Enthusiasts garner support for a local multi-cultural interpretive centre

Doreen Holdsworth
ECA Review Submitted

Representatives from several strata of government, community development, tourism, archaeological and historical societies, collectors, landowners and the interested converged June 18 to discuss the feasibility of a multi-cultural interpretive centre near Oyen.
Guests Jack Brink and Janice Andreas spurred the idea forward with their expertise so much that two hours later an enthusiastic audience was envisioning a world-class multi-function facility acting as a hub to guide tourists to unique sites throughout the Special Areas.
Jack Brink, curator at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, has been scrutinizing archaeological treasures in our area for 10 years. His conclusions? Southeastern Alberta is home to a rich vein of surface sites—tipi rings, medicine wheels, vision/ spiritual quest sites, arrowheads and cutting utensils—mainly on unbroken land. The majority of medicine wheels are located in the northwest United States, Saskatchewan and Alberta; of those, most are in southern Alberta.

Some of the earliest sites in our area are 9,000-10,000 radio carbon years old. In contrast, Cyprus Hills has 8,000 years of history—buried up to six meters below the surface. We should tap into our resources while they are accessible, he advised.
Also, several local people have assembled a wonderful display of artifacts. Who inherits their collection? Where can it be displayed? Will it just be lost in a few years’ time? Stolen? Sent to who-knows-where? Sold to the highest bidder?
Actually, the Alberta Historical Resources Act (to which Jack Brink was a major contributor) states that all archaeological items discovered/recorded after 1978 belong to the Crown—a public trust, of which the landowner is the steward. This prevents an individual from removing history from the region. The Royal Alberta Museum records the data: description of discovery, location… If significant, a representative will visit the landowner. The intent is to verify and record what has been discovered, not to remove it.
Such considerations give validity to a local archaeological interpretive centre. Its value will be in its unique displays.  And in its connection to landowners who make their historical sites available for public viewing.
Ideally the centre would network with museums, historical societies and other tourist attractions throughout the region to provide guests with several sightseeing options. Options such as a day trip that would include the prairie elevator in Acadia Valley and Sagebrush Studios east of Empress. Or for the serious, a Canadian Badlands research tour that would last two or three days.
The centre should be a multifunctional facility housing other attractions as well. How about an art studio? An astronomical observatory? That would put it into the Triple-A League: archaeology, art, astronomy!
At an astronomical cost, though. That’s when Janice Andreas, vice-president of the southeastern branch and provincial representative of the Archaeological Society of Alberta (ASA), maintained momentum with practical suggestions. An initial step with huge benefits is to form a local archaeological society.
Then Karen Blewett, Alberta Community Development Officer with the provincial government, facilitated a follow-up planning meeting August 21. Key to moving forward is to find a champion who will provide long-term leadership, and a core group of individuals committed to the project.
Summary notes are available by calling Andrea (403) 664-1465.  Next meeting with Blewett will be Thursday, November 1, 1-4 p.m. at the Special Area No. 3 office in Oyen.
Any interested person within the Special Areas and M.D. of Acadia is invited to come join the discussions—and also become involved!
The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller attracts 375,000 visitors annually; Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump near Fort Macleod, 100,000. With vision, ingenuity, hard work and a lot of cooperation Oyen and district could be on the map with its own unique multi-cultural experience.

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