Celebrating National Volunteer Week: Calhoun Bay Archaeological Sites Tour

April 10 to 16, 2016 is National Volunteer Week in Canada. Well over 12.7 million Canadians have generously donated their time and energy to important causes. Volunteers help our communities grow strong and resilient. Even the smallest effort has the ability to transform, leaving profound and lasting effects in local communities. The work of volunteers affects virtually every aspect of our society and the heritage field is no exception. This week is the perfect time to reflect on the importance of volunteer work involved in the preservation of heritage. Over the years, the Archaeological Survey section of Alberta Culture and Tourism has developed a strong working relationship with the staff of the Parks Division of Alberta Environment and Parks. Both ministries regularly collaborate on joint efforts to preserve Alberta’s natural and cultural heritage for future generations. An important component of our preservation partnership is sharing heritage information with Parks volunteers. The Archaeological Survey participates in these programs to help Parks provide support, increase communication and offer new learning experiences for both staff and volunteers.

Calhoun Bay Provincial Recreation Area Parks Volunteer Conference Field Trip

The Archaeological Survey’s Regional Archaeologists, Caroline Hudecek-Cuffe and Wendy Unfreed participated in Alberta Parks’ Volunteer Conference Field Trip to Calhoun Bay Provincial Recreation Area (PRA) as part of a 3-day conference held in September 2015. Calhoun Bay PRA is located along the eastern shores of Buck Lake surrounded by thick boreal forests. On the bus ride to the site, Caroline and Wendy treated their fellow riders to an introduction to Alberta archaeology and explained how the Historical Resources Act works to protect historical resources in Alberta. Once participants arrived at the site, volunteers were split into two separate groups. One group participated in a heritage site walking tour around the lake led by our archaeologists. The remaining group of participants took part in a stone tool making workshop led by Parks’ Visitor Services Supervisor Scott Sunderwald.

Calhoun Bay Provincial Recreation Area, view of Buck Lake (Photo Credit: Caroline Hudecek-Cuffe)
Calhoun Bay Provincial Recreation Area, view of Buck Lake (Photo Credit: Caroline Hudecek-Cuffe)

Caroline and Wendy’s walking tour group revisited several recorded historic and archaeological sites located within the provincial recreation area. Participants were told about Buck Lake’s rich cultural history which extends back at least 5000 years. In the past, pre-contact Aboriginal people camped along the lake shore. They made stone tools and processed food resources, most likely taking advantage of the wealth of fish from the lake. Archaeological evidence of multiple lakeshore campsites and stone tool scatters has been found around Calhoun Bay. This indicates that it was a productive location for acquiring resources since people kept returning to the area for thousands of years.

Lithic artifacts recovered during archaeological survey at Buck Lake in 2008.
Lithic artifacts recovered during archaeological survey at Buck Lake in 2008.

The archaeologists also told their group about the area’s historic period settlements and how the dense forests around the lake made it difficult for early farmers. In fact, many of them simply packed up and left the area after several years of continued hardship and struggle. They spoke about Henry Herman Calhoun, who was one of the earliest homesteaders in the region and owned a homestead that included the current PRA’s Day Use area. This portion of the PRA was also used by the lumber industry which existed in the Calhoun Bay area between 1910 and 1920. Walking tour participants were told about the transportation of lumber during the industry’s early days. Locally harvested lumber was floated across Buck Lake to Buck Creek, eventually making its way to the North Saskatchewan River and sawmills in Edmonton. In the 1930s, Buck Lake was even briefly opened up for commercial fishing operations with rumors that the fish were so plentiful they were just piling up along the shore.

Men floating lumber, late 1930's (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A3787)
Men floating lumber, late 1930’s (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A3787)
Four men fishing, 1900 (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A8127)
Four men fishing, 1900 (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A8127)

The Calhoun Bay area has a vivid and varied history. As a protected PRA, it is a vibrant landscape characterized by a wealth of natural features people have enjoyed for generations. Working collaboratively with Alberta Parks, the Archaeological Survey ensures staff and volunteers have the tools to provide park visitors with the opportunity to see, explore and learn about our province’s rich heritage. Not only do Park patrons benefit from volunteers’ strong knowledge of the PRAs resources and their love of heritage, but those interested in preserving heritage gain awareness of how the Government of Alberta works to protect heritage sites. In return, volunteers enjoy sharing their experiences and knowledge with visitors, further helping preserve and promote Alberta’s heritage for future generations.

Written by: Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Archaeological Survey with special thanks to Caroline Hudecek-Cuffe and Wendy Unfreed for their participation.

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