Pitch and Timber: A History of Human Relationships with Trees in Alberta (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the history of human relationships with trees in Alberta. If you missed part one, read it now.

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Development of Alberta’s Forestry Industry

From 1900 to 1910, population growth and steady local demand for lumber meant that most settlements had commercial sawmills. Because of the way that timber berths were leased to operators, most sawmills were small and portable. Some operators harvested in the summer and moved their timber using rivers, flumes (a series of wooden chutes that filled with water and carried logs), splash dams (a temporary wooden dam that held back water that would then be released in a surge to carry logs), and log drives along big rivers that brought wood to riverside mills or to rail yards in river valleys. But winter was generally the ideal time to log because wood could be moved by horses and sleds. Portable sawmills would move machinery on skis to temporary camps in western and northern Alberta. The seasonal nature was perfect for struggling families because farmers could work the fields in warm seasons and cut timber for mills in the winters.

A man poling down Athabasca River between 1937-39 (from the Chisholm Sawmill and Freeman River Lumber Camp). Log drivers floated along with the timbers to dislodge jams and notify the mills when shipments were arriving by water. Image A3790 courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
A logging camp (the Jackpine Wood Camp on Little Slave River in 1909) with men and their tools. Image A2532 courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Alberta’s forestry industry was younger than in British Columbia and neighbouring states to the south, many of which had various gold rushes that required commercial sawmills in the 1800s. It was fairly common for Alberta farmers to log in B.C. during winters in the early 1900s and many Alberta ranches provided B.C. logging operations with horses. A good-sized sawmill in B.C. or Alberta could employ several hundred men and up to 60 horses over the winter.

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Pitch and Timber: A History of Human Relationships with Trees in Alberta (Part 1)

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series on the history of human relationships with trees in Alberta. Next week’s post will discuss the development of the forestry industry, modern research and the Heritage Art Series.

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

People in Alberta have relied on trees since these woody plants colonized our ice-scraped province around 11,000 years ago. Millions of collective hours were spent by people gathering and chopping wood for warmth and cooking, but our relationship with trees runs much deeper than heat. People in Alberta have relied on them to build tools, homes, and transportation networks, and our forestry industry continues to shape the province.

Logging at Poplar Creek, Alberta in the late 1800s. Image A5085 courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

What Trees Grow Here and Why?

Much of the prairies are too hot and dry for forests, but most of central and northern Alberta have ideal temperatures and moisture levels for trees: over 60% of the province is covered by forests. While our precipitation helps trees grow, Alberta is dry enough (over long enough periods in the summers) to be fire-prone. Most natural forests here rarely exist for more than 100 years before a fire re-starts the growth of a series of plant communities (called ‘succession’). Our ‘pyrogenic’ forests are younger and typically smaller than neighbours to the west where heavier rains and different soils produce massive old growth forests that often exceed 600 years old.

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Mile 58 Forestry Cabin: Heritage significance in a remote area

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer

Alberta’s newest Provincial Historic Resource is the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin in the Willmore Wilderness Park. Now the most remotely located designated resource in the province, the cabin tells an interesting and important story about the protection of Alberta’s forests and the forest rangers that sheltered in cabins like this while riding the trails in our province’s forests.

The Dominion Forestry Branch

The story of the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin begins in Ottawa, with the establishment of the Dominion Forestry Branch in 1899. The Dominion Forestry Branch, a sister service to the Dominion Parks Branch (now Parks Canada Agency), was established to manage forest resources on Crown lands. By 1911, a number of protected forest reserves had been created in Alberta, including the Athabasca Forest Reserve north of Jasper.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Alberta Forest History Photographic Collection
The Mile 58 Forestry Cabin was built by forest ranger Jack Glen with assistance from some of his fellow rangers. Glen was a former Royal North-West Mounted Police officer and had joined the Dominion Forestry Branch in 1920. In addition to the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin, Glenn also built the Eagle’s Nest and Big Grave Flats cabins, and was likely involved in others as well. Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Alberta Forest History Photographic Collection.

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“For Ever With The Lord”: In memory of common soldiers from the chapel at Old St Stephen’s College

Written by: Peter Melnycky, Historian

Stained glass at Old St. Stephen's College, on campus at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Photo by: Peter Melnycky
Stained glass at Old St. Stephen’s College, on campus at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

In 1935, the chapel unveiled within St. Steven’s College displayed plaques commemorating the war service and sacrifices of its brave associates. Dated to 1923, the first plaque honoured 19 Ministers and 61 Probationers who served during the Great War, as well as eight who “bravely fell”. A separate plaque commemorated “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory” eight students of Robertson College “who fell on the field of Honour” during the war. One individual plaque was also dedicated in memory of Harold G. Riddle of Robertson College who died at St. Omer, France in 1916 and proclaimed Virtute Praeclarus (“Brilliance with Courage”) in his memory.

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Stories from the Land: Indigenous Place Names in Canada

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Designation Officer

Place names, or toponyms, are an important aspect of language. At their most basic, place names serve an important role in wayfinding and navigation. They allow us to locate ourselves within the landscape, or, perhaps more importantly sometimes, they allow others to locate us.

Place names also have another often-overlooked role. They are cultural artifacts, containing within them the stories of previous generations. They reveal historical land uses and show the values of previous generations.  They connect people to both the present physical landscape and to their own culture, history and heritage.

 

Stories from the Land: Indigenous Place Names in Canada Interactive map. Source: Natural Resources Canada.
Stories from the Land: Indigenous Place Names in Canada Interactive map. Source: Natural Resources Canada.

2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The United Nations made the designation in 2016 in order to, “draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages.” The resolution was adopted by consensus, with no member nation requesting a vote. Member nations have been encouraged to use 2019 to develop and promote initiatives that further awareness of Indigenous languages.

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Quarry of the Ancestors

Editor’s note: All images in the post below were sourced from a report developed by the Archaeological Survey, Lifeways and Stantec.

Written by: Matthew Wangler, Executive Director, Historic Resources Management Branch

For decades, northeastern Alberta has been home to large-scale industrial activity in the region’s massive petroleum deposits. A remarkable discovery in the midst of the oil sands revealed that the same area of the province also accommodated another significant industry in ancient times; that historic and contemporary land use share a common origin in an epic event that profoundly shaped our province’s past.  This blog post will explore how historic resource management in Alberta helped reveal a lost chapter of our province’s history, how the discovery illuminated both the remarkable richness and depth of the Alberta story, and the surprising connections between past and present.

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Advancing Archaeology: the Occasional Paper Series in 2019

Written by: Krista M. Gilliland, Western Heritage and Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper Series No. 39 with its first two articles available for free. As with the previous volume, individual articles in the Occasional Paper Series are published online throughout the year, with the final, compiled volume released at the end of the year. We encourage submissions from archaeologists in cultural resource management (CRM), universities, and other heritage professions.

Submissions to Occasional Paper No. 39, edited by Krista M. Gilliland, are welcome.

Occasional Paper Series No. 39, “Advancing archaeology: Industry and practice in Alberta, 2019,” is dedicated to an influential member of the archaeological community in Western Canada, Terry Gibson, who passed away in 2018. The first article in the volume is a tribute to him.

Terry Gibson (1954-2018) played an important role shaping the CRM community in Western Canada.

The second paper is a summary of archaeological features called bone uprights that appear in Alberta and across the Northern Plains. These features consist of animal bone (usually bison) that was vertically embedded in the ground. Archaeologists have come up with several ideas to explain these curious components of pre-contact sites.

A sample of bone upright images from Reid Graham and John W. Ives’ paper in the 2019 issue (reproduced with permission).

The title of the current volume – “Advancing archaeology: Industry and practice in Alberta, 2019,” refers to Terry Gibson’s legacy in the province and an important goal of the Occasional Paper Series. We hope the series provides a venue to CRM archaeologists, heritage managers and others to improve the discipline in Alberta. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee.

Also, you can download previous volumes of the Occasional Paper Series for free:

Back on the Horse: Recent Developments in Archaeological and Palaeontological Research in Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 36 (2016)

After the Flood: Investigations of Impacts to Archaeological Resources from the 2013 Flood in Southern Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 37 (2017)

The Swing of Things: Contributions to Archaeological Research in Alberta Occasional Paper No. 38 (2018)