What is an Historic Resource Site?

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

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

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.

Geological 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

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

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.

Palaeontological sites

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.

Blasting Powder Cans

Here is an example of a unique artifact type – it is a large metal can that once contained blasting powder. We often find these cans associated with the old historic railways found throughout the province. This particular can has an inscription on the base which helps us to identify the contents of the can. In this case it also has the name of the producer. This information can help us to narrow down the age of the can.

black blasting powder
This is a rubbing from the base of the can, it sure makes it easy to identify what the can once held.

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.

P8270357 - Copy

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.

Alberta Top 10 Archaeological Sites

As Canada celebrates 150 years since Confederation it is important to remember that the history of the land we call home goes back thousands of years. Tree Time Services staff discussed some of the most important archaeological sites in Alberta and created a top ten list. Several of these sites can be visited by the general public and a few have public excavation programs that allow volunteers to participate in the digs!

1. Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

A UNESCO World Heritage site, interpretive centre, and museum located near Fort MacLeod, AB. For thousands of years the Blackfoot and other First Nations guided bison down drive lanes to the jump where they would plunge to their death or be rendered immobile from the fall and weight of the herd. At the base of the cliff these animal carcasses were butchered and distributed between the members of the hunt.

Did you know the name “Head Smashed In” does not refer to the skull crushing demise many of the bison suffered at the site but rather a Blackfoot legend? According to the story a young man wanted to watch the bison fall off the cliff from below but was unfortunately buried by the falling animals. He was later found with his head smashed in (Jack Brink pers comm).

hsinbj1 - Copy
Figure 1: The cliffs at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump (Madeline Coleman).

 

hsinbj2 - Copy
Figure 2: Interpretive Centre and Jump (Madeline Coleman)

2. Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park

The Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park is located near Milk River, AB, almost on the Montana border. Many rock carvings (petroglyphs) and rock paintings (pictographs) can be found as one wanders through the sandstone valleys and hoodoos. These rock art sites were created by Aboriginal groups visiting the area, telling stories of battles, hunts, and great deeds of individuals. There are also many images of ceremonial nature that depict spirits and the spiritual world.

These images were likely created over thousands of years by the Blackfoot people and other native groups that travelled through the southeastern plains of Alberta. While rock art cannot be directly dated some of the images can be positively dated to after 1700 AD due to the depiction of horses and items introduced by Europeans, like muskets.

wos1 - Copy
Figure 3: Petroglyphs at Writing-on-Stone Park (Vincent Jankunis)

 

wos2 - Copy
Figure 4: View of Writing-On-Stone Park (Vincent Jankunis)

3. Quarry of the Ancestors

Located north of Fort McMurray near the community of Fort McKay, the Quarry of the Ancestors is a quarry site and the primary source of Beaver River Silicified Sandstone (BRSS), a highly valued material for making stone tools. The principal use of the site for quarrying BRSS and making stone tools was between 9800-5500 years ago.

Beaver River Sandstone is found throughout the Alberta Oilsands region which was once thought to be sparsely occupied. However, due to the ongoing work occurring in advance of oil sands extraction the region is now considered one of the most densely occupied in Northern Alberta during the thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans.

qoa1 - Copy
Figure 5: Reid Graham assisting in the excavations at Quarry of the Ancestors (Robin Woywitka)
qoa2 - Copy
Figure 6: Profile of excavation unit, natural ice heave visible (Robin Woywitka)

4. Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel

The Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel is an ancient Blackfoot ritual centre that shows evidence of use as early as roughly 4500 years ago, and continues to be used today. The site consists of a 9 m wide central cairn (rock pile) which is connected to a surrounding 27 m wide stone circle by 28 spokes. The site is located on a large hill west of the Bow River in southern Alberta near Bassano, AB.

maj1 - Copy
Figure 7: The Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel (Alberta Environment and Parks)
maj2 - Copy
Figure 8: Aerial view (Alberta Enviornment and Parks)

5. Bodo Bison Skulls site

Located in the town of Bodo, on the Saskatchewan boundary half an hour south of Provost, this seven square km site is one of the largest pre-European contact archaeological sites in Canada. The site contains several repeat occupations of the area, with large intact bison pounds and campsites. Tens of thousands of bison bones have been recovered from the site as well as projectile points, scrapers, and pottery sherds.

Unlike many of the other sites on this list, this site encourages visitors to get down and dirty and help uncover Alberta’s past. The Bodo Archaeological Society allows the general public to dig at the site under the supervision of professional archaeologists. The site was also the subject of Tree Time’s own Kurtis Blaikie-Birkigt’s Masters research!

316 - Copy
Figure 9: Kurtis Blaikie-Birkigt discussing the excavations at Bodo during a visit to the site by the Archaeological Society of Alberta in 2014 (Corey Cookson)
bodo2 - Copy
Figure 10: Volunteers excavating at Bodo (Christie Grekul)

6. Wallys Beach

This ice age kill and butchering site is located in southern Alberta at the St. Mary’s Reservoir near Cardston, AB. The site contains the bones and footprints of extinct animals, including the North American horse and camel, as well as mammoth and caribou. Wally’s Beach was one of the first sites in North America containing evidence of hunting horses.

Originally thought to date to the beginnings of the Clovis era (ca. 13,000 ya), advanced radiocarbon dating techniques now dates the site to approximately 13,300 years ago.

wally1 - Copy
Figure 11: Butchered camel remains at Wally’s Beach (Brian Kooyman / University of Calgary)
wally2 - Copy
Figure 12: Mammoth tracks at Wally’s Beach (Brian Kooyman / University of Calgary)

7. Viking Ribstone

Located approximately 11 miles east of Viking (southeast of Edmonton) are the Viking Ribstones, two large quartzite boulders on top of a high hill. The boulders are carved with a series of grooves interpreted as a representation of a bison vertebrae and rib cage. There are also several circular pits grooved into the boulder which may represent arrow or bullet holes. The pits have also been interpreted as an attempt to recreate the pock-marked surface of the Iron Creek Meteorite, another revered monument.

The bison were extremely important for many First Nations of central and southern Alberta and these rock carvings may have served as a shrine or ceremonial location. Hunters would visit the ribstones to leave offerings of sweetgrass, tobacco, beads, or coins prior to and/or after a successful hunt. There are other ribstone sites in Alberta but all other ribstone sites have been disturbed or removed entirely from their original context.

viking1 - Copy
Figure 13: View of Viking Ribstone and offerings (Corey Cookson)
viking2 - Copy
Figure 14: View of Viking Ribstone and offerings (Corey Cookson)

8. Banff Pithouses

The Banff Pithouses were located along the Bow River and are now lost to the expansion of the Banff Springs golf course in 1928. Documented in 1913 by Harlan Smith, an early archaeologist in the province, the site is one of the first pre-European contact sites to be preserved in Canada. The site contained 14 large (8-10 feet across) circular depressions (1-2 feet deep) with nine of the depressions arranged in an irregular line.

These semi-subterranean houses are common in the British Columbia interior plateau region but are rare in Alberta. The group that built these homes likely crossed the continental divide to hunt bison. For a period of time this was the only site of this type identified in Alberta. Fortunately, several other housepit sites have now been identified in Banff National Park and are currently being researched.

bnf1
Figure 15: Notice announcing the semi-subterranean house sites located between Mount Rundle and Bow River, Banff, Harlan I. Smith, 1913 Canadian History Museum, 24014
bnf2
Figure 16: 1913 Blueprint of housepits on golf course (LAC RG 84, Vol. 2073, File A4128-1, Vol. 1 Redrawn by R. Lalonde)

9. Cluny Site earthlodge village

An unusual site for the Southern Plains, the Cluny fortified village is located in the valley of the Bow River on the Siksika First Nation Reserve south of Calgary and is part of the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. At the site, dwellings made from logs and earth were surrounded by defensive features including a palisade wall and trenches.

The Cluny Fortified Village site dates to the Late Pre-contact period (Mid 1700s) where the First Nations of the Canadian Plains had not yet had direct contact with explorers of European descent but had access to European goods through trade with other First Nations groups. It is believed that the group that constructed the village migrated to the region from the Dakotas, due to similarities of artifacts with those of the Middle Missouri region. The University of Calgary will be hosting a public archaeology program from May 23rd to June 23rd, 2017 where people can volunteer to excavate at the site. Contact their administrative staff by e-mail at [email protected], or by phone at 1-403-220-8537 for more details.

cluny1 - Copy
Figure 17: Aerial view of the Cluny earthlodge village (Harrison Boss)
cluny2 - Copy
Figure 18: Volunteers and students excavating at the site in 2012 (University of Calgary)

10. Fincastle Kill Site

Recently named one of the top discoveries of 2015 by Western Digs, the Fincastle site is located in the sand dunes of southern Alberta, near Lethbridge. The 2,500 year old bison kill site contains over 200,000 fragments of bone along with hundreds of stone projectile points representing two cultural groups: the Besant and Sonota.

The most interesting aspect of the site is the discovery of 8 upright arrangements of bison bones placed in sculptural patterns. These are unusual and rare in archaeological sites and the purpose of the upright features remains a mystery. Dr. Shawn Bubel of the University of Lethbridge notes that the bone arrangements are not utilitarian but were intentionally placed in patterns with unique examples of one upright, for example, features a tibia, or lower leg bone, surrounded by four jaw bones, all set on end with the teeth facing outward.

fin1 - Copy
Figure 19: Students excavate a small section of Fincastle bison-kill site (Shawn Bubel)
fin2 - Copy
Figure 20: One of the eight arrangements of bison bones standing on end (Shawn Bubel)