further searches, and enabled us to find archival photographs and texts regarding the school and its history. Some archival photos were found by searches of the Virtual Museum and the Alberta Provincial Archives (links below).
The Glenbow Museum School District Archives is also a great tool that can be used for background research in a project area before the field work starts on an Historic Resources Impact Assessment. Using the School District Archives prior to commencement of field work will inform field workers if they should be looking for a school yard and might narrow down the search area to the quarter section the school yard should be located in. This tool could have enabled the identification of the Kolomea School Site before construction started, and prevented some construction delays.
Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, HerMIS: