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.

aspen poles and mud chinking - Copy
Red arrow indicates mud chinking.
axe cutting - Copy
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.

nil
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.

log shack
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.

The Glenbow Museum Archives

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.

http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesSchoolSearch.aspx

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).

http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/

http://culture.alberta.ca/heritage-and-museums/provincial-archives-of-alberta/

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:

https://hermis.alberta.ca/paa/PhotoGalleryDetails.aspx?ObjectID=A10686&dv=True

Kolomea School

In 2013 Tree Time archaeologists got a chance to work on a relatively rare type of historic period site in Alberta: a historic schoolhouse. The Kolomea school site was brought to the attention of Tree Time Services by construction personnel for a transmission line project. The site consists of three concrete foundations surrounded by non-native bush. Local informants identified the foundations as a school, a teacher’s residence and a stable where students’ horses were housed during school hours. The school served the nearby Ukrainian community and was named Kolomea after a region in Ukraine.

PA250704 - Copy
Concrete foundation identified as the teacher’s residence.

Tree Time undertook investigations at the school with the goals of assessing if the site was a historic resource; confirming the function and age of the foundations; determining the significance of the site to the surrounding community and to the province, and making recommendations regarding future management of the site. These normal objectives of Historic Resource Impact Assessment were complicated by the fact that construction had already started, and the site was partially inside the transmission line right of way.

To confirm the function and age of the foundations we referred to archival airphoto searches, historic land title searches, local history books, provincial archive searches, interviews with local informants and current landowners, and conducted small test excavations.

Using the Glenbow Museum Archives School Districts Database website we were were able to perform a search by legal land description to find out which school district our site was located within. This search indicated that the site was the Kolomea school. Having the name of the school helped us to pursue the next step – an historic land title search which further corroborated what we had learned through the Glenbow Museum Archives.

Local histories and archival searches through the Provincial Archives of Alberta confirmed that a one-room schoolhouse was built at this location in 1906. These records indicated that the one-room schoolhouse was replaced with a larger school in 1929. The construction date of 1929 for the large school confirmed that the site is a historic resource. We were able to find archival photos from the 1920s of the one-room school house and one from the 1930s showing the larger school. The photo of the larger school matches the location and general shape of the large foundation currently at the site.

To test and corroborate the archival and historical information, and to confirm the functions of the three buildings, four 50 x 50 cm test units were excavated at each of the foundations. These excavations resulted in the recovery of historic construction debris (concrete, brick, nails, window glass), buttons, fragments of glass vessels, porcelain, clinker (slag from coal heaters in the buildings), bone (probably burned in the stoves), tin and possibly bakelite (early plastic). Excavations in the house foundation uncovered a possible floor board. At the start of the project we had identified the northernmost foundation as the barn or stable, but owing to the discovery of a potential floor board during the excavation of this foundation we determined that it was more likely the house foundation and the southwestern foundation was the stable. We were hoping to find artifacts like jacks or marbles that would clearly represent the presence of children, but we had no luck in that department.

PA240657 - Copy
Excavation unit with possible floor board.

Historic documents indicate that the school was closed in 1952 and the building was moved to Lavoy, AB by the Catholic Church, where it still functions as a church today. The barn was also moved from its original location but is still located on the same quarter section. The teacher’s residence appears to have been moved or demolished, but we didn’t find any records of its history. Archival airphoto searches and interviews with local informants were not successful in identifying the location of the original one-room school house. We suspect that the foundation that has been identified as the house might have been the original one-room schoolhouse which was re-purposed as a teacher’s residence when the new school was built.

Kolomea school is a unique site that is strongly associated with the Ukrainian settlement of northeast central Alberta and can shed light on the poorly-documented lives of rural children in the mid-20th century. While we didn’t find any direct evidence of children at the site (except a few lost buttons) further explorations at the site would likely turn up some interesting and nostalgic material. The site was protected by temporary fences around the foundations while construction was completed to avoid any accidental impacts. The government of Alberta has granted the site an Historic Resource Value of 4h,a (historic and archaeological). This means that no more development can happen at this site without archaeologists doing a lot more work here.

DSCF2004 - Copy
The stable foundation protected by temporary fencing.

Tree Throw

We often inspect tree throws for artifacts. A tree throw is a bowl shaped depression that is often created when a large tree has blown over or has had its stump pulled out. This tears out soil with it creating a surface exposure for us to inspect.

tree-throw-with-arrow
This tree throw at FbPv-12 contained hundreds of flakes. The red arrow is pointing to one.

Auger

A bucket auger can be a useful tool to test for buried paleosols. An auger is a tool used for boring holes in the ground. This one has a cross handles and a rotating shaft with a bucket on the end. The bucket is placed on the ground and then the cross handles are turned. When the archaeologist is done, the auger is pulled up along with the soil that was in the bucket.

auger
Brian is about to use an auger to do some deep testing.