Excavations uncover Rossdale's rich history (an article by Andrew Hopkyns)

“I feel the Earth move under my feet….”

With apologies to ‘70’s songwriter and performer Carole King, for the blatant metaphor, but this summer Rossdalians certainly did feel and hear the rumbling of back hoes and trucks and jack hammers moving earth on their streets and avenues!  For almost 4 months the city embarked on the Rossdale Sewer Rehabilitation Project. Under the direction and supervision of EPCOR, KCB Construction was the company that did the ground work on replacing decades old sewer pipes and drains.

What you may not be aware of is that because our community is located on one of manyfloodplains of the North Saskatchewan River, Alberta Culture and Tourism often requires Historic Resource Act clearance for projects in these locations as buried cultural deposits are likely.  These floodplain terraces, like ours, were used for thousands of years by Indigenous people and in the case of Rossdale, for at least a couple of hundred years by European traders and settlers.

Gareth Spicer M.A. was the Principle Archeologist from his company Turtle Island Resource Management charged with overseeing, either by assessment or construction, monitoring of the work and for reviewing suspect materials.

I sat down with Gareth this fall and asked him to give us an idea of some of the findings he came upon during his research. The following is a summary of some of the amazing things they found right outside our homes!

“The flood plain terraces of the North Saskatchewan River, like the one upon which the Rossdale neighbourhood is located, are landforms which are known for buried cultural deposits.  Monitoring for both paleontology and archaeology were requirements for this job.Because of this work, eleven new archaeological sites will be recorded, four of the more notable ones are described below:

1.) At the intersection of 101 St. and 98 Ave. We recorded debitage from stone tool making and butchered animal bone (likely a large ungulate such as bison, moose or elk) between 155-165 cm below the surface. The location was likely one of many Prehistoric campsites that silts left behind by the flooding of the river has buried.

2.) A similar site was recorded at the intersection of 101 St. and 96 Ave. In addition to the debitage from stone tool making and butchered animal bone, we recovered fragments of river cobbles which had been heated in a fire.  The deposit is about 100 cm below surface.  In Prehistory people would use heated cobbles to boil water, commonly considered evidence for the rendering of fat from bone.  This rendered fat was often mixed with dried meat.  Known today as pemmican, this mixture would keep fresh for some time making it a dependable food source.

3.) Because of a water service replacement at 9737-101 St., we recovered bison bone and stone tool debris at 160 cm below surface.  This location seems to represent one bison and likely represents a location where the animal was killed and selectively butchered on the spot.Several Historic period sites were also recorded.  Most notable to my mind was the one at the intersection of 100A St. and 95 Ave (kitty corner to the playground).  Given all the complete bottles and burnt bone, this is likely an intact dump from around the turn of the last century.  Many of the bottles have distinct maker and product marks that can be traced and researched.  For example, a bottle which contained Coca Mariani, a Bordeaux wine fortified with coca was found. The drink was sold as an energy tonic and I suspect worked like a charm. Also recovered was a Hunyadi Janos Saxlehner’s Bitterquelle, a popular brand of mineral water from Hungary. Both products seem to have been popular in the 1890's.”

Gareth, kindly has sent us some photos of some of the items mentioned in his report which I have included here on our website.

Thanks goes out to EPCOR and CKB construction for being good and careful stewards of our neighbourhood (and our city’s cultural and historical record) while this work was going on.

Submitted by

Andrew Hopkyns