Information adapted with permission from:
Jones, Tim E.H., Muriel Carlson, and T.R. Smith
1988 People, Potsherds and Projectile Points: Pondering the Saskatoon Archaeological Society’s Past. In Out of the Past. Edited by Urve Linnamae and Tim E.H. Jones. Published by the Saskatoon Archaeological Society.
Introduction – Unearthing Our Own History
Several years ago some of the members of the Saskatoon Archaeological Society were startled to realize that our organization would be reaching a significant milestone on May 2, 1985: the fiftieth anniversary of our founding. It is a small paradox that we archaeologists routinely deal with artifacts and sites that are hundreds and even thousands of years old, while our group itself has been in operation for only fifty years. But in Saskatchewan, where written history is still marked in decades, any institution with a tenure of half a century considers itself venerable. So we do!
In fact, we were curious as to where we fit in the context of venerability for North American archaeological societies as a whole. Margaret Kopko carried out a letter survey, and we discovered that only two cities had an archaeological society older than our own, and that very few provincial or state organizations were as old.
Other articles in this volume marking this fiftieth anniversary amply illustrate that the history of archaeological endeavour and the discovery of some of the details of ancient human history in the Saskatoon area are both tied quite closely to the story of the Saskatoon Archaeological Society. Further, what has transpired in archaeology in the rest of the province has involved the efforts, contributions and encouragement of the Saskatoon Society, working steadily over the years to gain public and government respect and support for archaeological research and conservation. Therefore, for the record, it is useful to briefly summarize some of the highlights of this group’s existence.
Archaeology may appear to be an unusual enterprise in its rationale: trying to reconstruct and understand the human past from material remains — but it is by no means unique. Palaeontologists, historians, detectives, forensic scientists and many others want to know why certain things came to pass or to be. Writing our society’s history has involved the use of some of the same techniques and we have experienced many of the same frustrations. History will always have many missing pages.
The latter-day members of the Society are fortunate to have archival records which were produced and preserved for us by succeeding secretaries. The early minutes and scrapbooks are kept in the Saskatchewan Archives office in Saskatoon. It helped that Mr. J. Mather of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix was one of the first members of the executive. No doubt due to his interest and influence, press coverage of the earliest meetings was excellent. As well, Violet MacNaughton, women’s editor of the major western farm newspaper, the Western Producer, saw to it that items of archaeological interest regularly appeared in that paper.
From the extant minutes, clippings and other records we can catch a glimpse of the issues and personalities preceding us in the archaeological-interest community in our region, but our records are not fully complete. We can console ourselves with the fact that the attempt to tell the story of the Saskatoon Archaeological Society is beset by the same problem as attends any archaeological excavation — it is impossible to find all the artifacts and other evidence one would like to have to produce a total reconstruction.
We have considered these problems, and in 1982 our society made a concrete attempt to be kind to future archaeologists and historians. As part of the 100th anniversary celebrations for the founding of the City of Saskatoon, we participated in the deposition of archival documents in a time capsule placed just north of Saskatoon’s most famous landmark, the Bessborough Hotel. The capsule will be opened in 2032 A.D.
The Founding Days
The Saskatoon Archaeological Society was formed during the time of drought, dust storms and erosion that left prodigious numbers of prehistoric artifacts exposed on the surface of the prairie landscape. The extensive exposure of remains under these unusual conditions aroused the interest of innumerable farmers and people from the cities; among them were a number of individuals in Saskatoon. As in most parts of North America (and as is still largely the case today) exposure to prehistoric man came through the amassing of artifacts. Our founders had, however, a broader and more intelligent interest in the creators of the artifacts and their motivations, rather than a mere mania for collecting. The founding of the Society was at least inpart based on a desire shared by an initial dozen people to gain more knowledge about the peopling of the province — how long ago, by whom, and by what kinds of cultures — from studying the tools and sites which had recently come to light in such abundance.
John H. Sewell, a representative of an insurance company, was the person most responsible for organizing the Society. A former cowboy, and possessor of a large collection of artifacts mostly from the Saskatoon area, he was an exceptional individual in that he became a self-taught flintknapper. In developing this apparently peculiar skill he was both out-of-date and ahead of his time. This millenia-old technology to make tools from raw stone had not been practiced in Saskatchewan by native people for probably a century, so it was most unusual that Sewell would choose this as his major way to study prehistoric cultures. This kind of experimental archaeology has in only recent years come to the fore. Even today, with the value of such studies acknowledged within the discipline of archaeology, there are very few practitioners as skilled as was John Sewell.
V.A. Vigfusson, chemical analyst and later a chemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan, had also been active in collecting, and was most interested in prehistoric pottery. It was only natural that these two men should get together and take action to form a society of amateur archaeologists. A meeting for all interested was held in the Chemistry Building on Mayadopted, and a full slate of officers acclaimed.
Ten of the twelve in the founding group were directly connected with the University of Saskatchewan. A number of these and later members distinguished themselves on the provincial, and some on the national, scene. Among them have been the founding President, agriculture professor Grant MacEwen, who no doubt developed some of his skills in our organization before becoming a prolific writer of books on the history of western Canada, and then Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Alberta. Arthur Silver Morton, distinguished professor of history and author of the important work, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, was designated the first Honorary President. John W.T. Spinks, then a young chemistry professor, later made important contributions in the field of nuclear chemistry. He became very accomplished as a researcher and author, but his skills did not necessarily extend to penmanship, as former President J.H. MacLennan noted:
On one occasion the acting secretary recorded that he found difficulty reading the minutes of the previous meeting because of illegibility. However, the minutes received the usual adoption.
The minutes in question had been recorded by the very same Dr. Spinks, our first Secretary-Treasurer. Dr. Spinks later became the President and then the President Emeritus of the University of Saskatchewan.
One stated object of the Society was . . . “to provide leadership to those interested in the origin, migration, equipment, habits, and culture of the primitive American people.” This was made difficult because of the isolation of Saskatoon at the time from the centres of archaeological teaching and research. In the first year of the Society’s existence the University Library was urged to stock books about archaeology, to provide at least this access to the subject. During the earliest years and in fact into the 1950s, archaeological learning had to be accomplished almost entirely through books and reports dealing with far-off sites and very different prehistoric cultures.
Their continuing pursuit of knowledge of prehistoric man on the prairies and in Saskatchewan, considering the lack of example or guidance usually provided by professionals, is striking. These were amateur archaeologists; their persistence to learn is best explained by the meaning of the Latin root of the word amateur: to love.
It would be correct to describe the Society in its early years as a philosophical, rather than strictly an archaeological, society, which used archaeology as an excuse to look at any and all aspects of past human endeavour which could be brought before this group in this part of the world. Over the years a very wide variety of topics has formed the focus of meetings, including (to mention only a few): Early Historical Finds from London, England; The Rise of Man; Ethnological Research in Java; Trephinning of Skulls; Ur of the Chaldees; Pueblo Pottery; The Laurentian Iroquois; Archaeology in Hungary; David Thompson’s Explorations; Prehistory of Ireland; and so on. These and other exotic topics were presented along with those dealing with the archaeology and prehistory of Western Canada and Saskatchewan. Talks were often given by the members themselves, and sometimes by visiting lecturers, often as an adjunct to their visits to the University.
Other early meetings centered around the discussion of items in the news dealing with recent anthropological and archaeological discoveries and theories. Often, after a full evening’s business, the whole group would troop off to the University Observatory to contemplate the prospects in outer space. Considering the increasing specialization which has both benefited and afflicted the scientific disciplines of today, we can appreciate that atmosphere of broad-ranging inquiry and delight in discussion that evidently characterized many of the early meetings.
Many meetings were of the “show-and-tell” variety, especially in the days when artifact collecting was vigorously pursued by most of the members. This has been curtailed to a large extent by the Heritage Property Act (1980), which places certain legal restrictions on and attempts to discourage artifact collecting in general. Over much of the history of the Society, acquisition of artifacts was an important component in the interest in archaeology, although members were constantly reminded to keep proper records of their finds.
There were monthly meetings in the winter months, and beginning in the 1940s, regular field trips to the surrounding countryside. The divergent interests of members led to a number of important discoveries for Saskatchewan, and members brought new finds to meetings for identification, examination and admiration.
One of the ongoing concerns of the members was to define the area occupied by the first humans arriving in North America after the retreat of the Wisconsinan glaciation. Their search for the early “Yuma” points (or Cody complex projectile points and knives as they are known today) produced many examples from throughout the province. Sewell was talented at drawing these artifacts, and several good examples of his illustrations have survived in the Society’s archival records. Sadly, this is all that remains of most of these early discoveries, since most of the specimens have disappeared. A ceramic vessel discovered by Vigfusson near Dundurn in 1936, which he later reconstructed, may be of Avonlea affiliation. It was certainly one of the earliest such finds on record for the province.
Vigfusson’s death in 1942 in a traffic accident on the 25th Street Bridge was a great loss to the archaeological community, but his large collection and records were turned over to the University. Unfortunately, many archaeological and ethnological items of which society members were aware, languished for a number of years, and were eventually dispersed before the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University was created in 1964. Some of the remaining important collections did find a home in the new Department. One of them was the Ami collection of European Palaeolithic tools and materials, one of the most extensive and important ones extant in any North American university collection.
Money problems are not referred to in the pre-war records, but the statement for 1935-36 shows 20 memberships at $.50 each, and a balance of $7.10. Passengers were charged $.75 per head on field trips. An entry of March 5, 1940 shows that the passengers waived all claims against drivers for legal responsibility for their safety, but in turn the drivers assumed complete responsibility for any breakages that might occur to their own cars, as well as gas and oil expenses.
The Society’s library of archaeological publications is a valuable contribution from the early years. An early gift of books came about from a chance meeting, on a train, between Dr. Mawdsley, our member, and Fredrick Johnson of the Peabody Foundation at Harvard. The books were later imported duty free by having them declared as second-hand books. Ken Cronk, a customs appraiser and our longtime secretary, had probably discovered the necessary loophole, and these books are still in our Society library.
Barbarians and Civilized Folk: Relations with Other Groups
The Society did not operate entirely in isolation from others interested in archaeology in the province. Watson (1977) has presented a brief history of the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society, and relates that there have been three separate attempts to form a provincial body. In 1933, the second version was formed, headed by W.J. Orchard of Tregarva. (This group was provincial in name only, being comprised mostly of Regina and southern Saskatchewan residents). They were primarily a group of active collectors, but they did serve to awaken and to indirectly promote scientific archaeology.
The Saskatoon Society’s first guest speaker was Orchard, who later single-handedly aroused considerable interest in the subject throughout the prairies through two small books he authored: The Stone Age on the Prairies (1942) and Kitchen Middens (1946). While employing, inappropriately and misleadingly, a European terminology for local artifact types and archaeological periods, these books nevertheless provided printed information which was otherwise very meagre on the topic.
There was of course a more-or-less friendly rivalry between the archaeological societies of the province’s two principal cities. In a 1958 review of the history of the Society J.H. MacLennan noted that Orchard’s early talk started him delving into the history of archaeology itself, and he was astonished to find that it had become an established science only by about 1870. At that time the classification of prehistory was into the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Lewis Henry Morgan then proposed a classification of human history into various subdivisions supposedly descriptive of the behaviour of man. Around Morgan’s time, the Regina and Saskatoon areas of Saskatchewan were being populated by new migrants from eastern Canada, the United States and Europe. The economy of the Regina centre was based on bone-collecting (Lower Savagery according to Morgan), while an agricultural-pastoral economy was developing in the Saskatoon area — Upper Barbarism. With the advent of iron-making in Regina (the steel mill) and writing (i.e. the University) in Saskatoon, MacLennan supposed “that it could be said that those in Regina have entered Middle Barbarism, while we are now Civilized.” This is of course nothing more than a bit of pseudo-evolutionary tomfoolery, designed to take a little “dig” at Regina, Saskatoon’s perennial rival in all aspects of life, economic and cultural.
In 1938 the Regina group requested that a provincial society be formed, but nothing transpired from this initiative. A proposal that the Saskatoon and Regina Archaeological Societies join to form a provincial body was carried to Regina by a committee of Drs. Vigfusson, Jackson, Mawdsley and Whitelaw in 1942, but this offer too was declined. The Regina group continued as before, and published Spade and Screen from 1947 to 1952, when both the newsletter and the organization disbanded.
Other false starts made the evolution toward a more organized and outreaching archaeological community difficult. J.H. Sewell proposed that a book on archaeology for schools and other readers be produced as a tenth anniversary project for the Society. This was not approved; concerns were expressed that the “wrong” people might find members’ good sites and collect from them.
The executive formed a plan in 1943 to develop a museum in Saskatoon to house the artifacts the Society now had in its possession. They were successful to a degree, since they obtained space, in 1944, on the second floor of the Standard Trust Building downtown, shared with the Camera Club and the Art Centre. Display cases were obtained and used to mount some modest displays of artifacts, but this arrangement proved to be unsuitable, and after five years the Society packed up and moved the cases to the University campus.
Professional archaeology came, at least tentatively, to Saskatchewan in the form of a government-sponsored initial survey of sites and collections carried out by Boyd Wettlaufer in 1950 and 1951. Wettlaufer’s two major excavations at Mortlach and Long Creek in the early 1950s (Wettlaufer 1955; Wettlaufer and Mayer-Oakes 1960) provided solid contextual information on the Saskatchewan sequence of prehistoric cultures. His work was keenly followed by most amateur archaeologists. Wettlaufer’s visit and address to the group in 1954 was described by Secretary Cronk as a “red letter day” for archaeology in the province.
The 1960s ushered in more intensified official efforts to deal with archaeological resources and, of necessity, involved organizing the amateur community into an effective support group to reinforce those efforts. In 1961 a Saskatchewan delegation which included archaeologists Tom and Alice Kehoe of the Museum of Natural History in Regina and our secretary Ken Cronk, attended the Western Canada Archaeological Conference at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. In 1963 the founding conference of the third (and present) Saskatchewan Archaeological Society was held in Regina, and many Saskatoon members participated. In 1978 the Saskatoon Archaeological Society became a chapter of the provincial body, to provide greater communication and cooperation between the two organizations. The provincial society’s annual meeting venue regularly rotates between Saskatoon and the other chapter locations.
In the past decade, as both provincial and local governments have become more aware of the public education and tourism potential of prehistory, the Society has been invited to name representatives to Saskatoon’s Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee and the Meewasin Valley Authority’s Heritage Advisory Committee, and has been an active participant in local efforts to organize “Heritage Week” activities in February which many hope will eventually be part of a national holiday — Heritage Day — the second Monday in February.
The University, The Society, and Archaeology
It is clear that the Society’s first Honourary President, Arthur Silver Morton, was well chosen, both for his contributions to an archaeological field work approach in western Canada and for his attempts to curate archaeological and ethnological artifacts. Morton had established a small museum in the department of history, but after his retirement in 1940 the specimens were dispersed. Unfortunately no effective support for archaeological field work or permanent museum-type curation of specimens came about until years after his death.
One of the field trips of the 1940s, to the Hanley area, visited a tipi ring site, and it was decided that one of the rings would be relocated to the University campus as a tangible monument to past cultures. The project was directed by Professor MacEwan. Unfortunately, construction in the 1950s accidentally removed the stones and undid this well-intentioned work.
While it is true that University people initiated the creation of the Society, the Society came in time to have its influence on the University (see Pohorecky 1987). Several attempts were made to establish a museum for archaeology either on campus or in the city. Eventually, after the arrangement with the Art Centre fell apart, the “Saskatchewan Pre-History Museum Under the Auspices of the Saskatoon Archaeological Society and Department of Geology, U. of S.” (as the printed letterhead proclaimed) was set up in the Geology wing of the Engineering Building on campus. This small display area for collections was open in the afternoons, and was used until 1952, when the collections were removed and dispersed. An unknown number of collections were lost by various means, including fire and water, over the years but the remaining collections owned by the Society were eventually turned over on permanent loan to the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.
Finally, in 1964, came one of the most important developments in Saskatchewan archaeology, the appointment of the first university professor in anthropology. The appointee was Zenon Pohorecky, a soon-to-be doctoral graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, in archaeology — but someone who grew up in Saskatoon and Winnipeg. It is obvious that this appointment was very much an idea whose time had come; a number of people connected with the University, including George Simpson (history), Andre Renaud (Indian and Northern Education), John Spinks (President) and Arts and Science Dean Francis Leddy were instrumental in garnering enough support for the creation of not only courses, but a new Department, “Anthropology and Archaeology.” The Society had also argued for this particular name.
Soon after Pohorecky’s appointment he was able to bring four outstanding archaeologists working in western Canada to present a series of public and class lectures to mark the 30th anniversary of the Society. William Mayer-Oakes of the University of Manitoba lectured on his work in Central America. Charles Borden, the grandfather of British Columbia archaeology, talked about several of his landmark excavations. William Irving, from the National Museum of Canada, described his recent work on the Arctic Small Tool tradition in the Arctic, and Richard Forbis of the Glenbow Museum talked about his work in Alberta. Later, Richard MacNeish came from Calgary to speak on his research on the origins of corn agriculture in the New World, and William Taylor from the National Museum spoke on his specialty, Arctic prehistory.
These events stimulated a great deal of interest and excitement both among the students in the new discipline and among the long-time members of the Society. No longer was Saskatoon in the “backwoods” in terms of contact with archaeological scholarship.
The inception of the department created the opportunity for face-to-face contact and discussion with professional archaeologists, and the development of a body of students with a growing knowledge of the discipline and archaeological methods. These developments were in many ways a boon to the local archaeological-interest community, and both Pohorecky and his first students participated in innumerable impromptu field-checks of reported sites and in many examinations of artifacts or putative prehistoric remains.
A significant contribution made by the University to archaeology has been the support provided to our organization in the form of a free meeting space. The exact space has changed over the years, from the College (Administration) Building, to Biology, to the Arts/Commerce wing of the Arts Building. The University has prided itself on its service to the community at large, and the Society has substantially benefited from this “leg up” provided by the University over many years.
The Society has maintained an active interest in the “care and feeding” of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, usually at times of crisis. In 1968, when official moves were made to administratively combine the Department with the Sociology Department, a wave of general protest within the University community ensued, and the Society added its public voice against the idea. Again, in 1981, the group voiced its concern to the University President that the physical anthropology position in the Department might be eliminated after the incumbent, Patrick Hartney, died suddenly. In both cases the Society’s advice coincided with the ultimate outcome.
Getting Hands Dirty: Activities and Accomplishments
The discovery by gravel workers of an evidently early human burial in a gravel pit near Bradwell (35 km southeast of Saskatoon) was a most noteworthy event in 1936. The workers contacted Vigfusson, who enlisted the aid of fellow professors and members Spinks, Edmunds (Geology) and Jackson (Anatomy) who recovered a good portion of the skeleton and several artifacts. Their article on “Bradwell Man” in American Antiquity (Edmunds et al. 1938) was one of the first substantive contributions to the literature for Saskatchewan. Many years later our President, Dr. Walter Kupsch of Geological Sciences, arranged to have the remains carbon-dated. They yielded a date of 2800 years ago (Kupsch et al. 1970).
J.H. Sewell employed his knapping skills to replicate European Palaeolithic artifacts at the request of the British Museum for one of their travelling displays, manufacturing them from English flint. The National Film Board of Canada, under the direction of Douglas Leechman of the National Museum, made a 10-minute film in 1950 of Sewell demonstrating these stone- working techniques. It was called “Making Primitive Stone Tools.”
Eldon Johnson was an executive member in 1940 while an agricultural engineering student at the University. A news clipping of the day states, probably incorrectly, that “this gentleman from Kindersley is one of only three known flintknappers,” aside from Sewell and another man in England. Eldon has been the president of the provincial organization several times, and eventually, after retirement, took a Master’s Degree in prehistoric lithic source studies (1986). As a knowledgeable Member of the Legislative Assembly in the early 1960s, Eldon was instrumental in developing the province’s first archaeological heritage legislation. This was one of the first such provincial acts in Canada.
Arthur Morton’s special interest was to locate the actual sites of the fur trade posts mentioned in the surviving journals from that important period of Canada’s history. He would enlist the assistance of correspondents and society members in this search, and he was successful in rediscovering a number of such locales. He often carried out basic mapping of remaining chimney ruins, cellars or other site features. In so doing he inadvertently became one of the first people to do field archaeology and perhaps the first to do historical archaeology in Saskatchewan.
Palaeontological discoveries were also made on occasion by members of this out-and-about group. Sewell made a rather important find just south of where Beaver Creek enters the South Saskatchewan River, 20 km south of Saskatoon. He found a skull of long-extinct, pre ice-age Bison crassicornus with a horn span of 84 cm. The group returned to the site for the summer field trip in 1942, and a second skull measuring 74 cm across the horn tips was found. Excavation was carried out over the next several weeks but no artifacts were found. Much later, in 1964, provincial society member Gordon Millward of Kyle contacted our members Tom Phenix and Ken Cronk about some large bones discovered during road widening activities near Kyle. A major salvage effort was launched by the Museum of Natural History. The volunteer and museum excavation crew, directed by Tom Kehoe, involved many Saskatoon members. The 12,000 year-old remains were those of a mammoth, but this site also proved to be “merely” palaeontological, not archaeological, since no signs of associated human activity were found.
An excavation of a rich archaeological deposit within the city between Broadway and William Avenues was attempted in 1953. The indefatigable Ken Cronk had discovered a tightly- packed bone bed in an area where a new housing subdivision was being constructed. A quick salvage dig was attempted by some members, and a couple of days of digging and screening produced over 200 artifacts dating from the Late Prehistoric period. However, neither the developer nor the City were to be delayed, and pothunters began vandalizing the site, so any further attempt at proper excavation was abandoned.
Members had visited the Tipperary Creek medicine wheel and the nearby archaeological deposits as early as 1932; Ken Cronk found a shattered pot in 1954 on one of his subsequent visits to the creek flat and patiently pieced the remains together. This is still one of the relatively few prehistoric Saskatchewan ceramic vessels reconstructed to date.
The South Saskatchewan Reservoir survey, being severely under-manned and under-funded, needed volunteer assistance, and a call from Zenon Pohorecky and William Mayer-Oakes, the archaeologists in charge, was answered by many of our members. They contributed labour for excavations and aided in surveying for sites. The 1960 excavation of the Princess Burial just east of the city in the Strawberry Hills by Pohorecky and his South Saskatchewan crew aroused considerable interest and excitement (Pohorecky 1970:6-7). In the early 1960s the Saskatoon Society was asked to assist John Hodges and the Regina Archaeological Society in the excavations at Last Mountain House, an 1860s fur trade post near Silton.
Excavations at the Melhagen Site, a Besant period bison butchering site in the sand hills near Elbow, were led by Tom Phenix, president of the Society. As in this case, special interests or “pet” sites have stimulated individual members’ involvement in research. Ernie Hedger spent considerable effort in documenting known examples of small bison sculptures on the northern Plains, tracking down finds by correspondence and by visits to museums and private collections. Bryan Isinger had a particular interest in catlinite tablets, Tom Smith in historic period metal artifacts and in the glacial history of his Melfort-Pathlow home area. Stella Fowler and Laura Smith carried out a letter survey attempting to locate boulder configurations and Joyce and Bill Crooks and others bravely tackled the huge job of re-cataloguing the Vigfusson collection— and so on.
As with most voluntary associations, members have brought special interests, inclinations and perspectives. Often particular talents are very personal and fellow group members may be little aware of them. One example is that of Dick Rashley, one of our Presidents, who was known both as a school teacher and a meticulous recorder of his archaeological finds by his archaeological confrères, but not as a poet of some reputation in the literary community. Poems in his book Rock Painter (1978) give a unique insight into the common humanity we share with long-dead individuals from now-vanished cultures.
We have mentioned a number of excavations and surveys in which our members have been involved, and in the last two decades several in particular have been of importance: the Saskatoon site in 1968 (see Pohorecky, this volume), the Gowen I (1977) and II (1980) sites at the Saskatoon landfill (see Walker, this volume), the Tschetter site in 1980 (see Linnamae, this volume), the Yellowsky site at Turtle Lake in 1982 (Wilson-Meyer and Carlson 1985), the Coffin site near Colonsay in 1982 and 1983 (Linnamae 1982, 1983), and the Bill Richards site just south of the City in 1986. In the 1970s the Society was able to obtain funding to sponsor two systematic surveys for sites within a five mile radius of the city.
Over the years members have been ready and willing to assist in excavations and in cataloguing specimens in the laboratory, at the request of professional archaeologists. Countless, unrecorded volunteer hours have been devoted to various activities relating to conserving information about the province’s prehistoric heritage.
The social contact and sharing aspect of any group like this is as important as any purpose or goals stated for the existence of the group. All of our activities, even the arduous shoveling and sometimes tedious recording and laboratory analysis sessions, have been, ultimately, satisfying — nay, fun — because of the human contact with others of like mind and good will. We would be remiss in not singling out at least two people who freely provided welcome, hospitality, food and lodging to visiting speakers over the years — Dorothy Cronk and Jessie Caldwell.
Opportunities for persuading government and other agencies to take more responsibility for preserving archaeological artifacts and sites were not lacking in the early days, nor have they been eliminated in the more environment-conscious 1980s. Being small in numbers, the Society has lacked the clout of larger, special-interest groups, but a determination to speak up when necessary to protect everyone’s heritage has always been present. There has been perhaps more frustration than outright success in these lobbying efforts, but the letters, briefs and personal contacts made by the group as a whole and by individual members over the years have unquestionably helped to prepare politicians and the public for the positive legislative and other changes we have seen transpire.
As noted, the University has been the subject of some polite lobbying efforts on occasion. Other forums have been used as well. Arthur Morton urged the provincial government in 1939 to pass legislation to allow the University to receive or purchase sites for preservation purposes. In the 1930s and 1940s, with no legislation or professional archaeological involvement or leader-ship in sight, a number of written communications on those matters were launched. Combined with the completion of the occasional small-scale project by members, Diamond Jenness of the National Museum of Canada was prompted to reply to one letter in 1939 that Saskatchewan was the only province carrying out any organized archaeological work. It is interesting to see, in the records of this, one of the many groups on the continent concerned with heritage protection, some of the maneuvering, frustration and sheer effort put forth which eventually led to the framing of the archaeological protection legislation of the 1960s and 1970s. The January 18, 1943 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix covered a recent meeting of the Society which was addressed by Very Rev. G.W. Rhodes of Rosetown. Focusing on the ignorance of collectors, he stated that:
Thousands of valuable archaeological specimens found in Saskatchewan are being sent out of the Province, or are being thrown aside as rubbish, without any records being made as to where, when, or in what circumstances they were located . . . In Regina, I have seen thousands of beautiful arrowheads sent away . . . In one instance that I know of, one man sold $2,000 worth of them, and bought an automobile. This is a great loss to Saskatchewan.
Dean Rhodes then urged the group to form a committee charged with finding “suitable housing” for specimens, and to devise means amateurs could use to label artifacts and record all relevant contextual information.
We see especially in the mid-1950s a growing concern about the accelerated destruction of sites resulting from the post-war expansion of the economy and the increasing alteration of the physical landscape. A major concern developed over the probable effects on archaeological sites by the construction of a dam on the South Saskatchewan River. In 1955 the Society addressed a letter to the provincial government advocating the appointment of an archaeologist to undertake a survey and excavate selected sites, similar to salvage work funded previously by the Tennessee Valley Authority and other major corporate bodies in the United States. The brief stated that the “cost of the archaeological survey and excavations should be paid from the estimated cost of the dam. Surely this is not too much to expect.” The federal and provincial governments, the co-sponsors of the project, did eventually provide a small amount of money for an archaeological survey in 1959 and 1960 (Pohorecky 1961).
Largely as a result of growing concern over the loss of sites through such projects, and the increased public criticism of such unconscionable destruction (both being experienced continent-wide), the provincial government of the day began moving toward preparing antiquities legislation. As early as 1959 the Society was involved in the consultative process leading to the passing of the Provincial Parks, Protected Areas, Recreation Sites and Antiquities Act of 1965. However, the passing of the legislation did not really substantially alter the “business as usual” approach as far as archaeological resources versus “development” was concerned: in 1966 the Society was on occasion resorting to ask contractors to watch for sites and to report them so that quick salvage might be attempted.
Similarly, in 1968 a letter was sent (to little effect) to the Western Producer, asking them not to run advertisements which offered prehistoric artifacts for sale. The same year a letter to the provincial Department of Natural Resources complained about the same problem.
In 1977 the Society made the first official plea to the City to declare the Tipperary Creek property a protected site because of its archaeological importance and its extreme vulnerability to vandalism. Architect Raymond Moriyama noted the potential for development of the sites there and the need to protect them, at least in part as a result of his discussions with society members.
In the past decade, efforts to produce adequate heritage legislation and to better marshal human resources to enhance Saskatchewan’s cultural scene have involved the presentation of briefs by the Society as well as by the other independent chapters and the provincial organization. In 1980 the group presented its views on a new heritage act, and in 1981 on the significance of knowledge of prehistoric cultures, to a government panel attempting to produce a cultural policy for the province.
Perhaps one of the most notable accomplishments involving the Society is related to an issue many may consider to be a failure: the campaign of 1965-1966 to attempt to move “Mistaseni”, a 400-ton granite boulder near Elbow which was to be flooded by the rising waters of the South Saskatchewan Reservoir. Society members figured prominently in a public body called the Big Rock Committee which attempted to raise enough money to move the boulder.
Archaeological excavations, oral history and historic records indicated that this was a widely known monument revered by several northern Plains tribes (Pohorecky 1965, 1966). The publicity campaign involved bringing Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie and comedian Dick Gregory to perform at a packed-house benefit concert. The attempt to move the rock provoked numerous letters to the editor both in favour of respecting such sites and Indians’ rights to their traditions and religious ideals, and against such “nonsense”. The rock was dynamited, with several chunks being distributed for historic markers, so the campaign to physically conserve the rock was not successful. On the whole, however, this issue was beneficial to both Indian-White relations and to heritage site protection. Before it disbanded, the Big Rock Committee turned over $1950.00 to the University to support a scholarship for native students, $300.00 to the Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre, $150.00 to the Elbow Museum, and $600.00 to the Saskatoon Archaeological Society.
For our 50th anniversary banquet we prepared a special program and several souvenir-artifacts for those in attendance. One of the mementos was a table placemat using the front page of the May 2, 1935 Star-Phoenix, with the news story of the founding of the Society (from the next day’s paper) transposed. May 2 happened coincidentally to be the 50th anniversary of an important (if temporary) victory of the Plains Cree in the defense of their traditional culture: the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, on Poundmaker Reserve. That edition also detailed some of the preparations by Germany (calling up conscripts) and by Britain (air force expansion) which we in hindsight know led to another armed conflict, albeit of a different magnitude.
The ironies involved in the juxtaposition of these May 2, 1885/1935 events, both positive and lamentable, are interesting. However, as we contemplate things through the historian’s and archaeologist’s eyes, we recognize the truth in the old saying, “History repeats itself.” Or as the old French cliché would have it, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
One fact archaeology teaches us is that a great many things in the course of daily life, or in the building phase of any enterprise, are not recorded in any official histories, and very often individual contributions go unrecognized. Often the originators or persistent proponents of an idea do not get the credit they deserve. Nevertheless, the many casual or conversational exhortations to “do something” about a particular issue are cumulative. While our memories are still fresh we can make at least one rectification of this too common failing of those who follow such pioneers. Ernie Hedger, long-time member of the Saskatoon Archaeological Society, urged the creation of a “prehistoric park” at Tipperary Creek at least as early as the mid-1960s, because he felt the area was richly endowed with archaeological remains and that this area would be of interest to a wide audience if it were protected and developed.
For years few paid much attention and Ernie’s (and a few others’) urgings were more or less regarded as extreme, until the idea of a major heritage park here was “newly” coined in the late 1970s. Pondering, and preparing, this history of our organization taught us a few lessons about our debt to our predecessors. That’s a useful exercise for anyone. Thanks, Ernie — and the rest of the uncredited and now unknown pioneers of the past — both historic and prehistoric.
1 The original (Cree) name for the Regina locale was oskana, meaning bones.
Annually, the Saskatoon Archaeological Society hosts the Jessie Caldwell Memorial Lecture. To learn more about this lecture series, click here.
The current Chapter Representative for the Saskatoon Archaeological Society is Nadia Smith.