Hidden for more than a century by tall timber in Rogers Pass, a work camp from 1885 has been discovered by Parks Canada staff.
“It was discovered last summer (2009),” said Alan Polster, the resource management specialist for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, as he led a small group of people to the site.
He said a worker tossing newly cut brush off an old railway bed noticed a pile of rocks that looked out of place. They turned out to be the remains of a stone oven. Subsequent investigation by Polster and Parks Canada Archaeologist Peter Francis found more stone ovens, used to bake bread, a water system wand what are believed to be mess areas, tent sites and root cellars dug into the ground.
On Wednesday (July 21) Polster led Karen Tierney, superintendent of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, retired chief naturalist John Woods and two members of the Revelstoke news media to site of the work camp, which was briefly surveyed after its discovery last summer by Parks Canada Archaeologist Peter Francis.
For Woods, who has not only studied wildlife in Glacier since his arrival in Revelstoke in 1975 but written extensively about avalanches in the pass, this is a hugely significant find.
“This is very important because we know so little about camp life,” he said.
The entire camp stretches for about 300 metres along both sides of a rail bed that was abandoned after 1886. Polster said it could have accommodated several hundred men in the 1884-1886 period. The camp has not been completely surveyed and some features, such as a suspected blacksmith shop and the midden, or garbage dump for the camp, have not yet been located. Rusty food cans, broken bottles and miscellaneous pieces of metal litter the site. However, they appear to have been left behind in some haste. Most refuse, which could prove to a valuable archaeological resource, was likely discarded in dump, or midden. Excavating that could provide researchers with information about what the workers ate and drank as well as, potentially, the kind of tools they used, what they read or what they did to pass the time.
What surprised Polster the most is the fact that he has so far been unable to find any reference to the camp in documents and maps about the CPR’s push through Rogers Pass.
Further study may lead to discovery of a name for the camp. Many camps were named after particular surveyors or other important officials who were in charge of them.
As to its future, that remains up in the air. Tierney said Parks Canada has a number of options, including both excavating portions of the camp and leaving it alone. But, for now, she regards its discovery as fortuitous.
“This is the 125th anniversary of the completion of the CPR and the 100th anniversary of the 1910 avalanche (which occurred not that far away from the camp site) so it actually adds important information to the our national narrative,” she said.
Parks Canada will be formally commemorating the 1910 avalanche with the opening of a Memory Garden on Aug. 15 near the site of the snow slide that claimed 58 lives on March 4, 1910.
Here is a selection of photos, including some of similar work camps in the 1880s, for your appreciation: