Bergen-area author’s new book chronicles her archaeological hunt for Alberta’s cornerstone

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Shari Peyerl recently presented a historical overview of the province’s heritage at the Sundre Municipal Library

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — Finding clues and putting together historical puzzle pieces on the path to uncovering some of the province’s heritage is what inspired a Bergen-area author to become an archaeologist.

“It’s like a puzzle that you kind of get sucked into because there are all these little clues and hints, and using genealogy, historical documents, maps, photos, you get all these different clues and you put them together,” said Shari Peyerl, who has been busy with a number of book launch events recently, including one in July at Sundre City Library that involved a visual presentation of slideshows.

“It’s a bit like a detective game,” Peyerl told the Albertanexplaining how to find answers to questions often leads to even more questions.

“And you never quite get to the end because you never know where the end is,” she laughed.

“That’s the beauty of it, is that research takes you where it wants to go,” she said. “I guess what I mean is that I became obsessed. That’s how I found myself on this path.

In 2009, she began volunteering at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, located near Calgary along the north shore of the Bow River in Rocky View County.

In a nutshell, his area of ​​study as an archaeologist revolves primarily around the pioneer era of Alberta’s heritage.

“That would be the summary of this one,” she said, adding that much of her attention had been focused on the late 1800s as well as the early 1900s and the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway that paved the way for ranch development at the turn of the last century.

“And then you get more settlers coming in and then you grow the industry with quarry development,” she said, referring to the Glenbow sandstone quarry that partly inspired the title of her book. .

The Cornerstone of Alberta

“It’s called The Cornerstone of Alberta because the book focuses on the Glenbow quarry – the sandstone quarry,” she explained. “The Glenbow sandstone quarry has provided the stone for so many truly important government buildings in Alberta.

To cite just a few examples, she said rock cut from the quarry was used in the construction of the Alberta Legislative Building, Government House as well as the original City Hall in Calgary.

“Glenbow Quarry is, in my mind, the cornerstone of Alberta – it built the structures of government,” she said.

However, there is a kind of double meaning behind the title of his book.

“The secondary reason is that part of my excavation was to look for a particular cornerstone in Glenbow Village,” she said, adding that the book recounts her experience of being involved in a 2017 project to rediscover and to unearth a little piece of history that had been almost lost in time.

“It was a complicated story,” she said.

Retrace past steps

In 1973, a stone photograph of the ancient city site was taken during the first archaeological survey by a group of budding archaeologists who simply walked through the grounds.

“You have to remember that in 1973, the archeology department at the U of C was just getting started,” she says. “So these are students walking around and doing this survey.”

They took a photograph and wrote on the back of the print that the image was of the cornerstone, but neglected to include an essential detail for future archaeologists who might wish to retrace their steps.

“They didn’t say exactly where it was,” she said.

Using photography as a starting point and going from there to delve into an archive of aerial photographs, satellite images, land titles and historical documents, she “combined all of these clues”. Yet the location of the stone remained elusive.

“I couldn’t find the stone on my own,” she said.

Find the missing pieces

However, the names carved into the stone provided more clues to search for, leading her down another path that allowed her to find the missing puzzle pieces to figure out what the cornerstone originally belonged to.

Armed with this knowledge, she was then able to track down the people involved in the structure and, from their used land titles, with a map to “know exactly where it is”, she said.

The stone was rediscovered in 2017.

“The day we went out to walk the earth, we knew where we had to walk and I looked down and there it was,” she said. “You couldn’t really tell the right way because the writing had been so damaged.”

But the stone was where they expected to find it, and a fragment of the surface with writing on it was found during the excavation.

Leaping with excitement after making the discovery, she said with a hearty laugh when asked if it was better than winning the lottery: “I would say it’s a more personal accomplishment than the one you would get by buying a ticket.”

After all, winning the lottery is luck of the draw, she said.

Discovery of a work outcome

“But it was the culmination of a whole bunch of research that all came together, and then you could say I figured out the puzzle,” she said.

The townsite of Glenbow, where the last person left in 1927, is now mostly a ghost town of bare earth with people walking along nearby paths largely unable to physically see the signs it once was had a colony there.

“The only standing structure that the general public sees is in the commercial area,” she said, referring to a former general store and post office that now remains in ruins built of wood.

“But in the townsite itself, all the buildings were either swept away, salvaged for wood or burned down when the village ended,” she said, adding that the book also summarizes the history of the area. from Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

“There were people I researched for the Glenbow project that could be a whole book in themselves,” she said.

“It’s definitely settler-focused as opposed to native, although I mention in the book that there are native sites in the park and people have been there since time immemorial. So, I’m not denying that in any way – I also want to celebrate that and make sure people know these things are there.

Peyerl went on to explain that while she knows how to analyze archaeological remains, she nevertheless does not feel like a qualified voice to speak on behalf of another culture.

Prior to the pandemic, Peyerl — who has both a bachelor of science and a master’s degree from the University of Calgary — lived part-time in a Bergen-area home she purchased in 2011. But she has over the last two years spent more time there.

“We love our place in Bergen,” she said. “When the pandemic hit, we basically evacuated the city.”

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