Editor’s note: The banner image about was reproduced with the permission of the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Sled dogs were critical for moving goods in northern Alberta, like this dog team outside a trade post in the Fort McMurray area in 1911.
Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta
Domestic dogs have likely been in Alberta for least 5,000 years and some researchers think they arrived with the first humans in North America over 13,000 years ago. What role did they play in Indigenous life? And how did that role change when horses arrived in the 1700s?
Based on archaeological records and historic accounts, people on the prairies of southern Alberta likely had about 4-6 dogs per family. These pets could transport about 90-270 kg of goods using a travois (a series of poles attached to a dog’s back) or pack saddles. Dogs helped move tipi hides and poles (up to 100 kg per tipi) as well as dried meat and tools from camp to camp. Before Europeans arrived, Plains communities packed up and moved all of their belongings about 10-40 times a year, which helped them stay in contact with moving bison herds that were the main source of food and materials. Trains of several hundred pack dogs carried goods on trading expeditions.