Rich deposit of artifacts dug up in Calgary park

Indigenous cooking rocks, an earring and an old skate blade have been dug up in a Calgary park. 

Redevelopment of Jack Long Park in Inglewood offers glimpse into area's past

A worker found an old skate blade in what appears to be a well under Jack Long Park in Calgary. Archeologists are working to excavate the area, which has signs of Indigenous habitation prior to European contact. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Indigenous cooking rocks, an earring and an old skate blade have been dug up in a Calgary park. 

Some of the found artifacts suggest the site, Jack Long Park in Inglewood, was once the home of pre-contact Indigenous people.

It wasn't surprising to find evidence of humans "given that this has been an important area for thousands of years," said Kendra Kolomyja, a project manager with Lifeways of Canada, an archeological firm.

The vastness of the discovery, however, has been impressive.

"In this area, obviously it's so busy, to find a nice little window like this, where it has been preserved and intact, is really exciting," she said.

The city started redeveloping Jack Long Park — the green space west of the Alexandra Centre in Inglewood — earlier this spring.

Crews quickly found artifacts.

The site was then turned over to professionals, who continue to dig up surprising findings.

Bits of ceramic, a bottle and an earring were found at the park. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

During a media tour of the site Thursday, the work was continuing — and an archeologist found an old skate blade in an old well.

"This area is just so rich in history. I almost feels like we could put a test almost anywhere in this lot and find something," Kolomyja said.

She said flooding from the river, which makes silt, would have helped preserve artifacts. Also, the site was known to have been a tent city when the railroad was being built.

Fire-cracked rocks a big find

The most significant finding has been what's called "fire-cracked rocks," considered a tell-tale sign of a community of Indigenous people. To cook food, people used to heat rocks in the fire, and then placed them in holes in the ground filled with water and food.

Over time, the rocks cracked from the heat and shock of the cool water, Bryant said.

The fire-cracked rocks cannot be dated. The sites around them will be searched for leftover animal bones and anomalies in the dirt that can indicate the date of when people cooked in that traditional method at the site.

Laureen Bryant displays a pot found underneath what is now Jack Long Park. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Crews have found an old pot, chips of dishware, a bottle and an earring — all believed to be from settlers.

Jack Long Park is in one of Calgary's early European settlement areas, being close to Fort Calgary and the Hudson's Bay trading post.

The skate blade was quite an unusual find for being in a well," Calgary Parks cultural landscape planner Laureen Bryant said. "But back in the day, you're done with things? You either throw them down the outhouse or throw them in the well."

They've also found what appears to be a basement that matches an early 1900s fire insurance map.

Acheologists had a hole dug Thursday and continued to find new artifacts. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The park is being redeveloped by the city to add an area for small concerts and theatre productions, a market, food trucks and new picnic areas. A playground, rain garden and donated sculptures will be added, as well.

Flexible opening

It's unclear how long the archeological work will take.

"With this type of work, it's thrown in a kink of one to two months, but really it's an unknown beast for me," said Calgary Parks project manager Daniel England, who is a landscape architect.

The city's website says the park should open by late summer or early fall, after historical work has finished.

Once construction has restarted, Bryant said, workers will try to keep things as similar to the original plan as possible.

In the future, she said, technology may improve to the point they could find out more by re-analyzing the site again.

Archeologists will document, clean and analyze any findings at their lab once collection is done. A report will be sent to the province, which must decide when the site can be released, Bryant said. Any artifacts will eventually be shipped to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.

With files from Scott Dippel, Jocelyn Boissonneault


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