Editor’s note: The following blog post is part one of a two-part series looking at the history and influence of Doukhobors in Alberta.
East of the Crowsnest Pass, nestled within the small community of Lundbreck, sits a simple white building clad in asbestos shingles and covered with metal roof. The structure looks utilitarian and spare; it could easily be mistaken for the kind of modest community halls one occasionally sees in Alberta’s small towns. While the building is almost entirely non-descript, the history that it embodies is extraordinarily rich.
The history of the Alberta Doukhobors is an essential chapter in the story of one of the largest experiments in communal living in North America. Approximately 7,500 Doukhobors came to Canada in 1899, at the time it was the largest mass migration in the country’s history. In stark contrast, at a 2018 meeting of Doukhobors in British Columbia, a grim question was posed: will there be any Doukhobors active in their faith by 2030? Between their noteworthy arrival at the end of the nineteenth century and their dwindling membership today, the Doukhobors have lived a tumultuous and compelling experience in Canada. This post attempts to explore the vision and roots of the Doukhobor community, and their early experiences in Canada.
Often, archaeological discoveries are thought to only result from physical archaeological surveys. However, later data analysis and computer modeling can also provide important insights not easily seen in the field. Recent efforts to reconstruct possible past travel routes along the Red Deer River north of Brooks help illustrate just such a situation. Exciting archaeological finds were made, both through traditional archaeological survey techniques in the field, as well as with modern computer modelling approaches later in the office. These finds highlight the importance of viewing the past not simply as a series of isolated archaeological sites, but rather as a continuous cultural landscape.
Two seasons of fieldwork, consisting of more than 400 km of pedestrian survey, were conducted along the edges of the Red Deer River valley for some 43.5 km of the river’s course. The area was situated in some of the warmest and driest parts of the province, with vegetation consisting primarily of grasses, a few shrubs and vast swaths of prickly pear cactus. While some portions were virtually devoid of vegetation, unusually high amounts of precipitation throughout the region had encouraged thick grass growth in most other areas, and had kept the prairie a rich green colour for much longer than usual. Hidden within that thick cover of grass were large numbers of archaeological cobble features – the location of close to 1,000 of which were recorded with GPS. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of features recorded during the fieldwork were standard cobble rings that marked the locations of past tipis. Also recorded, however, were significant numbers of other types of cobble structures, like standard cobble cairns and cobble arcs, as well as more unusual features , like tailed cobble rings, hollow cairns, and medicine wheels.
A total of five known medicine wheels were located in the area. Due to land access issues, however, only two of the five were visited during the present investigation. One new medicine wheel, though, was discovered. Like the other five medicine wheels in the vicinity, the newly discovered medicine wheel lies quite close to the valley edge, overlooking the Red Deer River to the east. It has a very well defined 5.25 m diameter central cobble ring from which four less-well defined linear cobble spokes radiate. The three longest spokes each terminate at a cobble cairn. A cobble ring is bisected along its northern edge approximately midway along the east northeast running spoke and a tailed cobble ring, along with a standard cobble ring, lie close by.
The wealth of locational data collected for the recorded cobble features was critical to computer analyses later conducted in the office. Close to 1,000 data points – the locations of archaeological cobble features – were imported into a geographic information system (GIS) to form the basis of a sophisticated spatial modeling analysis. Archaeological applications of GIS have often been criticized for placing too much emphasis on the physical environment and of therefore being guilty of excessive environmental determinism. The modelling approach taken in this study was designed to intentionally emphasize cultural elements in order to address such concerns with what is generally considered to be a landscape archaeological approach.
One of the ways cultural elements were emphasized was through identifying and integrating the concept of place into the GIS analysis. Incorporating locations into the GIS that had been identified based on place names known to have been used by Indigenous people was one such method employed. Past places were also determined by using the archaeological information collected in the field. Locations indicative of important places, for example, were identified by locating significant concentrations of standard cobble rings, or finding the presence of known ceremonial features such as medicine wheels and hollow cairns, among others. GIS modelling was then conducted in an effort to locate and model pedestrian travel routes that may have been employed by past people during their summer travels through the region when heading to the nearby important location of Hunting Hill.
The GIS models indicated a crossing point located near where Bull Pound Creek empties into the Red Deer River. The problem, however, was that most early maps of the area indicated the closest known river crossing was upstream from there at Lord Lorne Crossing. It therefore appeared the GIS models were flawed. Further investigation, however, revealed that was likely not the case.
In the summer of 1859, Captain John Palliser travelled through the region as part of his multi-year expedition through western Canada. He was one of the first Europeans to visit the region and the maps he produced are some of the earliest created of the area. During those travels he wrote of visiting “Blackfoot Indian” camps. The route he travelled during one of those visits ran down the east side of Bull Pound Creek and crossed the Red Deer River at the point where the creek emptied into the river – at almost the exact location indicated by the GIS models. Given that Palliser was likely being guided by residents of the camp, who would have been familiar with the best routes and river crossings, the concurrence between Palliser’s map and the GIS models indicates the modelling process was indeed successful in identifying the location of a river crossing point used by past peoples.
It is interesting to note that less than a quarter century later, when George M. Dawson, of the Geological Survey of Canada, created his maps of the area, the crossing near the mouth of Bullpound Creek was no longer recognized by those creating the maps. Lord Lorne Crossing, significantly upstream from the mouth of Bullpound Creek, had instead replaced it as the important crossing place. Such a shift illustrates how quickly changes occurred on the prairies in the mid to late 1800s, and how fast Indigenous information became lost and undervalued during European map making. Information about the locations of significant places to past people does not have to remain lost and forgotten, though, and can be resurrected through thorough investigation and careful research, as is evident by the discovery of a previously unknown medicine wheel and the identification of a forgotten river crossing. Both are significant additions to the archaeological record that, in addition to helping inform our understanding of the past, also show that important new archaeological discoveries are still being made, whether through old fashioned archaeological legwork or modern computer analysis.
Written by: Terry Beaulieu, Ph.D. Graduate, University of Calgary
RETROactive had a great year in 2018, with our most views ever. Most of our views came from Canada, but we also reached a substantial number of people in the United States, as well as 132 other countries! We published 49 new blog posts over the year, and our most popular post was The Arrival of the Hutterites in Alberta.
We look forward to sharing more of Alberta’s history in 2019, starting with a new post next week.
The staff of the Historic Resources Management Branch wish you a safe and happy holiday season!
RETROactive has had a great year and thanks goes to YOU, our amazing readers, for your support. We couldn’t have done it without you! We are also very grateful to our guest authors who shared interesting stories and research with us and our readers – thank you!
Part I of The Lure of Gold in Alberta’s History can be read here.
The Last Great Gold Rush
In 1896, gold production in Edmonton reached $55,000,[i] with local banks purchasing gold dust off miners at $15 an ounce.[ii] No small amount for a town of roughly 1200 people. However, this amount was nothing compared to the following year when parties of gold seekers, upon news of rich gold strikes in the Yukon, began outfitting themselves in Edmonton on their way to the Klondike. By the summer of 1898, the stampede was over with local merchants having taken in $500,000.[iii]
When parties slowly began arriving in Edmonton by train in the summer of 1897, the business community quickly seized upon the opportunity and began actively advertising Edmonton as the, ‘All Canadian Route to the Klondike’, ‘The Back Door to the Yukon’, and ‘The Poor Man’s Route to the Yukon.’[iv] By Christmas, there were people from Chicago, eastern Canada, the Atlantic seaboard, Europe, and Australia camped in small groups all over town. Historian J.G. MacGregor wrote that by mid-winter 1898, “…the town was knee deep in Klondikers.”[v]
On a map, distances could be deceiving, and many lacked the experience required for such a rigorous journey. One man writing to the editor of the Edmonton Bulletin inquired as to the feasibility of travelling to the Yukon by bicycle,[vi] and two Parisians who set off from Athabasca Landing admitted to having originally entertained the idea of travelling to the Klondike by balloon.[vii] The distances alone were daunting but the real challenge was carrying with them two years of supplies. This amounted to 2500 lbs of food and gear for each individual, and, depending on the route and the season, they required horses, dog teams, sleds, sleighs, and boats. Read more →
“Having disposed of our holdings on the creeks the five of us packed through the South Kootenai Pass and soon after started for Edmonton, where we heard they were mining placer gold on the Saskatchewan River. We had no very clear knowledge of where Edmonton was, and there was no one there to tell us.”[i]
– ‘Kootenai’ Brown (1865)
Gold! It was dreams of golden wealth and the promise of adventure that drew thousands of young men west to California and British Columbia in the 1800s. Although never achieving the spectacular wealth in gold of its neighbors to the west, Alberta witnessed its own gold rush in the 1860s, and over the subsequent decades many people passed through the province on their way to other mining frenzies that swept across the northwest. Many prospectors settled in the province and became leading members of Alberta’s burgeoning communities.
The First Gold in Western Canada
The 1849 rush in California brought ‘Forty-Niners’ from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and Midwest who traveled overland and by sea. Ocean travel also brought Peruvians and Chileans, Mexicans, Australians, Europeans, and Chinese. In the spring of 1858, the easier diggings long since worked out in California, news arrived in San Francisco of discoveries on the Thompson and Fraser Rivers – to the north in British territory.[ii] By July, it was estimated that 30,000 “half-wild Californians” had passed through the sedate, trading outpost of Fort Victoria Read more →