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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1

Archaeological Investigations of the National Historic Sites Service, 1962-1966

by John H. Rick

Excavations in Alberta

Rocky Mountain House

In 1861, the first post at Rocky Mountain House was abandoned because of increasing friction between the Hudson's Bay Company employees there and the Blackfoot Indians in whose territory the post had been built. This withdrawal provided no lasting solution since the Blackfoot were then forced to travel to Fort Edmonton to trade. There they encountered the more numerous Cree and the resulting strife added to the difficulties of the Edmonton traders. As a result, the Company decided to resume trading at Rocky Mountain House and, in 1865, construction started on a new post half a mile downstream. Work was seriously delayed due to crop failures and shortages of game animals so that it was probably not much before 1869 that Rocky Mountain House II was finally occupied. The new fort, never a great economic success, was abandoned in 1875 in favour of a post at Calgary and the remains were destroyed by fire in 1882 (Lee 1965b).

In 1966, a contract was awarded to the University of Calgary to carry out excavations at Rocky Mountain House II and the university appointed Claude A. Vaucher to direct the project. The site is located on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River some three miles southwest of the town of Rocky Mountain House. The immediate need for the excavation was the threat of river erosion which had already destroyed the east palisade and bastions.

Four major buildings and two bastions were located and tested. The location and construction details of the palisade were determined and the north and west gates were excavated. The area enclosed by the palisade, about 220 ft. x 440 ft., was double that which had been expected and it would appear that the southern half had been a garden or corral. Sampling of the features was sufficient to provide a clear understanding of the construction and layout of the post. Excavation has borne out the accuracy, even to details, of a surviving sketch of the site made in 1873. Artifacts were relatively few and these are currently under study (Vaucher 1966).

16 After the Blackfoot forced the abandonment of the first Rocky Mountain House in 1861, a new post with the same name was built about one-half mile downstream in 1866. This was in turn abandoned in 1875 and the photograph shows its ruins from the south side of the North Saskatchewan River in 1886.
(Geological Survey of Canada.)

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