Excavating the Fort Sites


(From the Edmonton Journal)

Excavation is continuing at the sight of Buckingham House, near Elk Point, Alberta. Begun on May 16,1972, this marks the third year that digging has been carried on.

The object of the excavation is to find out what the House looked like, as it was the first point of European contact in Alberta. Wall areas are the main interest, although such objects as beads, buttons, tinkling cones (tubes of rolled brass or copper sewn onto garments as ornaments, and which 'tinkled'), clay pipes, silver brooches and earrings have been found. Also discovered was a bastion, or tower, used defense against Indian attacks in the corner of the palisade enclosure. These constructions were usually higher than the palisade, and approximately ten feet square. One such building was also found last year at the site.

A trench has also been discovered, leading to the oldest building of the palisade, as well as canoe pits, where canoes were stored.

Trudy Nicks is the director of the excavation on the site. Miss Nicks is a graduate of the University of Alberta, and has written several articles and a book on archeological work.

The six other members of the team, hired by the Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation under the Student Temporary Employment Programme, in association with

Provincial Museums and Archives, are Maurice Doll, Catri Sinclair, Ann Cascallen, Patricia Raddiff, Caroline Poon and Jose Villa-Arce.

Bob Kidd, Curator of Archaeology with Provincial Museums and Archives, says there are three main purposes to excavations of this kind. The first is to establish or fill in the chronology of the facts of history, through the structure and artifacts found. Another purpose is to gather enough formation about the early days so that reconstruction of site can be performed, either by drawing, scale models, actual rebuilding of the original fort. By putting archeological data and fur-trade documents together, plus a bit imagination, says Mr. Kidd, then we can usually come with something that's reasonably accurate. A third, and perhaps lesser reason for the search is to study human behavior. The history of occupations can be seen in the buildings, also says Mr. Kidd, with such structures as the blacksmith's shop. Diets are also investigated, aided by the discovery of bones animals which residents of the House used to eat. 'It's important to know about it," he says. These forts were often culture contact sites, with the Indian and White cultures meeting for the first time, says Mr. Kidd.

Buckingham House itself was established in 1792 as a Hudson Bay Company fur trading post, very close to the rival Northwest Company's Fort George, and a few months later, it was one of the Hudson Bay Company's first westwards movements in the fur trade, as the two companies leap-flogged their way across the country. Besides being a fur trade post, it also dealt in meat and other foods, as a supply post.

The excavators in Elk Point have been aided by information given by long-time residents of the area, and they would like to thank everyone for their help.

The group will be working around Vermilion, Elk Point and other surrounding areas until approximately August 15. Work is also going on in Southern Alberta.