Bread, salt and water: the history of Doukhobors in Alberta

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.

Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundbreck, 2013
The Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundreck (also known as the Doukhobor Hall [dom or house]) is one of the few tangible reminders of one of the most remarkable communities of people to ever settle in this province.
Read more

Tooth be told: A new method for dental microwear analysis in bison

For the past few years, I have committed, heart, body and soul to the pursuit of my graduate degree in archaeology. I know many people in pursuit of their degrees would choose to study a fascinating subject, with the potential to change the world; but being the go-getter that I am, I chose the blood-racing world of dental microwear analysis. My focus, specifically, was in applying the study of dental microwear to bison from sites in southern Alberta to determine which seasons those sites were occupied (the site’s seasonality).

Albus, helping me observe the seasonal trends in grass growth on one of my regular visits to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

What is dental microwear?

The analysis of microscopic patterns on teeth has been useful to several fields, including archaeology. The method can provide information about an animal’s diet immediately before death, allowing researchers to reconstruct past environments and determine the season that an animal died. This is based on the recognition that different types of food produce identifiable features on the enamel of teeth.

In faunal archaeology, the most common distinctions made based on microwear are between herbivores who either graze or browse. Grazing animals that mainly eat grasses and other low-lying plants, such as cattle, tend to use a grinding motion when chewing, which drags food across the enamel. This produces features Read more

Computer modelling and forgotten river crossings

Author Terry Beaulieu busy in the field
Field assistant mapping a medicine wheel.  Purple and green flags mark spokes, orange flags mark cobble rings.

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.

Newly Discovered Medicine Wheel Detail Plan
Southern Alberta is home to a greater number of medicine wheels than any other jurisdiction, and the Red Deer River appears to be a particularly rich location for them. Image provided by Terry Beaulieu.

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.

Travelling routes along Red Deer River
A segment of Palliser’s 1865  map showing the route he travelled (marked in red) down Bullpound Creek and across the Red Deer River when visiting a Blackfoot Camp. Provided by Terry Beaulieu.

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.

John Palliser
Captain John Palliser was one of the first Europeans to visit western Canada and the maps he produced are some of the earliest created of the area. Source: Wiki Commons

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

Happy New Year 2019

Christmas and New Year’s party, 1914, Rosary Hall. Provincial Archives of Alberta, PAA A16290.

Happy New Year, everyone! Welcome to 2019.

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.

Find us on Facebook and Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/Albertas-Historic-Places-180887998609781/

https://twitter.com/ABHistoricPlace?lang=en

Have a great 2019!

Happy Holidays!

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!

Our top 5 posts of 2018 were:

  1. The Arrival of the Hutterites in Alberta
  2. The Sun Greenhouse Company
  3. Volcanoes and Alberta
  4. Rainbow Fossils and Bison Calling
  5. Pronghorn Traps on the Northern Plains of Alberta

RETROactive will be taking a break over the holidays — we will resume publishing on January 2, 2019. We look forward to seeing you all in the New Year!

The Coveted Christmas Catalogue

Seasons Greetings to all! With the holidays approaching rapidly, many of us reminisce about the Christmas experiences from childhood. One of the common memories my co- workers and I share is waiting impatiently for the fabled Sears Wish Book to arrive in our mail boxes. For many of us, the arrival of Christmas catalogues was a much anticipated event in our households. The very name, Christmas catalogue, conjures up images of flipping excitedly through pages filled with shiny new toys destined for children’s wish lists. I for one, remember spending hours pouring over the catalogues, carefully folding the corners of the pages containing coveted items and circling of all the gifts I hoped Santa might bring me.

Children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, 24-Dec-1947 (City of Edmonton Archives EA-600-663b)

In the late 19th Century, mail order catalogues for larger department stores in urban centres, such as Montreal and Toronto, were the norm for purchasing goods in rural communities in Canada. In 1822, the first mail order catalog in Canada was introduced by Carsley’s department store in Montreal. The first Eaton’s Christmas catalogue, called “The Wishing Book” was produced in 1884. Timothy Eaton’s vision was for the book to be accessible to all and “go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion.” The department stores had vast mail-order departments dedicated to making sure mail-order customers received their purchases no matter how far the goods had to travel. By the 1950’s, the ability to purchase a variety of consumer goods through mail-order catalogues expanded rapidly. Many department stores marketed to the young and old, with catalogues specifically designed for the lucrative holiday season. The catalogues offered a variety of gift-giving options from fashions to merchandise and included a special section containing all manner of toys for under the Christmas tree. In 1953, Canadian department store giant Simpson’s was acquired by the American Sears. The business merger resulted in the first Simpsons-Sears catalogue to be published and would eventually become the most successful department store catalogue in the country.

If you would like to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Christmas catalogues from your childhood, please visit Wishbookweb. This fabulous online resource of vintage Christmas catalogues has a current catalog page count of 25,617 pages. For Flash-enabled desktop browsers, users can enjoy full-featured navigation, including text-search features and special page-turning sound effects! Happy browsing!!

Eaton Catalogues:

Simpson-Sears Catalogues:

Snapshot of a few Wishbook Web catalogue resources available, accessed via: Wishbook Web – The Christmas Catalog Archive Project, Dec 4/18.
“A sincere wish for happiness at Christmas and throughout the New Year.” Christmas card, made in Canada date unknown.

Written By: Marsha Mickalyk, Archaeological Permits and Digital Information Coordinator & Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch.

References

“The Story of the Mail-order Catalogue” http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitCollection.do?method=preview&lang=EN&id=25258 retrieved Dec 06, 2018.

City of Edmonton Archives – https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca

WishbookWeb – http://www.wishbookweb.com/

Shell Bead Making at Cluny Fortified Village (EePf-1)

Thank you to guest authors, Margaret Patton and Shalcey Dowkes, for this interesting post about shell beads from a unique archaeological site in Southern Alberta.

The authors would like to acknowledge the Siksika Nation and Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in their support for the ongoing archaeological research at Cluny Fortified Village.

Most beads from Cluny Fortified village are disc beads (upper left), but a variety of other shapes have also been found. For each pair of beads, the left image is the inside shell surface and the right image is the outside shell surface.

All over the world beads have been manufactured for adornment in jewelry and clothing, trade, and may have even been used in storytelling and gaming. In North America, Indigenous groups in extensively traded marine shells. On the Plains, freshwater clams from local rivers were also used to manufacture beads. However, there are limited examples of freshwater shell beads found archaeologically on the Northern Plains. Over 1,450 pieces of shell have been recovered from the Cluny Fortified Village archaeological site, making it a prime candidate to study the production of beads on the Canadian Plains.

Cluny Fortified Village

The Cluny Fortified Village Site is unique as the only known fortified village on the Northern Plains. Located on the northern bank of the Bow River, the site Read more